My first trip to New York was for my sixteenth birthday and I definitely was a spoilt brat, you will find out shortly why and how my mum got her revenge!
Jetting off to New York with my grandparents and mum we were all excited for our Black Friday shopping trip and to celebrate my birthday in the Big Apple. Having a birthday at the end of November has its advantages when you belong to a family who loves celebrations and shopping in equal measures. We were staying at the Park Central Hotel on Seventh Avenue just opposite Carnegie Hall and with a view from our room down to Times Square, it was amazing. The whole city was hustle and bustle and full of the famous yellow NY cabs. It really is the city that never sleeps as no matter what time of day or night you look out on the city below it is always a hive of activity.
As usual, we had taken advantage of pre-booking one of the hop on hop off bus tickets as we always find this is the best way to get your bearings and cram in as many of the sights that you can. Although expecting it to be really cold at the end of November we hit lucky with the weather so it made our sightseeing all the better. I totally love everything about New York and here are a few of my favourites and some of my travel memories.
Times Square is the first obvious stop for any tourist and how we laughed when we saw the naked cowboy. As it was the holiday season some of the balloons were still flying from the Thanksgiving Macy’s Parade and all of the shops had their Christmas decorations. Spectacular!
We really laughed when we saw that Charmin of toilet roll fame, had sponsored the toilets in Times Square for the holiday season and couldn’t resist the temptation to use the facilities. It was totally unreal. Going up the escalator to the restrooms the carpet was a deep and sumptuous blue the same as the Charmin branding and the walls were decorated with the Charmin bear. They had a jingle which played and although I can’t remember the words it was all about going to the loo! You gave your name and where you were from and this appeared on the map of the world as you headed into your cubicle. The toilets were absolutely immaculate and there was an attendant who went in after each visitor and gave it a quick clean before the next visitor. We still talk about it to this day, how crazy but well done Charmin.
Times Square is exactly as it is in the movies with neon lights everywhere, and full of people from all over the world all taking in the cosmopolitan atmosphere. New York is a city where you constantly have a stiff neck from staring up at all of the skyscrapers and everything that is happening around you. At one point I even passed a man with a boa constrictor wrapped around his neck!
Times Square is at the junction of Broadway and you can grab some discount tickets for some of the top shows. We saw Beauty and the Beast on Broadway and it was brilliant. Donny Osmond was in the cast but on the day we went it was the understudy, which disappointed several in the audience who clearly had only come to see him as they got up and left when it was announced just before the start of the show. Their indignation gave us another memory we often laugh about.
For great views of the city, you must take the trip up the Empire State Building, book your tickets before you go so you skip the queues. We also did the NY Skyride which is in the Empire State Building which is a simulated motion helicopter ride, it was thoroughly entertaining. Once at the top the views are breathtaking. The Rockefeller Centre also has a viewing platform ‘Top of the Rock’. We only went to the Rockefeller to see the Christmas light switch on and watch the ice skaters. The lights are amazing and while the skating is good I liked the holiday season ice rink at Bryant Park much better, there’s also skating in Central Park. I hadn’t realised how vast Central Park is and it is absolutely beautiful, make sure you find time to just take a stroll or chill out especially if you are visiting in the warmer weather.
I also learned one of the shortest words for a much longer sentence from Howie the bus tour guide from Brooklyn. ‘D’Jeet’ when translated means Did you eat? I still say it today. Brooklyn Bridge is pretty and the city is beautiful by night so if you can, try and get a tour that covers a night trip, you won’t be disappointed.
When in New York City, don’t miss seeing the Flat Iron Building. If you don’t know the one I mean as soon as you see it you will know exactly which one it is. The magnificent Art Deco Chrysler building also holds a prominent position on the landscape on the corner of 42nd Street and Lexington Avenue. We also went to Wall Street and did this on a Sunday when it is really quiet which was great as we were able to get uninterrupted photos of the famous Wall Street Bull and the Wall Street street sign. While there we did also see a man in full head to toe royal blue fur coat complete with hat, very 70’s pimp style!
For impressive and iconic buildings you must experience Grand Central Station and soak in the fabulous atmosphere. The architecture is magnificent. Pop over to Bryant Park where the fountain from the opening titles in Friends is located. The Park also hosts lots of events, including arts, crafts and fashion and in the winter there is a great family friendly ice rink.
For shopping you must go to Macy’s; it is like a rabbit warren with escalators taking you to all different floors and wings of this huge department store. Make sure you take your passport to Guest Services and get your discount card.
Fifth Avenue is home to all the big name brands and some of the most luxury labels. You can do some fabulous people watching along with great shopping. All around the city you see people with American Girl Place carrier bags so I was desperate to find out what it was all about. You would have laughed at my face when I discovered it was a doll shop! Not just any doll shop though, there were girls bringing their dolls into the beauty bar to have the doll’s hair washed and styled, there were clothes and accessories for the dolls and even matching clothes so you and your doll can dress the same. I couldn’t believe how busy it was it was an amazing place And I was even compelled to get my 4-year-old cousin a t-shirt for her and one for her favourite build-a-bear.
Sadly the fabulous Fifth Avenue toy store FAO Schwarz is no longer open but it was home to the giant floor piano which was featured in the Tom Hanks film ‘Big’ I am embarrassed to say that when I was 16 I found the insistence of my travel companions to have a go on the piano so humiliating but now I am thrilled that I was forced to do it as it is a big tick off my list of things that I have done, especially as the store has now closed its doors. I still also have little miss mismatch socks which remain unworn in the bottom of one of my drawers that my mum bought me as they were a set of 3 different patterned socks that you alternated so never have a matching pair. Anyone who knows me and my OCD will know that this in-coordination drives me wild. I am sure she did this on purpose.
For some really great bargains if you have time take a trip out to the Premium Outlet Mall Woodbury Common. You can usually book a trip with the hotel concierge or just grab a bus out of town from Penn Street. Sign up for coupons before you go and make sure you take an empty suitcase to bring home all your designer gear!
On my actual birthday (this is when I turned into a total brat) we got up really early because of the time difference and went to an Irish bar for breakfast as my team Newcastle were playing Southampton. Dressed in my black and white strip I was an instant hit in the bar as we all cheered for the Toon. A great start to my sweet sixteenth. For my birthday mum had told me that I could choose something from Tiffany’s so I was looking forward to heading straight there but everyone else had other plans. Back to the hotel for a quick change before hopping on the bus and heading out for the day. It was a totally amazing day we went all around Central Park and saw the John Lennon Strawberry Fields memorial, we went to Ground Zero and saw the poignant flattened area of the twin towers, the constantly lit memorial in Battery Park. We hopped on the ferry to the Statue of Liberty which was awesome and saw Ellis Island, you wouldn’t believe what an incredible day we had but was I happy? NO, I was the biggest brat ever, demanding to go to Tiffany’s!
At 16 you would think I would have learned that if you are somewhere for a whole week and you had been promised a gift from a specific shop you would receive it at some point, not necessarily on your actual birthday but surely being on such a fabulous holiday should be enough? But not me. Heading back to the hotel mum took a diversion towards Fifth Avenue home of Saks, American Girl, Louis Vuitton, Abercrombie & Fitch, Apple and of course Tiffany’s.
I was thrilled, however arriving at the most fabulous store in NY we were told the store was closing in five minutes. You thought I was a brat before, well you haven’t seen the worst of me yet, I had this almighty tantrum like a 2-year-old saying I will never be able to choose something, while all of the time my poor mum kept telling me it doesn’t matter we will just look and come back tomorrow. Anyone else would have given up dragged their daughter from the shop and swore never to return but not my mum, within the allotted five minute shopping time she had helped me choose both a bracelet and earrings and had them gift wrapped in the famous Tiffany boxes and ribbon and we were on our way back to the hotel, with me all smiles again.
Fact, there is an actual Tiffany school for gift wrapping! Another fact, I love my jewellery from Tiffany’s and have amassed several additional pieces over the years but my first bracelet is my absolute favourite.
The evening of my birthday appeared to be impromptu as we caught a cab down to Little Italy and chose one of the first restaurants we came to. Here is where my mother got her revenge, as she fully knows I hate being anywhere where there is any likelihood of strangers singing happy birthday to me, so did not for one minute suspect anything was amiss as the restaurant selection appeared to have been quite random. Little did I know it was all pre-arranged and yes you’ve guessed it a quartet of Italians gathered around me cake and candles in hand for the ritual birthday humiliation in a particularly packed out restaurant!
New York is great whether you are celebrating, shopping or just sightseeing there is always something to do and it should be on everyone’s list of places to visit even just to confirm the craziness of it all. Everything is bigger and better than anywhere else and it’s a wonderful place to create some lasting memories. Never mind I ♥️ NY, It should be, I ♥️my mum.
If you’re heading to the US and looking for great places to visit why not also read our guides to Las Vegas, Miami, Boston or San Francisco. Have you been to the Big Apple? What are your recommendations we’d love to hear in the comments below.