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As "touristy" stuff goes, I tend to avoid it at all costs.
As a Chicago resident, I haven’t been to Navy Pier for years and only visit Michigan Avenue when it truly can’t be dodged. (The Willis Tower, being directly across the street from the Travelzoo offices, gets a pass for proximity's sake.) So why was it that when I booked a trip to New York City and noticed that I was just scant blocks from Times Square -- possibly the most touristy spot of all touristy spots east of the Mississippi -- I was actually kind of excited?
Even though I'm totally jaded when it comes to Chicago sites, I hadn't ever spent much time in NYC -- and even though we have a collective chip on our Second City shoulder when it comes to the Big Apple, there's always going to be something cool about New York. Even if you're in the epicenter of tourist-land. All my life I’ve been seeing disclaimers in advertisements saying that prices will be higher in Times Square and Hawaii. How could I pass up the opportunity to spend more on coconut-crusted shrimp at Red Lobster?
Truth be told, I have some hard and fast rules when it comes to dining -- never get anything you can find somewhere else, which rules out pretty much every restaurant in Times Square, from the Applebee's to the T.G.I. Friday's to the Olive Garden to the McDonald's. Thankfully, just a few blocks in any direction one can find decent pizza to round out a true New York experience, and street food carts (still an anomaly in most places I’ve been) are ubiquitous.
The nicest thing about Times Square is that if you absolutely, positively have to be a tourist anywhere, this is the most forgivable spot in the world to do it. Crane your neck high and walk without looking forward. Gawk at the flashing signs and the advertisements and everything else demanding your attention. Enjoy the masses of humanity that surround you for the same exact reason that you're there -- just to take in the sights. Spend stupid amounts of money on souvenirs. Take lots of pictures of yourself in the center of it all. Above all, be very glad that you're not there on New Year's Eve. (Unless you're there on New Year's Eve, in which case, I'm sorry.)
We were staying in Hell's Kitchen, and if you're interested in sticking close to Midtown but want to avoid the relative madness of the Times Square area, heading west is a good option. While staying at the Yotel on 10th between 41st and 42nd, I can report the following: If you’re walking to Times Square, avoid walking west down 41st Street -- it's a pretty dismal experience near bus ramps and just off the tunnel exit and less appealing than just a block north.
It's also an easy walk to Central Park and the rest of Midtown (at least for a city dweller like myself who's used to hoofing it a little bit), and the subway nearby makes it easy to access the southern end of the island as well. Don’t take cabs everywhere for a few days like we did; just open up the map (one of which was provided to us by Yotel) and find a line. It's actually pretty easy, although I'm also used to traveling via the CTA, which could either help or hinder depending on your perspective.
Finally: If you think you’re going to get to re-enact what I consider to be the best movie scene ever to be filmed in Times Square -- when Jason Voorhies emerges from the subway in "Friday the 13th: Jason Takes Manhattan" -- good luck. They frown on machetes in public these days.
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