One Night in the Big Apple

A New York-themed M&M in the M&M store in New York’s Times Square. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

I love New York.

The first time I came here, five years ago, I hated it.  Couldn’t stand the crowds, didn’t like the incessant commercialization, and I felt like I was going to go broke after about fifteen minutes.

This is my fourth time in New York City, and I have grown to love it.  Sure, I still feel like I’m going to go broke and the crowds certainly haven’t diminished, but as I spend a pre-cruise night in the Big Apple in advance of my transatlantic crossing aboard Cunard’s legendary Queen Mary 2, I am disappointed my time here is so short.

My homebase for the evening: the Hilton New York, conveniently located between Times Square and Central Park. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

I left Vancouver bright and early in the morning, after an overnight stay at the Fairmont Vancouver Airport. Then it was off to Minneapolis/St. Paul airport with Delta. I’d never flown with Delta before, so I took the opportunity to splurge a little and check out their Economy Comfort seating.  The idea is that Economy Comfort gives you additional leg room and priority boarding in Group 1, which no doubt helps in the never-ending quest for space in the overhead bins.

Radio City Music Hall, just two blocks away from the Hilton New York. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Their Economy Comfort product was great – on the first flight, operated by Delta Connection partner Compass Airlines.  Although it left early and arrived early, my flight from MSP to New York’s JFK airport with Delta Connection partner Pinnacle was uncomfortable.  The aircraft was a nearly brand-new Canadair CRJ-900, but the seats – in Economy Comfort – felt and looked like they were something Charles Lindbergh might have used. But, we did arrive nearly an hour early at 6:30pm, so I suppose that’s worth it.

Approaching Times Square. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

If you’ve never been to New York, one of the defining experiences is the drive in from JFK to Manhattan. I’ve taken both taxis and car services over the year, and both have one constant: you’ll think you’re going to die!  In New York, everyone weaves in and out of traffic at speed, flashing their headlights, honking their horns and gesturing emphatically out the window.  Four lanes of traffic merge into two separate off-ramps and no one taps the brakes. It’s a hell of a rush!

My car service driver was fantastic, taking back roads and avoiding as much gridlock as possible to have me at my home for this evening: the Hilton New York on 6th Avenue – also known as the Avenue of the Americas.  I stayed here once before, in 2007, and I’m happy to say the experience now is far better, with updated rooms, bathrooms and public areas.  It’s big, it’s busy, but it is also conveniently located, with Cunard offering a pre-or-post cruise stay option here and the option to take motorcoach transportation to the pier in Brooklyn.

My room at the Hilton New York: refreshingly updated, and a convenient place for an overnight stay. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Another thing the Hilton New York has going for it: it’s a ten-minute walk to Times Square, and a five minute walk to the park.  Which park, you ask? Why, Central Park, of course!

It was 9pm before I set out from the hotel, bound for the one area I knew I had to visit tonight: Times Square.

There’s seemingly something for everyone in New York. How about this NHL-endorsed motorcycle? Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Sure, of all the attractions New York City has to offer – and there are plenty – Times Square may be the most overblown, but it’s also a worthy attraction in its own right.  Few places in the world command the kind of magnetic pull that Times Square has on, well, everyone.

In the thick of it in Times Square. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

You can see it long before you arrive there: from a distance, the electronic signage of Times Square cloaks the night sky in an unnatural shade of blue.  Steam rises from manhole covers, cars honk and jostle for positions, and the crowds increase until suddenly you’re in the thick of it.

Last night, Microsoft was holding a huge outdoor launch party for Windows 8.  What I loved about this was that they did it in such a way that it perfectly mimicked the typical street scene of New York, with artists drawing portraits of people not with pen and ink, but with touch-screen tablets.  Pretty cool!

Digital Sketch Artist: a man uses a Windows 8 PC to sketch passersby at the Windows 8 Launch Event in Times Square. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

But after an hour or so of browsing and – let’s face it, shopping – the crowds had worn me out.  I hadn’t eaten dinner yet, and it was closing in on 11pm.  I asked at a few restaurants in the Times Square area and the wait times – even at that late hour – ran to as much as two hours.

I set out for 6th Avenue, taking a random cross street to get there, when I happened upon a Scottish Pub called St. Andrews. Two older gentlemen in suits were standing outside looking at the menu.  The first one said to his friend, who was smoking a cigar, “This place is supposed to have the largest selection of Scotch in the city.”  Cigar man: “No kidding. I don’t suppose they’ll let me in there with this, though!”  He gestured to his cigar and both men laughed and moved on.

The Windows 8 event. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

I took that opportunity to move in, and was seated immediately.  The pub was packed, and live music filled the air.  I ordered a Guinness and some Bangers and Mash, and after a few minutes, I could have sworn I was in Edinburgh. The noise and congestion of Times Square, just half a block away, had evaporated and with everyone around me clapping their hands and stomping their feet to the tune of the music, I realized what makes New York so special.

It’s the city of a thousand cultures, where you can be influenced by millions of ideas. And if New York can be anything it wants to, perhaps we can, too.

Skyscrapers at night. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Our Live Voyage Report onboard Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 continues tomorrow, as we embark this iconic ship in Brooklyn for one of the world’s oldest and most storied voyages: an eastbound transatlantic crossing from New York to Southampton! It’s seven straight days of oceanic cruising as we journey back to the Old World – here, on From the Deck Chair!


5 Responses to Queen Mary 2 Live Voyage Report – Day 0

  1. Nicholas Sabalos, Jr., CDR, U.S. Navy (Ret.) says:

    Wishing you all the best, Aaron! I suspect your first night aboard QM2 may be a bit rough….but, from my past experience, no ship is better at handling heavy seas than QM2!

  2. Kim says:

    Have an Awsome trip love the pics

  3. Bev Allen says:

    Great read. We stayed at that Hilton prior to our honeymoon TA nearly 4 years ago. Loved every moment. Looking forward to reading about the rest of the voyage.

  4. Eddie Marshall says:

    I’m glad you found St. Andrews Scottish Bar. My cousin (from Glasgow) used to be the Manager there. And the guys were right the selection of Scotch Whisky is awesome! I also loved the whole of your report. It makes me pine for the wonderful QM2 🙂

    • Aaron Saunders says:

      St. Andrews was a great and unexpected find; I’ll have to make sure to visit again on my next trip to NY. Great selection of Scotch! So glad you enjoyed the Live Voyage Report – QM2 is a fantastic ship!

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