Tuesday, June 10

My top 7 tips for preparing to spend Christmas in New York

Almost 11 years ago, a newly married couple who were planning to embark on a belated honeymoon to celebrate New Years in Times Square discovered they had an unexpected wedding gift.  Their first child. Into the first few months the newlyweds decided that their honeymoon may need to be further delayed because the mum-to-be couldn't get on a bus or a ferry without being ill.. and a flight to the other side of the world would surely not be a comfortable one, and the money that was to be used for said trip would probably be better spent on car seats, cots and a new pram.

There was our dilemma and we decided then, that at our 10th Anniversary we would plan to take the family to New York for Christmas.  It was wonderful, and I planned it over a long time so I thought having been, I would give you my tips on planning to be there and actually being there - first of all - let's start with some tips to get started..

1.   Book your accommodation early.  Airbnb is a great alternative to expensive hotels, and many worry this is illegal, but it isn't now it seems due to a new agreement that's been reached with New York State officials.  It's easy to search and book, look for places with lifts and washing facilities - you can filter this by going to filter>amenities.  I think those two things plus having somewhere close to subway is essential with kids in New York.

So I say - GO FOR IT!  Live like a New Yorker!  Get a real New York experience I say! We stayed on the upper west side just 30 metres from Central Park and where-ever you are - you won't be far from a chemist (aka Duane Reade) or a Supermarket (Whole Foods, D'Agostino).  Most supermarkets deliver for a tip - rule of thumb is about 10% of your grocery bill.

We stayed here but I believe that the owners are no longer booking the house out because they have returned to live in it... but just goes to show what wonderful places there is out there!

If you prefer a hotel lifestyle some friends I know recommend Hotel Belleeclaire, The Durmont, Hotel Beacon,

Either way, book early to widen your choices and avoid disappointment - the prices do hike up around October so best to do it sooner rather than later.

2.  Watch your exchange rates.. Now if you're based in the US - this will mean nothing to you but for everyone else you might have noticed the dollar is a bit up and down like a yo-yo.  My advice is to get cash when the exhange rate is good.  In Australia, that's anything over 93 cents to the dollar (that means you get 93 US cents to 1 aussie dollar).  Beware of fees, and try to avoid doing it at an exchange booth - go to your bank if you can and negotiate your exchange rate and fees.

 Don't try and exchange Aussie dollars in New York, there isn't a lot of exchange booths around, and the ones around that we saw didn't have favourable rates.  For us, we took about 3,500 USD in cash for our 3 weeks in the US - and we pre-paid accommodation and most of our activities.  This was enough for us.

3.  Book any shows you want to go to SOON.  I think if you're going to go to New York at Christmas time you MUST go see the Radio City Christmas Spectacular.  You can buy the tickets from here - sign up to their newsletter get discounts on tickets too! We also went and say 'A Christmas Story' at Madison Square Garden, but there's lots on - if you want to chance it, you can get tickets to shows at good discounts at TKTS booths, the most notable one at Times Square.

The Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular is fabulous and my girls just LOVED it.  It's very entertaining and gets you really in the Christmas spirit.

4.  Stock up on good boots, coats and thermals.  When our winter sales hit here in Australia - pounce!! These are not things you want to spend time shopping for when you arrive.  Water-proof boots, long coats, scarves, hats and ear-muffs are all essential.  The temperature hovers around zero during the day..    Thermals aren't so easy to get - but we got all of ours from Uniqlo - great prices, great quality and cute too!  Hubby thought I was a bit silly getting him some but let me tell you - he wore them!

5..  Don't forget your visa - for us Aussies it's quite a simple process done online and costs about $15 each from memory.  Takes about 2 weeks to come through, sometimes less - but the line does get longer closer to Christmas, so do it early and it get it out of the way.  You can apply here

6.  Pre-pay as much as you can.  Otherwise you won't enjoy your holiday because you'll be parting with so much cash.  Pay your accommodation, Airport transfers, shows - whatever you can in advance.  I'm so glad we did that - it took the sting out of it and I think also, made me more excited about the trip.  I wouldn't pre-pay the carriage ride in Central Park again though, it's cheaper to get them to walk up.  My tip would be go at 11:00am - less busy.

7.  Take your own Christmas pudding and your own Christmas Crackers.. if you want them - because I paid $25 for a Christmas pudding  and $20 for 6 Christmas crackers from a speciality British store.. and had to travel all the way downtown to get it.

We did have an awesome Christmas though - completely worth it if you can't be bothered!

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