Tours to the Big Apple needn’t be a big headache
by Janis Turk
The Big Apple, the City that Never Sleeps, Gotham City: New York City has many nicknames, but most visitors just call it their favorite American city. More than 62.5 million tourists visited Manhattan last year.
But with its bright lights, big-city charm and world-famous sight-seeing spots, its big draw can bring with it some big headaches for bus and motorcoach operators. Still, most difficulties can be avoided by learning about its logistics in advance and exploring the city’s helpful online information about parking permits, route maps, tunnel fees and traffic rules.
There aren’t a lot of good parking options in Manhattan, so many large-bus operators simply idle on empty blocks on the West Side on 11th or 12th avenues, usually between the high 40s and low 50s streets, while their passengers tour the sites. Some operators park overnight in lots in New Jersey or Queens. But, on the plus side, New York is better equipped than most cities to host large groups at each of its many attractions.
When planning a bus tour to Manhattan, it’s particularly helpful to refer to NYC’s informative website www.nycgo.com and the New York Department of Transportation website www.nyc.gov/html/dot, along with other helpful sites like Broadway.com. Each offers busloads of valuable information and resources to make any NYC tour a big success.
According to John Marshall, tourism development director for NYC & Company, “All the trends we see in travel tell us that today’s visitors want to see more of NYC, so the NYCgo.com site offers helpful information along with several great webinar series, like, ‘NYC 101’ and ‘What’s New in the City,’ along with ones on borough-specific spots like Brooklyn and Queens.”
“Travel professionals can also request a NYC Trade Pass from our site, which helps certified travel professionals explore and learn more about New York City and offers exclusive values at restaurants, cultural and sightseeing attractions, theaters and with service providers. Be sure to apply for the pass at least four weeks prior to your trip,” says Marshall.
Best bites of the Big Apple
Next, plan a route perfect for touring groups. That means including the city’s most popular attractions while adding value with extra stops that they might not have expected or seen before.
“To garner the most value and foster the best relationship with vendors and attractions, I recommend making direct connections to the attraction. The entities that operate them will work with you directly to give operators the best experience and best deals they can,” suggests Marshall.
Another good tip is to consolidate stops in specific areas so visitors can check several sites off their bucket list at once.
Rockefeller Center—This national historic landmark stands at one of the city’s most central locations between West 48th and 51st Streets and Fifth and Sixth Avenues. An iconic New York City hub, it’s famous for its ice-skating rink and its enormous natural holiday tree.
Extra value at this stop? See the city from one of three Top of the Rock observation decks, 850 feet above the street at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, which locals often claim offer better views than the Empire State Building. See the sunset from the Rainbow Room’s Bar 65 with stunning 65th-floor views of the city (call 212.632.5000 for group reservations). In winter, spry tourists may want to try ice skating at The Rink at Rockefeller Center. St. Patrick’s Cathedral, one of the city’s most ornate neo-gothic churches, stands nearby.
Only 500 feet from Rockefeller Plaza is one of New York’s most famous venues, the historic art deco Radio City Music Hall and its world-famous, high-kicking Rockettes. A group Stage Door Tour can be arranged by calling (212) 465-6080 or emailing Group.Sales@msg.com.
No trip to NYC would be complete without a stop at Times Square and a Broadway show. For group rates on theater tickets, contact Broadway.Com or call 1 (800) BROADWAY. For extra value, ask Broadway.Com about Broadway Classroom’s 16 customizable workshops that offer behind-the-scenes looks at how Broadway performances are brought to the stage.
New York City has over 28,000 acres of parkland, and Central Park comprises 843 acres of it. It’s the most-visited city park in the United States and features several lakes, a theater, two ice rinks, fountains, tennis courts, baseball fields, Belvedere Castle, a zoo and a Central Park Dairy visitors’ center. Groups will love a selfie stop at the park’s famed Strawberry Fields and its mosaic “Imagine” tribute to John Lennon.
Central Park is surrounded by museums, including the American Museum of Natural history, the Museum of the City of New York, the Guggenheim, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Frick Collection. The Central Park Zoo is a small, easily accessible attraction on the east side of the Park.
Some of New York’s most iconic, revered landmarks are located in lower Manhattan near Wall Street and the One World Trade Center—also known as One WTC or “Freedom Tower.” The National September 11 Memorial & Museum stands on the site of the original Twin Towers. You can get tickets to the One World Observatory on the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere.
From Manhattan your group can board nearby ferries to reach the Statue of Liberty or view the skyline from the Staten Island Ferry. The new Statue of Liberty Museum and theater just opened in May of 2019, offering new attractions to previous visitors. A group rate is offered on combination tickets to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.
There are many other places to visit in Lower Manhattan, from Chinatown and Little Italy to Greenwich Village. For more information visit www.nycgo.com.
One of the best resources for bus and motorcoach tour operators may be New York’s Department of Transportation website, which includes rules and information about the bus stop permit application process and criteria (http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/html/ferrybus/intercity-bus.shtml) and DOT Traffic Rule 4-10(d) (http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/downloads/pdf/trafrule.pdf).