New York City, October 2021

Angela and I recently visited New York City for the first time since February of 2020. This was a fairly spontaneous trip that we took because I desperately needed a break from work and we missed the city that we’ve grown to love so much.

Bookings

Because this trip was booked on such short notice (and to keep me from going insane from stress), I decided to optimize for overall comfort and enjoyment, even if it meant splurging a little bit.

The air itineraries were easy to book:

  • Angela and Nicholas

    • 80,000 Delta Skymiles + 8.60USD per person (including a 3.00USD per person Excise Tax Offset Fee for American Express transfer)
      • LAS-JFK on DL J
    • 897.41USD per person (cash fare, booked with JetBlue TravelBank) plus 199.00USD per person for Mint Studio upgrade
      • JFK-LAX on B6 J
    • 128.40USD per person (cash fare, booked with United Airlines future flight credit)
      • LAX-LAS on UA J

The more astute among you will notice that we transited LAX on the way home even though JetBlue flies directly to Las Vegas. There were three reasons for this. First, the JFK-LAS daily frequency has dropped from two flights to one flight and it isn’t the most convenient schedule, leaving New York City at 0800. Second, it is very expensive compared to the more prevalent flights to LAX. Third, I really wanted to try B6’s new business class product, including the Mint Studio, which doesn’t currently fly to Las Vegas.

Hotels

Manhattan is a relatively expensive place to stay and, as such, whenever we visit I wring maximum value out of our hotel points by staying at properties that I’d be reticent to pay cash for. Given our planned activities we knew staying in midtown would be most convenient and that made my decision easy based on the hotel points I had available.

  • One room for six nights at the Conrad New York Midtown for 95,000 Hilton Honors points per night (with fifth night free)

Given Hilton’s recent changes, we were provided with a 25USD per person per night food and beverage credit rather than a breakfast amenity. While this is definitely a downgrade compared to previous domestic stays, we were able to put it to good use every morning to have something to fuel our day.

SARS-COV-2 Procedures

With how quickly travel requirements change, it is likely that those we encountered and are outlined in the following few paragraphs may be out of date when you’re reading this. That being said, this is what we dealt with.

There were no testing or vaccination requirements for our air travel, but masks are still required in the airport and during the duration of a flight. Once we arrived in New York City, we were asked to present our proof of vaccination for indoor dining and for entry to most indoor spaces with other people. The vaccine check was diligent, too, with a comparison to your government issued identification and more than a quick glance at the vaccination card.

Masks were not explicitly required at all locations, but every place we entered either requested that you wear a mask or required that you wear a mask. Mask enforcement during performances was very strict, with venue teams very clearly telling people to think of other people and cover both their mouth and nose.

Day 1

After dropping Fitz off at Camp Bow Wow, Angela and I readied the house for our absence and drove to the airport. On this trip, we opted to park at the airport because it was less expensive than using Uber or an alternative car service on either end of the vacation.

Our flight to New York City was on a Delta Airlines B764 with Delta One seats, a real treat for a domestic flight and one of the reasons I was willing to part with so many of our Delta SkyMiles. The only downside was that the mechanisms surrounding the seat didn’t seem to do the job they were supposed to. Angela’s armrest would not stay up during any kind of turbulence (including take off and landing) and the middle divider suddenly shot up into my eyebrow as I leaned over to talk to Angela.

Service on the flight was amiable and polite. There were three meal options and Angela and I both opted for the Italian Ham sandwich. The sandwich came in a box with some accompaniments and was fairly tasty as far as bagged sandwiches go.

Five hours of relative comfort (and a three hour time change) later, we arrived in New York City. After a lengthy walk through Terminal 4, we eventually reached the taxi stand, secured a ride, and were driven to midtown. From JFK to Manhattan is a flat fare with various surcharges depending on the time of day and what route is taken. In the end, we paid 80.00USD all-in which was quite a bit cheaper than taking an Uber.

The Conrad New York Midtown is a very nice property and one we’ve stayed at before. The rooms are very large by city standards and every room is a suite with a sitting area separated by a door.

After exploring the room, we realized we didn’t have any slippers so Angela texted the front desk and asked for two pairs of slippers and a Conrad stuffed animal if they had one. They were both delivered within ten minutes.

Given the length of our stay, we both decided to completely unpack and, after rinsing off the air travel, settled into bed to watch some of Midnight Mass on Netflix before calling it a night.

Day 2

After a reasonably filling breakfast of eggs, sausage, and berries, we stepped out into New York City and started our vacation proper. Our first destination was the Museum of the City of New York so we hopped on the subway at 57th Street and Seventh Avenue to head north. Since our last visit, the MTA integrated mobile pay using either Apple Pay or Google Pay from a smart device. I found this to be incredibly convenient as it prevents the “fumble for your card and make sure you don’t lose it” process that I found so frustrating on previous visits.

We got off at the 86th Street station and visited Variety Coffee Roasters for some delicious espresso before walking the rest of the way to the museum. Our vaccination status was checked upon entering the building before purchasing tickets.

I strongly recommend a visit to this museum. I found the artifacts on display to be fascinating in their breadth and enjoyed both the permanent and temporary exhibitions. During our visit, the temporary exhibitions included one on the history of activism in New York City and one on the music scene revolution of the early 1980s.

Entry is donation based with a suggested donation of 20.00USD per person.

We walked from the museum to Dog & co. to pick up some gifts for some VIDs before heading to The Whitby Bar to meet up with two fellow dachshund owners where we enjoyed an afternoon of fine conversation.

Based on the recommendation of the aforementioned couple, we ate dinner at Il Tinello. We opted to sit outside to take in the sounds of the city while we dined. The service was extremely personable and the appetizers and main courses were good. The desserts left a bit to be desired, quite frankly, and prices were very high for what we got. I wouldn’t recommend a visit, but I couldn’t, in good conscience, say that the experience or the food was bad in any way.

Day 3

After a similar breakfast as the first day, we walked to meet Olivia Blossom and her humom in Central Park. The pair took us on a stroll, visiting Olivia’s favorite spots and strongly recommending to Angela that we come live in the city. We talked about what it was like raising kids in Manhattan and why they felt so at home in the city. It was an hour of friendly dialogue peppered with food and coffee recommendations.

After bidding adieu to Olivia, we walked downtown to Madison Square Park to meet up with Achillies and his humom. On the way, we stopped at Angelina Bakery for some doughnuts to eat before meeting up. The treats were extremely messy and, while good, are not something I’d go out of my way to pick up in the future.

We caught up with Achillies in the small dog section of the Madison Square Park dog run. His owner treated us to a cup of coffee and then we sat and chatted about life and its various paths for about an hour before heading in the direction of Union Square and parting ways upon reaching it. While Olivia was quite chatty, especially in the presence of a squirrel, Achillies was a demure little gentleman who barely made a peep.

After parting, we walked to Katz’s Delicatessen for our first taste of their famous pastrami. Upon arrival, we joined a line of a few dozen people waiting to enter. It moved quickly, though, and we were inside before long. We opted for waiter service and were led to the back, shown a menu, and ordered matzo ball soup and two pastrami on rye sandwiches.

Both items were delicious and the restaurant certainly lived up to the hype. I was pleased with Angela’s suggestion to visit and, while 24.95USD is a bit expensive for a sandwich, they really pile the meat on so I felt like we got our money’s worth.

Next, it was off to our favorite dessert place in the city, Little Cupcake Bakeshop. Unfortunately, they were out of Angela’s favorite, Dreaming Princess, but I was able to snag a slice of Brooklyn Blackout that we brought back to the hotel to eat in peace.

After a brief nap, we walked to SUMMIT One Vanderbilt, a newly opened art exhibit cum observation deck that was recommended to us by the couple we met with on our first day. We visited after the sun went down and the view was absolutely magical. You can clearly see all of the landmark buildings in Manhattan as well as pick out the various bridges in the distance.

The floors, walls, and ceilings are mirrored through the first three floors of the exhibition. There are a few interactive art pieces that rely on user data and input. We were able to secure tickets on very late notice even though the attraction had only opened three days prior.

After taking in our fill of the city lights, it was back to the hotel for some rest and relaxation before heading to bed.

Day 4

After an abbreviated breakfast consisting of a cappuccino each, we hopped on the R train for the long ride to Bay Ridge to meet up with Lori and Noodles, our longest-lasting IRL friends that we met via the dachshund Instagram community.

We accompanied Noodles on a walk around their neighborhood before dropping him off and going to breakfast with Lori at The Dandy Lion Diner. Lori had berry pancakes, Angela had a waffle, and I chose the French toast with bacon, ham, and sausage. I enjoyed my breakfast and thought the price was right.

We parted ways with Lori and walked to the Bay Ridge location of Little Cupcake Bakeshop to see if they had any Dreaming Princess cake. They did not, so it was back to the Nolita location as a last-ditch effort to secure some. Luckily, our efforts were rewarded.

We walked to Washington Square Park, stopping at the Coffee Project in East Village to procure some delicious flat whites and then sat in the park while we enjoyed the cakes of our labors.

We walked back to the hotel and spent some time looking at restaurants nearby before deciding to dine at Dim Sum Palace on 56th Street. Once seated, we were brought a pictorial menu and asked to mark our selections. After doing so, we were informed that we might have ordered too much food.

I assured the waitress that we would eat everything. We highly recommend this restaurant. The xiao long bao were tasty, although the pouch was a little thicker than I prefer. The other dumplings were delicious, though, and the molten custard buns doubly so. We casually chowed down while drinking two pots of jasmine tea and, even with the quantity of food we ordered, our bill was reasonable.

Day 5

We had a very leisurely morning after properly sleeping in for the first time in about a year. After breakfast, we headed to Rockefeller Plaza (specifically the 50 West 50th Street entrance) to queue for our visit to Late Night with Seth Meyers.

Angela, unbeknownst to me, had put us on the wait list for tickets a few weeks ahead of our trip and they cleared the day we were departing from Las Vegas. We were lucky in that we were in the sixth audience since the show resumed having a live audience in-studio during taping.

We arrived at 1315 and the line was already around 60 people long. At 1400, the “check-in deadline,” they started processing people up the grand staircase, checking reservation and vaccination status repeatedly. At the top of the stairs we were handed paper tickets for the show with a signifier on the back side (we were 3). These tickets seem to be somewhat randomized in order as the people before and after us did not have sequential tickets.

After being fully processed, we arrived in the Peacock Lounge where we were given pre-show instructions on enthusiasm and information about restrictions on phone usage and procedures for taping, most importantly that there would be no exit once entering the studio. A water fountain was present if you got thirsty with a clean bathroom that everyone was strongly encouraged to use.

Two hours later we were loaded, sequentially based on our paper tickets, into the studio. Angela and I ended up on the right side of the audience (facing towards the stage) in the two seats nearer the aisle (in a four seat group). A warm-up comedian, Ryan Reiss, got the audience in the mood for the show. He was very entertaining and got everyone ready to laugh.

The host, Seth Meyers, came out right before taping began to introduce himself and thank us all for coming out to see the show. He also expressed his preference for laughter over clapping saying “I don’t really know what to do when you clap.”

He went backstage and came back out to raucous applause before zooming through the taping with nary a pause. We got to see a monologue, Closer Look, and interviews with Anderson Cooper and Colbie Smulders. After the show, the host took a few questions from the audience before saying goodbye and that was that. We left the theater around 1700.

It is interesting to contrast the Late Night taping with the Late Show taping. The Ed Sullivan Theater is much larger than the studio in which Seth Meyers tapes and everything took a bit longer when we went to see Stephen Colbert. I really enjoyed our experience this afternoon and would recommend it to others if they enjoy the show.

I moved our dinner reservation at Benjamin Prime from 1930 to 1800 because we were both starving. We were seated promptly when we arrived and service was as good as it ever was. Everything we ordered was delicious:

  • Seared scallops
  • Grilled calamari
  • Caesar salad (each)
  • Porterhouse for 2 (medium rare)
  • Mixed mushrooms
  • Molten lava cake
  • Espresso (each)

I can’t say enough about how good this place is. The steaks are phenomenal and the sides are delicious. The service is great. We will continue to return in the future even if it is a bit on the pricey side.

Day 6

We awoke to heavy rain on our last day in the city and, as such, treated ourselves to a leisurely morning before walking to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Angela’s a member) to see a few specific exhibits:

Neither of us are lovers of surrealism, but some of the pieces were interesting and, more importantly, the exhibition provided the context in verbose signage to appropriately appreciate the meaning of works when it would have been completely unclear otherwise. When you have the surrounding context of a surrealist piece, it is much easier to understand why it exists.

A Lexicon of Fashion was intriguing. I was most impressed by Angela being able to name the designer of a piece before ever reading the placard accompanying it.

I continue to be a lover of socialist realism. I don’t know what it is about it, but it really strikes my fancy.

After leaving the Met, we dined at Il Corso for a late lunch and it was fantastic, especially for the price. We opted for all specials:

  • Burrata with truffle, prosciutto, and arugula
  • Pappardelle with boar ragu
  • Braised lamb shank with linguine

This place was phenomenal and is a definite recommendation if you’re in the area looking for Italian food.

After dinner, we tried Dough Doughnuts where Angela chose the plain glazed and I opted for the mocha almond crunch. The doughnuts were messy, but good, and we ended up saving most of them for later. We then stopped by Zibetto Espresso for a couple of double espressos and the best tasting biscotti of all time. They were a little softer than my preference, but the flavor was incredible.

After a brief stop at the hotel, it was off to Schmackary’s Cookies for a familiar treat before our last major item of the trip, a night at the theater to see Moulin Rouge! The Musical. I splurged a bit and secured us two tickets in the center orchestra and I’m glad I did.

The energy in the theater was incredible, the cast was magnificent, and the whole experience was a vivid reminder of all that we had missed during the pandemic. We walked back to the hotel in a bit of a rainstorm after the production ended, but by that point, nothing could dampen our spirits.

Day 7

We woke up, ate breakfast, and grabbed a taxi (again, a flat fare), to JFK for our ride home on JetBlue. We arrived a bit early and, unfortunately, there is no lounge access for JetBlue Mint passengers at JFK. As such, we spent about 45 minutes wandering the terminal until we stopped to top off the charge on our phones before our flight.

The new Mint Studio was a real treat. It is by far the most room of any airplane seat I’ve flown with the exception of the Etihad Apartments on that airline’s A380. For the seat to exist on a narrow-body A321LR is nothing short of amazing. Was it worth the 199.00USD upcharge per person for a 5.5 hour flight? That’s a hard question to answer. I certainly enjoyed having the space available to me. The overhead bins on this flight were exceptionally spacious, as well, and seemed to be quite well-configured allowing three or four “Bigger Carry-On” sized bags from Away

As always, the food and service in JetBlue Mint was great. I particularly enjoyed the pork shoulder I was served – it was fantastic. Angela was disappointed that they didn’t have the signature Mint drink on board and had to settle for a margarita.

We arrived at LAX and waited out our long layover in the Alaska Airlines lounge in Terminal 6 near to our gate before hopping on a short (and uneventful) United Airlines flight home. From there, we walked to our car and headed back to our humble abode, happy to again have the opportunity to visit one of our favorite places in the world.

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