Thursday, November 22, 2007

48 Hours in New York

If you had 48 hours for a family weekend in New York City what would be your top five places to visit?

Before giving the specifics about where we went during our 48 hours, I want to state that my family was impressed with the friendliness and safety we experienced while in New York. We heard plenty of stories of how rough New York could be, everything from three-card Monte games, ripping off tourists, to violent crime in the streets. However, we found just the opposite to be true. We felt very comfortable day and night in New York.

Our first stop was the Statue of Liberty. It is accessible from either Liberty State Park, New Jersey or Battery Park, at the tip of Manhattan. We chose the New Jersey location to take the ferry since we were driving to New York. It turns out that parking is easier and the ferryboats less crowded than those leaving from the New York side. There is no entry fee to the National Park to visit Ellis Island or the Statue of Liberty; however, there is a charge for getting to the islands. The only boats allowed to dock at either island are the boats under contract to the National Park Service. Circle Line ferryboats, the current authorized ferryboat operator, will be replaced by Hornblower Yachts, in January 2008.

I recommend reserving your ferryboat tickets online, although you can try your luck in person without a reservation. The best tip for making the most of your visit is to reserve your free monument pass when you purchase your boat ticket. The monument pass get you access inside the statue’s pedestal and observation area. Without this pass you can walk around the island and enjoy the harbor views and looking at the statue from ground level. The pass is marked for a specific block of time when you can arrive at the security area. Don’t be misled by the word “free” associated with the monument pass, these passes are only available when you reserve, or pick up your ferry tickets. There are only 3000 monument passes available each day for the more than 15,000 daily visitors.

Once inside the statue’s pedestal there are excellent interactive exhibits and historical displays. We walked around the catwalk of the original copper torch originally held by Lady Liberty. A fun photo can be taken next to full size copper replica of Liberty’s face. At the top of the pedestal, visitors are directed to look up through a Plexiglas ceiling at the inside structure of the statue. Before 9/11 the tours actually went through the statue and filed up to and past the crown, looking out of the small windows and a fabulous view of the city.

While on the tour be sure to make time to visit the American Family Immigration History Center on Ellis Island. You have the option of getting off the ferryboat, on either the way to, or return, from Liberty Island but not both. Boats from New York normally stop at Ellis Island after the Statue of Liberty tour while boats from New Jersey make the stop before landing at Liberty Island. The History Center has detailed interactive displays, records of millions of people who passed through the island, excellent historical photographs and artifacts. It is estimated that nearly half of Americans today could trace at least one relative who passed through Ellis Island.

The Stage Door tour at Radio City Music Hall was our next stop, after checking into our Times Square hotel. The tour is a great educational experience for anyone interested in architecture, history, famous personalities, or technical wizardry. Meeting a Rockette up close isn’t a bad reason to take the tour either. The grandeur of the 1932 grand opening is evident as you make your way through the labyrinth of hallways and passageways. One of the best views in the house is from a soundproof room inset at the top rear wall of the theater. As we made our way through the one-hour tour, I was amazed at the technical capabilities of the theater. Everything in the theater is big: huge hydraulic systems to lift the stages, a huge stage car to move a 40-piece orchestra around the stage, and an LCD screen larger than a movie theater screen. We previously booked our tour and subsequent show tickets online, so we went from the tour right into the theater and the high kicking Rockettes in their Christmas spectacular. Backstage and show tickets are available through Ticketmaster.

The Empire State Building is almost a pilgrimage for the dedicated King Kong fan. On the 86th floor observation deck, aside from the person in the gorilla costume, the cityscape is breathtaking. I have to give my wife credit for talking me into renting the optional audio tour. With the stoppable audio player we just followed the numbers on the observation deck to synchronize the audio with the view. From Central Park to lower Manhattan, the audio tour identifies places of interest and gives a running narrative from a New Yorker’s perspective. You will see the world’s largest department store as well as Pier 58 where the Titanic was scheduled to dock in 1912. Interesting background stories are interspersed throughout the narrative, like the rivalry between the Chrysler building and the Empire State building owners, on who would have the tallest building. Booking and printing tickets online enabled us to move past the long line of those waiting to buy tickets on site.

We took the subway to the World Trade Center Station. Upon exiting the station we saw that the World Trade Center Memorial Museum has posted several large photographs on a chain link fence overlooking the site. We were there early and had an opportunity to view each of the photographs that document the prelude to 9/11 and the aftermath. Every visitor, particularly Americans, should experience this for themselves. There is no charge for the exhibit, but the lasting emotional imprint is priceless.

Taking in a Broadway show is why many people visit New York. According to the League of American Theater and Producers an estimated 12 million people bought theater tickets for Broadway last year. With the current stagehand strike, this number may be down significantly, depending how long the strike lasts. We took advantage of same day tickets, at up to 50% off, at TKTS outlet in Times Square, currently at the Marriott hotel lobby. There is also another TKTS discount booth at South Street Seaport in lower Manhattan. Not all shows are available for this option and probably not many first run plays are available. We opted for the long running Chicago play and were not disappointed. The theater was smaller than we expected but permitted us to have great seats.

Best tip for the trip: We avoided a 2 hour wait at the Hard Rock Café, Times Square, by presenting my “all access” card and getting the first available table. You can get an all access pass at any Hard Rock Café. Needless to say I was the family hero for the night as we moved to the front of the very busy line.

Let me know your favorite five places to visit so I can start planning our next trip.

Friday, November 9, 2007

New Poster Print by David L. Jennings

This image was taken in the Washington DC Smithsonian Metro station. I was surprised there were not more passengers. The quote - Great achievements begin in the imagination - was inspired by Orison Swett Marden. The poster is available at in 11x14 and 16 x 20.