New York (Trip Planning)
Back in May we decided, for our first proper holiday in 8 years, we’d go the whole hog and plan a trip to New York. Actually… that’s not how the trip came about Roger Waters tour announcement for his Wall shows was the catalyst, and once the tickets were secured (at eye watering expense but I’ll cover the show in another blog post) for October 5th 2010 Madison Square Garden, the trip was a go and the planning could begin. Lesley was beside herself with excitement right from the start for her first trip to the USA.
Right from the outset, checking out flights and hotels costs, it was obvious this was going to cost serious money but as Lesley said it was our first proper holiday in 8 years so let’s go for it. First things first, dates.
The concert was set for Tuesday 5th October, Lesley who works in a school, came off on holiday for 2 weeks on Friday 1st October therefore we decided to head off on Saturday 2nd October for 7 nights returning 9th October. So with this in mind we checked out flights from Edinburgh to New York for these dates. The best deal at the time was flying Virgin Atlantic Edinburgh-London Heathrow-JFK New York which came out a just below £500 per person, fair enough, I prefer Virgin Atlantic or British Airways compared to US airlines such as United, American Airlines etc having experience with all of them on various business trips to the US over the years.
Next up, hotels. Crikey New York hotels are expensive as befits one of the great cities of the world. I’m not one for expensive hotels, all I want is a good nights sleep, clean and easy to get to. Checking out hotels.com and expedia.co.uk to see what was available we decided to focus on hotels close to either Madison Square Garden (because of the concert) or Times Square (sight seeing). As it is everything in midtown Manhattan is within a couple of miles of each other anyway. Lesley got a few recommendations from friends who had been previously while I trawled through reviews and ratings separating the lies and false reviews from the real ones. I found it best to ignore the opinions of customers from the US (too whiny or obviously fake) and focussed on views from other UK customers to get a base point I could relate to.
To cut a long story short we booked seven nights at The New Yorker Hotel on 8th Avenue 34st just across from Penn Station and Madison Square Garden (follow on Twitter). You can see the hotel in the image above just to the left of The Empire State Building, in actuality the Empire State Building is 3 blocks further back than the hotel on 5th Avenue which gives you a good idea of both the size of the hotel and The Empire State Building. As myself and Lesley like our space we upgraded to a deluxe room with twin double beds at an average cost of £240/night… ouch, twice what I’ve ever spent on a hotel room. This better be worth it.
It was around early June that I was booking the flights and hotel with the Icelandic Volcano eruption and the associated flight chaos clearly in mind. Feedback from a lot of people who were caught up in that madness pointed towards Thomas Cook as being particularly good in sorting out peoples travel problems and taking care of their customers while other travel companies were poor in coming to the aid of stranded travellers. With this in mind I booked the flights and hotel as a package through Thomas Cook. In fact, checking out expedia.co.uk showed Thomas Cook to be £100 cheaper for the exact same trip, so it pays to shop around even when you’ve decided on what you want.
Next up, with the major planning done, we purchased a travel guide to help get a feel for the City, the sights and sounds, what to do, getting around etc. We plumped for this one DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: New York Citywhich receives good reviews on amazon.co.uk and was up to date. Lesley read it cover to cover about four times and had enough planned that probably wouldn’t have fitted into a month’s trip. Hey ho.
Travel insurance, very important with personal experience to the fore. Many years ago my Uncle was knocked down and seriously injured while on business in New York. He suffered broken bones and back injuries which required a 3 week stay in a US hospital before being moved to the UK. As he had to be kept horizontal this required chartering an air ambulance flight from the US to the UK at huge expense. As he was on business his company took care of it all but it served to remind us not to scrimp on travel insurance. A more recent experience left Lesley on holiday in Rome with her mother who suffered a serious stroke on her first day. She spent 3 weeks in an Italian hospital and had two life saving operations. Her travel insurance paid up but a lot of organising for Lesley to remain there had to be done by me back in the UK. Bottom line, travel insurance is a no brainer where medical emergencies are involved. Insurance for lost luggage, illness, cancelled flights etc is a bit more hit and miss. Insurance Companies will do everything in their power not to pay out and I view these items as less essential. You get what you pay for obviously but customer reviews from people who have had to make are claim are what you really need to pay attention to. I used MoneySupermarket to get a range of quotes and then checked out their forums for customer feedback as to how certain Companies performed when faced with claims.
Long stay car parking at Edinburgh Airport is very expensive if you use the official car parks or NCP Long Stay etc, so get yourself online to check for all available suppliers and save yourself a whack of cash. I never bothered and ended up paying £72 (8 days – damn the time difference) for the privilege, jings.
Our neighbour had visited NY in the summer and recommended signing up for tours before getting there as the queues were lengthy. She recommended CitySightsNY and had the maps and bumph they gave hee so we took a look at what was available. Lesley loves open top bus tours and a shiver still runs down my spine when I think of the Glasgow tour we went on years ago, fecking freezing it was, somehow I don’t think the Gorbals in winter can compare to Times Square in the autumn. There did seem to be genuine savings to be had by pre-booking trips to Ellis Island, Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building etc so we plumped for the 3 day tour package which you can read all about here. I’ll be detailing the actual trip and how we got on in a further blog post but I can recommend signing up for a CitySightsNY tour now or when you get there, good value for money and very informative and great for getting your bearings, saves on the old shoe leather too.
All that was left to organise was Airport transfer from JFK to Hotel and a return trip Hotel to JFK. Even though the hotel is right across from Penn Station we decided to go for a door to door service as I was almost certain to be (a) knackered and (b) in a foul mood upon arrival. We prebooked this service with SuperShuttle. After all that organising I was ready for a holiday… Lesley had a countdown timer on her facebook page and excitedly counted down the sleeps until the day had come and off to Edinburgh Airport we went… tune in for the next gripping blog post on our trip to New York (coming
soon, soonish, eventually).