Two years after her trip of a lifetime, Sarah Tulloch pines for a return to the Big Apple
It’s crazy to think that this time two years ago, I was about to embark on a week-long trip to one of the busiest cities, at the busiest time of year, blissfully unaware of what was to come in the following months. Those were better times. Fantastic times, in fact.
Where better to spend Christmas time than in New York City? And with President Joe Biden reopening the borders to vaccinated UK travellers (at long last), it’s a possibility again.
My Instagram feed is filled with people spending the festive period there already. Maybe you’re one of the lucky ones. But if it’s something you haven’t yet experienced, it’s time to start surfing SkyScanner for the trip of a lifetime.
If you’re considering ticking it off your bucket list in 2022, flying from Dublin is always my preferred route to the States as it means you clear customs this side of the Atlantic. We flew at the front of United Airlines’ 787-10 Dreamliner in Polaris, business class from Dublin Airport to Newark. This was such a treat for me. I’ve never flown anything other than economy but always been seething with jealousy as I pass the plush little pods on the way to the back of the plane.
The friendliest cabin crew got us seated and after boarding, handed out glasses of Champagne (or orange juice if you prefer) as well as an extensive food menu and wine list.
The food on board spoiled all other plane food for me, which I wouldn’t have complained about before. It’s the best they can do 30,000 feet in the air — or so I thought. After a very early start we had eaten at the airport but I still found room for my breakfast which was fresh orange and grapefruit, a croissant and an amazing mango chia seed pudding that I still think about all the time.
The seat reclined all the way back into a bed which was absolutely incredible and takes all the discomfort out of a long haul flight. I dozed off for a while to try and kill a bit of time but to be honest, I was so excited I could hardly sleep and wanted to drink in every little bit of this luxury in-flight experience.
It’s hard for me to imagine doing a long-haul flight now in anything other than business class, and if you can scrape the pennies together, the United Polaris cabin is worth splashing out on for the perfect start to any trip.
Once we landed, we headed straight to The Benjamin, a boutique hotel built in the ‘Roaring 20s’, which represents the early evolution of skyscraper design in New York City. This hotel has extremely spacious rooms available for very reasonable nightly rates — a total rarity in New York where you’re normally tripping over your suitcase and/or the person you’re staying with.
The guest room we stayed in had a kitchenette with refrigerator, marble bathrooms featuring a shower and a bath stocked with Elemis amenities. The large Christmas tree in the lobby set the scene for the festive season and the gorgeous ambient bar that was always bustling with locals. Its Midtown East location makes for easy access to New York City’s top attractions.
In my opinion, the best way to make the most of your time in the Big Apple is by using the New York Explorer pass, which gives you access to a number of attractions with over 50 to choose from for one prepaid price, which is excellent value for money.
We used the pass to do the NYC and TV Movie Bus Tour by On Location Tours, which takes you to locations including the Friends apartment as well as locations from The Marvelous Mrs Maisel and Seinfeld. Our tour guide Benji was so friendly and knowledgeable and doubled up as a personal photographer on the tour as well so we had lots of great memories to look back on. We were very lucky and got to go inside the iconic firehouse from the Ghostbusters franchise which is a working New York City Fire Department (FDNY) fire station. My boyfriend was particularly excited about this — I think it made his whole trip.
Another attraction the pass will get you into is the Top of The Rock Observatory. I would definitely recommend visiting the observation deck at sunset if you can. It’s usually the busiest time to visit, unsurprisingly, as a good New York sunset is hard to whack, but book a day or two in advance and you’ll have no problem getting tickets.
There’s no time restriction on how long you can stay up there for, so book at the right time and you’ll see the city sights in daylight and lit up as darkness falls, as well as under the fiery sunset. While it’s a popular time to visit, most tourists get distracted by the first level that the lift brings you out on to. Be advised that there are two other levels, with three usually being the quietest. It’s also the level without any glass, so you can avoid any pesky reflections in your photographs.
Something I can’t recommend enough for fighting off jetlag is swinging by the Comedy Cellar in Greenwich Village, the bohemian capital of NYC, for a night of full-on belly laughs.
Famous comedians like Kevin Hart, Dave Chapelle and Amy Schumer are known for turning up unannounced to try out their latest sets. We were unfamiliar with all but one name on our show’s line-up — Michelle Wolf, who you may know from Channel 4’s 8 out of 10 Cats Does Countdown, or from when she was the entertainer at the 2018 White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner. Don’t let the lesser-known names put you off though. You pay a $15 cover fee then are obliged to buy two items at the bar once you’re inside and it’s worth every penny.
For something off the beaten track, venture off the island of Manhattan to Dyker Heights. The Brooklyn neighbourhood is home to the most over-the-top Christmas light decorations with life-sized Santas, sleighs, snowmen and some houses even bump Christmas carols from loudspeakers. Some are so gussied up, it’s hard to even make out the large suburban properties underneath, built in the late 18th century and impressive in their own right. This is well worth a jaunt on the train as it’s nothing like anything you can see here at home and feels so magical.
We celebrated my birthday while we were away and I was lucky enough to be surprised with a dinner at Brooklyn’s Michelin-starred River Cafe.
I had no idea where we were going until we hopped out of the taxi. I was told the dress code and that was it. But it was the best surprise ever. Nestled under the Brooklyn bridge, overlooking the Hudson river and lower Manhattan, no pictures or videos do this setting justice. Soaking up the view while eating oysters and lobster and the best wine of my life is something I will never forget. This is without a doubt a restaurant for special occasions but I couldn’t recommend a trip over the bridge more to mark a birthday or an engagement.
For cheaper eats with equally fantastic views, the Time Out Market in Dumbo, Brooklyn, should not be missed. It’s a stone’s throw from The River Cafe and has absolutely stunning views of the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan. The market offers a taste of some of New York’s best eateries all under one roof, like pizza from Julianna’s and Southern comfort food from Jacob’s Pickles.
I know what you’re thinking — how did she not visit the infamous Katz’s Deli from When Harry Met Sally, or go see a show on Broadway? But that’s the gorgeous thing about New York — there’s always more to do and see. I can’t wait to go back as soon as possible.
÷ United’s newest Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner operates from Dublin (DUB) to New York/Newark (EWR). The 787-10 features 44 United Polaris business class seats, 21 United Premium Plus seats, 54 Economy Plus seats and 199 standard Economy seats.
÷ Go City: New York Explorer Pass — Your choice of 2, 3, 4, 5, 7 or 10 of the best New York attractions from a list of 100+
Savings of up to 54% off the combined price of individual attractions;
One easy-to-use pass which is valid up to 60 days from first use allowing you to do as much as you want each day;
To book call free on 0808 271 4453 or visit www.AttractionTickets.com
÷ The Benjamin hotel
Luxury guest rooms from $231, www.thebenjamin.com