In Honor of 9/11-Make for Manhattan

By on September 10, 2011

By Sandra Glahn –

I think I’ve made something like seven trips to New York City. Our like-a-daughter friend, Amanda, lives and works in Manhattan as an event planner, so we have a great excuse to visit.

Here are suggestions for your trip based on my own trial-and-error experiences.

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Choose your hotel for location. Stay at the Marriot in Times Square.

You won’t find a super cheap hotel in New York City, especially if you want to avoid the morning rush hour on the subway getting to your destinations. The Marriott is at the heart of it all—all transportation starts, stops, and goes by here. What is has going for it is location, location, location. When you need a bathroom, you’re close to your hotel. When your feet hurt, you’re close to your hotel.

Go ahead and take a tour. Yes, take a tour bus. I know it sounds a little hokey. In any other city, I avoid tour buses. But even the locals will tell you this is the way to go. Since you do not want to drive in NYC (I’ve done this and, trust me, you don’t want to), and you want to avoid the crush on the subway during peak hours, and you don’t want to walk miles and miles, it’s worth it. On a double-decker bus you get a much better view than you’d have walking. This means you can get great photos with nobody in your way. Here’s a link to the bus company I’ve used three times:

I have done the two-day and the one-day tickets. I recommend the two-day. It includes a night tour of the city and a trip out to the Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island (don’t miss that Ellis Island tour—plan ahead). The tour also includes a loop (2.5 hours) that does downtown and another loop (2.5 hours) that takes you to The Met, through Harlem, and through Central Park—the north end of Manhattan. You will want both loops. And you can do them as many times as you want.

It’s a hop-on and hop-off bus that will take you to every attraction you’ll want to see. You just have to know that the last one leaves the harbor area at 6:30 PM, so you can’t depend on it for your night transport—which is why you want to stay in Times Square, which is also in the theater district. If you get back to your hotel by 7 PM when the tour buses stop, you can change clothes in your room, grab a bite, and still catch a show by 8 PM.

I didn’t bother to buy my bus tour ticket ahead of time. Either way I would have had to stand in line (not too long) at Madame Toussaud’s, which is where the ticket counter is. The bus starts its route right around the corner.

You’ll see Ground Zero, all the museums, shopping, Central Park, China Town, Little Italy, the Brooklyn Bridge, the theater district, Wall Street, the Macy’s parade route—nearly any site you would want to see in New York. And the tour guide can tell you anything you’d want to know including the best shopping and where you can find bathrooms.

I would spend my first day just riding, listening, and circling on my map places to which I would like to return and get off to explore. The next day, grab the bus again and start hopping off whenever you want to do something.

Avoid Mondays. Know that Monday is a bad day to be in New York City. All theaters are closed. Same with museums. So try to schedule your arrival around being there on Monday. If you can’t help it, go out to the Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island, do all your window shopping on 5th Avenue, and check out the many fun shops in Times Square.

Read ahead. Many classic literary works are set in New York City. If you’re like me, you will enjoy your trip more if you read some of it before you go. I recommend these books to be read/heard in this order:

The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton
Manhattan Transfer, John Dos Passos
The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger

See the shows. For a “girl trip,” Wicked and Mamma Mia! are especially great choices. If you get the right audience, you’ll even see (join) people dancing and singing in the aisles.

Off-Broadway shows are less famous and expensive but still wonderful. But if it’s the only trip to New York for anyone in your party and money is not a huge issue, go for a Broadway musical. If you can do both a Broadway show and an off-Broadway play, that’s good too. Just know that Off Broadway will mean a lot of walking or a cab at night.

Here’s a site for some discounted tickets:

You can stand in line to get half price tickets in Times Square on the day of performances. Lots of people do that. I have always chosen not to because I don’t want to spend precious time waiting in line and then maybe not get to see what I want. But the price is definitely right doing it that way.

When thinking of shows, remember that the Ballet performs at Lincoln Center. We caught a performance there that was wonderful. For any other show, you don’t have to dress up. But we took nice clothes in our day bag for this one.

Also, check out the schedule for Radio City Music Hall. (They have tours there, too, which I have done and recommend.) Madison Square Garden is currently under construction, so nothing’s playing at the moment.

Wear comfy clothing. Comfortable shoes are the highest priority. Take more than one pair. Dress in layers and pack a rain poncho. You can go pretty casual except for some of the nicer shows, as I mentioned.

Food- Be sure to try a black-and-white cookie. New York is famous for them—ask at any bakery. And buy lunch and snack-on-the-go from street vendors. If the locals have formed a line at one, you can trust it. Or if it has smoke, you can rest assured that food’s being cooked well.

The Shake Shack in Times Square costs about what you’d expect to pay at Chili’s. They have great burgers and superb fries, but they’re best known for their custard. While one person in your party orders, another needs to watch for a free table. About the time your food arrives, you should have a place to sit.

Café Lalo from “You’ve Got Mail” is fun, serving lots of great pies for a reasonable price,

Lots of people love to eat at the boathouse in Central Park. It’s easy to get to from one of the tour bus stops, making it a great option for lunch but not for dinner, unless you want to spring for a cab. (I have not had good luck flagging cabs, so I never depend on that option.)

As for Chinese food, the bus will take you through Chinatown. Most restaurants will posts menus outside so you can get a sense of the price range and food options.

Catch a view from up high. On your first night in New York, go to Top of the Rock—the observation tower in the NBC building (30 Rockefeller Plaza). It will help you get your bearings to see the city from up high. And if the weather’s good, you can see the Statue of Liberty, the Freedom Tower, and the Empire State Building all in one view.

On your way in, you will get to see where the Christmas tree/skating happens. And it’s beautiful up on top. The locals say to go there instead of going up the Empire State Building. They argue that it’s better to photograph the Empire State Building than to take pictures from it. I have done both and prefer Top of the Rock. The elevator operator told me her favorite time to do Top of the Rock is at sunset—so you get to see the city in the light and the dark:

Check out some great museums. My favorite museum in New York is The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Also wonderful in order of priority are the MoMA (Museum of Modern Art), the Guggenheim, and the American Museum of Natural History (seen in “Night at the Museum”).

If you familiarize yourself with the museums’ collections before you go, you can get in and out in an hour or two by knowing exactly what you want to see (assuming time is limited). So study their web sites. And here’s another tip from the locals: Know when you go to the Met that they will tell you the suggested donation to get in is $25. You do not have to pay that much–it is only “suggested,” and, I would add, appreciated.

Do Times Square. That’s Times, not Time’s or Time, but Times as in New York Times. While there, notice the ball that drops every year at the stroke of midnight. It stays there year-round. Also, allow yourself time to browse through the M&M store, FAO Schwartz, and Toys R Us (which has an indoor Ferris Wheel). The American Girl store is nearby and super fun for girls, too.

Stroll down 5th Avenue. As I’m not the kind of person who spends $1,400 on a purse or $100,000 on a diamond, I never had a big desire to actually go inside the high-dollar shops. But window shopping is a blast a night. You encounter no crowds and see some amazing displays. Be sure especially to look in on Tiffany’s, Louis Vuitton, and Saks Fifth Avenue.

Bargain hunters like me prefer Filene’s Basement, near the Greenwich Village stop.

Attend church. The old, historic church near Ground Zero “somehow,” despite the world caving in around it, survived 9/11 without one window broken. And it served as a staging station for rescue workers. Also, on 5th Avenue you will pass St. Patrick’s Cathedral. St. Patrick lived in the 4th century, long before the Church split between East/West and Catholic/Protestant. So every Christian can claim him as our own—he truly was one of the good guys. The cathedral is beautiful, so go inside and pray for New York. (The Cathedral is closed at night.) The Cathedral of St. John the Divine is also great.

Of the three most recent trips I have taken to NYC, I attended church during only one. And it added a lot more meaning to my trip to hear some of what the Lord was doing in the city.

Sandra Glahn, Th.M., serves on the adjunct faculty of Dallas Theological Seminary, her alma mater, where she is editor in chief of Kindred Spirit magazine. She is a PhD candidate in Aesthetic Studies at the University of Texas/ Dallas, and is the author or coauthor of seventeen books, including the Coffee Cup Bible Study series.

About Sandra Glahn

Dr. Sandra Glahn is Associate Professor in Media Arts and Worship at Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS), where she is also editor-in-chief of DTS Magazine. She received her master's in theology from DTS and her PhD in Aesthetic Studies from the University of Texas/ Dallas. Dr. Glahn is the author or coauthor of more than twenty books, including the Coffee Cup Bible Study series.,

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In Honor of 9/11-Make for Manhattan