NEW YORK — When I accompanied a bank group to New York City a few years ago, our local guide said there were four things first-time visitors to the Big Apple should do: the theater, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the top of the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. “You can then go home and say you have done New York City,” he said.
Although the guide was right — you should not miss those must-see sites and experiences — you really haven’t done New York City if that is all you do. That same guide, one of the best and most informative I have had, also noted that New York was “a city of choices.” And those choices are numerous and varied, much more than can be covered in one visit.
There are other popular sites I have covered with groups, such as horse-drawn carriage rides in Central Park, Wall Street and the Financial District, Radio City Music Hall, Times Square, South Street Seaport, Cathedral of St. John the Divine, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, shopping at Macy’s and Tiffany’s and dinner cruises on the Hudson River.
But there are also many other exciting and surprising experiences around every corner of the city’s five boroughs that enrich a visit to New York. With a growing trend of offering individual options in group itineraries, bank directors have a wealth of suggestions to give their members during a free day in New York City or as part of the group itinerary.
We polled some tour operators who operate tours to New York or serve as receptive operators to offer some tips on some lesser-known experiences and “hidden gems” that can broaden a visit to the Big Apple for bank groups.
East Coast Touring
There are all kinds of places to go that are different and off the beaten path.
During a tour to New York, we will put on a guide who knows the garment industry very well and will take groups to the Garment District. We take them to all the places where clothing is made, even places where knockoffs are being made. We have a complete shopping day for bankers. We take them to Macys, Tiffany’s, places along that line, and end up in Chinatown, where they can buy inexpensive things.
We have a Free-Style in New York Tour that helps bankers to reach out to boomers. We have a hotel right in Times Square and a three-day hop-on, hop-off pass on a double-decker bus. We include a map, and they can use that as transportation. It gives them unlimited access to go to, say, the Empire State Building at night, the art museums or other things they want to do.
We have options they can add to the trip. For example, we can take them up to Harlem if they want and go into a gospel church. It really gives them that independent tour bankers are looking for to attract the 50-plus market.
Private breakfast and fashion show at Macy’s — A group arrives at Macy’s Herald Square, the world’s largest department store, prior to the store’s opening. You walk through the hallowed displays and floors on your way to a private breakfast and fashion show to learn about the current styles and where the sales are. At the end of the presentations you will be the first ones in the store shopping — with discounts.
Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts — After the regular tour, we add in a meet the artist. The group is taken to a private rehearsal room where a diva from the Metropolitan Opera comes by, speaks to the group about her life in opera and sings a few arias.
Rooftop dining — Rooftop dining outdoors is the hottest trend in New York City, and there are some excellent ones. 230 Fifth Avenue and Mad 46 are the two we’ve used the most often. 230 Fifth Avenue has magnificent views of the Empire State Building and sunsets over New Jersey while sitting outside on a rooftop terrace. Mad 46 has magnificent city views, you are amongst the skyscrapers.
The High Line —In the Meat Packing/Chelsea area of Lower Manhattan there had been a railway in the sky when trains would move from one factory to the other. It had fallen into disrepair as all those factories closed. The neighborhoods have been re-imagined to elegant trendy lofts, shops and restaurants, but the High Line was slated to be demolished. The neighbors banded together and saved it, and it’s now a park — 1.45 miles long, in the air, winding its way through buildings. A unique, delightful stroll.
Garden Tours — Not many put New York City and gardens in the same sentence, but there is a great day of gardens here. Wave Hill is a large beautiful natural garden on the Hudson River in the Bronx. From there, add in the New York Botanical Gardens, with more than 250 acres of every imaginable kind of garden. And then, on the way home, a stop at the Cloisters, a replicated Medieval cloisters with a traditional cloisters garden.
Here are five places/areas/attractions in New York that we have found to be unique and interesting components of our tours of New York. Often we have a Bank Travel client who is looking for something a little different. We work closely with a great receptive operator called Beyond Times Square who is great at working with us in coming up with new ideas.
Brooklyn — Brooklyn should be referred to as the “hidden gem across the river.” Although Manhattan seems to get all the publicity and hoards of tourists, Brooklyn is quietly emerging as a mecca for tourists who are looking for something a little different while they are in New York City.
Brooklyn is very cosmopolitan and has an amazing history of cultural diversity and prosperity. Besides an eclectic selection of wonderful restaurants, Brooklyn has lots of iconic spots like Juniors Cheese Cake (people come from hundreds of miles away to eat at Juniors), wonderful Prospect Park and the historic Sailors and Soldiers Arch, which was modeled after the Arc de Triomphe. And don’t miss the magnificent Brooklyn Museum of Modern Art, unrivalled by any across the bridge in Manhattan.
Rockefeller Center — This is a hidden gem in plain sight. It is an architectural marvel and an art gallery with numerous interesting pieces dotted all over the grounds. Rockefeller Center now offers tours that are led by guides who specialize in their knowledge of this world famous location with stories of the site, artwork, history, interesting inhabitants and its relationship and effect on the surrounding neighborhood. Guests walk away with more insight than they ever imagined.
House of the Redeemer — Now a house of worship, the home was completed in 1916 and was the town residence of Edith Shepard Fabbri, the great-granddaughter of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt. She lived in the residence with her husband, Ernesto Fabbri. Besides being a great old house to tour, it is a wonderful place for a unique group dinner.
Morris Jumel Mansion — This historic property is located in North Harlem. It was built in 1765 and was used by George Washington as his headquarters during the Revolutionary War. It is one of the few places that can prove that “George Washington slept here.”
Economy Candy — Located on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, this amazing candy store has been in business since 1937. No kid or adult can pass it by without making a purchase from the old-fashioned candy bins and bottles. Economy Candy is an old-fashioned, family-owned shop that sells hundreds of kinds of candy, chocolate, nuts and dried fruits including halvah, sugar-free sweets and every type of candy you can imagine from when you were a kid.
Beyond Times Square
Knoshing tour — Some of the things we are doing, especially with banks from smaller towns, is experiencing New York the way New Yorkers do. We have a knoshing tour, or a food-tasting tour, that goes to fourth-generation Greek bakeries that have been in New York for 85 years and a Jewish appetizers store, where they sell bagels, creamed cheese, smoked fish, lox. We explain kosher law and give people insight into something they might not have experienced before. People will get on the bus and say “I’ve never had smoked salmon,” or “I haven’t had this kind of smoked salmon.”
Harlem — It’s hard to say it’s new, but Harlem is gaining in popularity. Harlem has a huge amount of history — African-American, Italian, Jewish. The Apollo Theater has become one of the most popular theaters in the country. The National Jazz Museum is in Harlem. It really is a wonderful, wonderful neighborhood. It’s very diverse, and the people who have lived there for a long time have so much to share. There is a lot of love within the community for the community, a lot of pride.
Subway — Get on the subway. It’s not difficult for a tour in lower Manhattan to get uptown to dinner. It really is an experience to see how the subway runs through the city. The subway is what made the city grow and created the modern city. That is what we use to get to work everyday; everyone in our office uses the subway to get to work. You can see what New Yorkers go through every day; it adds a lot to the experience.
Pedicab — Pedicabs are bicycles with two seats in the back. Take one back from the theater or to dinner. It can be exciting — you are on a bike in traffic. But it is very safe and a lot of fun.
Meet the locals — You can go to a restaurant in Times Square and not see a local, but you can stop by Russ and Daughters and get bagels and lox and meet people who live in the city. There is a well-known saxophonist, known for playing Jewish-style music, John Zorn, who goes to Russ and Daughters. It is fourth-generation appetizer shop on the Lower East Side. There used to be hundreds, now it is only one left. We like to call our travelers cultural conservationists. They are not just doing touristy stuff but helping us conserve what made the city what it was.
That is really important to us.
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