Day 4: Tips for Visiting The Big Apple, New York City for the first time

Tips for Visiting The Big Apple, New York City for the first time: Day 4

Day four was up, up, and away on a helicopter tour of Manhattan! After reading the reviews on trip advisor, we knew we couldn't pass up this once in a lifetime experience. We highly recommend Helicopter Flight Services for the ride. We purchased in advance to reserve a spot. All of the helicopter tours fly out of the same heliport, Downtown Manhattan Heliport, near Battery Park at the southern tip of Manhattan. When you get there, you'll notice all of the helicopters coming and going nonstop. They don't even shut off the engines. They land, unload, and take the next group up. Our helicopter was like a limo on the inside, very comfortable, with plenty of room for everyone to fit. They strap on an inflatable life vest just in case. It was my first helicopter ride, so I didn't quite know what to expect. They line you up and walk you out on the platform in single file, so nobody gets too close to the rotating blades of all the helicopters. Once at the helicopter, they take your picture that you may purchase after the ride. Then they load you up and take off! It was wobbly when we first left the ground, but once we got going in one direction it was like being in an airplane. They took us up a little past central park and then turned it around to go back down to the Statue of Liberty. It doesn't matter which side you sit on, because you'll get the view you want either coming or going.

The pilot narrated as we flew by the sights. The flight doesn't last long, but you feel like you got to see the whole city by the time you're done. We got some great pictures. One of my favorites was the aerial view of where the twin towers once stood. I would recommend taking the flight when the sun is directly overhead. Depending on what time of year it is, somewhere between noon and one o'clock should get you the least amount of shadows in your pictures. The flight is something we'll always remember and cherish. If you're taking the subway, the one train drops you off within walking distance of the heliport.

After the helicopter ride, we revisited St. Paul's Chapel from our walking tour. It is located directly across from ground zero. They have turned the chapel into a memorial of 9/11, and it is a must see. Inside they have a video playing of those who sought refuge in the chapel after the attacks, very moving. You'll also find notes and encouraging letters written to the rescue workers, pictures, banners, and other artifacts. I found this to be more touching than the memorial preview center or the memorial pools themselves. Granted the museum is not open yet, and the Freedom Tower is not complete. St. Paul's Chapel was the only building nearby left unscathed by the collapse of the towers. Not even a broken window. Meanwhile the other five buildings that made up the world trade center complex had to be torn down. It is a miracle that this 246 year old building remains standing after the attacks. As we were sitting in the chapel, the floor shook from a passing subway train. I can't imagine what it must have felt like to be in there when those buildings came down.

The 9/11 preview center was our next stop which is about a block from the chapel. It was very crowded with not much to see, but they did have alot of souvenirs to buy.  There is a piece of steel from one of the buildings in the shape of the New York skyline. They also distribute tickets to the memorial there. I recommend getting your free tickets online for the memorial. You can pick your time to visit, and print your tickets in the comfort of your own home. I wouldn't say skip it, just don't plan on being there more than thirty minutes. Admission is free to the preview center.

From there we went on a journey trying to find the entrance to the 9/11 memorial. The whole area is under construction. If you don't know exactly how to get to the entrance, you could find yourself walking blocks in the wrong direction. We almost made a complete circle around the area not knowing we were very close to begin with. The fences are high around the construction, so it is hard to see down the block. The line moved fairly quickly, and when we got to the entrance there was a standard airport security type checkpoint to go through. There are NYPD and security cameras everywhere. Once inside the memorial area, you'll find yourself almost directly in front of one of the memorial pools. Unless you are looking for a particular name on the memorial, you should go to the adjacent pool that is closer to the Freedom Tower and less crowded. Other than the two pools at the memorial, there is nothing else to see right now. They say that the museum as well as the Freedom Tower will be completed sometime in 2013.

Visiting the Financial District was not very eventful for us. We saw the classic wall street bull, had a nice lunch at a local deli, and then we were on to the next thing. You're not allowed to see the stock exchange in action anymore since the attacks. The NYSE is heavily guarded as well as all of the financial institutions in the surrounding area. There was a large presence of NYPD in general. I would say it is definitely a safe area!

The highlight at the end of our day was the New York Water Taxi sunset tour. They take you out into the Hudson River for a nice evening cruise. You'll go under the Brooklyn Bridge, see the Manhattan skyline, and get up close and personal with Lady Liberty. Again, we bought our tickets in advance, so we knew we had a seat on the boat. I would suggest arriving at least thirty minutes early to get in line to board. You want to make sure you get a seat on the upper deck. It has unobstructed views. They will narrate the tour and even take your picture for you. Beverages and snacks are available for purchase. I believe there was complimentary champagne. The sunset cruise was definitely a highlight of our trip.

That concludes day 4 of our trip. Feel free to post comments or ask questions.