Broadway shows are preparing to return in September, sidewalks have been reimagined as outdoor dining rooms, and new hotels are coming
It's been a hard pandemic for New York City, but some see glimmers of hope for the Big Apple's once-vibrant travel economy.
"We are cautiously optimistic about the future of New York City tourism," said Christopher Heywood, executive vice president of global communications for NYC & Company, whose website, nycgo.com, offers free planning resources for travellers.
Heywood owes his optimism, in part, to the city's leadership in the struggle to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. Authorities, for instance, launched a program this month that requires proof of vaccination for indoor dining and other indoor activities, becoming the first major US city to do so. Indoor masking is encouraged.
"I think people are going to look at New York City as a safe bet," Heywood said.
Broadway shows are preparing to return in September, requiring both vaccinations and masks for audience members. Sidewalks and streets have been reimagined as outdoor dining rooms. And recently opened tourist attractions, many with limited capacity, offer new experiences for visitors seeking a fresh look at the city.
"People are coming here feeling nervous about what they're going to find, and what they're finding is a city that is maybe even more vibrant than usual," said lifelong New Yorker Pauline Frommer, author of many NYC guidebooks and the editorial director of the travel publisher Frommer's. But a trip to New York does take more planning than it did before the pandemic.
"You definitely need advanced reservations for attractions you didn't in the past," Frommer said.
One place where travellers will sometimes need a reservation is New York's newest park, the artificial, 2.4-acre Little Island, which rises from the Hudson River on concrete piles at Pier 55. Within the park, visitors will find a mix of performance spaces, food stalls and manicured gardens. Free reservations with timed entry are required to access the park from noon on, so go early if you don't have a booking.
From there, head uptown to the new Allison and Roberto Mignone Halls of Gems and Minerals at the American Museum of Natural History, where thousands of specimens are on display, some for the first time. Awe-inspiring stones include a purple amethyst geode (a rock with a cavity lined by crystals) weighing 11,000 pounds, and an inaugural exhibition, "Beautiful Creatures," showcases animal-shaped jewelry, such as a Cartier crocodile necklace crusted with yellow diamonds.
Timed-entry tickets are required, and visitors join a "virtual line" for the Mignone Halls on arrival. (The museum recommends visiting in the morning, because the virtual line can be full by the afternoon.)
On the other side of Central Park is the Frick Madison, the temporary home of the Frick Collection of European artwork, whose permanent location, a Fifth Avenue mansion, is undergoing renovation. Masterpieces by Goya, Rembrandt and Vermeer are resplendent in this minimalist setting, where works are arranged by date and region.
And on October 21, the observation deck Summit One Vanderbilt opens high on a new 67-story skyscraper in Midtown Manhattan. Access is by glass elevator, and Summit One Vanderbilt will have dining, an outdoor bar and garden space.
Visitors who have previously relied on ride-hailing apps might consider using more public transit this time, Frommer said, because Uber and Lyft fares have skyrocketed in the city. With some offices still closed, she added, many buses and subway cars are pleasantly uncrowded.
If you're passing through Penn Station, pause to explore the soaring Moynihan Train Hall, which opened in January in a renovated Beaux-Arts building on Eighth Avenue. The hall occupies what was once a mail-sorting room in the city's general post office. It has a luminous, glass-topped atrium and vast expanses of Tennessee marble. Artwork abounds: A ceiling installation by artist Kehinde Wiley depicts break dancers in a painted-glass triptych riffing on a Sistine Chapel fresco.
Despite rebounding interest in travel, hotel occupancy in New York City is still recovering. It reached 64.9 percent in July, according to STR, a global hospitality data and analytics company. That's a high for 2021, but it's still well below the 89 percent occupancy of July 2019. For travellers, Frommer said, that means Manhattan hotels close to top attractions can be more affordable than they used to be.
That includes some of the newest names in hospitality. As of early August, 12 hotels had opened this year in New York City, according to NYC & Company. More are on the way.
Forthcoming Manhattan hotels include Casa Cipriani, which opens September 15 with 47 rooms and suites in the restored Battery Maritime Building, a Beaux-Arts ferry terminal steps from Battery Park. Pendry Manhattan West, with 164 luxury rooms and suites a few blocks from Penn Station, is bookable from September 17.
The nearby Henn na Hotel New York is the first U.S. location for a Japanese brand known for its use of robotic staff. An animatronic Tyrannosaurus rex will greet guests in the lobby. The hotel's 92 rooms and suites become available Oct. 1.
Visitors considering travel to New York City should act soon, Frommer said. "You can get deals in Manhattan now," she said. "I say do it, because it's not going to last."
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The New York City museum scene is dominated by the big-box tourist magnets where visitors can submerge themselves in treasures for entire days: the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim and the Whitney Museum of American Art, for example.