New York, New York so good they named it twice, as goes the song. And it truly is a fantastic, exciting and vibrant destination as Ruth Brindle discovers while travelling the world for less.
She also finds that there is just so much to do along with a bewildering choice of accommodation across a very diverse set of neighbourhoods, the average first or even second-time visitor can find the experience of planning a trip here a little daunting.
You can make your eyes red raw by trawling travel comparison sites into the early hours, or go on friend and family recommendations, but I’ve recently been drawn to the ease of building up a trust in a brand that you like and sticking with it.
Find a hotel group with a price point that suits you and you know that wherever you go in the world you can sigh with relief as you enter a room at a standard and with amenities you are used to. It’s like a comfort blanket, and, let’s face it, much less of a hassle than guessing what you are going to get.
And although I’ve never been a huge fan of loyalty schemes in the past, as they always seem too complicated or, worse, with little added value and far too many restrictions, one that has been hailed as one of the best in the industry has been brought to my attention. It is both easy to understand, easy to build up to real bonuses and has some great added extras… but more of that later.
The scheme offered by the Wyndham Group was launched last year with further incentives added this year and that’s why I visited the city – to get the inside story on how, as a regular traveller, I could benefit.
It seems to me Wyndham has kept it simple and easy to understand with a flat, free night redemption rate.
You might be surprised to learn that Days Inn and Ramada are within the group here in the UK and there’s talk of more expansion here in the future.
The scheme is fronted by their rewards Wyzard, actor Kristofer Hivju, who many will recognise as the tough wildling Tormund Giantsbane from the TV series Game of Thrones. And while he isn’t clad in animal skins for this particular promotion and sports a lovely smile rather than a scary grimace, I think I’d be persuaded to take his advice anyway!
On the recent trip to the Big Apple I had the rare chance to look around a selection of the very varied hotel brands under the vast Wyndham umbrella. While Manhattan hotel rooms are often, by necessity, small I found it is possible to get a bit more space for your money, and even find rooms suitable for a small group of friends or family.
I’d been to New York once before, and although I enjoyed the trip there was a certain amount of pressure to ‘do everything’ and see all the sites which brings its own holiday stress!
On this second visit I stayed in the vibrant and fascinating district of Chinatown at the Wyndham Garden at 93 Bowery. My floor to ceiling windows gave panoramic views of the skyline and walking around the streets discovering the amazing food shops was fun.
Just down the road and another easy walk away is the world-famous Katz’s Deli, where Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal’s memorable scene in When Harry Met Sally was filmed. It’s also just one block from Little Italy and two blocks from trendy SoHo, where I indulged in some great shopping. This is a good base for exploring the city.
The newly-built Howard Johnson Manhattan Soho is another good find offering a free continental breakfast. It’s close to Canal Street, Chinatown, Little Italy, SoHo and Wall Street. It has a pretty courtyard and garden area.
But if it’s a touch of history you want in the very heart of Midtown the newly-refurbished New Yorker would be a special location from which to explore the sites including nearby Times Square.
JFK and Muhammad Ali are just two of the celebrities who have stayed here and I was impressed by the spacious, luxurious rooms and the Art Deco style of the building itself, which has two restaurants and a 24-hour gym and business centre.
Also in Midtown is The TRYP by Wyndham Times Square South with Broadway, Madison Square Garden and the Lincoln Center on the doorstep. Not surprisingly, as it’s a Spanish brand, this has a European feel as soon as you walk into the social hub of the hotel they call Plaza Central.
It’s really cool and modern and I noticed a lot of young people staying there making full use of the big work/eat tables, free Wifi and renowned tapas dishes and cocktails on offer at the Gastro Bar. The guest rooms include some of the biggest in the city (455 sq ft) with very high ceilings and wooden flooring that can sleep up to eight people with very clever use of interconnecting doors, sleeper sofas, bunk beds and a living room. Innovative design meets practicality to the max.
But if you want some of the best bang for your buck go outside Manhattan where a stay at the new Wyndham Garden Long Island City Manhattan View in the district of Queens, has rooms from £70 a night in off-peak times. This is an excellent option with surprisingly fast travel links into the heart of the city for sightseeing plus spectacular views of the city skyline across the East River. Within walking distance there are some seriously trendy bars, restaurants and museums, including the Museum of Modern Art’s PS1 gallery.
A stay at any of these hotels would earn those valuable points and if you really get into the scheme and qualify for Blue, Gold, Platinum and Diamond levels there are other treats on offer.
New York is one of the 25 destinations where you can take advantage of extra rewards that include indoor skydiving in Orlando, Florida or a cooking class in Shanghai.
But where else would you want to do a pizza walking tour than in and around Greenwich Village and SoHo, New York?
Our group of eager and hungry tourists followed guide Scott along the charming streets between eateries. He was a veritable encyclopaedia of pizza facts. But the best bit was tasting all the different types – Sicilian or Neapolitan anyone? Walking is the best way to see a city and this stroll and eat combo was great fun, www.viator.com/tours/New-York-City/Pizza-Walking-Tour-of-Manhattan
On my relaxed two days’ stay I also enjoyed and can recommend discovering the High Line, a pleasant escape from the busy streets along a landscaped walkway along a disused railway; Chelsea Market, a huge indoor food hall in the Meatpacking District; Top of the Rock Observation Deck at the Rockefeller Center, plus Times Square at night, of course. A visit to the 911 Memorial is essential and so moving. But building up your own favourites is a big part of the fun.
Two great places to eat out are at Sabbia (23 W 23rd St) above the charming Italian food emporium Eataly. It has a laid-back, seaside vibe and amazing seafood – everything from oysters to octopus and swordfish. You could spend hours there eating, drinking and enjoying the roof-top ambiance, www.eataly.com
Il Buco (47 Bond Street, between Lafayette & Bowery) is a vibrant, upmarket restaurant with a very imaginative and unusual menu, obviously a favourite of hip New York locals, firstname.lastname@example.org
With Wyndham Rewards you earn a minimum of 1,000 points for every qualified stay and 15,000 points earns a free night’s stay at any one of the Wyndham hotels across the globe, with no dates excluded.
To join for free, visit www.wyndhamrewards.co.uk
For more information on the Wyndham portfolio visit www.wyndhamhotelgroup.com
Stay at the Wyndham Garden Chinatown from £175 per room; Howard Johnson Manhattan SoHo from £182; Tryp by Wyndham Times Square South from £189.
Norwegian offers low-cost air fares from London to New York starting from just £149 one way in economy and premium starts from £419 one way in winter, www.norwegian.com
Pre-planning is a must for any New York trip and the best way to do that is through the official New York tourism website www.nycgo.com