Originally Posted by jayc72
Hotel suggestions in Manhattan? I assume we'll be in the $200/night range. I know the rooms will be small, but I don't want to stay in a dump.
I probably spent ~100 nights in Manhattan last year, and I just use Hotels.com. $200/night is probably on the low end if you want to be in or near midtown, but you're in the ballpark.
Know that in addition to being tiny, the vast majority of the hotels in Manhattan are very, very old. Many have undergone recent renovation, many have not. The user reviews at Hotels.com are a godsend here. You don't necessarily need to shy away from anything that isn't brand new- one of my favorites used to be the Mayflower near Columbus Circle, and that place hadn't seen a paintbrush since the Nixon administration. But they'll give you a good feel for whether a place is clean, whether the faucets work, etc.
Try to find a hotel that's near a subway entrance. 3 to 4 blocks north-south and 1 to 2 blocks east-west is a reasonable distance.
Any tips or must see stuff in the area? I will be there with my wife, we are considering getting a 48hour hop on/off bus pass to see all the tourist type stuff.
Is the subway in that area relatively safe? Anything to watch out for? I'm not a travel noob, but NYC has a reputation. (more for the wife than me)
Are you talking about the MTA bus or one of the sightseeing bus companies?
I'm not a huge fan of the MTA bus system. If you just want to bang around and see the traffic, then I guess the bus is ok. But if you actually know where you want to go, and don't want to waste time, head underground. Even off-peak, the trains keep to a pretty tight schedule, and it is the absolute fastest way of getting around short of a hovercab.
Now, most of the subway stations look like absolute ****. The paint is falling off in sheets, water runs from the ceiling when it rains, you get the idea. OTOH, most of them do not actually smell
all that bad, nor are they particularly dangerous. Most of the stations above the downtown financial district are bustling practically 24/7. Police presence is not particularly strong outside of the major stations, but there just isn't much violence going on.
A lot of folks prefer to avoid Harlem. During the day it's not bad, but at night it can seem a little sketchy for white folk. If this sounds like you, just stay below 96th street. (OTOH, Columbia University is up in the west 110s, and that neighborhood is perfectly safe at any hour.)
Get a MetroCard. They sell these out of vending machines inside every subway station, as well as at the airtrain stations. You can use the same card for either the subway or the bus (except the express busses, which you don't care about). A 1 day unlimited card is $8.25, and a 7 day card is $27. The unlimited cards are great, since you don't have to worry about calculating transfers, hopping in and out of the system, etc. Here is MTA fare info: http://www.mta.info/metrocard/mcgtreng.htm#unlimited
Be aware that you can't double-swipe a card. IOW, if you pass through the turnstile, you can't hand the card to your wife and have her use the same one again. The turnstiles are networked, and won't let you swipe the same card twice through the same station within a certain time limit. EDIT: I should add that this applies only to the unlimited cards. If you buy a card with a monetary balance, you can use that card multiple times at the same location.
Also, be aware that the actual readers on the turnstiles suck. It's common to have to swipe your card several times to get it to read. Don't look like a tourist by swiping it once and then banging into a locked gate. Just keep swiping until you hear the beep and get a visual indication that you're clear to proceed. Look like a native: hold the card in your right hand, with the stripe at the bottom and facing towards you as you approach the entrance.
And don't be afraid to ask a local for directions, even once you're already down in the system. It beats the hell out of standing around holding a map and looking like an idiot. Most New Yorkers, while appearing slightly aloof, will actually be glad to at least point you towards the correct platform, inform you that you should have gotten off two stops ago, etc.
Speaking of that... Once you're inside the subway car, you have to know when to get off, right? Some of the more modern trains have really cool computerized displays that depict the whole line, show your current position on it, tell you what the next several stops are, etc.
And some don't.
Even the really old trains have maps inside them depicting the whole system, plus stickers near the ceiling showing that particular line and all its stops. But even on a good day when the PA system is working, the conductors don't actually speak what most people would recognize as English. There is an art to understanding them, and don't expect to learn it quickly. However, all of the stations are very well signed, with placards on the supporting columns, as well as tiled mosaics on the walls, telling you which stations you've just rolled into. Just make sure you are in a position where you can clearly see out the windows, and you'll be fine.
The subway maps can be a little confusing at first. The hardest thing to grasp initially is that the titular name of a station, such as Houston Street (1), does not guarantee that when you exit the station you will be on the named street. Most stations have multiple entrances and exits, so when you are leaving
the station, look up for signs that tell you which end of the platform goes to which street. Some stations, like 42'nd St. Times Square or 14'th St. Union Sq. are practically the size of small airports, with lots of different lines running on different levels, and these stations will have all kinds of options. Much like navigating an airport, signs above your head will tell you which direction to go for various above-ground destinations.
Chinatown... You must go there. Mango chicken is awesome. When you start walking past butcher shops that have whole ducks hanging up in the window, you're in the right neighborhood. I need not say more, other than that most Chinese restaurants are cash-only.
Avoid the Times Square area if you're looking for a good restaurant. You can find good food near
Broadway, but not on it.
Don't drive in the city. Seriously, just don't do it. Or if you do, simply abandon your car when you reach your destination rather than trying to comprehend the parking rules, and then steal a different car when you're ready to leave again.
If you really want to go native, take the Airtrain
from the terminal to Newark Liberty International Station, and then NJ Trans to NY Penn Station (be aware that there is also
a Newark Penn Station.)
Here is the secret to navigating on foot: the major north-south avenues are one-way, and run in alternating directions. 10th ave goes north, 9th ave goes south, 8th ave goes north, and so on. (The sequence breaks after 5th ave, but they're still one-way only apart from Park Ave.) Knowing this, you can immediately orient yourself at any intersection.
When giving directions to a cab driver (if you choose to take a cab) specify intersections only. IOW: "44th at 10th ave"
or "Mulberry at Canal St."
are unambiguous. As you approach the destination you may specify that you wish to be dropped off on a certain side of the intersection, but that's about the extent of what I'd consider universally acceptable. Even the drivers who speak English don't necessarily know where every single hotel and restaurant are on the whole island.
As to attractions, hell... What strikes your fancy? They've got everything from the Museum of Modern Atheist Transvestites to the USS Intrepid. If you're into the Broadway musicals scene, American Idiot is supposed to be awesome. They're at the St. James theater, on 44th between 7th and 8th. You can always brave the mob at the TKTS booth
in Times Square, but I have better things to do with my time.