Exploring New York & Sailing the Queen Mary 2 (Pt.1)

PART 1 – New York

Last year I was able to attend the CLIA Conference in Southampton with my colleague Erin. During the conference, we visited the ocean liner Queen Mary 2. To get us to explore the ship they gave us a treasure hunt, with the prize of winning a transatlantic crossing from New York staying in Princess Grills, with the option to stay in New York before embarking on the cruise.

After completing the treasure hunt we all gathered in the Royal Court Theatre for the announcement of the winners. They called the first two winners and then I was the last to be called, I turned to Erin and she said, “that’s you!” I couldn’t believe it. Everyone congratulated me during the rest of the conference, saying how amazing this trip was and how lucky I was to have won it, but it didn’t really sink until I was driving across Queensboro Bridge into New York.

As you drive into Manhattan the skyline starts appearing, and as it did, a grin started to spread across my face. This was the place I’d seen on my favourite programmes & films and I couldn’t wait to walk around to see the locations in real life. I was allowed to take another colleague, which ended up being Tracey who works in the Wisbech branch. We extended our stay by 2 nights in New York. We flew in to JFK airport and pre-booked the airport shuttle to our hotel which is definitely worth doing as it is much cheaper than a taxi. You always hear about how the traffic is mental in New York, which you can’t truly understand until it takes you 2 hours to drive 15 miles! We stayed at the Candlewood Times Square on 39th street. It’s a 3* hotel and just what we needed to collapse at the end of a day trekking around New York.

On the first day, we headed to the Empire State building. It was getting dark and by the time we reached the 80th floor it was completely dark outside and the whole city was lit up. The 86th floor is where you can go outside and see the iconic telescopes. All I can say the view was worth bracing the freezing winds for!

The following morning, we were up and out of the room by 08.30am. Having only this full day to get around the city, we used the subway, which is a great value way of getting around New York. For $3 you get unlimited subway and bus use for 2 hours. We headed down to Battery park to get the ferry around the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Tip: if you want to go up the Statue of Liberty you need to book as the next available date was in 3 months time! You can get off the ferry at both stops as they run continuously throughout the day. I would say it’s not worth getting off at Liberty unless you are going up her as her pedestal is 86 feet tall, not giving you much view.

Arriving back in to Manhattan we walked up to the 9/11 memorial which is about a 15 minute walk from the ferry port. Once you arrive there you can enter the museum or walk around the two fountains in the grounds of the towers. Surrounding the fountains are all the names of the people who died from this tragic event. You can also walk to the first fire station that was on the scene and see a memorial plaque dedicated to the firemen.

We then got back on to the subway up to Grand Central Station – a must for all architecture fans as the design and artwork inside is magnificent. Tip: head to the whispering gallery, as the way that the building has been designed means you can stand in one corner and whisper to your companion in the other corner.

Next is where we made our biggest mistake thinking we could walk 16 streets in no time at all. An hour and a half later we made it to Central Park! We entered the park on 59th street at the Grand Army Plaza. Here is where the horse and carriages are if you wish to take a carriage ride around the park. This is around $80 for a 30 minute guided tour. In the park you can pick up a comprehensive guide for $5 which has a map of central park and its highlights, it also includes maps of Manhattan and a handy subway map.

My first thought entering central park is that it was massive! 843 acres to be precise. You could easily spend two days walking around this park and still not see everything. We started by the pond and here they have hills made of huge rocks which is the perfect place for a photo.

Continuing up through the park we went past the Wollman ice rink where they host many shows during the day, so it’s worth trying to catch one. We walked past the central park zoo and up past the statue of Balto, which led us to the literary walk also known as the Mall, probably the best known walkway in the park with 150 year old elm trees framing the path. This leads to the Bethesda Terrace and fountain which overlooks the lake seen in films like Enchanted. Here you can see the famous Leob Boathouse, were you can hire row boats and enjoy a meal with the view over the lake and park.

We then began to head out of the park, but not without a photo stop at the cherry hill fountain – also known as the F.R.I.E.N.D.S fountain. From here we strolled thorough strawberry fields, a memorial for John Lennon.  We then made our way up to the National Museum where entrance is free, but a donation is recommended. By this point we had learnt from our previous mistake of walking to central park so we jumped on the subway down to Times Square.

My first thoughts of Times Square were, 1) how many people there were and 2) it’s more of a triangle. The most famous square in the world is an overwhelming site for the senses. You can see all the billboards with different adverts, you have the noise of all the people and traffic and you have the smell of the traditional New York stands. It’s worth taking a moment and sitting on the red bleacher seats to take it in, and if you’re lucky, your face will appear on one of the boards.

Exhausted and feet aching from the long day, we headed back to our hotel feeling a sense of achievement of seeing so many New York sites in just one day! It was a good thing we were to join the ship the next day as I don’t think my feet could have done another 27,000 steps!

I cannot wait to go back to this marvellous city. Everyone needs to experience New York at least once in their lifetime.

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