It is with great sadness and swallowing of pride that I must admit that I am not a true born and bred New Yorker, but rather a member of the bridge and tunnel crowd. My cousin, on the other hand, is a true born and bred New Yorker who only has to take the 1 train downtown to get where he needs to go in Manhattan. When I told my cousin that I’ve always wanted to take a Gray Line Hop-On, Hop-Off bus tour, he, too, had to swallow his pride and go along with my silly antics. (Always thank the kindness and patience of family members, folks, they’re the only ones who will ever be this patient with you!)
My cousin and I went to the Gray Line flagship location on 777 (three sevens, I thought, must be good luck!) 8th Avenue between 47th and 48th Street. When we arrived several minutes ahead of the 8:30 A.M. required time to pick up our tickets, the company told us that we would not be able to board the bus until 9:15 A.M. Wanting to kill some time, I asked a company representative if he was aware of any nearby parks where we could spend about forty-five minutes just to sit and relax, since there was no sitting area in the flagship location. The representative told us that there was no place nearby that we could go to and return in time. I used my handy dandy iPhone and found that there was a park literally around the corner and down the block from the tour location. Of course, in the mind of the representative, maybe the park on 47th street between 8th Avenue and 9th Avenue was too far by his standards.
We finish up our cup of coffees in the park and return to the flagship location by around 9:10 AM. By this point, we already knew this tour was going to be just as cheesy as we predicted. We chose to do the four-hour-long Manhattan Experience Highlights tour which drove by the main Manhattan icons including the Empire State Building and an extremely classy CVS on the Upper West Side that the tour guide failed to properly point out. One of my favorite spots was the Cathedral of St. John the Divine near Morningside Heights and Colombia University. The bus stopped there for ten minutes for the tourist to go in and see the church, really quickly.
Overall, after taking this tour, all I can say is that there is a good reason why you rarely, if ever see locals taking these tour buses in their own city. It is too frustrating, even for me as a member of the bridge and tunnel crowd, to watch as a tour guide gives the cutesy and squeaky clean history of Manhattan. My cousin and I exchanged knowing glances as the tour guide remarked that there were no slums in Manhattan as we drove through Harlem. The tour guide noted that while the African-American population was quite prevalent in Harlem, you would not be able to tell who was of a less affluent class since everyone dressed like they were all middle class. It was at this point that I decided to tune out the tour guide’s remarks and simply admire the dynamic and moving view of Manhattan from the top deck of the bus. Hop on, hop off.
– http://www.graylinenewyork.com/tourpage.php?item=HME Website where I booked the Gray Line $50 per person tour
– http://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/ramonapontepark/ Park where my cousin and I had a nice cup of coffee and watched children play
– http://www.stjohndivine.org/ One of my favorite cathedrals in NYC which was highlighted on the tour