Sea Princess approached Manhattan Island as the sun began to rise. People were up early and on deck hugging cups of tea and snapping photos. There was a feeling of intense excitement in the air, and people were chattering about what they were planning to do and see over the next two days.
The Hudson River
Sailing up The Hudson River was an incredible experience and we felt so fortunate to be approaching New York from the sea, gazing from our fantastic vantage point onto the famous Manhattan city skyline.
On our port side we sailed by Liberty Island and the Statue of Liberty and after that we passed Ellis Island, so important in the history of New York immigration.
It was a beautiful sunrise and the early morning sun’s reflection bounced off the Freedom Tower, or One World Trade Centre, and later we learnt that what was once the site of Ground Zero is now the home to the tallest building in New York City.
We passed a procession of old piers on Manhattan’s west side. Several have been revitalised into park areas, others into sports facilities, one a driving range, others home to restaurants and cafes.The famous Pier 76 is the NYPD’s car pound, where we saw a glittering array of car bonnets and pitied the people who had to go and collect their cars!.
The Empire State Building loomed tall and majestic (it’s located on 5th Avenue between West 33rd and 34th Streets). With it’s antenna spire included it stands at a total height of 443 metres.
From its completion in early 1931 it stood as the worlds tallest building for 40 years. These days it’s dwarfed by the likes of the Dubai Burj Khalifa at 829.8 metres. However, this doesn’t make the Empire State Building any less majestic or less imposing and it is a must-see.
Pier 88 and The Intrepid
We berthed at Pier 88, in midtown Manhattan Island, next to The Intrepid … a sea, air and space complex that includes fantastic naval and space exhibits.
We looked down on the Intrepid – the aircraft carrier bedecked by various aircraft, helicopters, and Concord, while beside it we espied a submarine.
Docking in New York
Docking was an extremely tight manoeuvre which required a port authority tug to push hard on our starboard stern to enable us to turn a tight corner into the berth.
We’ll never forget those first adrenalin charged moments arriving in New York, moments which were sizzling with expectancy and anticipation about what we would experience in one of the world’s most famous cities.
Hop on Hop off Bus
Our first venture into Manhattan was on the hop-on-hop-off bus which picked us up in the cruise terminal, and from there we drove up 42nd Street towards Times Square.
The city that never sleeps was already abuzz with morning traffic.
As we made our way up to Times Square we looked up and around in abject wonder; the skyline, the activity, the flashing billboards, the hustle and bustle, the noise, the humanity … and even though we had arrived relatively early in the morning Manhattan was already incredibly busy and vibrant.
Names that were so familiar flashed by us in quick procession; Madison Square Garden the famous indoor arena, Macy’s department store, The Empire Stat Building and more, plus names not so familiar but equally as spectacular, such as the Flat Iron Building which caught our attention.
Inch by inch the bus moved through the city, past the revitalised area of Soho which boasts the greatest collection of cast-iron architecture in the world.
Then it was on up to the City Hall where we hopped-off as we wanted to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and also visit the Ground Zero memorial.
The Brooklyn Bridge was teeming with tourists and I had to be very alert not to wander into the bike path which could result in instant death as bikes zoomed past with little regard the pedestrian way – it was as I imagined New York – fast, faster and death defying.
Brooklyn Bridge has an interesting story … The Brooklyn Bridge’s creator, John Augustus Roebling, was fatally injured just before construction began in 1869. His 32 year old son, Washington A. Roebling took over as chief engineer but became confined to bed in 1873 through caisson disease (decompression sickness) and was forced to watch with a telescope while his wife Emily took charge of the bridge’s construction. The bridge was opened in 1883 connecting Manhattan with Brooklyn.
Next we walked to Ground Zero.
Here in quiet contemplation we remembered the thousands of innocent men, women and children murdered by terrorists in the horrific attacks of February 26, 1993 and September 11, 2001.
The sobering memorial consists of two pools set in the footprints of the original Twin Towers. thirty-foot waterfalls – the largest in North America – cascade into the pools, each then descending into a centre void. The names of the victims are inscribed in bronze parapets around the pools.
To Battery Park
We hopped back on the bus and, after an excruciatingly slow 30 minutes just to round the southern tip of Manhattan Island to get to Battery Park, we decided to carry on by foot and so we jumped out once we reached East Village.
By now the thermometer was rising and we were experiencing one of New York’s hot stifling summer days. We found walking through the East Village was not as swanky as 5th Avenue but it was much quieter and full of trendy boutiques, cafes and vintage shops.
After a hamburger lunch in a quiet courtyard restaurant we set off across Manhattan in a trek that took us down 5th Avenue and back to Times Square. By late afternoon Times Square was already a seething mass of humanity and we were quite surprised to see pedestrian flow-zones demarcated – zones where you are not allowed to stop walking!
We saw a multitude of real-live Statues of Liberties, Superheroes, and Computer Game characters, as well as numerous scantily clad, semi naked, body painted ladies who sported little else than body painted stars and stripes.
Then it was on through the Theatre District, and north on 7th to the entrance of Central Park. We walked from the southern area up to the Lakes which was peppered with early evening boaters enjoying sunset on the water.
We espied The Boathouse and were magnetically drawn towards it in our weary and footsore state for a refreshing aperitif overlooking the lake as the sun set and sat at a table under the trees sipping an Aperol Spritz on a beautiful New York summer evening, and we had to pinch ourselves that we were really in the Big Apple.
Revitalised we walked back to Sea Princess and passed the Metropolitan Opera where there were queues of people as summer season was in full swing.
Our walk took us back via Hell’s Kitchen, an area which was once a den of iniquity but is now a district full of restaurants – of all nationalities and descriptions.
New York – Short Video
Eventually, now 10 hours later, foot sore, blistered and weary we arrived back at Pier 88, and once on the ship headed straight to the Deck Bar for a cooling beer, and a refreshing dip in the pool.
Although tramping the streets of New York had been hard work, and it was too late to go to a Broadway show, we found walking all day was an excellent way to get to know and come to terms with the city.
And going to bed after a glass of wine sitting on our balcony with a view like this on Sea Princess, was absolutely priceless.
We woke up early having decided that we wanted to head back to see more of Central Park.
From the ship it took us 40 minutes to the southern entrance on 7th Avenue and 59th Street.
Here I achieved one of my bucket list dreams and we rode through Central Park in a romantic horse drawn carriage.
At the side of the park we found a big bay nibbling on a bucket of chaff. Cheeky pigeons also flocked around his bucket of feed. His driver Huseyin was friendly and helpful and we negotiated a price to take us as far as 79th street west, through the quiet avenues of the park.
Huseyin told us that he hailed from Turkey and that the horse’s name was Diamond. “There are 68 horse drawn carriages operating in the park,” he said.
The horses are all well cared for and many are decked-out with beautiful boa feathers. The carriages are also beautifully maintained and we had a relaxing ride feeling a little like Royalty, enjoying the green parkland and watching early morning light filtering through the trees.
We passed an area of the park known as Strawberry Fields in commemoration of John Lennon.
Pointing to our left Huseyin said: “That’s the building, The Dakota, where John Lennon was assassinated – there right there, outside that building in 1980. John Lennon, he lived in the Penthouse apartment.” I shuddered at the memory which suddenly seemed very real all over again, and felt so very sad.
Huseyin and Diamond dropped us off at 82nd West and from here we walked east across the park in dappled sunlight past Belvedere Castle and Turtle Lake.
and onto Museum Mile on the opposite side of the park where we had our first NYC hot dog from one of the vans manned by disabled war veterans.
Dave’s had chilli and mustard and cost $4!
We strolled along Museum Mile and sat to enjoy a hot dog by the side of the dancing fountains by the Metropolitan Art Gallery which we had hoped to visit, but we realised, with the time we had available, we would not now be able to do justice.
For now it was time to start our walk back to the ship and we headed down 5th Avenue stopping briefly to look inside The Fairmont Hotel, built in 1902 and once known as the most luxurious hotel in the world.
On past Carnegie Hall adjacent to which we sat for 10 minutes in an open air plaza (with free internet) set back from the street listening to the dulcet sounds of a jazz quintet where New Yorker’s were enjoying their take-away lunches al fresco.
We decided to have a quick lunch in Hell’s Kitchen and with so many establishments around it was difficult to choose where to eat. We settled on a restaurant called The Hummus House which was advertising some wonderful Middle Eastern lunch specials.
In New York space is at a premium and this was definitely evident as we entered the restaurant which was barely wider than a passageway.
“It’s 10 feet 9 inches wide,” the owner proudly told us, “but it can still seat nearly 30 diners.”
We had huge Laffa’s and big side bowls of freshly made Hummus, washed down with home-made lemonade with mint leaves. Absolutely delicious. Dave also tried a glass of their Sangria and on first sip was a little surprised by the strength and pleasantly surprised by the taste as it wasn’t the typical Sangria we’re used to.
“It’s made of red wine, orange juice, cardamon, cinnamon and brandy, all cooked up,” the owner explained when we asked what was in it.
With a tip the meal cost us $40.
We headed back to Pier 88 to reboard Sea Princess and soon after the ship departed for Bermuda.
Farewell and Thank You Manhattan!
Cruising down the Hudson River on a beautiful late summer’s afternoon we drank in our last views of the Manhattan Skyline fading away behind us, and gave a final wave to the Green Goddess, The Statue of Liberty.
Although our stay in New York as newbies was brief, we made a connection with Manhattan on our stopover and it provided us with so much inspiration to come back and do more in this pulsating city – for example – explore beyond Manhattan Island, visit some of the world class museums, go to a show on Broadway, and generally just absorb more of the fascinating never-still city.
Our over-riding impressions were of an Immense, throbbing, exciting, manic city and we knew that we had only just scratched the surface on our stopover.
Things we learnt during our wandering.
- Manhattan is set out very logically and it’s very easy to find your way around once you understand the system. Grab a map and walk.
- Take some time to adjust. It is a very loud city. Sirens, horns, and the general human cacophony are constant accompaniment to the white noise and the buzz going on all around. Coming from the peace and quiet of Nova Scotia and a small town in Ireland prior to New York, we were not surprised to find it noisy, but we were surprised that we experienced as much culture shock as we did.
- Keep looking up. Manhattan’s buildings are sensational. The skyline will take your breath away at every corner.
- Stop for a hot-dog or a fruit juice at one of the many street side stalls run by disabled war veterans. Dave loved his hot dog with chilli and mustard $4.
- Keep hydrated. There are many places to purchase bottled water, but we found the best places were from street stalls who charged $1 a bottle. Friends who went to a matinee production show at the Winter Garden theatre were charged $5.
- When crossing the avenues and streets of Manhattan be cautious … wait for the little white man! He’s white not green – something which was quite strange for me at first.
- Seeing Manhattan on foot is a great way to get to know the city; how it’s orientated, it’s culture and the sights you might want to go back to for a more in-depth visit.
- New York comprises of 5 boroughs; Manhattan, Queens, The Bronx, Brooklyn and Stratton Island.
- In summertime always walk on the shady side of the street because we found ourselves jaded by the hot city pavements, and plethora of concrete that seemed to generate a lot of heat.
- The customary tipping rate is 15 – 20% e.g. at restaurants and for taxi drivers.
- Book Broadway Shows in advance if you can, but if you don’t there are opportunities to purchase last minute tickets for some shows in Times Square.
- Hop on Hop off buses in summertime can go very slowly due to traffic congestion. As you’ll probably want to be on the top deck, make sure you have a hat and adequate sun tan protection.
- If we had longer we would definitely have used the public transport system to get around efficiently.
There are some great internet sites with hints and help about using taxis and the subway in New York – both can be quite challenging and a little background knowledge goes a long way … here are two I’ve found:
New York City Subway Guide
Riding the NYC Subway Made Easy
TIP: When you put up your hand to grab a cab in Manhattan, you may attract more than yellow taxis. Many kinds of cars-for-hire – often called “gypsy cabs” — roam the city streets trying to pick up passengers. Some are legitimate car service drivers that aren’t supposed to pick up passengers street-side, only by prior reservation. Others have no licenses and are just trying to make a quick buck. There’s no guarantee of fare (agree to it before you head out if you go this route) and many don’t take credit cards, so ride at your own risk
Things to do
Although after two short days I don’t feel qualified to suggest things to do, here are a few things I’d love to do again, or make time for on our next visit.
- Visit Ground Zero (again) and go into the Museum (we were told you need at least 2 hours inside the museum)
- Visit The Intrepid at Pier 86 (leave at least 2 – 3 hours for this, some people spent half a day here)
- Spend a day on Museum Mile and take in the Guggenheim and the Met – Museum of Modern Art or alternatively cross Central Park and visit the American National History Museum.
- Central Park – Take a horse drawn carriage if you need a breather in the heat. We paid $100 for 40 minutes. The horses are all really well looked after and look extremely fit and well.
- Take the lift up the Empire State Building – but not during peak times – an acquaintance told us the crowd was 15 deep on the top viewing deck when they went up.
- Go to a Broadway Show.
I’m a guest of Princess Cruises World Cruise but all opinions are my own.