NYC Weekend: May 2021

As things start to re-open, our oldest and I decided to drive down to Manhattan for a spring (2021) weekend. (Note: this was 4/30-5/2/2021, this post will probably be dated quite quickly as things reopen!)

With many of the conventional visitor activities dormant (e.g. Broadway shows) or at best at partial capacity, we simply wanted to take some long outside walks and explore the feel of this great city at this unusual point in time, and to gauge what we might be comfortable again with in the future.

Overall, the city feels like it’s slowly waking up from 2020 – but there’s still many things closed. Crowds were naturally far thinner than our visit in 2019, and many stores and venues are dormant. Museums like the Met are open, but you do need advance reservations. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend a long-distance family trip to New York quite yet, but for us – where it was just a 3.5 hour road trip from Greater Boston – it was a nice weekend excursion.

Logistics

We planned the trip quite last minute – Thursday for a weekend trip, booking a hotel near Times Square (picked the Moxy because it had inexpensive rooms with 2 double beds), as well as a parking spot nearby on the SpotHero app. Hotel prices weren’t too high by “normal” NY standards.

Re: covid logistics, we tried to minimize our risks by spending most of the time outside (easy because it was a beautiful weekend), dining only outside or in our hotel room, and by parking in a self-park garage (most garages in NYC seem to be valet-only, but SpotHero let us filter by self-park). We didn’t take taxis/ubers, but took a couple of subway rides, which are full of signs like the following:

Note that (like in Boston where we live), the subway has occasional mask-less homeless people, sometimes passed out (and sometimes coughing all over the station). It seemed usually straightforward to keep distance or go to another car, but if you’re particularly Covid squeamish, you will want to consider your travel plans carefully and might not want to venture to urban areas quite yet.

One aspect that we didn’t think about was the hotel elevator, which was a bit more packed than we would have liked (there was a sign in the lobby suggesting one group per elevator, but it was laughably impractical), but sometimes you grin and bear it.

Be aware that many travelers are supposed to fill our a NY Traveller’s Health Form, but as residents of a bordering state, we were exempt.

Walking about

It’s hard to covey the feeling of the city with pictures in a post. We spent much of the time just walking, resting, and exploring outside.

We arrived Friday night, and spent some time outside around our place in midtown. Times Square on Friday was somewhat emptier than I expected, though the same time on Saturday night was sufficiently full that it almost felt like 2019. We did trek on Friday to Hudson Yards as well, hoping to do the High Line path, but learned that it now has limited opening hours and require reservations.

On Saturday, we took the subway to the Battery, and walked to Central Park, zig-zagging much of the way. We spent the morning around lower Manhattan, finishing with lunch in Little Italy. Many of the familiar tourist sites have opened with advance reservations – the ferry to the Statue of Liberty was running, and the 9/11 Memorial/Museum was open.This year, there was no long line for photos at the Wall Street “charging bull.”

A few observations: there were enough street vendors out – for instance, we bought water, and later ice cream, and dinner from various food trucks. On the downside, it seemed like the homeless problem is (understandably) bigger than it was in the recent past. Mask was a bit more hit-and-miss than we’re used to in Boston, though I imagine many residents have been vaccinated at this point.

Also, despite crowds being lighter than normal, it’s not like the streets are uniformly empty (though there being things to see is much of the appeal of New York) – here’s a glimpse Saturday afternoon by Union Square:

We continued up through mid-town, stopping and resting a bit at our hotel as well. We did zig-zag quite a bit, for instance, we walked by the outside of the UN Headquarters on the east, and we eventually made it to our Central Park destination in the late afternoon.

It was an absolutely beautiful spring afternoon at Central Park. The Sheep Meadow was full of (distanced) groups hanging out. We walked around some and grabbed a food truck dinner at the park.

We didn’t get great evening photos, but we explored around midtown in the early evening and then rested our feet. If you are traveling with kids, make sure you gauge their stamina before you try to walk as much as we did.

The following morning, we had 9am reservations for the High Line, with is a recent-ish walkway converted from an elevated railway on the west side. When we arrived at the Vessel at the end of the walk, we noted some fancy cars being shown off for an event:

Otherwise, we did take the subway to Central Park for a bit, and then made our way back to pack up our hotel room.

In any case, it was really interesting to get a glimpse of an awakening New York City; we’re hoping to go back again at some point again as things keep re-opening.

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