Rob Lucas Road Trip: 36 Hours In NYC – Or – How Not To Get Killed By A Stroller Near The Rock Center Christmas Tree!

December 6, 2017

I spent the classic “whirlwind 36 hours in NYC” this past weekend.  Actually, the trip was 70% business, 30% pleasure as we were helping our niece tour a school she may be attending in lower Manhattan. The timing worked out perfectly for seeing city while it was all decked out for the holidays, my first time doing so.  It was also my nieces first time in New York, so we wanted to expose her to as much  of what makes NYC tick as possible so she could figure out if the vibe and lifestyle  was right for her.  I think we jammed in as much as we could between 10 AM Sunday and heading for the airport at 3 PM Monday.  My niece’s phone showed that we walked about 15 miles total, which seemed accurate, as we did hit just about everything between Battery Park and Central Park, including 9 subway rides, and the requisite few moments along the way trying to figure out if we were going in the correct direction.

Here are some highlights and helpers for those who might be considering NYC for the holidays...or anytime!

The Macy’s windows were all that we expected.  Don’t miss touring both the 34th St. and Broadway sides of the store.  By all means, go inside to people watch and soak in the holiday shopping.  Even if you intend on buying nothing, just do it.  It’ll make you wanna fly to New York to shop the next time you need a new purse! 

From Herald Square, walk up Broadway to Times Square, even though the most famous corner in the world was a little disappointing, and not because I’ve been there before.  My niece (first timer) said the same thing, that it was just kind of “meh.”  While it wasn’t as dirty and character filled as I thought it would be, there’s just something different about it than, say, even 10 years ago.  I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I think Times Square is not what it used to be because it’s lost it’s identity…it’s not “childlike and dream-filled” enough to be “young fun” (like the Macy’s windows), and at the other end of the spectrum, it’s not sophisticated or cool enough to be “adult fun.”  But I do know this: It takes guts for someone to ride their skateboard or bike in between the cars and across Times Square with tens of thousands of people walking around.  Skateboard kids and bike messengers are the true gauntlet runners of New York City transportation!

From Times Square, head a few blocks North and East to the holiday chaos that is viewing the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree.

The best time for a nice casual up-close view of the Rockefeller Center tree and ice rink, without crowds, is just about NEVER!  Or early in the morning.  If you get there any time after Noon, especially on a weekend, you will encounter gridlocks of people in virtually every corner entrance to the Rockefeller Center complex.  They do a great job of crowd control, there are as many police as you would see at a Bills game directing traffic.  Many of the side streets have barriers blocking traffic that would normally flow during the non-holiday season, which is nice, until you walk into one in the dark. And we are talking concrete barriers that are 3 ft. high and 3 ft. wide. There are also mazes of cuing up areas dedicated to giving those attending the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall a separate area in which to line up.  It very much reminded me of an airport security checkpoint! 

We got there a little after dark and spent between 6 and 8pm in the area.  Once you got to the main tree viewing area it wasn’t that bad…kind of like trying to find room to eat the Taste Of Buffalo.  But in the getting there, you will likely go through a block or two of massive crowds much like when you exit a Bills game where everybody stayed till the end, and adding in about 1000 strollers.  And in the dark.  If you’ve ever been to Disney and know what it’s like to have somebody run their stroller wheels right up your heel, get ready to feel that often near the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. But it’s all worth it, as the pictures show. If you’re planning on ice-skating, it’s just like at Canalside.  The wait could be 20 minutes, or 2 hours!

As you leave Rockefeller Center make sure you do so by exiting on the Fifth Avenue side so you can take in incredible light show from Saks Fifth Avenue. This year’s show was produced by Disney.  In some ways it was almost better than the Macy’s Christmas windows. And right next to Saks Fifth Avenue is St. Patrick’s Cathedral. While they have regular masses, weddings, and events like any other church, St. Patrick’s Cathedral’s doors are always open for tourists.   It is very simply a not-to-be-missed location, especially at Christmas time when they have a life-size manger set up to the left of this pulpit.  If you’ve never been there, St. Patrick’s Cathedral is so huge that there are multiple big-screen monitors up and down each side of the church to give those in outer pews a view of the alter and ceremonies.  I need to attend a mass there just to see how long it takes to give communion!

After Rock Ctr and St. Patricks, I recommend walking South about 8 blocks and spending an hour having a drink at one of the bars on the terrace at Grand Central Station.  From there you can train or walk it to your hotel.  The terrace at Grand Central is fabulous NYC people watching.  And your feet will need the break after being rolled on by so many strollers!

Also for the first time ever, we really took some time and walked through SOHO during the day.  So glad we did that…I think it’s my favorite part of New York City! Great restaurants and shopping, with just a little bit more open space that lets the sun shine in.  A bit more open, and less intense than Little Italy.

Two final thoughts:

  • The underground walkways around the Fulton St subway stations provided the most interesting NYC subway smells.  It started as “What is that smell”, graduated into “Oh, that’s certainly human urine” (as you look at a spot on near the tracks and think “Who could pee there?”), then the smell morphed into “I think that’s what a dead body smells like, and I just hope it’s not my platform.”
  • When we toured the school my niece was thinking of attending, the young woman at the reception desk found we were from Buffalo and told us she was from Rochester (Victor).  Then s student came in and we found out she was from Williamsville.  And finally, at the end of our tour the host and director of the school offered “Btw, I went to school at UB.  That big October storm you had a decade ago…I had a tree fall on my car.  And my brother is now at UB.”  

The moral:  You can always leave Buffalo, but somehow, Buffalo will always find you!