July 2nd, 2022
The last of the many rescheduled COVID trips was here! We had an East Coast 4th July Roadtrip booked since 2020 and this was the first July that the travel restrictions were no longer in place. We had always wanted to spend the 4th of July in New York, despite being British, the states hold such an important place in our hearts we wanted to celebrate America alongside them all. The last two 4th July holidays were pretty miserable knowing we were meant to be in the States enjoying the holiday but were unable to get there. But this was the day! So with Kate armed with USA-themed bags, clothes, and accessories we were ready to celebrate the country we love so much in all its glory (well, we had had 2 years extra to prepare so no excuse really!)
Despite many COVID restrictions being lifted in the U.K and the U.S.A, flight schedules and prices out of Manchester were still not at their pre-pandemic level so once again we booked our flights from Heathrow and traveled down by car the day before. This time we stayed at the Renaissance Hotel which also had parking for our car for the duration of our trip to the states. It was modern, clean, with large rooms. The hotel also offers the choice to book rooms with a runway view so we spent a couple of hours watching the planes roll in. We did not fancy the menu at the Hotel restaurant so walked 5 mins down the road to a local pub where we both had Fish and Chips (very British and a must before our trips!)
There was one major change in our pre-flight activities this time, as the CDC had lifted the requirement to pre-test before departure. As a result, we did not need to pay Randox a visit before we checked into our hotel and Virgin Atlantic no longer needed us to upload documents the day before the flight. We just needed to download and print our vaccination status and fill in the American Attestation form (a good one to remember as, in the excitement of less paperwork, we almost forgot to do this! Luckily we remembered the night before we flew and filled it in online at the Hotel.)
Our flight time the next morning was 9:15 am so we set the alarm for 5 am. We had been hearing about a lot of staffing issues at U.K airports and even though the news was mainly regarding Manchester Airport we didn’t know what to expect at Heathrow so allowed plenty of time. Again, the hotel is closely situated near the Airport so got an Uber to T3. There was no queue for check-in, we practically walked straight up to the check-in desk and got all checked in. Feeling smug at the efficiency we headed up the escalator to security. This is where we were met with a long queue coming out of the security hall. We had never even seen the security queue beyond the tensor barriers and free plastic bag area so we were shocked. However, it was still only 5:45 am so we had plenty of time before our flight. The queue for security moved surprisingly quickly and with a quick stop at Foreign exchange to pick up our pre-ordered dollars, we were in the Airpot lounge an hour after we left the hotel!
No 1 Lounge Heathrow Airport
Having used both Aspire and No 1 lounges available on the Priority Pass previously, We chose the No 1 lounge for our visit this time. After a disappointing trip to Duty-Free due to supply issues, we headed over to the Lounge and walked right in. We prefer No 1 to Aspire as it is bigger and includes Prosecco and Sparkling Wine in its free drinks offer- 2 important things for Kate! They had a small cold and hot breakfast buffet selection for us to sample along with coffee, beer, and prosecco. Having ensured we had plenty of time in case of issues, we relaxed and enjoyed our time in the lounge before heading to the gate.
Virgin Atlantic Premium
This was the first time we had traveled Premium post-COVID. We were looking forward to seeing how Premium service compared if at all to previous times as well as seeing the general service from Virgin was offering a few more months after the borders re-opening.
As we approached the gate there was a large queue of people with no obvious sign for priority boarding. We walked down past the queue to the entrance of the gate and saw a second barrier for priority boarders. We joined that queue and were on board swiftly. On a whole, the service in Premium Economy was not much different to pre COVID times. Drinks were served in glass or china with food being served on the usual plastic trays along with silverware, unlike the packed food boxes they had been using of late. We were pleased to see that the in-flight entertainment offering was better with several new releases and a larger back catalog. After our welcome drink of Fizz, we settled in for the relatively short flight.
We did notice that they had attempted to create a ‘Wander Wall’ in the galley as this isn’t really a feature of the A350, snacks and drinks were laid out on the side for us to help ourselves.
As previously mentioned, COVID restrictions had been relaxed on both sides of the Atlantic since our last trip and masks were not mandatory for the flight (or at Heathrow Airport for that matter). We did observe the flight crew wearing them as they were keen to communicate that mask-wearing is a non-judgemental personal matter of choice. This made the flight feel less regimented and like flights of pre-pandemic times.
We landed on time around 1 pm. There was no need to fill out paper Immigration forms as JFK uses an automatic service at Immigration and the queue was quite reasonable. After a small wait for our bags, we were outside the terminal booking an UBER to our hotel in Manhattan.
Holiday Inn Express Times Square South
For our first hotel of the trip, we were booked into the Holiday Inn Express Times Square South. We had booked and paid for a ‘City View’ room. Unfortunately, when we got to our room all we could see were windows from the building across the street. We did ask the staff at reception if there was a room available with a better city view but they said that was what they classed as a city view and as it was the holiday weekend, they were very booked up with no other room options for us to change to.
Bryant Park and 230 Fifth Outdoor Rooftop
The sun was shining so we decided to go for a walk to Bryant Park and enjoy the park in the sunshine. The streets of NYC were HOT! Neither of us have visited New York in the Summer for quite some time, preferring to visit in the fall or winter months so the heat was a shock to our system. We sat under some shade with cool drinks while we acclimatized. We headed back to our hotel for a shower and to change before our next activity.
Around 4 pm we braved the heated streets once more to visit one of our favorite bars in NYC – 230 Fifth Outdoor Rooftop Bar. Again, we had only ever visited this bar in the cooler months so we were expecting it to be refreshing to not need coats, blankets, heaters, etc. The word ‘Refreshing’ was probably the wrong word to describe the warmth on the rooftop that day but again, we found ourselves some shade right in front of the Empire State Building and sat enjoying the incredible view and toasting the start of our next adventure.
Notably, the major difference we saw since our last trip to NYC was no longer the need for proof of Vaccination status to enter indoors or the requirement of masks. As the rooftop is outdoors, very few patrons or staff were wearing masks- the heat also probably played a part in this!
We left the rooftop around 7 pm, jet lag proper kicking in at this point. With our bodies thinking it was midnight, we headed back to our hotel, stopping to pick up dinner at Shake Shack which conveniently had a branch just around the corner from our hotel.
We love the shack but in the heat, with our bodies and minds starting to fail us this was not the most enjoyable meal we have had. But we forced it down before passing out ready for an easy day tomorrow!
Walking Total – 10,736 Steps – 5.4 Miles
We are just warming up on the Steps front. With most of the day spent in the air in our comfy Premium Seats we didn’t get too many in…still over 5.4miles though!