Our travel party got on the shuttle bus around 9:00am and unfortunately had to share it with 4 other passengers. As we were the last ones onboard, it was up to us to sit on laps and squeeze in. Good thing that vehicle safety laws do not apply to hotel shuttle vans!
The hotel shuttle took us to the Secaucus Station, which is part of the New Jersey Transit System. We figured out our ticket purchase pretty quickly. In part thanks to the help of another customer who took it upon himself to ask what we were trying to do and he gave us some advice. All of us were pretty impressed throughout the day of the friendliness of the people we came in contact with.
Our New Jersey train took us directly to Penn Station. Our plan was to meet our tour guide for the day at the Hotel Pennsylvania at 10am. We got there right on time and *somehow* he recognized us as we walked up to the hotel. In addition to our traveling party of 11, Erin’s boss, Jennifer and her daughter joined us for the tour. The more, the merrier.
We booked our 6 hour tour several months ago through Real New York Tours. The private tours by this company are ranked the #1 activity in New York City by TripAdvisor. After the day we had, we would not argue about that.
Our tour guide was named Fabrice and he was a character. Being a tour guide is his profession, and he has been doing it for 25 years. They take their tour guides seriously in NY, so it should not surprise you that he has a tour guide permit and he is a member of the tour guide union.
Fabrice showed us the ins and outs of riding the subway, which doesn’t sound hard, but you would be surprised. Our first major stop was Central Park and the surrounding area. He gave us an in-depth history of the Dakota Apartments, which borders Central Park and has an interesting history.
Fabrice liked to continually tell us that New York City has over 1900 city parks. This sounds impressive, and it is, but he later let it slip that some of these parks are about the size of a front yard. It may just be that if it is a green space, it is designated a city park.
The above picture is at the John Lennon memorial inside Central Park. The mid-rise building in the center of the picture is the Dakota. Lennon lived in this building and was murdered on the sidewalk in front of it.
The tour company that Fabrice works for offers all kinds of tours, and many of them are based on television shows. He mentioned the Sex and the City tour and the Sopranos tour among others. This reminded me that during our last trip to NYC 16 years ago, one of our most memorable activities was going on the Kramer tour. The guy who the Kramer character was based on had figured out a way to capitalize on his fame and it was actually a very entertaining tour. We even received a free box of junior mints at the end.
Fabrice took us all over Manhattan on the subway. I think every time we started looking tired, he would suggest we go on the subway so we could sit down.
The area around NYU was great to experience with a tour guide. Fabrice took us down a street called Washington Mews. This is a private, gated street where NYU professors can live. He called it one of the great benefits of being on the faculty at NYU. The street was paved with Belgian Blocks, which were taken from the ballast of ships.
Our trip took us through Washington Square Park and on into Greenwich Village. We ended up eating lunch in that area at Bleecker Street Pizza. This was the ultimate hole in the wall pizza place that had been awarded the honor of Best Pizza in NYC the past three years. It was tasty, but the New York style pizza is not my favorite.
Perhaps the best part of eating at this pizza joint was when the floor started shaking midway through the meal due to the subway directly beneath us. A New York Experience!
Following our time in Greenwich Village, Fabrice took us through Little Italy, Chinatown and to Wall Street. Just a few feet from the New York Stock Exchange once stood Federal Hall, where George Washington took the very first Presidential oath of office.
Our tour concluded at the Federal Hall National Monument. Our tour ran pretty long, but Fabrice was a great sport about it. We really could not recommend this tour, and Fabrice in particular, enough. He was very knowledgeable about his history and he absolutely loved to throw in multiple movie references at every location we passed.
After the tour, our party split up into two parts. KK, PK, Joe & Judy joined us on a trip to Times Square in search for dinner. Later, KK recalled that Judy’s nephew warned us that only tourists from Ohio go eat at Times Square. Oh how we wish we had remembered that earlier.
We had some decent food but atrocious service at the Heartland Brewery. I think this was just a lesson to us that we need to stick to the hole in the wall places from here on out.
Trying to get back to Secaucus Station was also an adventure, as Penn Station was jam packed when we showed up. It was really pretty difficult to figure out which train we were supposed to be on, but some legwork by KK got us on the 8:07 train on Track 3. Homeward bound.
Scott and Erin had arrived at Secaucus Station nearly an hour before we did but were still waiting on the hotel shuttle when we got there. That sucked for them, but we appreciate them holding the shuttle for us!
The end of our day reminded me of one of the many jokes that Fabrice told us today. “Why are New Yorkers so depressed?” “Because the light at the end of the tunnel is New Jersey.”