Category Archives: New York Sightseeing

Living it up at Madame Tussauds

by Louise, Director of Operations

Last night we were lucky to be invited to check out the expanded exhibits at Madame Tussauds in Times Square. This branch of the famous wax museum (which originated in London over 175 years ago) has been open since 2000, and is one of the most popular additions to the area. It is well worth a visit on your next trip to New York!

Leo and Ash wore the same outfit. Awkward.

Leo and Ash wore the same outfit. Awkward.

The exhibition encompasses 6 floors – you’ll be brought to the top by elevator and make your way down. On the way you’ll find dozens of stunning replicas of movie stars, historical figures, famous athletes, fictional characters, and more, all ready for wonderful photo ops in a variety of poses. Some of the more distinctive displays (ET, the Obamas, etc) are manned by professionals to snap a high quality photograph of you, but most are available for casual smart phone photos (or real cameras, if you are still doing that).

Melba tries her hand at being Don Draper's secretary

Melba tries her hand at being Don Draper’s secretary

We’d had a glass of wine or two before embarking on the exhibit, and while it’s fun and silly no matter what I don’t NOT recommend being a little loosened up. It definitely makes for some fun pictures! You can also get wine, beer and snacks at a few different snack bars on your way through.

I might identify a little too closely with Dorothy Parker

I might identify a little too closely with Dorothy Parker

The work, of course, is stunningly accurate. You may find yourself staring into the eyes of Anderson Cooper, certain that at any moment he will suddenly spring to life. Or maybe that was just me. I can guarantee, however, that the lifelike nature of these figures is nothing short of remarkable.

Kelly loves the Jonas Brothers and she doesn't care who knows about it

Kelly loves the Jonas Brothers and she doesn’t care who knows about it

Madame Tussauds is great fun for all ages, and the location makes it a fantastic way to bridge the gap between say, your day of sightseeing and your pre-theater dinner. It is included in a number of our sightseeing packages, including the Freestyle Tour and the New York Pass, or as a standalone ticket. We can also include it in your customized New York City Vacation Package – e-mail us at info@newyorkguest.com to start planning, and you, too, can find yourself soon contemplating life with Dorothy Parker, or performing with the Jonas Brothers.

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Manhattanhenge: The Beauty of the Grid and Sun

Manhattanehnge3New York City was one of the first modern cities to embrace the grid plan. The streets are divided into parallel axes from north to south and then east to west – making it easy to trek across the city using cardinal directions. The lower portion of Manhattan does not follow this grid system (which is why it’s the most common area in which to get lost – even if you live here!)

While the Manhattan grid makes getting around the city considerably easier, the grid also allows for a natural phenomenon twice a year – Manhattanhenge (so dubbed in 2002). Twice a year the full sun aligns perfectly with the Manhattan grid at sunset creating a beautiful sight that attracts more and more viewers and photographers each year. The phenomenon can be viewed by facing west from any street in midtown Manhattan. 42nd street tends to be the most popular, with some folks viewing from as far east as possible to get the full spectrum, and some choosing to go further to the west for a close-up view.

Manhattanhenge1This year Manhattanhenge will happen on May 28th, 29th and 30th around 8:18 PM and July 11th, 12th and 13th at 8:24 PM. The middle dates will always have the most impressive display, with the full sun positioned exactly between two buildings. The surrounding dates will afford you a view of half the sun – still spectacular, but not quite as majestic.

Happy viewing!

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Mangia! The Brooklyn pizza tour!

by Tara, New York Guest Concierge

pizza5When boarding the bus for the Brooklyn Pizza Tour, I was not sure what else to expect besides getting pizza from two of the best pizzerias in Brooklyn without having to wait in line (which by itself is worth taking the tour!) Our tour guide, Paula, was very entertaining and informative, telling a lot of great stories about the Brooklyn Bridge (and the woman who made it finally happen), the Grimaldi’s pizza feud, sites of attempted mob hits, and other little known facts about Brooklyn.

pizza4The views coming in were wonderful; within the first half hour or so, we passed over the Manhattan Bridge, (which included photo ops for the Brooklyn Bridge), saw work being done on Jim Carrey’s new NYC apartment, and made our first stop into DUMBO where we were able to walk around Brooklyn Bridge Park and take pictures of the beautiful skyline.

We boarded the bus again for Grimaldi’s and Paula showed us a few spots that were used to film major motion pictures. She used the television screens on the bus to show us the movie clips and paused the screen when we approached the exact site. We reached Grimaldi’s to see a long line of people wrapped around the corner and were advised to not make eye contact (a standard NYC rule of thumb). Whenpizzatour1 exiting the bus I could see why. We were able to walk right inside where our tables were waiting, and received their delicious thin crust Margherita pizza within minutes. All of the ingredients are fresh (with the cheese brought in every morning) and are cooked in one of the few coal brick ovens left in the city for about 3 minutes. The basil adds a touch of flavor and color (The colors of the Italian flag!)  They also have a nice selection of bottled sodas; the Black Cherry was popular choice at our table.

After our first pizza stop we learned more about Brooklyn’s pizza history from Paula as we headed toward Bay Ridge and other Brooklyn neighborhoods. She took us past beautiful mansions and brownstones and showed us a few more movie locations complete with scenes (Goodfellas and Annie Hall to name two). We then headed over to our second pizza stop L&B Spumoni Gardens but not without driving along 86th street, location of the opening of Saturday Night Fever, complete with the Bee Gee’s Staying Alive.

pizza2We arrived at our next pizza location, L&B Spumoni Gardens, where we were able to, once again, skip the line. This restaurant was voted to have the best Sicilian pizza in the city by an NYC magazine for so many years in a row that they eventually did away with the contest altogether. L&B were also featured on a Travel Channel favorite, Man vs. Food. Due to the special way they prepare their pizza (you’ll find out how when you take the tour!) it is light, fresh and simply heaven on a plate. I hope my favorite pizzeria in Jersey City, NJ never sees this write up, because I can say L&B has the best Sicilian slices I have ever had. Even as I write this I am contemplating the next time I can go back.

By this point, my friend and I were just about full, but we still had it in us to get a small cup of their spumoni. Spumoni, as I learned on the tour, is a type of Italian ice cream that is typically layered. The Spumoni Gardens’ spumoni consists of vanilla, chocolate and pistachio. I advise, even if you couldn’t eat another bite, to at least ask for a free sample of spumoni (after all L&B’s is famous for it!) It makes for a sweet, refreshing end to your meal.

pizza3Our group then boarded the bus to make one last stop at Coney Island to walk the boardwalk, (no stops at Nathan’s, but then we didn’t need it!) though our tour guide did offer to give subway directions back to the city for those who wished to stay at Coney Island, and walk more of the boardwalk or check out the rides at Luna Park. As we walked the boardwalk, our guide walked among the group to talk to us and answer any questions we had. Once we passed the Cyclone, it was time to board the bus one last time to come back to Manhattan.

During the ride back, Paula played one last video of all the famous actors, musicians and athletes to come from Brooklyn. Just before we entered the tunnel, she put on some Frank Sinatra which felt appropriate as we rode back to NYC relaxed, full, and happy. I highly recommend this tour for anyone who wants to try amazing pizza without waiting in long lines, and also those that may have done most of the Manhattan tours and is looking for something different. This tour definitely has something for everyone; a great neighborhood tour, some movie sites, and of course great pizza.

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Christmas! ….in August

by Louise, Director of Operations

We may be braving some warm, muggy conditions here in New York this week, so it’s always nice to have a reminder that CHRISTMAS IS COMING! Yesterday, a few of us from the New York Guest office  headed up to the Beacon theater for a little preview of what’s to come from MSG/Radio City this holiday season.

christmaspreview1 Our hostess started out by introducing the quintessential Rockettes, who came out and performed a number from the Christmas Spectacular. I’ve never been so close to the Rockettes before, and I have to stay, the way they keep those smiles on their faces while executing insanely complicated dance moves is pretty mind-blowing. After their number, one of the producers and our hostess came out to discuss the Christmas Spectacular, and hinted at a pretty cool sounding new number this year featuring three-dimensional snowflakes that were described as being “about four feet wide.” I’m not sure of the details there…but I know that sounds like something I, for one, want to see in person!

christmaspreview2The next part of the event was by far my favorite. Our hostess brought out wunderkind musical composers Pasek & Paul, who co-wrote the music for last year’s holiday season sensation, A Christmas Story The Musical (click here to read our review from last year). A Christmas Story earned three Tony nominations and is scheduled to return for this holiday season at the Theater at Madison Square Garden. Seeing Pasek & Paul is always a treat, and their enthusiasm is as infectious as the tunes from the musical version of this beloved holiday film. They treated us to a chorus from one of the songs from the musical, introduced us to two of the dogs who wreak havoc on the Parker family, and finally brought out Dan Lauria (of Wonder Years fame, who will be reprising his role of Jean Shepherd this year) and new Ralphie Johnny Rabe, to sing Red Ryder Carbine Action BB Gun. The energy of everyone who took part in this segment was so joyful. I missed this show last year, but surely will make it this time around!

The event closed out with a preview of a brand new Rockettes show that is coming to Radio City in spring of 2014, called New York: Heart & Lights. From what we saw (and we were lucky enough to be among the first people to see anything from this show!) It will be a true celebration of everything New York City, with eight huge production numbers from the Rockettes and a story about discovering NYC. You surely want a chance to be among the first to see what will most likely become another iconic annual offering from Radio City – so mark your calendars for April 2014 and book your trips early!

Speaking of booking trips – are you thinking of coming to NYC this Christmas? Then you should read Louise’s Top Three Tips for a Spendthrift’s Christmas in New York:

1)      Travel after December 17th and before December 28th

You’ll avoid the high rates for “shopper’s weekends” in early December, and get out before the New Year’s Eve rate jumps. And you’ll see the most magical of the magic times.

2)      See a morning or late night performance of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular

The most expensive times to see RCCS are the traditional “theater times” – matinee performances at 1 or 2 or evening performances at 7 or 8. There are, however, usually performances at 9, 10 or 11 AM, and performances at 9:30 or 10 PM. These are your best bet for good seats at low prices – and what better way to start or cap off your Christmassy day?

christmaspreview33)      Do the Double Decker Bus

Don’t let the potentially cold weather dissuade you – double decker buses are still an awesome way to get around the city. The Gray Line buses are covered and heated in the cold, and the 48 hour package gets you access to basically the entire city, plus the evening tour of the best Christmas lights in Manhattan!

Using these tips you can book a two night stay in Manhattan with double decker bus tour access and Radio City Christmas Spectacular tickets for under $400 per person including taxes & fees – and that’s what you would spend per night on just a hotel room in early December!

Ready to book your Christmas in New York getaway? E-mail me at lgeller@newyorkguest.com and I’ll be happy to help!

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See NYC Without Waiting In Line

by Leslie, New York Guest Concierge

New York City has a million things to see and like most of us have very little time to see it!  This post shares some insider tips from a New Yorker who made all the touring mistakes. In the hope that it helps the fellow traveler, the man or woman who wants to see everything in New York in a short amount of time.

noline1Let’s start with those major sites that are featured in every high budget action flick, The Statue of Liberty and Empire State Building.  You will be one of the millions that come to NYC each year to see these sights so avoid the Lines to Liberty Island by taking a harbor cruise.   The City Sights Midtown Cruise sails by Lady Liberty daily while a tour guide provides vast knowledge of the statue.  While learning about all of her secrets you can take amazing pictures and view other architectural wonders like the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridge and get shots of the iconic NYC skyline.

The Empire State Building offers fantastic views but also fantastic long lines.  Consider visiting the Top of The Rock at Rockefeller Center instead.  The large viewing area guarantees a crowd free experience and provides a fantastic view of The Empire State Building as well as The Chrysler Building and Central Park.

noline2One of the most famous treats in New York City is the Cupcake.  Rising to fame on the coattails of the HBO comedy Sex and The City, Magnolia Bakery has become a hotspot for the individual with a sweet tooth.  While the cupcakes are delicious I don’t want to wait in line when the craving hits.  Check out Sugar Sweet Sunshine Bakery on the Lower East Side for a cupcake that isn’t too sweet.  The bakery is decorated with a hippie flair making you feel like a time traveler.  Billy’s Bakery in Chelsea is a posh bakery with pretty cupcakes.  The frosting is delicious and is generously atop each cupcake.  Lastly is Sprinkles Cupcakes, this bakery claims to be the world’s first cupcake bakery and talk about adorable, this bakery gets me over to the East Side of Manhattan on a regular basis.

noline3Before moving on from sweet treats let’s talk about Dylan’s Candy Bar Café.  I’m not going to lie to you; Dylan’s is probably the cutest candy store I have ever seen, probably due to the fact that the owner is the daughter of fashion designer Ralph Lauren.  But the long lines and gobs of loud children keep most locals out of the store and on their way to Economy Candy.  Located on the Lower East Side Economy candy has an old fashioned charm.  The doors opened here in 1937 and offer a wide variety of classic candy and new favorites.

Looking for a great restaurant but don’t want to wait in line for an hour or more to get a table?  Check out Restaurant Row located in the theater district on West 46th Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenue.  Even the pickiest eater will find a restaurant to his or her liking and hungry travelers can do cuisine window shopping before deciding on one of the sixteen eateries.   Also remember that a hotel concierge is available to make dinner reservations for you at any restaurant and can also make great recommendations of the best places to dine.

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Independence Day is a Week Away!

So you’ve survived the frozen days of winter and the pollen filled days of spring— summer is here! The Fourth of July is just around the corner and there are so many things to do in the city.

1. The Macys Fourth of July Fireworks

4j1The most famous firework display on the East Cost, the Macys annual display of fireworks is perhaps the most traditional way to spend the Fourth of July. Over 40,000 individual fireworks will be lit at 9 M EST along the Hudson River. Revelers get there early, so be sure to claim your spot along the Hudson between 24th and 57th Streets. There are many cruises and ticketed events with a view of the fireworks as well – so if you’re looking for something special give us a shout and we’ll be happy to make some recommendations!

2. The Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest

4j2Since the Fireworks don’t start until 9 PM, why not head out to the Coney Island Boardwalk to catch a hot dog. The famous hot dog eating contest starts at noon (but it is recommended for spectators to arrive by 11 AM for a good viewing spot). Watch as contests from around the world attempt to eat as many hot dogs they can in ten minutes. Joey Chestnut of San Jose, who won with 68 hot dogs and buns last year, will attempt to win for the seventh straight year and sent a new world record for consecutive wins. Nathan’s has been a staple of the Coney Island Boardwalk since 1916; selling their first hot dog for five cents (yes, you read that right- 5 cents for a hot dog). In addition to sponsoring the event, Nathan’s is also expected to donate 100,000 hot dogs to the Food Bank for New York City this year.

3. The New York Philharmonic Summertime Classics: Star Spangled Celebration

4j5The New York Philharmonic will be performing July 3rd and 4th at Avery Fischer Hall in Lincoln Center. The orchestra performs classic American theatrical pieces as well as some of the armed forces anthems. Tickets start at about $35.

4. The Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island

4j4It’s a exciting day for these two important monuments in New York City. During Hurricane Sandy last fall, both islands were badly damaged and were not safe for the public. They were closed indefinitely and every tourism worker was laid off. Over the past 7 months a huge amount of work has taken place, and on July 4th, 2013 they will both be reopened to the public at last! You can be one of the first to visit the newly reopened Statue and Ellis Island – but be wary, there are going to be long lines! Get there early if you want to be part of this historic day. The first ferry departs at 8:30 AM.

As always, feel free to e-mail us with any questions and we hope you will join us in celebrating the 4th of July in New York City! It may get crowded, but there’s always room for everyone!

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Naturally Cool: The American Museum of Natural History-

by Kelly, Manager of Partner and Group Services

AMNH3When I moved to New York City, I made a “New York City Bucket List.”  On it were all of the amazing things I wanted to do and see as a brand-new New Yorker – climb the Statue of Liberty, look up my ancestors at Ellis Island, see classic NYC staple shows like The Lion King and the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, go to the very top of the Empire State Building, take the Staten Island Ferry, tour NBC…and visit the Museum of Natural History.  I have lived in New York City for almost a decade now, and after this past weekend, I am proud to say that I have finally completed my bucket list with a trip to the Museum of Natural History.

Located on Central Park West between the blocks of 77th – 81st Streets, the Museum of Natural History was founded in 1869 and sees approximately 5 million visitors annually.  It is comprised of 25 interconnected buildings that house 46 permanent exhibition halls, research laboratories, and its renowned library.

Some of the “must-see” staples of the museum:

AMNH41.)    The 94-foot long, 21,000 pound fibreglass replica of a female blue whale that hangs suspended in the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life.  Underneath the whale is a large open space amongst the other ocean life displays where museum dwellers can rest, take pictures, and get their bearings before moving on to the next exhibit.

2.)    The Hall of Dinosaurs – my favorite dinosaur display was (of course) the giant Tyrannosaurus Rex, which is combined of actual fossils found from two specimens discovered in the 1800s in Montana.

AMNH23.)    Henry Frank Guggenheim Hall of Gems and Minerals – with hundreds of unusual geological specimens and many rare, valuable gemstones – I loved getting the chance to view both the raw minerals (the quartz and giant amethyst were my favorites) and the cut gems both on their own and set in jewelry pieces in the Morgan Memorial Hall of Gems.

4.)    Rose Center for Earth & Space – the Hayden Planetarium’s “Journey to the Stars” space show is an amazing sight to behold, spanning the expanse of the domed ceiling of the Planetarium.

Along with spending time at these wonderful staples of the museum’s installations, I was also lucky enough to visit three of the special exhibits on display as well:

1.)    Our Global Kitchen: Food, Nature, Culture – this exhibition explores the complex and intricate food system that brings what we eat from farm to fork.  My favorite part of the exhibit was an interactive video installation where I learned how certain food items like apples, bananas, lamb and tuna reach my area from their origins in Washington, Ecuador, New Zealand, and Japan.

AMNH12.)    The Butterfly Conservatory – the butterfly vivarium is a custom-fabricated, temporary shell structure of approximately 1,315 square feet that sits within one of the museum’s existing galleries.  Filled with butterflies, the vivarium is a flurry of color and beauty.  One of the curators walking around making sure the butterflies were hydrated by misting them with water had a hitchhiking butterfly attached to her the entire time I was there – in fact, many patient visitors found a winged friend attached to some part of them while in the exhibit!  Along a side wall of the vivarium is a guarded display of live chrysalises where at any moment a live butterfly may hatch.  The day that I was at the museum, the curator had seen 4 butterflies hatch (just moments before I arrived, unfortunately), and told me that they would be released into the main vivarium to thrive with the other butterflies throughout the day.

3.)    Whales: Giants of the Deep – on tour from the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa (which houses one of the largest whale collections in the world,) this exhibit features more than 20 skulls and skeletons from various whale species and showcases many rare specimens, including the real skeleton of a male sperm whale measuring 58 feet long.  The skeleton is AMAZING, and I wish I could have taken a picture for posterity – unfortunately, the museum has a no-picture policy for that exhibit (guess you’ll just have to go see it in person!)  Another notable feature that the kids seemed to love is a replica of a whale heart that youngsters could climb through and explore – a whale’s heart is the size of a small child!

My recommendation to anyone looking to visit this amazing New York City institution would be to carve out a day to explore.  I was at the museum for just over 5 hours, and there are still things I missed (I have to go back and see the Willamette Meteorite in the Hall of the Universe – it’s 15.5 tons and is the largest meteorite ever found in the United States and the sixth-largest in the world!).  I would also advise purchasing the All-Inclusive Super Saver Pass, which gets you entrance to the museum, all special exhibits, and the “Journey to the Stars” space show, because you don’t want to miss any of the amazing exhibits featured at the museum.  The Butterfly Conservatory will be available through May 27th, and if you can’t catch that – a new exhibit called “Frogs: a Chorus of Colors” is coming in on May 18th.  The “Global Kitchen” exhibit is on hand until August 11th, and “Whales: Giants of the Deep” will be available through January 2014.  If you’d like any assistance with adding the museum to YOUR New York City Bucket List, please give us a call at 212-302-4019, or email me at kshoemaker@newyorkguest.com.

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