Days 1 & 2 in New York City 2

This entry is part 4 of 7 in the series New York City 2013 Trip Report

I mentioned in one of the last posts that our taxi drive from Penn Station to the Andaz was kind of ridiculous.  He didn’t know the address, so we were left scrambling to look up the cross streets on our phone, and then he wanted to drop us off three blocks from the hotel to avoid some sort of traffic.  So, we politely said no, and he begrudgingly drove us all the way to the hotel.  I don’t understand this logic.  He’s getting paid for his time, no?  Whether he’s sitting in traffic or driving us up and down the streets of NYC?


Times Square and the Late Dinner Debacle

Anyway, we got checked in to the hotel, relaxed for a few minutes, and I was getting hungry.  My cheese plate on the Amtrak train didn’t exactly fill me up.  Our hotel was a relatively short walk to Times Square, so we walked that direction, figuring we would find a restaurant on the way.

It was 10PM by this point, and surprisingly for the city that never sleeps, many restaurants were already closed.  We walked around Times Square for 45 minutes or so, but most restaurants in that area are chains.  Ken suggested McDonald’s just to hold me over, but fast food literally makes me sick, so I declined.  On one of my previous trips to NYC, I remembered eating at some famous deli-type restaurant that served these huge sandwiches.  But it wasn’t there.  I can’t remember the name, and it is possible I might have had the general Times Square location mixed up, but I swear it must have closed.

After our walk around Times Square, we decided to head back to the hotel.  There was an Irish pub right across the street that was open when we left the hotel.  You can’t go too wrong with Irish pub food.  Except when we got there, it was now after 11PM, and the kitchen was closed.  How was this possible?  How was it possible to starve in NYC at night?  Okay, I’m being dramatic, but I was getting really hangry.

I opted for room service at the Andaz.  Here we are, three months past our trip to NYC, and Ken continues to make fun of me for the room service option.  $34 for a plate of glorified spaghetti.  It was okay.  Not bad, not great though either.  But, I was hungry and it did the trick.  We went to bed shortly thereafter.

Empire State Building

The next morning, the first stop on our agenda was the Empire State Building.  It was only a few block walk from our hotel, and, like the previous night, we decided to find some place for breakfast along the way.  Again, we ran into the issue of chain after chain.  Corner Bakery, Dunkin Donuts.  Panera.  Wasn’t there some nice local option to just grab a breakfast sandwich and hot chocolate to eat on our walk?  We finally found a place.  They had a grill and we were going to get breakfast sandwiches, but they had stopped serving breakfast at 9:30.  We were batting zero for eating in NYC.  The place also served muffins and pastries, so we bought some and continued our walk to the Empire State Building.

I had purchased tickets in advance for the Empire State Building.  The options were somewhat confusing and went something like 1) Buy everything at the Empire State Building and stand in all lines, 2) Prepay for your tickets and avoid the ticket line, but not the elevator line, or 3) Prepay for your ticket and get the extra special elevator line avoidance ticket and stand in no lines (except for security screening).  We went for option 2, figuring the elevator lines wouldn’t be that crowded for a random weekend in October.  They weren’t bad, but they were longer than I thought.  I think we waited about 20 minutes total, including the security screening line.

While waiting in line, they had a green screen to take your picture.  Then they would superimpose your picture onto an Empire State Building background.

So, can I just tell you something here?  An interesting quirk?  Ken DESPISES these things.  We see them everywhere.  Green Screen before boarding the Maid of the Mist at Niagara Falls.  Green Screen before entering the Atlanta Aquarium.  Green Screen at Graceland.  You get the idea.  Each time we see a green screen, Ken reacts in the same way:

“WHY WOULD I WANT MY PICTURE TAKEN IN FRONT A GREEN SCREEN!?!  I’m HERE!  I’m AT the famous location!  I have an idea!  Why don’t I JUST TAKE A PICTURE AT THE ACTUAL LOCATION INSTEAD OF HAVING IT TAKEN IN FRONT OF A GREEN SCREEN?!?  IF I wanted my picture taken IN FRONT OF A GREEN SCREEN and then SUPERIMPOSED at the famous place, I WOULD DO IT FROM MY COMPUTER!  AT HOME! And never travel anywhere!”

You get the idea.  Ken is typically a very calm person, but what can I say?  Green screen options enrage him.  So, we spent about 5 minutes in line making fun of the green screen.  Ken told me, “I’d rather have my picture taken next to this SCALE MODEL of the Empire State Building instead of that green screen.”  So, I took his picture next to the scale model.

We bypassed the option to have our picture taken, much to the displeasure of the photographer.

Walking up the stairs to the 86th Floor.

Well, that heading is misleading, but only slightly.  The first set of elevators takes you to the 80th Floor.  But the Observatory is on the 86th Floor.  The 80th floor contains some amazing photographs and historical descriptions of the Empire State Building.  Fascinating stuff.  After meandering around the 80th floor, we walk to the lines for the elevators that will take us to the 86th floor.  The line was not exceptionally long, maybe just 50 people, but an employee was announcing that only one of the elevators was working.  Therefore, the line would take about 30 minutes.  As an alternative, they had opened the emergency stairwells if folks wanted to climb the six flights of steps instead of waiting.

We opted for the steps, and although we’re not in the greatest of shape, we appreciated the chance to see parts of the Empire State Building that are typically off limits.  Like this scary airshaft that looks down 80 floors.

 

We got to the 86th floor, and took our time walking around the Observatory.

This was my third time at the Empire State Building, and it’s fascinating (and sad) to see the NYC skyline changes that I have captured with my camera.

From Top to Bottom: Downtown Manhattan from the Empire State Building in 2000, when the World Trade Center towers still stood; in 2002, after they had fallen; and in 2013, with the new Freedom Tower nearing completion.

We had also purchased tickets for the 102nd floor of the Empire State Building, called the Top Deck.  On my previous trips, I had never opted for the 102nd floor, because I was a broke college student and it was too expensive.  Well, I must say that I was pretty disappointed with the 102nd floor.  It was very crowded and it was a very small, enclosed space.  The views were no better than the 86th floor.  The most fascinating part was the old fashioned elevator that was manned by an Empire State Building employee.  It was actually hand cranked to a precise location once we got to the floor!  So, recommendation, save your money and skip the Top Deck option.

We wrapped up our tour, and decided to grab an early lunch at a restaurant in the lobby of the Empire State Building, called Heartland Brewery.  It wasn’t bad, and I even enjoyed a lovely lunchtime Microbrew.

Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum

After lunch, we grabbed a taxi to go to the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum.

I had prepurchased tickets for that museum as well, and opted (obviously) for the entrance to the Enterprise Space Shuttle exhibit.  I thought it would be pretty difficult to be blown away by another aviation museum.  After all, we’ve been to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and the Udvar Hazy Center many times now.  The Udvar Hazy center especially is a stunning museum.  But the Intrepid was terrific and definitely worth the admission price!  I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

The Intrepid is also home to a Concorde!

In addition to the planes there was, of course, the actual Intrepid Aircraft Carrier itself, which remained largely in original form since its 1970s retirement (surely there is a different term for this. Decommissioning perhaps?)

We were walking around the Intrepid for quite a while.  We had tickets for the World Trade Center Memorial for a 5PM admission, their last admission time.  (Tickets are normally free, but they are limited.  So you can pre-book your tickets for a nominal fee of $2 to ensure that you get a ticket.)  We didn’t want to rush finishing up at the Intrepid, so I went on my phone and managed to book more tickets to the World Trade Center Memorial for the next evening.  We leisurely enjoyed the rest of our time at the Intrepid, without having to rush to leave for the next stop on our itinerary!  One deck of the Intrepid has been repurposed as an indoor museum.

It was really fascinating to see the Enterprise.  Obviously it never flew in space, and it was an amazing contrast to the Discovery, which we’ve seen up close at the Udvar Hazy center.  The Discovery looked very, very beat up and well worn.  (To be expected considering its age, miles logged, and harsh conditions endured!)  The Enterprise looked as clean as could be!

 

We also walked around the former nuclear submarine, the Growler.  I’m not claustrophobic, but something about people telling me that something is going to be “very claustrophobic” always makes me a bit uneasy.  The start of the submarine tour was also exceptionally hot, and I almost opted not going any further.  But, I went and the temperature cooled off and yes, it was small, but as always, I’m fine in confined spaces.  It’s cozy!

Some Rest

After the Intrepid, we tried to find a taxi, but weren’t having much luck.  Luckily a taxi had just dropped somebody off so we ran for it!  The taxi driver told us how lucky we were.  Apparently it’s really hard to get a taxi in NYC during evening rush hour.  That is the time taxi cab drivers change shifts and they all have to make their way out of Manhattan towards JFK airport, where their taxi HQs are located.  That taxi driver was insane, but in a good way.  He darted out into a blocked intersection right before our traffic light changed, weaving in front of and behind the cars that had been illegally blocking the intersection.  It was quite the maneuver!

We went back to the Andaz for a little while to rest our legs.  I took full advantage of the foot bath basin in the bathroom of our hotel room, soaking my feet for a good 20 minutes.  Since our planned itinerary had changed thanks to our extended visit at the Intrepid and rescheduled World Trade Center memorial tour, we took some time to plan out the rest of our evening.

We decided on dinner, the Art of the Brick, and Top of the Rock.

We ate dinner at John’s Pizzeria on the suggestion of one of Ken’s coworkers.  It was actually located in Times Square, which we did not know the night before when we were searching for a place to eat that was open.  I thought it was really good!  Very noisy, but good!

Art of the Brick

After dinner, the Art of the Brick was less than a block away.  Ken is a huge fan of legos.  I had seen this being sold as a Groupon a month earlier, so I purchased tickets via Groupon for half price.  The exhibit was actually larger than I expected, and it was really good!

 

Top of the Rock (Rockefeller Center Building)

After the Art of the Brick, we walked through Times Square again, on our way to Top of the Rock.  The entrance was a little confusing to find, but we made our way through.

It was fairly late, probably 10PM or so, and the place was really empty.  We waited a few minutes to purchase our tickets, but I think that wait was mainly because they didn’t have many people working.  There was no line at all for the elevators, but you can tell that they’re always prepared for a long line, considering the many switchbacks of rope and dividers.  We also snuck past the green screen too!

I don’t think I’m overstating things that when I say that the elevator to the observation deck was the coolest elevator I have ever been in.  Crazy cool lighting, a clear roof that allowed you to see the tremendous speed that the elevator was traveling, and a recap of NBC history all in like the 45 second ascent to the top.  Truly amazing stuff.  I was totally unprepared for how cool it was, so I only managed to snap this crappy photo.

It was really amazing to see the NYC skyline at night.  Unfortunately tripods aren’t permitted at Top of the Rock, but there were plenty of wide, safe surfaces to set down the camera for a long exposure (I had researched that in advance).

There was also some amazing indoor spaces, including this interactive colorful room that you could make change by touching or talking.


There was also some nice indoor spaces with comfortable couches and mood lighting.  Considering our sore legs thanks to a full day of sightseeing and the chilly October evening air 60 floors up, we sat for a little bit on the indoor sofas and relaxed.

Once we were done, we hung out for a bit near the Ice Skating rink at Rockefeller Center, and decided to walk back to our hotel.  It was only a few blocks, but we were some tempted to hail a cab.  We were exhausted!  But we walked and we were just fine.

We got back to our hotel, I took a long hot shower to ease my leg muscles, and we went to sleep.

Andaz Fifth Avenue, New York City (Hotel Review)

This entry is part 3 of 7 in the series New York City 2013 Trip Report

When we decided on New York City as a quick weekend getaway, my mind immediately was set on the Andaz Fifth Avenue. Over the past few years, I’ve seen the Andaz Fifth Avenue reviewed many times on miles and points blogs. Part of its allure seemed to be the great value as a points redemption. The hotel can cost $500+ per night. So redeeming just 22,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points for one night makes it a pretty great deal. I was excited to see that points redemptions were available for our desired weekend, so I transferred 66,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points to my Hyatt Gold Passport account. The transfer was instantaneous, and I made our three night reservation immediately.

Our taxi from Penn Station to the Andaz was a bit absurd. The last few times I was in New York City, I was a broke college student, so taking a taxi cab anywhere was always way out of the budget. So, perhaps I was a bit out of the loop on New York City taxicab etiquette. But I thought that I could give an address, in this case, 485 5th Avenue, and the taxi driver would know where to go. Well, he needed to know the cross streets. What the hell do I know about cross streets? I mean, in DC I can just say “Take me to 400 12th Street, NW” and they know right where that is. (I actually don’t know if that’s a real address, but you get the point).

After a quick Google Maps inquiry on my phone, I discovered that the cross streets were 41st and 5th Avenue. Annoyed, he asked whether he could drop us off three blocks before that cross street because something about something traffic and one-ways. Or something. I really had no idea what he was saying.

So I just said no and that we wanted to be driven to the hotel at 41st and 5th Avenue. I did not want to be carrying my luggage, no matter how light and compact, three blocks to a hotel we had never even been to before. He agreed to drive us to the destination, although he sounded pretty irritated about it.

I digress.

We arrived at the Andaz, which has a nondescript entry. As you enter through the tall doors, it’s like you’re being granted entrance to some secret society or something. The entire time we were there, two employees staffed the doors to open them for guests as they entered and exited the hotel, as well as being nearby to get them a taxi or to help them out of a taxi.

(Exterior photos taken during the daylight since we arrived when it was dark)

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Andaz Entrance on 41st Street

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Hotel logo as seen from the corner of 41st and 5th Avenue

When we arrived, we ventured toward the small check in “desk,” which is actually just a small white table with four employees staffing MacBook Pros.

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Check-in area and elevators

  

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Staffed Lobby Doors

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An iMac available in the lobby for guest use free of charge. I used it a few times to print our updated tickets to the 9/11 memorial, as well as to print our boarding passes after we re-booked our return Amtrak train.

A gentleman checked us in. We had booked an Andaz King, and I asked if there happened to be any upgrades available. He said they wouldn’t have any suites available until the following night. But he offered to upgrade us to a “Pure” room, which faces an interior courtyard, so it is quieter than the rooms that face the street. We figured why not. He escorted us all the way to our room, which I was not expecting, but it was a nice touch. As we walked to the room on the 5th floor, he told us a bit about the Andaz brand.

One thing I found slightly annoying, although it is certainly not unique to the Andaz Fifth Avenue, was that we had to take two separate elevators to get to our room. First world problems, I realize, but the annoyance really became apparent after a long day of sightseeing and we just wanted to get to our room to relax. We had to do take two elevators to our room during our stay at a Westin in Philadelphia as well last year during a weekend trip.

On the second set of elevators, he explained that we would need to swipe our hotel room key to gain access to our floor. I made a light joke about being thankful for the security, saying “Oh that’s good, because I’ve seen Law and Order plenty of times.” He chuckled, and then Ken was quick to point out we were from DC, which these days has a much higher murder rate than New York City!

Anyway, he showed us to our room and proceeded to give us a brief overview. He covered how the lights worked (which I’m glad he did. It wasn’t as easy as just flipping a switch), how the automatic curtains worked, that all the snacks and non alcoholic beverages in the room were free of charge (Free! No paying $3.50 for a bottle of Coke from a hotel vending machine!), and explained that there was a computer hooked up to the back of the television. For what purpose, I don’t remember. Which brings me to #2 minor complaint about the Andaz — the computer ran all the time, which made for a slightly annoying whirring sound all night long. Nothing too loud to keep me awake, especially after exhausting days of sightseeing, but just something to be aware of for light sleepers.

Ken asked whether breakfast was included. I knew it wasn’t, but I forgot to tell Ken. But, I’m glad he asked because the host showed us the breakfast room service menu, told us to fill it out that night, and write it to his attention. He would comp us breakfast for the next morning. That was certainly a great gesture and a sign of great customer service.

The room was large by New York City standards.

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Looking down the hallway after entering the hotel room door. The bathroom entrance is on the right.

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Desk area. Sorry, we had already started to set stuff down!

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Looking other direction down hallway with bed and desk partially in view.

 

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King Size Bed. Very comfortable and a good selection of pillows.

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Standing next to desk, looking back towards hotel room door.

 

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Fridge stocked with sodas, water, and a light selection of alcoholic beverages. Ken and I certainly took advantage of the bottles of water and sodas. Every day, the fridge was re-stocked.

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A few light snacks were also free, plus there was some liquor available for purchase.

  

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Double sinks in bathroom.

 

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Shower area next to sinks.

 

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More complete view of shower.

Not visible in the above picture though is the rain shower head in the ceiling. The bench was lovely, and under the bench (not pictured) was a large heavy bowl that you could fill up with water to soak your feet. I did that every night of our stay! The small silver thing to the right of the bench that looks like a soap holder is actually the water faucet, which ran like a waterfall, which you could use to fill up the large bowl. Finding the perfect water temperature was a bit difficult. I tend to like my showers on the hot side, but it was hard to find that sweet spot of hot enough without being too hot.

Also, this is a personal preference, and I realize that it bucks current trends, but I don’t like showers without doors. In addition to liking my showers hot, I like them to be steamy too. And it’s just too hard to “trap” the steam in a shower when there’s no door. Eventually it would get steamy when the entire bathroom filled with steam, but obviously that takes a lot longer. I find showering just a bit too breezy without a door!

The bathroom was stocked with CO Bigelow products.

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CO Bigelow Body wash, Conditioner, and Shampoo. (Not pictured: Body lotion that was available on the sink)

I don’t have a photograph of it, but the only thing I didn’t like about this bathroom was the way the toilet was situated. The toilet was behind a half partition wall, but if you walked into the bathroom as someone was using the toilet, you’d be able to see them just fine. I’m not sure why they bothered with a partition wall since it didn’t offer privacy from others who may have been using the sink or shower.

The view wasn’t much to write home about, but because we faced this interior courtyard, our room was very, very quiet for New York City. So, while it was no Splash Suite, we didn’t have to worry about street noise.

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View from Andaz King “Pure” Room

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View from Andaz King “Pure” Room

I have an informal rating system for hotels that I stay at. So here you go for the Andaz 5th Avenue!

  • Mattress Comfort: Did my back hurt when I woke up in the morning? No. Great Bed Comfort!
  • Towel Quality: Did the towels wrap all the wrap all the way around my body? Yes. Best hotel towels EVER.
  • Shower Quality and Comfort: Did I have to duck down my 5’9” body in the shower to get my hair wet under the shower head? No. The rain showerhead was like 3 feet above my head!
  • Room Temperature: Did I wake up at times during the same night alternating between feeling hot and cold? Yes. Unfortunately we couldn’t quite get the room temperature comfortable at night.
  • Would I Recommend it to a Friend: Yes, but with a caveat. If I had paid the full price for this room, I don’t think I would have been terribly impressed given the money we would’ve spent. Yes, the service was great, the rooms were comfortable, and the free snacks were appreciated, but would it have been worth $450/night? Not to me.

Amtrak Northeast Regional Washington, DC to New York City

This entry is part 2 of 7 in the series New York City 2013 Trip Report

Train #138

WASHINGTON, DC – NEW YORK (PENN STATION), NY
Depart 6:05 PM, Thursday, October 24, 2013
Arrive: 9:30 PM, Thursday, October 24, 2013
2 Reserved Coach Seats (Unassigned)

Date Booked: August 6, 2013
Total Out of Pocket Cost for Two Adult Passengers: $98

Although I do not travel by train often, I think rail travel is a refreshing break from air travel. There’s no need to arrive 90 minutes prior to departure. You only have to transit security if you are selected for a random check. You can use your electronics whenever you want and you can (gasp!) get up and walk around at your leisure thanks to the absence of “fasten seatbelt” signs.

On the evening of our departure, Ken and I took the metro from our workplaces to Union Station, and we met up about an hour prior to departure.

Union Station was, as usual, packed. I cannot recall a time that I was at Union Station outside of rush hour. During rush hour, you have throngs of daily commuters clamoring to board their commuter trains to cities like Baltimore and Fredericksburg, in addition to regular Amtrak departures and arrivals.

The gate for our train was not announced until 20 minutes prior to departure. I think this is usually intentional to prevent the passengers from lining up to board too early. There’s no assigned seating on Amtrak trains, so many people, especially larger families and groups, probably prefer to board earlier to sit together. All Amtrak trains I have ever ridden, including this one, have always had plenty of empty seats. Boarding started about 15 minutes prior to departure. Although the line was long, the boarding process moved quickly.

I knew I’d want a snack during our 3.5 hour train ride, so we boarded the third car, right behind the cafe car. We had no trouble finding two seats together.

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Our train car

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Plenty of legroom

 

Thirty minutes into our train ride, I walked to the Cafe Car and purchased a cheese and cracker tray, as well as a bottled beer. The Cafe Car had a decent selection of food and drinks available for purchase, especially compared to coach class airlines! I always forget just how “bumpy” trains are compared to most flights. The cashier had already removed the cap from my beer bottle when she handed it to me. I set down the bottle on the countertop to get out my credit card to pay, and my bottle almost fell right off the counter! I had a similar mishap back at my seat. The tray tables to not contain any cup-like indentations, so my beer bottle was unsteady. I ended up just holding it on my lap in between my legs. Next time, I will take a cup holder tray they had available in the cafe car, even if I am only carrying one beverage! I think that would help keep drinks steady on the tray.

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The Cafe Car’s Snackbar

Just outside of Philadelphia, our train came to an unexpected stop. The engineer stated that our train was having some mechanical issues that they needed to examine. We were moving within 15 minutes, but once we arrived at the Philadelphia train station, the train remained stopped for longer than usual. Presumably, they were verifying that the mechanical issue had been fixed, now that they were safely stopped at a train station.

Throughout the train ride, Ken had his handheld GPS and was tracking our speed. Our train maxed out around 100 MPH, and when it did reach that speed, the train didn’t stay at that speed for very long. There are many stops on the Amtrak Northeast Regional between Washington, DC and New York, so (although I’m no train engineer!) the train probably can’t stay at higher speeds for very long since it has to prepare to stop so frequently.

We arrived at Penn Station about 30 minutes behind schedule.

Thanks to many lessons learned in my travels about hauling luggage, no matter how light, through unfamiliar public transportation systems, we opted to take a taxi from Penn Station to our hotel at 41st and Fifth Avenue. After climbing several sets of stairs and escalators, we found the taxi stand fairly easily. We waited in a short line, and then proceeded to have a terrible (read: completely unknowledgeable) taxi driver take us to the Andaz Fifth Avenue.

Weekend in New York City: Introduction

This entry is part 1 of 7 in the series New York City 2013 Trip Report

Two weeks ago, Ken and I spent a long weekend in New York City. I had been hoarding a lot of points recently, and decided it was time to redeem some of them. Plus, I had really been itching for a vacation. We went on an amazing Southwest USA road trip for two weeks in Fall 2012. Shortly after our return from that road trip, I redeemed some American Airlines miles for an off-peak award to Belize scheduled for April 2013.

Unfortunately, in between those two trips, tragedy struck our family. My parents were in a serious car accident. My mother died on the scene, and my dad was airlifted to a trauma center where he thankfully survived. Needless to say, both Ken and I took a lot of time off work. So, we decided to cancel the April trip to Belize, and I had our AAdvantage miles refunded.

In the subsequent months, I had tried to plan other long weekend trips, researching places like the Bahamas Out Islands and Key West, but I had one family emergency after another that prevented me from being able to go somewhere and relax. Although we typically take a long vacation in the fall, we decided to skip a big fall vacation for 2013, since we already had our Russia trip planned for February 2014.

By July, I was getting anxious to plan some sort of vacation, and we decided that New York City would be a fun weekend getaway. Although we had both been there before (albeit separately), we were both broke college students during our previous visits. So, it would be nice to actually afford to go to museums like the MoMA! (Spoiler alert: We never actually made it to the MoMA.) New York was also close enough that I could return home in case of some other family emergency. We picked out a weekend in the Fall, when the weather would be crisp and the foliage beautiful, and started making reservations!

I immediately knew I wanted to stay at the Andaz Fifth Avenue. This hotel is currently all the rage among the many points bloggers that I follow. I was also swimming in Chase Ultimate Rewards points. Since the Andaz is a Hyatt property and since Chase Ultimate Rewards Points are 1:1 transfer partners with Hyatt, I checked award night availability for the Andaz Fifth Avenue on Hyatt’s website. There was availability for our desired October weekend, so I transferred 66,000 Ultimate Rewards points to my Hyatt account and immediately made the reservation.

Next up were transportation options. The easiest transportation between DC and New York City is Amtrak. Trains to New York were very reasonably priced for our desired Thursday evening travel, so it didn’t make any sense to use points. We just paid the $49 per person and booked our tickets. The Sunday night return, however, was much more expensive, approaching nearly $200 per person for just the Amtrak Northeast Regional Train.

Since part of the fun of points is redeeming them for new and fun experiences, I decided to book our return train in Amtrak Acela First Class. I’ve never taken an Acela train before, let alone Acela First Class. And since Amtrak Acela First Class tickets were about $350 per person, so I thought it would be a fun indulgence. I tempered my expectations though, as many people complain that the Acela trains, which are touted as high speed, really aren’t that much faster than the regular Amtrak trains. I’ve taken high speed rail in both Japan and Europe, so I knew that Acela would be no Shinkansen. But, I still wanted to give it a whirl.

Amtrak is also a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards. I knew that there are a handful of weekends that Amtrak excludes points redemptions, so I double checked that our desired travel date wasn’t one of the blackout dates. I made sure to do this because Ultimate Rewards transfers are not reversible once they are made. For instance, if I had transferred my Ultimate Rewards points to my Amtrak account and then was unable to redeem them for my travel date, I would not be able to “return” the points to my Ultimate Rewards account. They would have to stay in my Amtrak account, which would be unfortunate because I don’t travel Amtrak much. After confirming that our dates were not on the blackout list, I took the next step. One way Acela First Class tickets are 12,000 points per person, so I transferred 24,000 Ultimate Rewards Points to my Amtrak Guest Rewards account. Then I immediately made our reservation.

Free hotel, free return trip, and a very inexpensive train ride up to New York City. Score!

Over the next few months, we tinkered with a draft itinerary for New York City. We kept waffling on some things, like whether to see a Broadway show or whether to go to the Statue of Liberty. Both of us had been to the Statue of Liberty before, but I had never been inside the Statue of Liberty pedestal or crown. But when we realized that we couldn’t get crown tickets because they book several months in advance, we decided to skip the Statue of Liberty for this trip. We also decided to skip a Broadway show and see one on a future trip. By the day we left for our trip, our draft itinerary looked like this.

Thursday October 24

  • Arrive New York Penn Station at 9:30PM
  • Check in to Andaz 5th Avenue
  • If not too tired, head to Brooklyn Bridge for night time photographs

Friday October 25

  • Empire State Building
  • Intrepid Museum
  • Walk along the High Line
  • World Trade Center Memorial. Last entry is 5PM
  • Do an evening walk of Brooklyn Bridge if we didn’t do it on Thursday
  • Visit Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Museum closes at 8PM.
  • Visit Lego exhibit. Exhibit closes at 9PM

Saturday October 26

  • Cloisters
  • Walk around Central Park
  • Met or Guggenheim museum if desired / if time. Met is open until 9PM. Guggenheim until 7:45PM. Guggenheim is “pay what you want” from 5:45 to 7:45PM on Saturdays
  • Evening visit to Top of the Rock

Sunday October 27

  • The Meadows for Giant Globe
  • Daytime walk on Brooklyn Bridge
  • Greenflea Flea Market ( 77th St. & Columbus Ave)
  • Amtrak train to Washington departs at 6:00PM and arrives at 8:45PM

Of course, like any draft itinerary, things changed as our trip progressed, and there were a few things we had to skip, but overall it was very successful!

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