New York for the holidays
The group heads to the city for some Christmas cheer

On Saturday, December 12, 2009, Terry, Ellen, Richard and I woke before sunrise to get ready for a day trip to New York City. A cold morning was braved as we set off just after 7am. The following reflects our day in New York… the good and the bad… the fun and the fights…

I know this is getting posted way too late for the 2009 holidays, but hopefully our experiences then will help your plans for the future…

(In order to cover the day itself, the following material is set up chronologically.)

Parking near Radio City – After looking over a ton of possibilities to include on our day in the City, we had pretty much settled on two things as musts… a carriage ride in Central Park and the tree at Rockefeller Center. After checking out a few other things… places we might want to visit for lunch… other places we might want to visit… we ended up deciding that most of our thoughts were in the same general area and parking in near Rockefeller would be the best idea.

That was good… and bad.

We parked on West 52nd Street.

Now… what the hell were we thinking? The obvious answer is that I wasn’t. Radio City Music Hall is right there… they were running their Christmas show at the time… and, you know, the tree is up, and a couple of people might want to see that… and we were deciding to park there because it was close to the center of everything we wanted to do… which all comes together as a fancy way of saying: a few other people also decided parking in this area would be a good idea. And while not hideously expensive compared to what I expected (under $50 for the day), there were other locations that we saw that would have been less expensive. Plus, with some research for the future travels into the city, public transportation options would be even more efficient. So… yeah… bad.

On the other hand, we basically placed ourselves two blocks away from our last stop of the day. Any cab rides… which we never needed, but might have if we were further away from the plaza… would have pushed that parking and transportation price up. And once we got out of the garage and had Mi Luv U lock on to our destination to provide directions, the traffic flowed surprisingly smoothly.

In the end… it worked out fine, but we will be thinking about other options next time.

(By the way… bring a map of New York City with you. I know… I know… you have a Garmin and it’s the greatest thing ever and it works so much better than your friend’s other-big-name-GPS-that-is-usually-wrong and so on. That’s wonderful. Listen to me one more time… bringamap. Take three minutes before you pick up your car to consider where you are and the basic route you need to follow to get to your bridge or tunnel or whatever you’re using to get out.

Why am I stressing this? Ok…

First of all, the buildings around you are really tall. Really, really tall. And there’s a good chance that once you turn off your GPS unit, it will take a while to pick up the signal again and lock in on where you are, where you’re going, and pass along the next turn to take.

Secondly, once you get in your car, the people getting in the one… two… five… fifteen other cars that have been pulled in behind you by the garage attendants are going to want to go. And naturally, in the interest of there’s-no-space-to-waste-around-here, all of these cars are going to expect you to get in and go. Now. Right away. Because you’re blocking the exit. They don’t care about you plugging in your GPS. They don’t care about the reception you aren’t getting. They don’t care about your seatbelts or a quick sip of water or adjusting the mirrors. They don’t care that you weren’t expecting to leave the garage and merge with a one way street… weren’t expecting to come out on the other side of the building on to a different street than the one you entered off of… weren’t expecting to catch an immediate break in the traffic so you had to get going right away instead of pulling to the edge of the curb and then having a second to catch your breath and settle in before driving on. They don’t care. They don’t care. They don’t care. Which leads to…

Third, read that paragraph about having to get in the car and move quickly out of the garage again. The same thing applies to the streets and driving. When the cars are moving around you, and the police are telling you to join those cars and get moving so the holiday procession keeps rolling along, you’ll want to already have some idea of where you need to aim the car.

And fourth, though not to limit this to only four things because there are certain to be so many wonderful scenarios developing around you, meet Murphy. And Murphy has this law that states that Mi Luv U will greet you with the wonderful sounds of silence. The lovely phrase “recalculating…” will not be heard as you are leaving the garage and need her to help you, but instead will kick in five to ten minutes into the journey. In fact, you are most likely to hear Mi Luv U just about the time you are paying a toll, after you really, really, really needed her because you had no clue when to turn and were making all sorts of guesses because no one looks at a map any more until you finally saw a small sign posted almost perfectly so it could not be seen…

Murphy predicts you will hear Mi Luv U guiding you about two minutes after deciding: “I don’t care how nice it was to have the car close by so I didn’t have to lug all these bags around on a train, I’m pretty sure this is becoming a neighborhood we don’t want to be in after dark. Next time I’m researching which ferries don’t slam into piers.”

So… again… get a map. And always take a second to figure out what’s next. It may not be easy to do, especially in a crowd. But you will often be very glad you did.)

World of Disney – Don’t look for it… it’s not there any more. As 2009 closed, so closed the doors on the World of Disney store. And that’s a shame.

Covering three levels, the Disney experience here was well-developed and it had all the angles involved… from the touristy New York items to the pricey and hard-to-find collectibles.

I’m going to miss this store.

FAO Schwartz – We didn’t go in. (And honestly… other than the big piano on the floor… is there a reason to go in? Fine, here’s the story…)

As we walked down Fifth Avenue from Disney, we thought about heading in to take a look around FAO Schwartz before crossing the street and going into the park. I’ve been inside before, and it is a really neat store. I’ve tried to include it often on trips to the city. I just don’t find it to be a real toy store. Hard to explain that comment, but I’ll try… each time I’ve been in there, I’ve been impressed by just about everything I’ve seen, often have been amazed by a couple of items and found alot of stuff I didn’t even know existed, and yet I can’t recall a single time on any visit when I wanted to reach for my wallet. Can you imagine being hungry, then walking into a bakery and not being tempted by anything? Same idea.

On this day… the line was insane! (No. Actually, insane doesn’t do it justice. It was worse than that. Insane implies there could have been something intelligent or logical or realistic about it. This line was long and stupid and wrong from the very beginning. It stretched from the door, down 58th Street at least a block (it probably didn’t cross a street, but it wouldn’t have stunned me to find out that what we saw in the distance… an apparent bend on Madison Avenue, involved the line extending to the point of effectively circling the block), and then came right back up 58th to where it started. It was twice as long as it looked… and it looked plenty long. At the pace people were entering, it was going to be over forty-five minutes before we got inside, and that was a conservative guess given to us. (That’s quite a wait to see a store when you pretty much already knew you aren’t buying anything in it.))

Oh… and that bakery comment? Yeah… wouldn’t be the last time we felt that way today. (More on Dean & Deluca in a second.)

Carriage Ride thru Central Park – For Terry and Ellen, this was set up to be the event of the day, and it didn’t disappoint.

I won’t tell you it was the most thrilling, amazing, fantastic thing ever found in New York City… nor will I tell you it is something you’ll regret if you skip it.

I will tell you that the whole thing was pretty cool and I’m glad we did it.

When we arrived, there was a bit of confusion… no organized line… inconsistent stopping by incoming carriages… and alot of questions about how to climb on and get a ride. (Apparently the FAO Schwartz crowd management team trains in the same place New York City Carriage Ride organizers do.) As the horses, drivers and carriages arrived, everyone was waving arms and shouting at drivers for information about how to start a ride. Incredibly all of the drivers seemed to want to answer, but none of them were. Instead, they gave what sounded like as vague an answer as possible. Some times it was just a slightly moving arm pointing to the curb at some imaginary place in the distance. (I couldn’t escape the feeling… and still believe… that if I had waved my hand at the driver with a couple of twenties visible in the palm, indicating I wanted to shake hands and wink-wink-nudge-nudge while I asked how to get a ride, I would have been on a carriage in under 5 seconds. It seemed like every driver wanted to say “tip me” to the information requests while actually saying “stand on the curb and the next carriages are coming but I have to pull up there” instead.)

Turned out, as the entire crowd looked, listened and didn’t try the extra tipping… after taking a deep breath and watching the pattern for a few moments, we figured out that the setting was perfectly tailored to Terry’s strengths… she staked out a spot, leaned slightly forward, and made sure she was noticed.

Richard had gone to purchase ear muffs at a stand right next to the curb. Literally ten feet from where we stood. I saw them and considered getting some myself, but I didn’t have time. Once she designed her plan, Terry had us sitting in a carriage in less than three minutes.

(Hey Richard… muffs. (That just never gets old. And our jokes were much worse in person.))

We talked a bit with our driver. I am now convinced there are few jobs as wonderfully seasonal as driving a carriage through Central Park. Holidays… snow fall… busy with lots of good post-ride tips. Weekdays in July and August… hot, not as busy, and a smelly horse.

M&M World – I think I can say… for all of us, even without asking the other three… that visiting this location is the moment when the adventure spun a bit out of control, and became something completely different. We had a great time in New York. The whole day was fun and fantastic. In setting up the moment here… we were hungry. We had reservations for lunch about two hours later than our watches were showing it to be, and had decided that we would walk to the restaurant and see if they could take us early. As we wandered down West 50th Street, we turned on Broadway… since we needed to get onto West 49th. And that’s when I saw something in the distance… M&M World. And the group voted in favor of a quick stop. And…

It was here, upon our arrival at M&M World, that we truly felt like we were there, but we didn’t see a thing. It was true of FAO Schwartz. It would be true again later in the day. But this was where it really became blatantly obvious what was going on. See…

It… was… packed…

Basically, it worked like this: You entered the building off of Broadway. Within five feet, you were swept up by a river of people that took almost complete control of your movement. The flow carried you to the other side of the store, where the current moved onto the escalator going up to the second floor. Stepping off the escalator, the people moved in a circle around to the other side of the escalator, placing you back on and headed down. From there traffic flowed to the back door and you were deposited onto 8th Avenue wondering what the hell happened.

Now… was it really that bad?

Well… yeah. It was.

We actually were able to step out of the river and make a purchase, but for the most part, the experience was like shopping for items along the side of the road while inside a car moving at about 80 or 90 miles per hour. If you looked straight ahead, you might be able to react in time to exit the holiday retail highway, grab a shirt and a box of candy, and then figure out how to get to a register. But if you were looking out to the side and expected things to be in focus, you wouldn’t have any idea what you were looking at, and even if you thought you spotted something you wanted… by the time it clicked you were too late and out of luck.

I’ve been in M&M World in Las Vegas and New York… and prefer Vegas, considering the show and free samples. I’ve been in M&M World in New York before this… so I can say it is worth adding to your plans. But it is touristy… and almost inexplicably more about M&M merchandise than candy. And yet… I would stop again. (And as opposed to FAO Schwartz, I would be tempted to grab my wallet for a purchase.)

But this holiday experience? Yuck. And for the most part, the crowd here was a sign of worse things to come.

Plataforma Rodizio – Oh… dear… lord…


The salad bar was beautifully set up and contained a selection that would easily have three or four dishes to please any appetite. The side dishes were fantastic. (We loved the fried plantains.) And the main course… a selection of meats carved tableside… were delicious.

Heck… Terry even tried the chicken hearts.

The location on 49th Street was within easy walking distance of Rockefeller Plaza… and just outside of Times Square. Their web site includes information about parking and other ways of getting to their door.

At some time, please treat yourself and visit this restaurant.

Hershey Store – Remember a moment ago I mentioned how M&M World just may be more towels and t-shirts than candy? No problem with that here. They had plenty of candy. Still crowded… but a bit better controlled. (They actually staggered the entry into the place… but to be fair, that could simply have been a result of needing to since this store is smaller than M&M World.)

Here’s the funny thing though… they lined us up outside. And, on our way through the door, we were given a sample. Sure… both little things. But the wait outside meant that while crowded inside, you weren’t being pushed around. You could see things, stop and look at them, and didn’t feel rushed. And the sample may have only been one of those Hershey miniatures. It was still a nice touch. It felt a bit like they were happy all of us bothered to show up.

Top of the Rock – Every so often, we make plans and manage to pull off something so perfectly that the results almost defy description. Now these plans could be simple, where a slight twist here or there combined with a happy accident to create a breathtaking moment… such as our group of six picnic in San Francisco against the Pacific Ocean. Or they could be more elaborate and perhaps risky, where we made plans hoping for the best and then were treated to even more… such as signing up for a sunset cruise and wine tasting with Danger Charters in Key West.

Here… we timed sunset brilliantly.

I had wanted to go to the top of a building on this visit to New York. I had been thinking Empire State Building… but as we started narrowing down the thoughts for the day, it was going to be slightly out of the way for our one-stop-vicinity planning. So, Ellen and I started checking out the Top of the Rock. I had never been to the top here before (at least not that I can recall). Everyone seemed good with it. And it was obviously right near the tree, so it was perfectly situated in the neighborhood of our day.

Before we left, I kept mentioning to Terry and Ellen (and, I’m guessing Richard… but my direct contact was with Ellen) how great it would be to head up around 3:30 or 4 so perhaps we could catch sunset. So all during our day, a target time was floating around in the back of our minds.

The views were great in all directions… from Central Park on one side to the Empire State Building on the other. The sunset wasn’t incredible… there were a few clouds in an overcast sky… but seeing the city’s night come to life was amazing.

NBC Store – The crowds had worn us down by this point, and this store was wall-to-wall people. And, in this case the store was selling a ton of merchandise, but I know Terry and I would have bought more than we did if it wasn’t so uncomfortable to move around.

A great store with alot of neat things, but just not the perfect location for this day.

And here’s where something funny happened. When we got out of this store, we walked a bit toward the tree. We smiled, and took a deep breath, and paused for a minute to kind of refresh ourselves and our spirits after a long and exciting day.

That’s when a group of four people… two adults and two kids… shoved their way past us, started complaining about all the people that wouldn’t get out of their way so they could take a picture, stepped in the way of someone who was taking their own picture, backed into us while trying to get a picture, and then shoved their way on.

Yup… we were fried.

Dean & Deluca – I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and say that it was so incredibly, amazingly, blindingly busy late Saturday afternoon that no coffee shop in the world could have kept up with it.

That would be fair and reasonable and explain why we left Dean & Deluca feeling discouraged and let down.

But the reality is that we were at the end of the day and didn’t have high expectations for Dean & Deluca. Sure… it had been on out list of things to see way in advance. Ellen had targeted it before we left as a place she wanted to check out. We knew the Rockefeller location wasn’t a full company store. (That would be, as far as we understood, the SoHo area, and this was one of their cafes.) And, having eaten a huge lunch, we were really just looking for a cup of coffee and maybe… maybe… a cookie or something small to satisfy a craving for dessert.

This location didn’t deliver. There was a line, even though as far as we could tell it wasn’t busy. (Meaning the staff was just moving slow.) About half of the staff behind the counter seemed to either be starting or ending shifts… but in either event they weren’t helping customers. Once inside the doors, there was no crowd… in fact, new paragraph…

It was cold. And the plaza was packed. To move one step you had to take three… one to attempt to move in a direction and the other two to get to where the first should have taken you after a wave of people bumped into you and swept you the wrong way. Now… cold… with thousands upon thousands of people assembled… seems to me a cup of hot chocolate would be on the mind of more than one or two of these people. But inside the store, there were really only about ten to fifteen people. All of us standing in line along the counter. The store looked dirty and beaten… like the thousands upon thousands outside may have already stampeded through. But again, it wasn’t that busy.

The food? Eh. Since I used a bakery example before, it works again… and even more appropriately… here. You know those really fancy bakeries or shops you visit once in a while? …the ones with the really impressively made pastries and confections that look ridiculously intricate and delicate and beautiful behind the glass? …with expensive stuff but it all looks oh-so-worth-it? And then you buy one item, sit down and open the box, bring it to you lips, and when you bite into it you realize you should have spent three or four quarters on a cellophane wrapped cupcake from a convenience store?

Ellen enjoyed her coffee. Richard says his was ok, but probably tasted better than it was because of how cold it was. My hot chocolate was fine but nothing special. On a day in December of 2009, this was not a place filled with culinary wizardry and epicurean delights.

Would I give them another shot? I guess. Would I recommend a visit? Nope.

Even though we changed things a bit from the normal diary of events, we wanted to include our thoughts on the best of the day and some idea of how to avoid the frustrations…

What we really liked…
Carriage Ride thru Central Park – It’s touristy and clichéd and… fun.

Top of the Rock – I’m sure the views are tremendous all day long, but sunset was fantastic.

In fact… a few years ago we headed into the city to see The Gates exhibit in Central Park. And on this day, looking over the park, I did wonder what that might have looked like from up here.

Plataforma Rodizio – Here’s a funny thing about our visit… if we had waited until our actual reservation time, the place would have been filled. Several groups arrived about a half-hour before we were suppose to get there, and the line around the salad bar was growing quickly. So we ended up timing our visit beautifully.

The food… very, very good.

The service… great.

The atmosphere… fantastic.

You will not be disappointed with your meal here. And… good tip… there is a special price for lunch that will save you about $20 per adult.

What we hated…
Dean & Deluca – While there were a few stops that we made on this day that were frustrating or difficult, the reality is almost every one of those was simply a result of the crowds involved. For instance, given a chance I’ll definitely go back to M&M World in New York. I can’t say for certain that I’ll ever be tempted to return to Dean & Deluca.

The crowds – Ok… here’s a great story…

We began heading back to the car, and it was basically like walking against a brick wall. The streets and sidewalks were a closer-than-shoulder-to-shoulder mass. We tried moving away from the plaza and out to Fifth Avenue, Hoping maybe this was all for the tree, and things would flow more easily and allow us a better walk to the car once we got away from the plaza.



At one point we hit a crosswalk and were waiting to get moving across the road. Off in the distance you could hear cries and comments from people, slowly becoming louder and heading our way.


“Watch it!”

“Are you even looking where you’re going?”

“Stop shoving!”

It became apparent that the noise was coming from the same area… and someone walking toward us was pissing off alot of people.

About ten to fifteen feet away from us, the crowd started to separate… looked exactly the way a wedge splits a piece of wood. We had a visual on the jerk.

Some times life has a sense of humor. If I called Jay on the phone and told him to draw a caricature of a person that looked like a tank and was plowing through a crowd… there isn’t a doubt in my mind that this woman would have been exactly what he drew (or even better). She was a stocky, evil tempered tank.

I was loaded up with bags from our day in the city. Terry was standing behind me, and sort of to the side, offering a bit of support while essentially watching my back.

The tank approached.

And struck.

She tried to shove me, but having watched the approach I was just about ready for her arrival and managed to hold my ground by leaning back into her. And then… the funniest thing of the day happened.

She bounced off me and then tried to shove Terry out of the way.

Terry… already frustrated by the crowds and annoyed by this woman’s antics and with her hands relatively free… she shoved her back.

And when I say that, I mean Terry shovedherback. The tank staggered, paused, and began moving again on the sidewalk along Fifth Avenue. Never turned her head… never acknowledged anything going on.

My lovely bride did not pour the rest of my hot chocolate over the tank’s head the way she wanted to. And she didn’t belt her the way she wanted to. That was probably fortunate considering the police officers standing a few feet away on the street.

But the shove was noticeable enough that a ring about ten people deep around cheered when my wife pushed back and firmly said “watch it” to the little beast.

Tips for you…
Plan your day – Biggest thing I can tell you. Only thing that matters.

I don’t want to try and imagine what our day would have been like if we had tried to change locations by driving around. I know it wouldn’t have worked.

Subway? Yeah… that could have helped, especially if we wanted to move great distances.

But the big thing is this… if you are visiting the city, especially around the holidays, make your plans.

Reservations for the restaurant…

Where you are thinking of parking, or how you intend to travel to and from…

Don’t go all touristy, but be prepared with maps or directions and other pieces of information…

And most importantly… set up your day to be enjoyed. Months later, the crowds and dilemmas are long since over as any type of problem for us. Instead, we recall the Top of the Rock, lunch at Plataforma, and all of the cool things we did (and may do again). Most of those are things we knew we wanted to include and had already made some arrangements for.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at