The magical allure of New York

“New York, concrete jungle where dreams are made true…”

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We’ve just been to New York. The city of dreams, home to hopes of fame and glory. The subject of famous crooners and the backdrop to countless movies, TV shows and adverts. A city so familiar from reruns of Sex in the City and Law & Order, that it feels like we’ve been here countless times before.

Everyone sighs, upon hearing of our holiday plans, “Oh, but I love New York”, even when they’ve never been there before. It captures the imagination, this crowded city, with its iconic buildings and love of theatre and unshakeable belief in its own intellectual superiority.

In truth, it’s a funny place, New York.   Up close, it’s old, faded. The roads are dirty and full of potholes, the infrastructure weary and dated. The metro system is so antiquated, so user unfriendly, it would fit in any third-world city. In the sweltering heat of mid-summer, New York smells; the sweet, sickly smell of sewerage wafts up in a rush of hot air as a train squeals past underground. (Did Marilyn Monroe want to screw up her nose during that infamous billowing white dress photo?)   Broadway is jam-packed with desperation, crowded with peddlers of tourist paraphernalia, sad cartoon characters stealing hugs and demanding tips, would-be opera singers consigned to renditions of Happy Birthday in nearby restaurants. Poverty is equally rank, and the inequality between races obvious and disconcerting.

And yet, somehow, New York is still magical.

We wander down the wide avenues and narrower streets that make up the determinedly checkerboard layout of this city. Walking in the shadow of the high rises that create the famed New York skyline feels like we are walking through a concrete forest. These tall symmetrical constructions with their repeated window patterns reach to the sky and dominate the spirit.  In downtown Wall Street, the stock exchange building, sparkling clean, feels like a temple to money.


But, in the same day, we stray into the villages, where the feel is completely different. We find Chelsea Markets as we meander down the High Line. Later on, we walk across Central Park, this marvellous green heart to New York. As we step into the dappled shade, it is as though time slows down. Suddenly, the air is fresher, and the pace less frenetic.

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There is so much to do in New York, and something for everyone’s taste. While it is not really the place for kids, we still managed to keep them happily busy. But some of my particular highlights included having a glass of wine on the roof garden at The Met, watching the colours change over Central Park in the early evening light. Seeing the Andy Warhol exhibition at MoMA. His 32 soup cans felt more spectacular because it was in New York.   A matinee showing of Aladdin on Broadway was worth fighting the jetlag for. And we had huge fun on a night out in an Irish pub, complete with thatched roof, crammed between two buildings. But what I liked most about it was the 2am taxi ride home through the lights of Broadway. It is the bright lights of this magical city that have the most allure, that capture the imagination and pull on the heart strings of millions of people across the world.


Oh, how I love New York.


A mini-break in Orlando

As part of our recent trip to New York,  we also spent a week down in Orlando indulging our kids (and our inner kids)  with the joys of theme-parking.

It was a really spectacular holiday, too short perhaps, but fun, and here is what we go up to:

1) The Magic Kingdom at Disney World

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Magical is really the only way to describe this place.  It’s Disney, what do you expect?  Obviously this is big business, and there is merchandising up the wahoo, but somehow you don’t even really notice that it is all about the money.  The stirring piped music, the parades and princesses, the dance-off with Genie, all sorts of rides for all sorts of ages all make for a magical day.   And it doesn’t stop at night.  The light show on the castle is brilliant.  The fireworks glorious.  Despite the nightmare that is dragging weary kids with sore feet, back onto the ferry, and then onto the tram, and then into the car for the drive home, it is worth it to stay to the very last second.   We spent 14 hours here and walked (according to my brothers iPhone) 18.2 km and wouldn’t have changed a thing (oh, well we would have bought our own raincoats, but that is all).


Hints and Tips

  • The fast-pass system is a win – book your key rides in advance from the comfort of your home  (download the app) and manage your bookings from your phone at the park.  Book popular rides.  We  missed the Seven Dwarf Mine Train ride because the queue was 90 minutes long.
  •  I was totally blown away by how organised they are for food allergy sufferers.  Here is the thing – every restaurant has an allergy book.  Because all the food is processed, the labels for every meal are photocopied and placed into “the allergy book”.  Let them know you have an allergy and they will be able to tell you exactly what you can eat.   You can look it up in the book for peace of mind.  They’ll even go out of their way to prepare the meal in a safe space.  10 on the impressed-out-of-my-socks-meter.
  • Wear comfy shoes.  And pack a pair of thongs for late afternoon when your feet need some air.
  • Take raincoats.  It rains a lot and Disney charges $10 for a Mickey Mouse poncho.

2)  Universal

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Universal consists of two theme parks – Universal Studios and Universal Islands of Adventure.  We did both on one day, but most certainly could have done with an extra day.  So, if you can, make two days for Universal.  There is more than enough to keep everyone engaged.

I think as adults we all loved Universal way more than Disney.   It is a completely different place.  Of course, the reason we went to Universal in the first place was for Harry Potter, and neither Daigon Ally or Hogsmead disappointed.  In fact, they far exceeded expectations.  The sets were solidly spectacular.  It’s like these guys make movies or something for a living!

Because Universal doesn’t have a free fast pass system, we were a bit worried about queues, but we got there early and conquered the Harry Potter with barely a wait.  (In retrospect we should have done minions first!)

Universal is definitely more for older kids and adults alike, but there is still plenty to do for the smaller folk.  The Seuss world was fantastically fun and the adventure playground in Jurassic Park was great for the little adventurers to explore.

Of course, it is the place to go if you are an adventure head, which in case you missed it, I am not. But there are so many countless rides that meet the adrenaline needs of you crazy folk out there, you’ll be kept busy trying to do them all.

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The rides I loved were Gringotts (mind blowing 4D be part of the adventure stuff), Men in Black, ET…  ET – oh how  I wish I had bought a little stuffed one home.  Must get out the movie and show the kiddies. (Although I remember sobbing through it as a ten year old… so maybe not?)  The thing about Universal is that you feel like you are in the movie.  It is super-duper-cool.

I’d go back to Universal in a heart beat.  Not only for the theme parks but for the raging nightlife surrounding it.


3) Clearwater Beach 

Although Orlando is nowhere near the beach, if you feel like a bit of a drive there is always the gulf about 90 minutes away.  I thought it would be nice to see a little bit more of Florida, so away we drove.  Unfortunately it was a public holiday Friday (for 4th July on Sat) which was a bit of a mistake as parking was in short supply and the traffic a nightmare.  But we did get to swim in the sea and build castles out of the whitest sand around, and drink the odd cocktail.  I wish we had had time to call in at the Marina and visit Winter – the dolphin from Dolphin Tale, but there is only so much you can do in five days.


As an aside, just adding to the new experiences we gathered while down in Florida, we drove home in the most spectacular storm.  The rain was torrential and jagged fork lightening bounced about all around us.  I rather nervously kept thinking about a book I read once about a woman who was stuck by lightning while staring out her kitchen window, and I am pretty sure that was set in Florida.  I was more tense through that journey home than on any ride at any theme park.

4) Rest Days

What made this trip so enjoyable (and it is true for the whole of our trip to the States actually), is that we didn’t try to pack it in.  We hired a villa with a pool and made sure we had rest days between events.   We swam a lot and drank wine by the pool and had afternoon naps and chatted, chatted, chatted.

Which means, we didn’t suffer from this:


Yes, there was so much more to do, but at least we have something to look forward to next time we go.  (You need two weeks down there, really).

So, in a nutshell – that was Orlando… an awesome mini-break in our New York holiday!