Big Apple passes 'cool' test with a visiting teen


Teenagers like the word "cool" and use it often.

I say this after five days hosting a 19-year-old niece, Nicole Gooch of Des Moines, Iowa, on her first visit to New York. She was frequently pleased and sometimes thrilled about things the Big Apple had to offer, and I came to love the sound of "cool."

For starters, a sightseeing tour on a half-boat, half-bus that would take us through midtown and into the Hudson River sounded cool.

And so we joined a departure in Times Square.

Duck and cover

NYC Ducks operated the tour last summer in a soft-launch phase under the name New York Splash Tours. The operator rebranded, because customers called the versatile vehicle a duck, and formally launched the tour program in April. There are similar tours in several other U.S. cities, including Boston, Philadelphia and Miami.

NYC-DUCKSOf course, tour participants have to be OK with riding through the streets of Manhattan in what looks like a giant, wooden boat.

Nonetheless, the ride is versatile. After touring the streets and sitting through a short movie of the history of New York, the vehicle splashes down into the Hudson River and continues the tour by water.

NYC Ducks operates 14, 75-minute land-and-sea tours daily, April through October.

NYC Ducks also themes its program around Henry Hudson, who explored the river in 1609: The 400th anniversary is coming up.

The boat/bus is designed to resemble Hudson's 17th century ship; before boarding, we were greeted by "Captain Henry," a colorful duck in the Disney style but dressed like a sea captain.

The most obvious Hudson connection was a short, multimedia presentation in a "theater," set up more like a car wash. We drove through it when moving from land to water. The presentation imitates the experience of a 17th century Atlantic crossing with a rocking vehicle, sound effects and multiple screens filled with serious storms.

Beyond that, the NYC Ducks tour is a narrated sightseeing event, with professional guides taking visitors through midtown, affording introductions to the theater district, the main library and Bryant Park, the Empire State Building and Macy's as well as the river and its views of two states.

The guide offered plenty of entertaining anecdotes and not a few corny jokes so bad they were funny.

Nicole was the oldest of the under-21 set onboard the vehicle, and there were several considerably younger. The itinerary offers advantages for the young: It is informative but short. It also is theater.

The fare is $19 for adults and $9 for kids ages 3 to 11; no children under 3 are allowed.

Agents can book and collect a 10% commission up front after creating an account at the Gray Line New York Sightseeing website,

Line up

We started day two very early visiting Liberty Island for close-up, neck-bending views of the Statue of Liberty. Nicole had counted on this trip and, despite her natural inclination to sleep in, agreed to an early start.

NYC-nadine2A good thing, too. We were on the 9:30 a.m. Statue Cruises departure from Battery Park. Not the first departure, which I normally push for, but good enough.

We had some wait time before going through airport-type screening and boarding, but that was eased because we traveled with CityPasses, which gave us access to a priority-entry line. I cannot say what the benefit would have been for those boarding when we returned at 1 p.m. The line stretched from one end of Battery Park to the other.

In other words, arrive early, regardless.

One more tip for clients: Reserve the free monument pass, which is required to go inside the statue pedestal and observation deck, at least two days ahead. The U.S. Park Service distributes about 2,000 a day, but they go fast in high season.

We missed this chance to explore inside the base of the statue, but there are trade-offs. Getting that close to the statue involves another line for a second airport-type screening. Also, personal items larger than cameras and handbags must be stored in lockers.

We spent three hours on Liberty Island, exploring everything else after a long session admiring Lady Liberty under beautiful skies. This made the list of cool experiences.

Agents can establish their identity at with an IATA number and earn a 10% commission on CityPass sales for 10 North American cities.

In New York, the nine-day passes, at $74 for adults and $54 for ages 12 to 17, for savings of about 50%, generally offer shorter or no lines elsewhere, but are most valuable to museum lovers.


Besides the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, a pass covers general admission to the Empire State Building Observatory, the American Museum of Natural History, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim Museum and the Museum of Modern Art.

In Nicole's case, the natural history museum was an easy sale.

She looked for characters from the movie "Night at the Museum," which was set there. Besides, the dinosaurs are sure winners for all ages.

As for the biggie, the Metropolitan Museum, we went at my insistence she not miss such a city treasure -- and with my promise of Central Park views from the rooftop garden, which I had forgotten to mention until I reviewed NYC & Company's website,

I also shamelessly directed our indoor strolls at the museum to the more popular attractions.

How did it go?

Nicole's favorite activity was theater, specifically "Legally Blonde," and no wonder. The musical is based on a popular movie and is darned good entertainment.

A college soccer player, my niece loved Central Park for its acre after acre of sports and other activities.

She wanted to see a 9/11 memorial; we were both moved by a visit to Tribute WTC Visitor Center, created by victims' families on the southern edge of the site where the  World Trade Center once stood.

Nicole also stopped to pet every dog we saw. I will put the Bronx Zoo on her next itinerary and ask her to give the cell phone a rest for part of each day.

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