Our Latest trip to the USA is a 5 Night City Break to the big apple. This is our first trip to New York since starting the blog and the first time we traveled with the specific intention of researching for the site. We still had a whole lot of fun things planned and intended to travel with real purpose. This we did, but it left us ridiculously exhausted every day and not able to update the Blog Daily as planned. So we stuck to our social channels and will update as a slightly delayed blog as opposed to a live Blog.
Day 1 Starts off in Heathrow as we woke up in our Travelodge hotel 10mins from the airport. We had driven down the night before and stayed over in a £29.99 room. Parking for 6 days at the NCP FlightPath Carpark was £43. This saved us over £150 per person on flights out of Heathrow rather than Manchester.
We had booked with Virgin Atlantic, who are our preferred Airline for a very reasonable £360 per person return in their Economy Classic Bracket. However, we will discuss that in another post as Out outbound leg was a Delta Codeshare, so the new three-tier economy Virgin has employed was not applicable to this flight. Instead, we would be on a Delta flight in the Main Cabin. Which we were pretty wary of as our last flight with Delta was a little underwhelming!
Delta Airlines A330-300 Main Cabin international London Heathrow – JFK New York
We made the short drive to the NCP Carpark and jumped on the Shuttle bus and in 10 mins were at Virgin’s Terminal 3 base. While many Airlines operate out of T3 it is very virgin Centric with obvious branding from the second you step in. However, a lot of this is now Co-Branded with Delta who operates as a partner airline opening up tons more routes and flight options.
Check-in and bag drop were painless and handled by Virgin Staff, although we were forced to use the Self Checking desks. Not a problem for us but a bit clunky and not to everyone’s tastes. We were on a Virgin flight Number so go every perk and baggage allowance that we would have received as a virgin flyer. In fact, up until boarding, we could have been flying Virgin. It was only during and after boarding did Delta Take over.
Security was light on a quiet Tuesday morning and we grabbed a coffee before heading over to the gate. We were on board in minutes and getting settled for an easy quick flight. Push back was exactly on time and the only delay was a short queue on the tarmac. Waiting for Clearance, then off into the Blue.
We plan to do a full review of the Delta International service but as a brief overview, we can only say we were delighted! The International offering bears no resemblance to the internal product. Drinks were offered freely and, food service came soon and the choice was really quite good. We both Had gnocchi with Basil and Cream Sauce. We are both Meat-eaters but it actually sounded better than the Chicken options.
The Drinks menu was one of the best Menus we have had especially in Economy and we were encouraged to visit the galley later in the flight if we required more than the 3 Drinks services on offer. The Cabin crew were excellent and any drinks ordered at the galley were delivered to your seat rather than the usual wait in the galley for them to prepare.
After 6/7 hours of enjoying the fantastic Delta Studios films (why they don’t advertise the huge selection on offer is beyond us) we received our final snack which was a really tasty Chicken Tikka Wrap. And quite Squiffy began the Descent into JFK. Despite our reservations, we were delighted with the service and had an excellent flight. The only negative being the route. It was very direct whereas I prefer going a little higher and seeing Greenland and Nova Scotia, but this is not the airline’s fault, just the winds on the day.
JFK – AirTrain and Subway.
At JFK we headed to the Dreaded US Customs Department, and we were not disappointed as the long slow line crawled through the Customs checks. As EU and Esta Holders we could use the Self-scan system that has clearly cost a lot of money to implement. For what Purpose we have no idea as it’s pretty useless as you still need to join the queue to see a real agent anyway!
After a little under an hour, we were getting our bags and heading out of the Terminal. We always use the AirTrain and Subway to get into Manhatten, It’s so cheap and despite taking around an hour it’s quicker than anything other than the LILR or Helicopter. We can’t afford a Helicopter and the LILR goes to Penn which isn’t near our hotel and is a PITA really!
We jumped on the AirTrain to Jamaica Center and then onto Subway E Line which hurtled us straight to 53th Street 8th Av Just a block away from our hotel on 52nd and 7th. We were booked into the now Infamous Manhatten on Times Square.
The Manhatten at Times Square…Hotel from Hell???
We think it’s fair to say this hotel has a fearsome reputation. Search for it on TripAdvisor and you will see some incredibly scathing reviews along with a healthy dose of our Bug bare of paid-for reviews. Even worse were the Facebook comments. People really lose their s*** on Facebook and some of the comments make you wonder how this place has not been shut down!
So, as we clearly know all this, you may wonder why the hell we booked in? Well, the honest answer is we were curious! The Location is seriously Prime. Right on 7th just a few blocks from Central Park, Times Square, Rockefeller, and everything we would be doing we a few exceptions. It really was perfect. We also got a really very decent price. Our timing wasn’t great as the New York Marathon had just ended and it was Veterans day on the Sunday we left so there was some pretty severe price gouging going on in most hotels.
We managed to snag a really pretty decent rate in one of the Hotels few Executive Class rooms. These upper floor rooms, we supposed to be much improved and the other options at this price were Pod Hotels and some pretty low Starred haunts in rubbish locales. So we went for it. As our stay approached the Vitriol on Facebook and Tripadvisor really intensified, however. To the point, we decided we really should utilize the Booking.com FREE Cancellation.
We looked for alternatives but anything in this price bracket was a dive and even the pod hotels were not as keenly priced, we couldn’t even get rooms on the lower floors in this hotel for what we had got the Executive class for. The Bitching go SO bad we decided what happens let’s go check it out! Could anything really be as awful as was being said? So we put our investigative Journalist’s hats* on and held our nerve!
*we are anything but investigative Journalists!!!
Arriving in the Lobby we had our battle plan ready. Reports of hidden fees, rude Staff Huge Queues, and Amenities not being provided we were ready to fight. Entering the Lobby we were presented with a scene of calm, not the mayhem we had been expecting. The Lobby was recently renovated and was a very welcoming place to be, warm, fragranced, and calm.
The first order of business was to tackle the check-in Queues…err… there were two check-in clerks and only one group being served, so we headed to the free agent and before we knew it we were on our way with keys in hand and an envelope full of breakfast tokens we were not expecting to receive! We had queried the price and everything was as expected and quoted.
Off to our private elevator to the 18th floor. As the Elevator doors opened we expected the worst as this is where the bad reviews usually get nasty. Our 18th floor was excellent, however. Marbled floors with Plush Carpet freshly decorated walls and well lit. No complaints here!
The next Stop was the Room. We scanned the key card and opened it up with trepidation. There was a tiled entrance hall with wardrobes to the right. A modern bathroom with a walk-in shower that was, clean with plush towels and fancy toiletries.
The main room was small, but this is pretty usual in NYC and it was not overly small, certainly compared to the Pod Hotels that filled this price bracket. The lack of space was exacerbated by the quite frankly ridiculously large bed taking up most of the floor space. For us, this is no bad thing. In fact, the Bed was a thing of glory and was the highlight of the Hotel. Even topping the HUGE TV, The Nespresso Machine with 6 pods daily and the fantastic 18th Floor view looking out over Broadway and the Midtown Skyline.
Not everything was perfect. This was an executive room with no Desk. A bit of an issue for us as we intended to write after our days out, and one of the initial reasons for going Executive. There was also no fridge as advertised and no IPad, which may seem odd but it was advertised so should be present. The Carpet also has a few slightly iffy marks on it in places but nothing too untoward.
Overall it could have been cleaner but compared to some TripAdvisor comments declaring it the “worst”, “dirtiest” and “most disgusting” hotel in the world it was pretty hard to draw parallels?
We didn’t really use the service at the hotel too much. There are very few amenities outside of the breakfast and check-in so just headed out for drinks and food, as was the plan anyway. We were there to explore New York not eat in our hotel. But any contact with the staff was pleasant polite and efficient.
The Cleaners came in every day replaced any towels we left for them, replaced the amenities (Shampoo, coffee) stripped and made the bed, and gave a good clean up. We would not normally mention this as, well, this is their job, but the reviews on Trip Advisor can be particularly scathing in this regard.
We didn’t expect Breakfast as we booked through a third party but we were given a voucher for a “Grab and Go” Breakfast every day. So Coffee/Juice and Pastry (Muffin/donut/croissant) and a piece of fruit or water. It’s not much but really perfect for a quick power-up in the morning.
So for the Price, we paid we were very happy with the hotel. It is certainly not a 5-star hotel as advertised but it’s a great 3-Star or maybe a low 4. The negatives were minor and overall we are confident for the price we paid for the dates we needed it was a good call, compared to the competition which were all dives or pod hotels.
But, there is still the issue of the Other floors, the non-executive rooms. These are the rooms that get the most stick on the forums. Obviously having not stayed in them we can not comment but we think a lot of it is probably over the top. We think some people think they are getting the executive room and are then disappointed by the class they get. This then gets blown out of proportion on social media. This and the 4-Star rating it’s given is way over the top it would be lucky to get 3-star in our book (non-Exec)
Honestly, we would probably have not stayed here if we were in a standard room, it’s not the sort of hotel we would want, and there are other better places at the price point. But the Executive rooms do offer a really good stay if you can nab one for the <$200 price we paid.
After the relief of the hotel and a quick relax and refresh we got on with our day. By now it was 5 pm which was 10 pm at home so we were pretty shot, so we just headed out for dinner and some late night (for us) Shopping and a bit of sightseeing. We headed out down 7th Street and through the heart of Times Square as far as 34th Street. Our Favourite street in the USA.
Although it may seem odd to our US readers, we love Hooters and made our customary Pilgrimage on our first night so we could try and indulge in some more classic New York food as the week went on. Some wings, Shrimp Taco’s, and few beers later we headed out down 34th towards Macy’s and the Empire State building.
Macy’s was already in Christmas mode and we checked out holiday lane and picked up yet ANOTHER Christmas dec from our travels, we are really going to run out of tree space soon! After a bit more window shopping we were flagging badly and headed back to the hotel to pass out. Ready for a truly memorable day, or so we hoped!