I Love New York and what better than a big adventure in the big apple. I am convinced that it was a visitor and not a New Yorker that came up with this campaign – irrespective of what wikipedia says. New Yorkers rarely leave New York and they don’t come to appreciate their home nearly as much as us. When departing this wonderful city, “I Love New York” is exactly what every visitor is thinking as the flight heads for the clouds, and this is exactly the moment the phrase was created.
I recently got invited by Virgin Atlantic and Marriott hotels to travel to New York as part of a Familiarisation Tour with a group of travel consultants from a popular travel company. Naturally, I grabbed this opportunity and didn’t let go – it is New York City after all.
The process began with the Visa application which surprisingly was smoother than expected. You complete the application and make an appointment online. Once you make payment, you go for your interview (takes like 5 minutes) and in a few days, you’ve got your passport and a ten-year visa (if you’ve passed the application obviously). The earliest appointment available was 6 weeks after the application date so if you’re planning on going and require a visa; ensure you allow for enough time. Check with a Visa Operator (I used Visas International) for the approximate waiting period for an appointment.
The day finally arrived and I met the rest of the travelling group at the airport where Virgin Atlantic’s representative assisted us through check-in and escorted us to the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse (departure lounge). We snacked a bit and discussed the upcoming adventure before it was time to board.
Boarding the flight, we turned left to Upper Class (Business Class) and were directed towards our seats, but the first thing you notice in Upper Class is the awesome walk-up bar. Complete with a few bar-stools (fixed of course) and well stocked with all the favourites. As a non-drinker, I got some water and headed to my cocoon – that’s what your seat feels like.
Some delicious on-board food and a good-night’s sleep were on the agenda and boy do Virgin Atlantic deliver. First Class service from the crew made us feel like regulars.
Sadly, on our connecting flight from London to New York, Upper Class was fully booked so this experience was not to be repeated. Economy Class however still had quite a few seats available – just shows how popular the Upper Class is that it gets booked out before Economy. I was smart enough to head right to be back of the aircraft as soon as I boarded, and hogged a 4-seater hoping no one reserved them. Once the aircraft doors closed and there was nobody left walking down the aisles, I knew they were mine. A quick lift of the armrests and I had myself a suitable bed for the night.
FYI – While we arrived in the morning (in London), my connecting flight was in the evening as I had some business to attend to. More about this later… in another post.
I arrived at around 11h45 pm and it was easy enough to catch a taxi from the airport to the hotel. There was a slight delay getting through customs – but hey it was Trump’s America – so I only got to the hotel at around 1am and it had been raining all day. We were staying at the New York Marriott Marquis, which is located right in the heart of Times Square.
Check-in was brilliant – in fact, due to my late (or early… depends how you look at it) arrival, the Marriott representative that was travelling with the group ensured that I was pre-checked in and thus, once I presented my passport, I got my room key – easy peasy!
At 1am, you’d think that I was tired and ready to hit the sack – on the contrary – once I got to my room, I had a quick look around and thought – “Rooms great! Let’s get outside”.
As brilliant as the room was – fully equipped with everything you’d need as well as the legendary Marriott bed (the best bed in any hotel I’ve stayed in) – outside was better. I was just a few steps away from Times Square – and since it had been raining all day and night (only just stopped when I got to the hotel – must have been a sign), there was no better time.
Standing at the legendary steps in Times Square, with nobody else in sight was surreal. I cannot express the feeling. It had nothing to do with the time of day – more like my luck to get there after a downpour that lasted all day & night. Every other night, Times Square was its usual crazy self no matter the time.
Back to the hotel – My highlights of the hotel included;
The Location – Right in the heart of Times Square, doesn’t get better than that in New York does it?
The Gym / Fitness Centre – blessed with a view over Times Square, the hotel’s gym is also available to outside visitors who sign up as members. At 6am, it’s pretty well packed. It has everything a modern gym needs, including fitness instructors.
The View Restaurant and Lounge – New York’s only revolving restaurant and lounge with spectacular views of the city, coupled with irresistible cuisine. One the second evening the hotel management hosted our group and put on quite a show.
The Room – I stayed in a Superior Room which had a king-size bed and a view of Times Square. Rooms are carpeted (a bit old fashioned maybe) and very spacious and a generous bathroom.
The Elevators – with almost 2,000 (yes! 2k) rooms, it’s amazing how you never wait more than 20 seconds for an elevator.
There is just one thing that’s not great (and this applies to pretty much all hotels in the US) – and that’s breakfast – all you get if you’re lucky is some cornflakes, yogurt, a croissant and really bad coffee. For this hotel, it had a winner – there was a Starbucks downstairs – yay!
We such limited time and there is just so much to do. The list goes on and on, so the guys at Tourvest Travel Services put together an amazing itinerary that gave a taste of what the city has to offer. What better way to start that doing some shopping…
We pre-booked a Studio Tour of NBC Studios at 30 Rock – that’s 30 Rockefeller Centre. It’s the home of NBC Studios where legendary shows like The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, Saturday Night Live, the Late Show with Seth Myers, The Voice and other shows are made. The Tour starts in the lobby where you collect your tickets at the NBC Store. You get to see the different studios used for news & sport and depending on availability, 2 other studios. On our tour, we got to see the Tonight Show studio while the Roots (band) were busy rehearsing. We briefly got to go into the Saturday Night Live studio but since Taylor Swift was rehearsing, we had to quickly head out – at least we got to see her a bit. Once we’re in the building, past security, the tour guide explained it’s just your luck who you bump into and we almost ran into Mark Wahlberg and his entourage. They did wave at us – LOL!
Top Tip: Just hang around the store for a while (in the morning) – we got approached by an intern who needed a test audience and we gladly obliged – We got selected to attend a rehearsal for the Seth Myers show – FREE OF CHARGE – we got to meet Seth who chatted to us briefly before starting his sketch and monologue. It was great fun helping the writers decide which jokes were funny and which were not.
If you do the tour, it’s a good idea to do Top of The Rock at the same time, since it’s right there. The queue isn’t as long as the one at the Empire State Building. You get pretty much the same view of New York City, but the best part – you’ve got a direct line of site to the Empire State Building itself.
We had an All Loops Hop-on-Hop-off bus ticket which we used to do a half day trip around the city. The problem was that it was the coldest November in New York’s history. At -10 Celsius, the open top bus was not great. In fact it was better just walking and once we got to Little Italy, we warmed up with some (average) pizza before walking all the way down Broadway en-route to Battery Park. It was fantastic just walking around Manhattan as we visited Wall Street (it’s really smaller than I imagined). We also got to Ground Zero and the 911 Memorial and witnessed a ceremony where the Navy handed over a flag to a family – very moving.
Top Tip: When walking through the city and you need to use a toilet, simply walk into any Starbucks – they all have their own toilets (very clean). Be warned though, there may be a slight queue – on the upside, there is free wifi while you wait.
At Battery Park we could see the Statue of Liberty, took some selfies and after all that walking, decided on trying the subway. Easy enough and 15 minutes later we were back uptown at Times Square.
Even though I got to tick off a number of items from my list of things to do in New York, there is much more left to do. This means that, sometime in the future, another trip is one the cards. I cannot wait. I’ll be back New York, I promise!