If I had to sum up New York City in two words, it’d be: controlled chaos. I’ve been to many major cities in the United States and Europe – most notably Chicago, L.A., Las Vegas, London, Copenhagen, Berlin, and St. Petersburg Russia – and NONE compares to NYC. I mean that very, very literally. It is every man, woman, and child for themselves in NYC, and may the odds forever be in your favor. Laws cease to exist here, especially when it comes to traffic and pedestrians walking. Turn signals are nonexistent, drivers dangerously cut off other drivers, and the horns never. stop. honking. Pedestrians walk out into the street or crosswalk without any sense of self-preservation, just daring someone to hit them. Most people are rude and cold towards you, even those working, like most of the workers who worked for the HoHo bus company. It is – quite literally – survival of the fittest.
Having said that, I do not regret visiting NYC, even though if I die before returning, I will die at peace. NYC is probably the most famous city in America – and one of the most famous in the world – so visiting at least once in my adulthood is something I am glad I did (I went once before in 2000 with family, but I was 10, so I barely remember it; I do recall going to the top of one of the Twin Towers though…). The history is phenomenal, and some of the world’s most iconic sights are there – most famously, the Statue of Liberty. Unfortunately, this means that NYC is also the most visited city in the U.S., with an average of almost 60 million visitors per year, so combine that with the 8.5 million who call it home, and you’ve got yourself a smorgasbord of crowded insanity.
We dedicated an entire day to NYC, something we didn’t do for any of the other states/cities we went to (except for Washington D.C.), and even that wasn’t anywhere enough time to properly visit. Not surprisingly, one simply cannot visit all of NYC – or even just Manhattan – in a day. This city isn’t a one and done kind of city, it’s a week-long or more city. I fully believe you need – at minimum – one week here, and even then, I highly doubt you’ll see or do everything you want. NYC is a place that requires an extended stay or multiple visits, without a doubt. We spent the majority of the day here, and only managed to take the HoHo through downtown Manhattan, ride a boat around the Statue of Liberty, and see the 9/11 Memorial for about 10 minutes.
Speaking of the HoHo… for those who’ve read my other blogs (mostly my Europe blogs), you’ll know that I speak highly of HoHos (Hop-on, Hop-off buses) and encourage my readers to ride them. Well, there’s a first time for everything, and this is the first time I will say that I absolutely hated the HoHo. There are multiple HoHo companies operating in NYC and we just happened to go with one called “The Sightseeing Pass”. DO NOT RIDE THE HOHO HERE. Just don’t, especially if you have very limited time. You’ll be much better off taking the subway, walking, or even taking a cab. The HoHo was a miserable mistake, and we regretted it more and more the longer we were stuck on this Red Bus of Doom. All my other experiences with HoHo’s have been great; frequent buses that aren’t overcrowded, but NYC was the exact opposite of this. So many people want to get on the buses that the workers must take head counts and make people line up, and they only allow on a certain amount of people. I’ve never, EVER waited in line for a HoHo – in any city – and yet we found ourselves waiting in line every single time for the NYC HoHos (I’ve waited for the next HoHo to arrive, but never in a line to get on it). Also, the buses run much less frequently, and since it takes 2 hours to go 2 miles in Manhattan, you end up standing in line for up to 20+ minutes. It may not sound like a lot on paper, but it is when you’re hot, tired, hangry, and have already waited in 20+ minute lines multiple times already. I truly believe that we would have had a much better experience just walking or taxiing to places, and it certainly would have been faster.
*In the spirit of complete transparency, my mother and stepfather rode the HoHo in NYC as well, and did not have the same experience as us. However, they rode with a different company. So my suggestion would be to research the different HoHo companies and make the best informed decision.*
An example of the HoHo stupidity: we bought tickets for the Statue of Liberty boat ride at 1:30 pm as part of a package deal with our HoHo tickets (same company operates both) and initially got in line for our first HoHo around 11 am. We asked the worker who was stationed at this HoHo stop if that would be enough time, since we were at stop 1 and the stop for the State of Liberty was around stop 16. He said, and I quote, “Oh, definitely”. Well, it was definitely NOT enough time. We didn’t even get on our first HoHo until around 11:30 am since they stopped the line right at us because they only allow a certain amount of people on. This forced us to wait for the next one, which took forever. We ended up being only around stop 8 at 12:55 pm. We had to cancel our current boat ride reservations (even though you pre-buy the tickets, you still must go on their website and reserve a spot; last cruise is at 3 pm), and re-order for the 3 pm one. We ended up getting to that stop at around 2:15 pm and even then, still had to walk some ways to the actual boat dock. When it comes to NYC, take the time you think it’ll take to get somewhere and add one hour, especially if you are unfamiliar with the city, like we were.
The one positive of taking the HoHo was it enabled us to see all the iconic downtown Manhattan sights – Times Square, Broadway, the Empire State Building, the Flatiron Building, SoHo, Chinatown, even the infamous Naked Cowboy (!!) – and of course, as I’ve mentioned above, the Statue of Liberty. Seeing this world-famous monument up-close and personal was by far the highlight of the day, and definitely one of the major highlights of the entire road trip. This was my favorite part of my visit to NYC, mainly because the statue is so famous and because it took us away from the terrible HoHo bus and hustle and bustle of the Manhattan streets.
I’ve seen the Statue of Liberty once before, on the trip in ’00, but it was only from the air as our airplane was landing at the airport, and I barely remember it since that was 18 (!!) years ago. Plus, being only 10 years old at the time, I didn’t appreciate it for what it was, which is much different than now, at age 28.
Our guide on the boat was a life-long NYC resident, so he was extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic about his city, which made listening to him much more tolerable and fun. We learned a boatload from him, mainly information about the statue, Ellis Island and immigration, 9/11, and the history of the city. As he put it, he was going to tell us the “lesser known, REAL history of the Statue of Liberty“.
*Warning: history nerd-out time.*
We learned that the original intended recipient of America’s most famous landmark was actually Egypt, so she was modeled after a Muslim woman. However, Egypt said “Nah, we’re good” because they didn’t want a gigantic statue from some random unknown sculptor from France (at the time) sitting in their harbor. So, the sculptor who designed it, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi – but didn’t actually build it: that was Gustave Eiffel, sound familiar? – shopped it around and many U.S. cities nibbled at it (like Boston and Philadelphia). NYC won the bid, even though they were the last city to get on board. All Bartholdi had to do was slap a tablet in her hand with the date of the signing of the Constitution and call it a day.
Even though NYC won the fight, they still didn’t want to cough up the money Bartholdi required to build the base that the statue would sit on, and without the base, Bartholdi and Eiffel had no way of erecting it. The city didn’t want to pay, so fundraising efforts began. These ultimately failed, and Grover Cleveland (who was the NY governor at the time) vetoed a bill that would provide $50,000 to finish it, and Congress shot down the request of $100,000 to build it. So was born the country’s first crowd-funding operation, when Joseph Pulitzer (publisher of New York World) said he would print the name of any person who donated $1 or more towards building the base. Back in those days (late 1800’s), only the rich and famous got their names in print, so this was a huge opportunity for the “little people” to experience some fame, and people began donating a dollar whenever they could to get their names in print over and over. Eventually they were able to raise enough money this way, and the base was built. While all this was happening, the arm of the Statue of Liberty that holds the torch was already in NYC, sitting in Madison Square Park, and had been for years. For six long years that lonely ‘ole arm sat in downtown Manhattan, sort of like its own little landmark, until the rest of the statue could finally make its way to the U.S. after the money for the base was raised.
Funny enough, everyone thinks France gifted the statue to the U.S. and that’s simply not true. It was a gift from a French sculptor (who didn’t even intend for the U.S. to receive it, as mentioned above), and the government of France kind of just shrugged, ran with it, and took credit. Either way, it’s a wonderful thing that history played out the way that it did because the Statue of Liberty has become THE symbol of the United States of America, more-so than the White House, Mount Rushmore, the American Flag, bald eagles, football on Sunday, or eating too much food at buffets. Nothing is more American than Lady Liberty herself, who is modeled after a Muslim woman. Poetic.
As we floated past the statue, we could see that there were people lined all around the bottom of the base, as well as people on the top part of the base. There are 3 levels visitors can go on the Statue of Liberty: (1) the regular, everyday area that is around the very bottom of the statue. Anyone can go here, and this is where most visitors go, (2) up one level, on the base. You must pass a background check to get to this level, and those can take weeks to months to complete, and (3) the crown, which is damn near impossible to get inside of these days. Again, you must pass a background check, but it is much more intensive than the background check to get to the middle and can take months. The guide said people who applied earlier this year probably won’t hear if they passed until at least October. He said back in the day, anyone could go to the crown but that was obviously halted on September 11th, 2001. Apparently after 9/11, all traffic to or near the statue was completely halted for one whole year. Boats weren’t even allowed to get near it, let alone any visitors. The government slowly reopened the statue to the public, but they’re still very guarded and picky about who gets too close to it.
In addition to learning about the Statue of Liberty, we learned about Ellis Island and how immigration worked back in the 1800’s. During the massive influx of immigrants decades ago, upwards of 10,000 people were immigrating to the U.S. via NYC per day. That’s a whole lotta people. Our guide said that an estimated 40% of present-day Americans have at least one ancestor that came through Ellis Island, whether they know it or not. He said that back then, the only way anyone was turned away was if they were crazy or a criminal. If you weren’t either of those things, you got in. At first it was a free-for-all, with 100 different docks lining the shores of Manhattan, and all you had to do was step off the boat and you were an American. That was quite literally all it took. This practice was eventually halted by NYC police and the U.S. government, not because they thought there were too many immigrants, but because immigrants were being taken advantage of by crooks who would promise to help them, and then take all their belongings and force them to buy it back. Shitbags existed no matter the decade. As our guide put it; the first immigration office in America was actually designed to protect the immigrants.
After the boat ride, we walked the short distance to the 9/11 Memorial. It’s right next to the One World Center, and while they have a museum, you can view the actual memorial without entering the museum. It’s free and open to the public and is sobering to say the least. There are two memorials, one for each tower, and we visited memorial one for Tower One. It’s a giant square structure with an inverted fountain, and all the names of those we lost in the tower are etched into the side. There were small blue flowers placed next to some of the names, which we learned meant that it was that person’s birthday today… which was incredibly sad. I really hope that everyone who visits this memorial treats it with the respect it deserves, and in a way that honors those who lost their lives there.
We only stayed at the 9/11 Memorial for about 10 minutes because we were extremely hot, cranky, tired, and hadn’t eaten all day, and were ready to head back to our hotel. We had to make our way back to the Red Bus of Doom since we were far from the pick-up location for the shuttles. Yet again, we had to wait in a huge line for around 20 minutes, but luckily since it was near the end of the day (around 5 pm), most of the bus was empty so we all got on. And since it was late, the HoHo basically drove straight to the dump-off sight near Times Square and Broadway, so we weren’t trapped on it for hours again. Once there, we meandered into some souvenir shops, Kristi bought like $70 worth of gifts, and we found a shuttle to take us back to New Jersey. There is a ton of little shuttles (like the airport shuttles minus the space for luggage) that run all day and night from various close-by New Jersey cities into downtown NYC. From our hotel in North Bergen, NJ, it only cost $3 per person – for any of the shuttles – so it was obviously the option we were going to take. We looked up an Uber for shits and giggles, and it would have cost $50! After about a 45-minute shuttle ride (thanks to NYC traffic), we were dropped off about a ½ mile from our hotel and walked the rest of the way.
Overall, I’m very glad I was able to visit NYC as an adult, and I can finally cross it off my bucket list. Even though I was completely taken aback by the amount of people, the traffic, and the over-all unbearable intensity of NYC, I don’t regret going and I learned quite a bit about its history. I DO regret taking the HoHo, though, and will not be doing so in the future if I do return. I also regret trying to do NYC in one day, like an idiot, and will make sure I’m there for – at minimum – 5 days if and when I go back. I don’t want to discourage anyone from visiting this iconic city, but be prepared for the madness you are about to walk into!
Side note: our hotel. We stayed at the Super 8, which was located in North Bergen, New Jersey, and was “only” 4 miles from downtown Manhattan. Well, that 4 miles felt more like 20 miles because of how long it took to get to and from the hotel and Manhattan. Again, I had pre-booked via Hotels.com, and the reviews were ok. It was also an “exterior corridor” hotel and was kind of shabby looking from the outside, in a pretty rough neighborhood. The inside was decent, as they had recently remodeled the entire place. I didn’t really mind staying there; however, if I do it again, I’m going to remember my rule #1 for road trips (from my East Coast Road Trip blog) and shell out the money for a more expensive hotel, preferably in Manhattan. It would have made our trip so much easier, since we wouldn’t have to deal with the whole shuttle business, plus we could go back to our hotel, rest up, and go back to see NYC at night. It’s something I’ll keep in mind when planning my next trip!