Tuesday, May 29, 2012

New York City 2012: What We Did

Mine and Husband’s recent trip to NYC was hardly our most packed one but we still managed to see a few things.

New shoes
Let’s start with everyone’s favourite thing to do in NYC: Shop.

We stopped by the usual suspects including Brooklyn Industries, Uniqlo and Century 21 though on this trip we checked out different locations than I’ve previously been to.

Since all Brooklyn Industries are about the same small size and carry similar stock, shopping at the Williamsburg one wasn’t really any different that shopping at the Chelsea one.  But shopping at the 34th St. Uniqlo, instead of the SOHO one and the Lincoln Square Century 21 store, instead of the big one by the World Trade Centre, was such a good idea.

The two newer locations of these stores are so much calmer than their NYC originals. Yes, the Upper West Side Century 21 is smaller than the downtown one but it’s also less chaotic and I didn’t have to wait in line to get a changing room. It also had an amazing selection of jeans.
As for Uniqlo, the 34th St. location did have a bit of changing room wait but nothing like the SOHO store, where I (and others) were once told to change faster because the waiting line was so long.

We also stopped by the DSW on 34th St, also known as the world’s greatest shoe store. OK, that’s a bit of a hyperbole but this store is must-stop if you’re in need of some reasonably priced brand name/designer footwear. We picked up four pairs of shoes, including a pair of Nike runners, for about $175.

Me going through one of the sub's hatches
The Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum
Yes, Husband picked this activity, how did you guess?

I have to admit that initially I wasn’t very interested in this museum, which is partially set up inside a retired warship. But due to its very hands-on nature it was actually kind of interesting (and very educational).

Besides wandering through the Intrepid itself and learning about past US-involved wars and the space race, you can also stare at a bunch of fighter planes and go inside a sub (it's tiny!) as well as one of the Concords (though sadly the Concord was closed when we were there). And starting in late July, you’ll be able to check out the space shuttle Enterprise. 

The museum is actually quite large, with a fair amount of walking around. If you do decide to check it out, give yourself about three hours.

Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises: Semi Circle Cruise
his is a very touristy thing to do but worth it if you want to see Manhattan from the water/want an excuse to sit down for a bit.

Husband and I did the two-hour cruise that goes around the lower part of the island. We wanted to the three-hour one that goes around all of Manhattan but didn’t make it to the docks in time. But in the end, I’m glad we weren’t stuck on a boat for three hours.

While our cruise did offer great views and educational and sometimes funny commentary, it also got a bit dull in spots. And the temperature out on the water varied greatly, from hot, hot, hot (Husband actually got a sunburn) to uncomfortably cold (yeah, we could have sat inside, where it’s heated, but husband wasn’t up for that).

While I did enjoy our tour, I’m glad it ended when it ended. We were able to get some nice pictures of the lower Manhattan skyline (including the new Tower One) as well as both the Brooklyn and Williamsburg bridges, Roosevelt Island and of course Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty and it was over before I was reduced to buying overpriced hot chocolate from the ship’s on-board snack shop (yes, they’re big boats).

Tip: Save $5 off the cost of your ticket by getting a coupon from one of the many Circle Line street team members who you’ll see in Times Square.

With over a 100 vendors selling everything from ribs to olive oil, no cover fee and an outdoor setting with an amazing view of Manhattan, Brooklyn’s Smorgasburg is a must-stop for anyone who likes to eat.

Not that crowded at all
Oh, and the fact that it happens every Saturday means that while this event is busy, most vendors have no or short line-ups, since people know they can always come back next week and try out other stuff.

While I’ve been to Smorgasburg’s sister event, the Brooklyn Flea Market before, this was my first Smorgasburg and I was really excited for it. I even created a list of vendors to check out (email me if you want a copy).

Unfortunately, the day we went was super-hot and even though we got there at lunch time, and all I’d eaten all day was a muffin, I was not very hungry. While I did manage to eat most of a grilled cheese, everything else I consumed was cold and/or liquid-y: a People’s Pop popsicle (well worth the twenty minute wait in line), a pomegranate/something lemonade and an iced coffee. I really wanted an ice cream sandwich from The Good Batch and while my sister managed to get one, they were sold out before I could get in line.

At the Williamsburg ferry dock
One thing I really like about Smorgasburg is that while there are a large number of ready-to-eat vendors, there are also more than a few selling packaged stuff (sauces, cookies, etc.) for you to take home. These vendors also generally offer samples. Unfortunately, because of the heat, I failed to take full advantage of this situation.

I don’t know when I’ll be back to NYC next but hopefully next time I’ll go when it’s not quite as hot and I can enjoy Smorgasburg to its fullest.

The Half-priced Ticket Booth in Times Square
Technically this thing is called the TKTS Discount Booth. While there are several locations, we arrived at the one in Times Square, which sells only day-of-tickets, just before it opened at 11 am on a Sunday.

When we got there we saw one short line and one massive line. We immediately went to the short line, where we were informed that it was only for people who were buying tickets to non-musicals. If we wanted a musical, we had to go into the long line.

We didn’t have our heart set on a particular show but we did have a shortlist of ones that we were considering seeing and all of them were musicals so off to the long line we went.

Thankfully, once the booth opened, the line moved surprisingly quickly. All and all, I think we were in line for maybe 20 minutes and at least of five of that included pre-opening time.

What’s available, and at what discount, is displayed on several electronic boards that surround the booth. But the actual price and where the tickets are located, as well as if they’re together or not, aren’t displayed.

While Husband and I were able to easily secure a pair of fifth row tickets to an off-Broadway production of Avenue Q (which I totally recommend) for 40% off, the couple in front of us couldn’t get seats together for Rock of Ages (they settled for Chicago).

And this is the trick for the TKTS Discount Booth: Generally, go with something off-Broadway, or something that’s been running forever, to get great seats together at more reasonable prices (though still be prepared to pay; none of the shows are what I’d consider “cheap”).

While buying tickets from the TKTS Discount Booth does look a bit scary, as long as you have a bit of time and aren’t set on a specific show, it really is a great and fairly simple way to save some cash while taking in a key part of New York.

Outside the American Museum of Natural History
American Museum of Natural History
This post is getting massive but not as massive as this museum (ha, ha). So I’ll try to keep this section short and sweet: This is an incredible museum that should check out if you have a minimum of three hours to devote to it (though if you want to see the whole thing, plan on spending more like seven hours).

Like all NYC museums, this one is pay-what-you-can though the cashiers certainly don’t give you the impression that it is. There is a set rate for any special exhibits but feel free to skip the current one, about bio-luminance. Husband and I did see it and were rather disappointed by it.

Also, while the museum itself it great, its cafeteria is a bit disappointing. In this area the AMNH could learn a few things from the ROM.

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