NEW YORK CITY – The Big Apple is popular to visit year-round, but like a Radio City Rockettes dance move, it kicks into a higher gear during the holidays.
For motorcoach operators trying to find a place to park, fuhgettaboudit – it’s a 45-foot challenge – but they take their guests where they want to go. And New York City is the place to be.
“The attractions of New York are year-round, but you can tell easily that Christmastime is one of the busiest times of the year just from the traffic,” said Michael Neustadt, co-owner of Coach Tours, which operates a business office in Brookfield, Conn., and garage in Carmel, N.Y., north of the city.
He estimates Coach Tours easily sends a couple dozen buses into the city each week during the holidays.
People love to see the Rockettes (their “Christmas Spectacular” show runs Nov. 10-Jan. 1), the tree at Rockefeller Center, the museums and Broadway shows, and his company is happy to oblige, Neustadt said.
One thing Coach Tours does year-round, but especially during the holidays, is promote trips to lesser-known attractions because of the crowds and traffic in midtown Manhattan.
It offers, among other things, a “slice of pizza tour” of Brooklyn, taking guests to popular restaurants, pizza parlors and neighborhoods of the up-and-coming borough. It also has tours to the Bronx, including an Italian neighborhood with great restaurants, shops and bakeries, as well as the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx and the Bronx Zoo, which have a number of indoor attractions that time of year, he said.
The Botanical Garden has remarkable Christmas decorations in the main greenhouse, he said.
“So there are lots of other things,” Neustadt said. “If it sounds like I’m promoting outside of midtown, I am. I think there’s a lot more to do and putting yourself in Times Square the weekend before Christmas is a wonderful, exciting thing, but it has its issues because of the crowds.”
That’s tough on clients and operators trying to navigate traffic, and parking is especially challenging.
“But I don’t want to degrade New York City at all,” Neustadt said. “It is my favorite city in the whole world, it’s my birthplace, and it’s the best to go to see almost anything you could imagine.”
According to NYC & Company, the official destination marketing organization of New York City, the city’s holiday season begins with the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in November, continues with the iconic Christmas tree lighting ceremony at Rockefeller Center and is capped by the dropping of the ball in Times Square on New Year’s Eve.
Throughout the season, each borough welcomes multicultural guests to participate in local observances of diverse holidays, NYC & Company said in a news release announcing upcoming 2017-18 holiday attractions. Secular activities include department store windows, artisanal markets, plus attractions and cultural draws.
The season concludes by welcoming in the New Year with fireworks at Prospect Park in Brooklyn and the New Year’s Eve ball drop in Times Square.
“New York City is a sight to behold during the festive annual holiday season — it’s a time of year when world-class hotels, attractions and shops sparkle and shine brighter, offering six million global visitors a truly memorable travel experience,” Fred Dixon, NYC & Company’s president and CEO, said in the release.
Dennis King, president of King Ward Coach Lines in Chicopee, Mass., about three hours north of New York City, said he has about 90 percent of his fleet, or about 20 buses, in the city during the first two weekends in December.
Most trips are charters with groups that love to go down for shopping and shows, with the company offering a morning drop-off and afternoon pick-up, often after dark so passengers can see the lights on the way out, he said.
King Ward also offers retail trips that include Radio City Music Hall shows with the Rockettes. This year, King Ward is doing two, which are already sold out. Retail tours also include New York City “On Your Own” trips. Both packages include escorts.
“The biggest issue we have down there … is no place to park,” King said. “They want us to come down and they want the business, and they want buses to come there, but … the city isn’t cooperating with us. Get us some designated parking. That’s probably the biggest concern we have about going into the city.”
West Point Tours Inc., a Trailways company, takes about 400 trips a year into New York City, about 75 of those during the holidays, said Robert Brisman, owner and president of the charter operator in Vails Gate, N.Y., about 50 miles north of the George Washington Bridge.
“The tree, Rock Center, the skating rink and Radio City are absolutely huge, as well as shopping along Fifth Avenue, which is right along that area,” Brisman said.
Julie Cotthaus, West Point’s charter manager, also mentioned the Botanical Garden and Bronx Zoo, plus the festively decorated store windows like Macy’s.
The New York Botanical Garden also does an annual Holiday Train Show, this year starting Nov. 22 and running through Jan. 15, 2018. It will feature G-scale trains traveling through New York scenes and landmarks made of bark, leaves and other natural materials, according to its website.
A Brooklyn neighborhood noted for its Christmas lights, Dyker Heights, also is a popular place to drive through during designated viewing times, Cotthaus said.
Also popular for visits that time of year are the Museum of Modern Art, American Museum of Natural History and Repertorio Español, they said.
They, too, cited the parking and traffic.
“Parking in New York City is a major problem,” Brisman said.
For trips to Rockefeller Center, Cotthaus said, “a lot of times we’re dropping several blocks away and the people are aware that they do have to do some walking, especially that time of year.”