by Laura Del Rosso
Perhaps no other U.S city does the holidays like New York. The sparkling lights of Rockefeller Center’s towering tree, magical window displays and the Radio City Rockettes’ show are just a few of the dazzling attractions.
The city runs in high gear year round. However, when the temperature dips, New York gets really festive. So, bundle up in your scarf and coat and join the holiday cheer — from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade until the Times Square ball drops on New Year’s Eve.
One of the grandest places in Manhattan to celebrate is Rockefeller Center. Here, you’ll find the Christmas tree — a Norwegian spruce usually at least 75 feet tall — overlooking the large skating rink. It’s a tradition that dates back to the early 1930s. Rent skates here to spin and glide on the ice under the lights of skyscrapers. Or, head to other outdoor rinks at Bryant Park and in Central Park.
See the Show
For some, there’s a “must” New York winter extravaganza. That’s the Radio City Rockettes whose performance of high kicks and awesome costumes packs Radio City Music Hall. New music and costumes have refreshed the show. However, it’s the old-fashioned precision dancing of the 36 pairs of legs that remains the breathtaking highlight.
A more subdued annual tradition is the Origami Holiday Tree at the American Museum of Natural History. The tree is decorated with 1,000 original ornaments each year, created by volunteers. And, at the New York Botanical Garden, model trains choo-choo through a Big Apple landscape created from natural materials such as acorns and bark.
Strolling New York City’s wide avenues you’ll peer into the lavishly decorated windows at Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, Barneys New York and other chic stores. Be prepared for throngs of onlookers. However, they thin in late evening and you can get up close. Take a break from walking and gawking by warming up in a cozy cocktail lounge or restaurant like Rolf’s, known for its floor-to-ceiling Christmas decor.
Just as any time of the year, seeing a Broadway show is part of the New York City experience — whether it’s a long-running classic such as Wicked, the acclaimed drama To Kill a Mockingbird or the groundbreaking musical Hamilton. The family-friendly hit Frozen is thrilling audiences with its amazing special effects and new songs written for Broadway.
Purchase tickets online from ticketing sites or the shows’ own websites, months in advance for popular productions. You can score last-minute seats, sometimes even for smash hits, at the TKTS booth in Times Square. Don’t be put off by the long lines. They move quickly and it’s part of the fun to chat with other theater-goers and hear their recommendations.
New York City teems with theaters. If you can’t nab a ticket for one of the big shows, there are more than 50 venues of Off-Broadway productions, typically small spaces that allow you to get close to actors and spot a star in the making.
Before or after a show, grab a bite at a Manhattan restaurant where you might get a glimpse of a celebrity. At Carmine’s, which has two locations in the city, a star may be digging into their linguini at the next table. The posh Polo Bar attracts an A-list clientele, but you’ll need to make reservations weeks in advance. For an extra special experience, head to the Rainbow Room for breathtaking views, cocktails, music and dancing 65 stories above Rockefeller Center.
Be in the Show
Another opportunity to see celebrities — and perhaps appear on national TV yourself — is to join a studio audience. Reserve online far in advance using your favorite TV show’s website. If you don’t mind waiting in line in the early morning chill and risk being disappointed, many shows offer standby tickets.
For example, for tickets to Live with Kelly and Ryan, search online for an available date at kellyandryan.com. Just fill out a request form and wait to be contacted. For same-day tickets, arrive at the southeast corner of Columbus Avenue and West 67th Street at 7 a.m. for a standby number. Once ticket holders are seated, standbys are accommodated. For The Dr. Oz Show, after making an online request you’re contacted about two weeks before the show date with a confirmation. Standby tickets are available at 320 West 66th Street most Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 8:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., and are distributed in order of arrival. ABC’s The View suggests applying for tickets well in advance on its website or picking up a number for standby seats at 57 West 66th Street between 8 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. Seats for Good Morning America are only available by request on its website.
It’s more difficult to score tickets to the late night shows. For example, tickets to Saturday Night Live are only given out once a year through a lottery. The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon release tickets only a few weeks out, so frequent checking of their websites is needed to snag a spot.
Perhaps the easiest TV show to attend — no tickets are necessary — is NBC’s Today at the corner of West 48th Street and Rockefeller Plaza. It’s best to arrive an hour at least before taping starts at 7 a.m. Join the fans who flock outside, where there’s even a spot to create posters to wave in front of the cameras.
A stay in one of New York City’s landmark hotels is half the fun of a winter visit, with the skyline outside your window and hotels decked out for the holidays.
Travel Impressions, a AAA preferred travel partner, offers a large selection, including the historic Plaza hotel at one of the most fabulous addresses in the city, Fifth Avenue at the corner of Central Park. You’re steps from vibrant Fifth Avenue and at the park’s winter wonderland. Even if you’re not staying, check out The Plaza’s huge wreaths and grand tree with 5,000 lights and 500 ornaments.
Among other options are the elegant Parker New York with its polished marble lobby and fun Burger Joint, and the Courtyard New York Manhattan/Herald Square, smack in the hub of activity. The recently renovated Paramount Hotel, just half a block from Times Square has modern amenities but also lots of history dating to the 1920s. Or, with a hot drink nestled in your hands, warm up next to a crackling fire at the Library Bar at the Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel.
Toast the holidays in the Big Apple!
Your AAA Travel Agent can help you plan. Call 800-750-5386.