NYC -- Who could forget silver screen couples, Carey Grant and Deborah Kerr, Woody Allen and Diane Keaton, Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks or Canada's own Fay Wray and King Kong. What do they have in common? New York City, writ large, big bold and brash.
In this "City That Never Sleeps," Gotham is captured in its state slogan, "I Love NY," and is a perfect introduction for couples in search of romance.
Like Woody Allen who gazed lovingly on the Brooklyn Bridge at his belle, Annie Hall, or the love struck Carey Grant who waited desperately at the top of the Empire State Building for the no-show Deborah Kerr in the tear jerker, "An Affair To Remember," couples in Manhattan are purring l'amore.
Despite the shock and awe of media madness surrounding the "War on Terror," it has never been a better time to visit New York City.
With daily hotel rates at an all-time low ($193US average nightly rate in 2003) compared to 2001 when rooms were averaging $204US, and occupancy levels on a rebound, it's no surprise visitors are returning in droves to the Big Apple.
Recently, Mayor Bloomberg announced 37.8 million visitors arrived last year. Outside the spanking new visitor information centre in mid-town which just opened in August, Bloomberg proudly cheered, "New York City is the 'World's Second Home.'" "Tourists are coming here in record numbers. Our vast array of cultural and recreational attractions, our standing as the the safest Big City in America and our excitement and energy make NY the ideal travel and business destination."
North of the 49th parallel, 693,000 Canucks visited in 2003, while overall 4.8 million international visitors fluffed up NY pillows. Compared to other cities across the U.S., NYC remains the No.1 destination for overseas visitors and Canada remains strong in the top three international origin markets to the city.
If the upswing continues, NYC and Company Office forecasts 5.1 million international visitors for 2004. That's a whopping 6-percent increase from last year.
Walking the streets, you might notice an extra swing to the New York swagger. As Frank Sinatra cooed, "These little town blues are fading away," so it will be when you take a bite out of the Big Apple's finest and newest.
Rockefeller Center Tour
Some call it "New York's most ambitious and breathtaking architectural feat," the cluster of art deco masterpieces between East 48th Street and East 51st Street. Others rave that the Rockefeller Center is the largest private building enterprise. One thing is certain; this modern acropolis situated in the heart of New York would have made even the ancient Greeks swoon. Built during the height of the Great Depression (1931-1939), amid spiraling financial doom, John D. Rockefeller Junior, heir of the Standard Oil tycoon, was determined to construct a plaza representing the strength of modern man, a remarkable plan of urban design in the twentieth century. The critics blasted him. They called him mad.
Undoubtedly, a must-see for any architecture or history buff, the Rockefeller Center conducts guided group tours daily with 10 stops. History hounds are outfitted with high-tech wireless headsets transmitting the guide's narration, a modern device Junior might have applauded. "This feature is what sets us apart. It keeps the group together," says Jenney Plaza Valverde, PR rep of the tour. Loaded with trivia on the over 100 artifacts displayed throughout the 14 buildings, the tour starts at "30 The Rock," the GE building.
The 70-story limestone structure is best viewed at the Outdoor Plaza and has one of the most dramatic entrances in Manhattan. A limestone carving of Zeus called "Wisdom" looms above with a stark message: "Wisdom and Knowledge shall be the stability of thy times." My guide Jonathan Rattner rhymed off how the first Pyrex glass produced by Corning appears below the Greek god, another feat accomplished by Junior's vision. As it turns out, the Rockefeller Center garners a list of many firsts.
Television was in its infancy when J.D. Junior built a headquarters for the soon to be media giants, RCA, RKO and NBC. Then, there is the skating rink. "Who would have thought to build an ice rink on this piece of real estate?" Jonathan remarks. The world's first underground shopping plaza, a maze of catacombs, awaits us beneath the crop of skyscrapers. Prior to construction, the location was flanked with speakeasies and gambling joints, not the sort of place to anchor some of America's largest corporate offices.
Today, the six city-block complex is considered one of the chichi-est spots in Manhattan. Ticket reservations are done at the NBC Store. Prices are $10US Adults, $8US Children (6-16), Seniors $8US. Tour Length: 1 hour 15 minutes
Empire State Building
Want a really romantic New York moment? How about sweeping your significant other to the top of the observatory of the Empire State Building? Open daily up to 11:30 pm, you can scan the city's magnificent expanse. President Hoover pressed a button from the White House officially opening and turning on the Empire State Building's lights. Since that day in 1931, the world's most notable NYC attraction has packed almost 110 million visitors. Ever since Hollywood has cast this sleek architectural masterpiece in stark black and white and vibrant technicolor. There's lovelorn King Kong pining for helpless Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) in the 1933 classic, King Kong. Or who could forget the glorious Valentine's Day meeting between Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks In Sleepless in Seattle? While many lovers canoodle at the top, others choose to tie the knot at the Empire State Building. Even Canadians can wed here as long as they have a valid New York State Marriage License. For observatory tickets, adult prices are $12US
Circle Line Cruise
First opened with a fleet of retired WWII navy vessels, the 57-year-old cruise operator launches from Pier 83. She cruises down the Hudson River, around Battery Park and sneaks by Lady Liberty passing around 20 landmarks circling Manhattan's 35-mile coastline. Elizabeth Taylor and Mike Todd once sailed the familiar red white and green fleet too. If you've got one, two or three hours to spare, then hop aboard "America's favorite boat ride" for a memorable sightseeing tour. The company claims 55 million patrons have sat on deck and marveled at the city skyline. When we sailed, our guide Jim was a walking encyclopedia paused for a moment of silence when we approached the empty skyline that once held the two towers of the World Trade Center. Jim played a moving recording of "Amazing Grace." Afterwards, it was up the East River under the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges until we arrived to Roosevelt Island for the big turn around. Circle Line Cruises is located at Pier 83 at the west end of 42nd Street. For more information, visit www.circleline42.com
Statue of Liberty
After being closed since 9/11, the Statue of Liberty has reopened for business. Situated on the postage stamp sized Liberty Island, the 118-year-old Grand Dame has had a facelift. For starters, tourists can't climb up the torch. But they can get a perfect photo-op of the New York Harbor from the top of the pedestal, a 16-storey high observation deck. There's also a new glass ceiling near the statue's base for an inside gaze up Lady Liberty's robe.
A limited number of timed passes are available daily from the ferry company at no cost but there are ferry fees, $10US for Adults, $4US for children 4-12 years. Ferries depart from Battery Park and Jersey City's Liberty State Park. Advanced tour reservations are strongly recommended to avoid long waiting times. For advance reservations, call (212) 269-5755 or visit www.statuereservations.com
Big Apple Greeter (BAG)
Started over 10 years ago, this free service is given by enthusiastic Native New Yorkers wanting to show off their home turf. "You'll discover we New Yorkers are quite friendly," says Elizabeth Smith of BAG. Interested visitors should contact the service that's run by an army of volunteers, three weeks prior to the big visit, stating preferred neighborhoods. A Big Apple Greeter will steer you in the right direction. Contact: 212.669.8159 or visit www.bigapplegreeter.org
Lower East Side Tenement Museum Tour (LESTM)
During the mid-nineteenth century in the heart of Manhattan's Lower East Side, immigrants and refugees called this home. Between 1863 and 1935, it is estimated that 7,000 residents crammed into the humble address on 97 Orchard Street. This miraculously untouched property for over 50 years is now the centerpiece of LESTM's public tours. Opened in 1988, curators have painstakingly researched the history of the tenement house, producing a phenomenal snapshot on five families who resided in these squalid rooms. For an off-the-beaten path attraction, LESTM is well worth the visit. A place void of the heavy commercialism that runs rampant throughout Manhattan, this neighborhood brims with discount shops, restaurants and art galleries.
LESTM is located on 90 Orchard Street. For ticket reservations call TicketWeb at toll-free 1.800.965.4827. Getting there: Take the F Train to Delancey Street over to the Lower East Side.
There are free walking tours led by volunteers throughout this 843-acred green space. Any child's dream, the park houses its own carousal, petting zoo, and castle. America's first landscaped public park, often called the lungs of NYC, Central Park is a perfect place for a needed respite. During the tour season (April through December) the Central Park Conservancy offers at least eight different walking tours. For more information call 212/360-2726 or visit www.centralparknyc.org.
When Abby Rockefeller's collection of modern art pieces became too large, she did what any sensible billionaire of her time would do. She built a museum. In this case, the Museum of Modern Art or "MOMA" which was constructed in mid-town close to hubby's Rockefeller Centre. Since its early days, the MOMA has gone through many transformations.
The leading architects of the day were employed to design a building that would be sympathetic to modern art. Philip L. Goodwin, Edward Durell Stone, Philip Johnson, and Cesar Pelli were but a few. Later this year, Yoshio Taniguchi's much anticipated design will be unveiled on November 20, 2004 in time to celebrate the art gallery's 75th anniversary.
The best part: Reopening day is free to the public. Friday evenings from 4:00-8:00pm has free admission too. The MOMA is located in swanky mid-town 11 West 53rd Street, New York, NY 10019. For shedules and events, contact 212-708.9400 or visit www.moma.org.
Café Bari (529 Broadway) -Located on the corner of Spring and Broadway, Café Bari serves up Italian fare a la spice in a style reminiscent of Italy but with a touch of the exotic middle east. Baked in brick ovens, the huge pizzas are fantastic ($9.95-$14.95US) Prices are moderate.
Tavern on the Green (Central Park at West 67th St) -Although the menu is pricey with main courses starting at $20US, the ambiance of sitting amid sculpted topiarys is pure New York fantasy courtesy of the Hollywood wizards from the movie "Edward Scissorhands."
North Square (103 Waverly Place) - On the northwest corner of Washington Square is North Square, a quaint restaurant offering American fare with a zest. Frequented by the locals, this is an undiscovered gem for tourists and can be easily missed. The premise is nestled in the historic Washington Square Hotel.