By staying at a campground near Manhattan, you can treat youngsters to the Big Apple in style.
By Tom and Judee Stalmack, F235840
Take the grandkids to New York City on their summer vacation? Some of our RVing friends questioned our sanity.
We’ll admit, the campground we stayed at wasn’t exactly in New York. Liberty Harbor Marina and RV Park is in Jersey City, New Jersey, but directly across the Hudson River from Manhattan. The Statue of Liberty can be seen from most of the campground sites, and since New York and New Jersey are still quibbling about which state she’s standing in, why should we care?
The real-estate phrase “Location! Location! Location!” certainly applies to the Liberty Harbor campground. The place isn’t plush, but it has hot showers and a clean laundry room. What more do you need when you plan to spend most of your time hiking in “Skyscraper National Park”? And considering the campground’s location, the price is a bargain: The nightly fee is $60.
Last summer we treated our granddaughter, Rachel, who was 7 years old at the time, and her mother to a week in the Big Apple. We weren’t worried about crime, but, nevertheless, we set up a secret code to alert Rachel if we saw anything suspicious or dangerous. If she heard us say “Ratherby” (the name of our motorhome), she knew she was to immediately take hold of her mother’s hand or ours.
Not once during our week in New York City were we afraid for Rachel, our possessions, or ourselves. We didn’t come close to seeing anything out of the lawful ordinary. On the contrary. We saw a lady drop a $20 bill just as she was leaving a subway car. A young man quickly jumped up, snatched the bill, and ran to the subway door, holding it open and shouting, “Lady! Lady! You dropped something!” Money and owner were happily reunited.
Liberty State Park, which is only a short drive from the campground, is a delightful bonus for families with kids. It has a five-mile bike path that travels along the water, past Ellis Island, and around the park. Plenty of trees and grass, a playground, and an impressive Science Center add to the appeal. Tour boats to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island leave from docks in front of the old New Jersey railroad terminal in the park.
A NY Waterway ferry boat stops at the Liberty Harbor campground dock. The ferry fee is very reasonable, and you can purchase a book of 10 tickets, which makes the ride a real bargain. The ferry runs between Liberty Harbor and Manhattan’s Pier 11 at the foot of Wall Street, which is close to South Street Seaport on the East River. The ferry schedule caters to the working crowd, so it makes a run every 20 minutes during morning and evening rush hours, but not at all on Saturdays and Sundays. The last ferry leaves Manhattan at 9:40 p.m.
A second bonus for folks staying at the Liberty Harbor campground is that the Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) train to Manhattan is easy to reach. It’s only a five-block walk from the campground to the Grove Street Station in Jersey City. A single PATH ride into Manhattan was less than $2 when we visited, and we paid $24 for a card that was good for 20 one-way trips (and could be used by more than one person). The PATH train runs at all hours, so it’s the prime mover after a late night in the city.
Once in Manhattan, it’s easy to get wherever you want to go. A New York City Transit MetroCard that gives you all-you-can-ride access to the subway and bus system can be purchased. This pass, however, can be used by only one person, since there is a built-in 18-minute delay between card swipes at the same subway station or the same bus route.
Learning the subway system is a must. Buses in New York are a last resort, because they move like snails. If you get off at the wrong stop on the subway, mistakes are never earth-shattering and are always easily corrected. Avoid rush hours at first; then, when you’re more familiar with the territory, allow yourself to get swept up in one. Rush hour on the subway is very much a part of the New York experience.
Our favorite New York City guidebook has a handy subway map inside the back cover, and every site described includes instructions on how to get there by subway or bus. Many good guidebooks are available; check your favorite local or online bookstore. And be sure to contact the NYC & Company information center before you visit. When you arrive, the NYC & Company visitor information centers can be found just north of Times Square, in Lower Manhattan, and in Harlem. At each, you will find free brochures, maps, and discount coupons, as well as visitor information counselors.
Our first day in the Big Apple was bittersweet. In the past, the ferry would drop us off at the World Financial Center and we would walk through the “Winter Garden,” up a huge semicircle of marble steps, and into the long walkway to the World Trade Center to make subway connections. Now, when we walked up those same steps, we were stopped by a wall of glass that looked out to where the Twin Towers once stood. So many lives lost. So many families affected.
The empty space called to mind a surgical removal; an incision. Ground Zero was simply that: nothing. A hole in the heart of the city. Two girders burned and rusted together in the shape of a cross, and draped with a jagged cloth of melted steel, stood as a temporary memorial.
One of the most interesting stops we made this year was St. Paul’s Episcopal church. This old house of worship once sat in the shadow of the Twin Towers, yet on September 11, 2001, not one of its windows shattered. Exhibits inside the church show how its members, for months after the tragedy, ministered to the rescue workers. They fed them, gave them a place to rest “” even massaged them. It was quite a display. We probably weren’t the only ones walking through those memories with sobs hiding in our throats. Rachel was intrigued by the banners and all the stuff sent by children. When she was in kindergarten, her letter to the NYC rescue workers was chosen to represent her school. Too bad we couldn’t find it. We told her it must be in the archives somewhere.
If you haven’t been to New York City in the past five years, you’ll be surprised at how clean it is (including the subways, many of which have had recent facelifts). And you’ll be amazed at how friendly New Yorkers have become. If you’re studying the subway map and look the least bit puzzled, someone will inevitably offer advice on the best way to reach your destination.
Wondering where to have lunch, but not break the bank? Ask a store clerk, a policeman on the street, or anyone who obviously is not a tourist. Several times we’ve fallen into step with someone and asked where to get a haircut, shop for groceries, and (almost every day) where to have lunch. One of our advisors was the foreman of a construction project in Brooklyn. He pointed toward a corner café near the bridge, but told us we shouldn’t miss Katz’s Delicatessen on the Lower East Side, either. Grandpa loved the pastrami sandwiches (big enough for two). Rachel and Grandma chose the hot dogs. Yummy.
We were waiting at a stoplight on our way to tour the United Nations when a well-dressed older gentleman (obviously associated with the United Nations in some way or other) told us about the Delegates Dining Room. He raved about the fabulous buffet prepared by chefs from a different country each month. He gave us his name, the telephone number of the dining room, and the name of the maitre d’, and assured us that we should have no difficulty, thus equipped, with getting a table on short notice. A dress code? Ah, yes. But “Don’t worry. Norman will have a suit coat available for you,” he replied.
Of course, we called and were scheduled in. We felt like guests of some mysterious but very important person. Since then we’ve found out that anyone can call a day in advance to reserve a table in the Delegates Dining Room. It’s an internationally gracious place to eavesdrop. The waiters are cosmopolitan, the food is always interesting, and the view along the East River is beautiful.
Yes, New York is noisy, busy, and crowded, but very much alive! That, of course, is its allure. The campground was a quiet place to return to after a day of hiking, biking, bird- and-people-watching in “Skyscraper National Park.” Quiet, that is, except for the Fourth of July. The fireworks over the Statue of Liberty were breathtaking.
We saw the usual tourist attractions: the Empire State Building (go at dusk so you can watch the sun set over the Hudson River); Central Park (take your bike; it can be carried on the ferry and the subway, too); Broadway and Times Square (buy half-price theater tickets at the TKTS booth); a handful of museums (one of our favorites was the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side); and, of course, Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.
Since September 11, 2001, the stairway to the observation deck inside Lady Liberty’s crown has been closed. That was Rachel’s only disappointment. However, this July, after a multimillion-dollar renovation, visitors will be allowed greater access to the Statue of Liberty. Although they still will not be allowed inside the statue, they will be able to peer into the inner structure through a glass ceiling near the base. An observation deck on the pedestal will be open, too.
We pronounce “Summer in New York” fantastic. Festivals and wonderful, high-caliber, free performances are staged helter-skelter throughout the city. Street fairs are prolific. Enough entertainment is going on throughout the city to fill every afternoon and evening without having to spend a cent.
Talented buskers “” magicians, gymnasts, break dancers, musicians “” perform in the parks every day, but especially on weekends. Our favorite spot for watching buskers is Washington Square.
Kids are not forgotten in New York City. Magic shows, puppet shows, clown shows, and family-type musical activities, from drumming circles to ethnic dance instructions, abound. Get a copy of Where magazine from any hotel. You’ll have trouble choosing from the myriad things to do and see.
When we think New York, we think theater. Reduced (usually half-price) tickets for that day’s shows go on sale in the afternoon. If the show of your choice isn’t available at the TKTS booth, and you’re willing to pay full price, go to the theater approximately two hours before the performance you want to attend and stand in the cancellation line. There’s a good chance you’ll get tickets if you’re among the first 25 in line. Cancellation tickets are sold only to people who are physically present, standing in line. One person can’t pick up four tickets. We managed to see “The Lion King” this way. Rachel now brags to her friends, “And the animals were really people!”
Summer is a good time to walk or bike across the Brooklyn Bridge. Go early in the morning, before the day gets too hot. Follow the yellow line on the bridge-walkway to Brooklyn (motorized vehicles use a lower level of the bridge), then have brunch at the River Café near the foot of the bridge. Or take the bridge-walk back into Manhattan, with your camera ready to snap the quintessential New York City postcard photo: the steel cables and tall stone arches of this elegant bridge framing the city’s skyscrapers.
A bit of advice: Don’t walk to Brooklyn and back on the same day! Take the subway into Brooklyn and walk back (which is the best direction if you’re only going to do it once), or walk to Brooklyn and take the subway back.
Have you ever seen one of those digitized photographs in which the scene actually is a composite of hundreds of other tiny photographs? That’s how we see New York now:
- Three young women in black leather, one with tomato-red hair, adding spice to the conventional lineup of museum-goers along the white spiral corridor of the Guggenheim Museum.
- A guy skating through Central Park while strumming his guitar. (Gosh, it’s hard enough to eat an ice cream cone and walk.) The last time this guy whizzed by us, we were sitting on a park bench near the John Lennon “Imagine” sidewalk mosaic. With a whirl and a spin “” and a hum and a strum “” the young man paid homage to rock ‘n’ roll by skating three times around the roses strewn in the center of the mosaic.
- The Star of India gemstone at the American Museum of Natural History. Or the huge whale, or the gigantic dinosaurs …
- A barbershop trio harmonizing a gospel-like song, and passing the hat on the E-subway train.
- The comfortable sofas and chairs in the Starbucks coffee shops. These establishments are a good place to find a rest room, too.
- A sidewalk mural in old City Hall Park spelling out a circle of words: “It must not be forgotten that the park is still the refuge of the people.”
- Elderly Chinese men playing mah-jongg in Columbus Park.
- A dog-walker in the park, with eight assorted dogs on a leash. The dogs were headed for a fenced-in section of Washington Square where they could run and romp, and their owners could sit and chat. We watched for a while and were amazed at how few doggie arguments there were.
- A farmers’ street market incongruously set up near the World Financial Center with fresh fruit, vegetables, and flowers every Tuesday and Thursday morning. The produce is locally grown in either New York or New Jersey.
- Pretzel and hot dog vendors with colorful umbrella-shaded carts.
- Chinatown “” the best place to buy souvenirs, especially T-shirts and baseball caps. If you don’t buy them there, you’ll wish you had!
- The street signs: Orchard Street on the Lower East Side, which originally was a path through an orchard; Pearl Street along South Street Seaport, which is named for the shells that used to pave it; Canal Street, a reminder of the canal that was going to be dug, but never was; Wall Street, named for the wall built around the early town to keep the Indians and pirates out. And of course, Broadway, which in the old days was the widest road through the city.
- The “No Parking” sign on Broadway, which has an additional caveat: “Not for an hour, not for a minute; not even for a second.”
- Seeing the iMac and the Oral-B toothbrush on display at the National Design Center.
- Enjoying the black-and-chrome Art Deco ambience of the classic 1929 Empire Diner. Once the sun goes down, the stainless-steel counter (upon which the best milk shakes in town are served) suddenly sprouts tall candlelight tapers, and a pianist starts serving up some sweet melodies.
- Finding the best (and cheapest) after-the-theater dinner in all of Manhattan: two really tasty frankfurters, still in their natural casings and topped with sauerkraut, plus one tall, chilled (and really delicious) papaya drink, all for about $2. This bargain can be found at Gray’s Papaya on Columbus Avenue, just a few blocks north of Lincoln Center.
What did Rachel like absolutely the most? Was it climbing a mountain of rocks in Central Park? Spending a rainy afternoon at the Toys-R-Us store on Times Square (and not buying a single thing)? No. It was a huge ice cream cone. She chose the ingredients (fresh raspberries and lemon sherbet) and the concoction was mixed and blended on a cold marble slab right before her eyes.
There’s something in New York City for everyone, the young and the not-so-young. Everyone can enjoy a bite of the Big Apple, and the trip can be as expensive “” or inexpensive “” as you let it.
NYC & Company
810 Seventh Ave.
New York, NY 10019
NYC & Company is the official tourism and travel promotion entity for the city’s Convention and Visitors Bureau. Its Web site has extensive information and enables visitors to order tourism publications online. Another helpful Web site is www.nyctourism.com.
Liberty Harbor Marina and RV Park
11 Marin Blvd.
Jersey City, NJ 07302
Offers 55 sites with water and electric hookups; two dump stations; full rest rooms with showers; laundry; bus tours to New York City; restaurant and 24-hour security on premises. Nightly fee, as of May 2004, was $60.