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EAST COAST ROAD TRIP - MAY 19TH-29TH, 2016
My nephew was graduating from R.I.T. in Rochester, N.Y. & we decided this was a great excuse to take a road trip around the East Coast. This review itself will be a bit different from my others, but that is to be expected since this trip was very different from others that I've reviewed. I will review our hotels, any special dining places & excursions that we experienced.
Easy airport for arrival, once we collected our luggage and rental car we took a very easy 15 minute ride into the downtown area of Rochester to our hotel- the Hyatt Regency Rochester. Now I will say that this was a very dated Hyatt- definitely in need of an upgrade, but probably the best you will find in Rochester. The room was large enough & clean, bed was comfortable. We had dinner our first night at the hotel restaurant and the food was good, service really good & all in all what you'd expect for a hotel restaurant. After a long travel day, it's exactly what we wanted.
The next day we were up bright and early for Graduation Day! We arrived to R.I.T. very easily for the festivities. Such an easy city to navigate and the college campus is also pretty easy to navigate. It was a great day starting with breakfast hosted by the College of Imaging & Animation Studies for graduate candidates & their families. After that, we had the general convocation and a few hours later the school specific graduation for CIAS...we were lucky that our graduation festivites for my nephew were all held on the same day. Graduation process is a two day event if you're not lucky!
Graduation dinner was at a local spot- Delmonicos, it's actually part of an East Coast chain of about 8 locations and it was very good. We had reservations and arrived early for them and the table was not ready for us, but we enjoyed some time at the bar while we waited. The food was good, service was great & it was a wonderful celebration dinner.
Saturday we spent the day exploring around Lechworth National Park- about an hour drive outside of Rochester and simply beautiful. Waterfalls, trails - we could have spent the entire day there, but we did not have all that time...we enjoyed a great day as a family. That evening we split up, my husband & I had plans to meet a friend for dinner along the waterfront in Rochester at Tony D's. Down home Italian food, busy & energetic atmosphere. The rest of the family had dinner at Dinosaur BBQ in Rochester and the family pretty much agreed that it was the best BBQ that they have ever had. For days, all I heard about was how wonderful that meal was- enjoyed by all.
NIAGARA FALLS- CANADA
Sunday we got up early and headed to our next stop on the road trip - Niagara Falls, Ontario Canada. We wanted to stay on the Canada side because the views of the falls cannot be beat. This has always been a "bucket list" place to visit on my list and I decided to splurge and book the Falls View Junior Suite at the Sheraton at the Falls. Well worth it! To look out every single window of the corner suite and see the falls, to have the amazing bathroom with jacuzzi tub looking out at the falls, you take a shower and you're looking at the falls--just incredible. The room was very clean & comfortable. The hotel itself was super busy and I was a little disturbed by the number of people just lounging in the lobby, they did not look like they were hotel guests, bur rather people passing by to rest in the lobby. Other than that, the hotel was great. We did have dinner one night at their buffet- food was fine, pricing was not too bad and you had great views of the falls.
We booked a night time cruise on the Hornblower Firework falls cruise- which was pretty awesome to be taken up close to the falls and then be out on the river to watch the fireworks- it was a chilly night, but all in all a great experience.
The next day we hit the road to spend the day in Toronto. Took us about 1.5 hours to get there, easy drive, nice roads in Canada. We parked near the waterfront and decided to do the hop on/hop off bus tour to do a grand tour of the city, passing many famous sites including the Hockey Hall of Fame (pictured below). It was a great day checking out a new city, once we were done we walked around a bit and found a nice pub for dinner and then headed back to Niagara for our 2nd night and enjoyed the fireworks again.
We were in the area over Queen Victoria Day weekend, so it was very busy around and about both Niagara Falls and Toronto- similar crowds to what you'd expect in the USA on any of our holiday weekends.
Ok- not really a place on the tourist map, but it's where my husband was born, where he lived his first 12 years of life and he had not been back since he was 18. He still has a few Aunts, Uncles and cousins who reside in the area, so we had planned a one night stop and dinner with his family. We stayed at the Radisson Utica- again, I think the best that Utica has to offer and it was a good hotel. It was comfortable & clean. Really nothing to complain about. We had dinner at Bella Regina, which was an Old fashioned Italian restaurant known for "Riggies"- this is apparantly a specialty to the area and they were really good. We had great service & it was a special night to see Bill reconnecting with his family & reminiscing about his childhood.
Bucket List Item!! Being the big baseball fan that I am, I had to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame and the cute town that is Cooperstown. We arrived about noon time and checked into our hotel first so we could unload our luggage. We stayed at the Country Inn & Suites by Carlson, but they are soon to be the Cooperstown Inn at the Park and they are going through renovations throughout the resort--but our room was fine. The hotel includes breakfast buffet in the morning -it was a small selection of things, but we were so tired of eating large meals that it was just fine for us.
The Baseball Hall of Fame is something that every baseball nut needs to visit once in their life. Great to see all of the memorabilia and history of the great game and of the teams. The town is super cute and town has all of 2000 people! After our day visiting the town and HOF we stopped off at Jerry's Diner for dinner. What a CUTE place! You order at the counter and they deliver the food to you- basic comfort food- burgers, dogs, chicken strips, grilled cheese, etc. Great milkshakes served in mason jars. Decorated with old time memorabilia- lunch pails, die cast cars, train that circles the perimeter up high, a flag made of baseball bats. It was just a super fun & casual place to dine.
NEW YORK CITY!
We spent our last 3 nights in New York City. We stayed at the Westin Grand Central and this is the second time that I've stayed here. I pretty much have the attitude- "if it's not broken, don't fix it". Hotel is in an excellent location on 42nd St & 3rd Ave, just 2 blocks from Grand Central Station, an easy walk to Times Square, Empire State Building, East Village, Broadway, Flatiron Building. The hotel is clean, comfortable & a nice bar/restaurant in the lobby. Friendly staff and very accommodating...and can't forget about the Westin Heavenly Beds- making for a very comfortable night of sleep.
Another "Bucket List" item for me- driving in NYC!! EEK!!! I drove, I dodged other cars & I survived! We got to the hotel in one piece and once we unloaded the vehicle we headed to Hertz a few blocks away to return the car and made it there in one piece. The drivers in NYC are crazy, but somehow everyone just gets along and it's not NYC unless you honk your horn. Something fun to do just once...of course if I were to find myself in the situation of having to return a rental car to the city, I would not be as intimidated now that I've done it once. We spent Thursday night having dinner at Ellen's Stardust Diner- very cool place where all the waiters and waitresses are aspiring Broadway singers, dancers, actors & actresses. All of them take turns entertaining the guests with mostly song and some dance. It's diner food- so pretty basic stuff and all in all a good meal. Pricey for diner food, but it's NYC and you are also paying for the entertainment. We were located just 5 minutes walking distance to the New World Stages where we had tickets to see "Avenue Q". A good performance and I think everyone in our group enjoyed the show. It was a lot of fun, lots of humor & sometimes a bit R rated. We enjoyed the show.
Our next day we got up super early to have breakfast and then hit the subway. The attendant by the ticket machines was very helpful in advising us of the type of ticket we should buy to save money and we managed to get where we were going pretty easily. Our destination- Bowling Green Station for Battery Park. We were catching the Liberty Cruise to Liberty Island and check off another Bucket List item. We climbed the stairs up to the Crown of the Statue of Liberty. They only allow 400 people per day the ability to have this experience and you have to book it months in advance. Right now this experience is sold out through September (and we traveled at the end of May). It was an awesome experience and it's approximately 350 steps from start to finish and the last 150 or so are in the form of a tight spiral staircase.
The cruise that we were on would also allow a visit to Ellis Island, but we skipped that stop and returned to Battery Park about 1230pm and started to walk towards One World Trade Center as we had pre-purchased tickets to go up in the Observatory. Very important to get tickets in advance..we avoided a very long ticket line by doing this. What another incredible experience. When I was a teenager I experienced the observatory floor in the World Trade Center (Twin Towers that were the site of the 9/11 tragedy of terrorism), so it was a great experience to go up in the new Trade Center. The elevator is awesome- so smooth, so fast you don't feel a thing (other than your ears popping) and it's all digital inside so it feels like you're in a glass elevator as you see the NY skyline around you. Super cool! They have designed the experience to flow very nicely, there are three levels and seems that they control the crowds pretty well. Once we were done with the experience, hubby & I decided to have lunch in the restaurant "One" and we had the most relaxing afternoon with a gorgeous view of NYC. Great service, food was excellent & our server was super friendly & hospitable. Afterwards, we hopped onto one of the hop on/off bus tours- we probably should have skipped that- it was money spent for something that we ended up not taking full advantage of. I do think we would have loved to do the tour completely but we did not have the time and ended up planning other things the rest of the weekend. That evening we went on a quest to satisfy another bucket list item for me-- a visit to "Finnerty's" - the SF bar in NYC. This is a bar dedicated to fans of SF Giants, SF 49ers, San Jose Sharks, Golden State Warriors and the place is thoroughly decorated with sports memorabilia for the Bay Area teams. Nice location, we had a few drinks and watched the Giants game on TV and then caught a cab back to our hotel (we were already over 22K steps for the day and had zero desire to walk another 20 minutes back to the hotel.)
Our next day was "sleep in day" since we've been going, going, going since this trip started- we all needed to re-charge a bit. Our cousin was coming into town from CT to visit with us, so once she arrived we took off once again walking to brunch. We wanted a place that still served breakfast, but something charming- well we found Big Daddy's Diner and what a great find! Cute, cute place- decorated with lots of retro memorabilia of TV shows, movies, companies, sports teams. Very creative menu with standard diner foods and bottomless mimosas & bloody Mary's and honestly they were so huge to begin with, two was our limit, but that was more economical vs. buying two. Nice brunch, great service and food was excellent. From there we walked to the Flatiron building (my favorite) as I wanted my brother and hubby to see it, then from there a short walk down 5th Ave and we were at the Empire State Building- VERY crowded and we bought tickets to go up to the 86th floor observatory. Not very enjoyable because of the crowds. Once we all took our pictures, we then began our walk back to the hotel to get ready for dinner.
We met up with 2 other cousins who live in Queens for dinner that night- we walked 20 minutes towards Broadway to Virgil's BBQ. Supposedly, well rated though we thought that the service was lacking and that the food was hit and miss- some things were really great and then some items that are supposed to be their specialties were not so great. But at the end of the day, it was all about spending time with family even though our time together was short we had a great night. We didn't think our blistered feet would take us back to the hotel, but trying to find an empty taxi in this neighborhood where shows were getting out proved to be a challenge and we just kept walking towards out hotel- we managed & we got to our hotel with about 10 minutes left in Game 6 of the NBA Western Conference finals to see the Warriors win and push the series to a Game 7.
Our last day was really a sleep in, have breakfast with cousins, relax, pack and head to the airport type of day. We had flights from Newark, but had one nephew flying back to Rochester at 430pm and the rest of us had a 630pm flight back to SF- so we had a little time to kill at the airport. I will say that the upgrades at Newark, though still a work in progress, very nice so far. United pulled out of JFK as their hub for the transcontinental service last year and now offers this service from Newark. As a result, the airline invested a good deal of money in the renovations of Newark and trust me, it was very much needed!
So overall, this was a very ambitious trip. We were constantly going and for some family members in our group it was tiring and not a relaxing vacation. I know that my husband & I did not expect to have the relaxing vacation, but not so sure my brother and his sons realized how ambitious the trip would be, but they were all "in" for doing what we were doing and seeing what we were seeing. If I had to do it all over again- I probably would have eliminated the day in Toronto- though nice, nothing really stood out as awesome and a highlight of the trip and that would have carved out another relaxing day with a great view of the falls (maybe I would have had time to use the awesome jacuzzi bathtub). I would probably have eliminated the hop on/off bus tour in NYC- only because we didn't have enough time to really enjoy and utilize it.
IF you know in advance what you must see and do in NYC, there are ways to do all of these things economically - the NYC city pass offers combined discounts on key attractions and as your Travel Professional I can help put that together for you. Now often times with these savings passes- you do have to get in line at the ticket office to have your pass scanned to redeem for a ticket--but the savings can be substantial and NYC is not a cheap city. That being said, I really do LOVE NYC- it's a city that really doesn't sleep, it's such an easy city to walk around and so easy to navigate once you realize which way the Streets & Avenues intersect and that the city is on a grid system. There is so much to see and so much to do - this was my 4th visit in a few years (my 3rd visit within a year actually) and still seeing new places and still want to revisit places that I've been to on previous trips. Can't wait to go back, but I'm probably a good 2+ years away from my next NYC trip, although a girlfriend expressed a desire to visit NYC (she's never been), so perhaps I'll tag along! :)