Now is the most magical time to visit New York City. In autumn, America’s greatest city takes on a special ambience. Autumn leaves transform parks and tree-lined streets into panoramas of color. With the end of summer’s heat, strolling on the city’s avenues becomes an exhilarating experience, not a sweltering ordeal. New plays open on Broadway, new styles tempt the fashion-conscious, graceful skaters twirl on ice rinks, department store windows bloom with inventive Christmas scenes, and an anticipatory glow falls over the city.
That happy ambience always brings a horde of visitors to the city. “We are forecasting approximately 5 million visitors will come to the city between Thanksgiving and New Year’s,” said George Fertita, CEO of NYC & Co., the city’s promotional arm.
Last year, autumn’s traditional promise was shattered by Hurricane Sandy, but the good news this fall is that much of the damage done by the storm has been repaired.
A redesigned and rebuilt Space Shuttle Pavilion on the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum reopened this summer. It houses both the Enterprise space shuttle and a Soyuz capsule. All 14 of the city’s beaches reopened in May after $270 million in renovations. Coney Island’s Cyclone roller coaster is back in operation as is Luna Park. The New York Aquarium, also on Coney Island, partially reopened last May.
Lower Manhattan’s new South Ferry subway station, built in 2009 and the closest to the ferries that serve the Statue of Liberty and Staten Island, was badly damaged by the storm. However, the old South Ferry station was reopened last spring and is serving passengers until the new station can be restored.
South Street Seaport also was hit hard by the hurricane surge. Some shops and restaurants have reopened, but a number are still shuttered. The historic Bridge Cafe, which dates to 1794, is closed, as is the South Street Museum. But TKTS, which sells discount Broadway tickets, reopened its permanent South Street Seaport booth at the corner of Front and John Streets last week after extensive storm damage was repaired. Circle Line Downtown (not the same company as Circle Line) operates several local cruises from the seaport. Last month, the seaport’s Pier 17 mall, a fixture for 30 years, was closed to make way for construction of a new mall that will open in 2015.
Although the Statue of Liberty reopened to tourists on July 4, nearby Ellis Island is still closed because of the storm damage.
Not all the news is about storm recovery. In Lower Manhattan, the SeaGlass Carousel, a nautically-themed ride in the works in Battery Park for six years, will finally open this fall. Guests will ride in 30 fiberglass “fish” that pass through a simulated undersea environment in this futuristic attraction.
If you’re a fan of carousels or have youngsters in tow, you might want to ride on two other just-restored historic carousels. At Coney Island, the B&B Carousel with 50 hand-carved horses reopened in May after eight years of renovation. New in Brooklyn Bridge Park is Jane’s Carousel, a restored 1922 attraction housed in a transparent pavilion.
Later in autumn come the joyous events and atmosphere of the holiday season.
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade nominally kicks off the season every year, although some holiday events start earlier. The parade, on Nov. 28, will feature a number of new balloons, including characters from The Wizard of Oz and Adventure Time with Finn and Jake. Returning are such popular figures as Papa Smurf, Kermit the Frog and a new version of Snoopy. Many of last year’s floats will be back as well; among new ones will be creations by Cirque du Soleil, Royal Caribbean Cruise Line and SeaWorld Parks.
You can get a preview of the parade the night before, when the giant balloons are inflated. Once little known, this event has grown to attract more than a million spectators. The action takes place from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. Nov. 27 at 79th Street and Columbus Avenue.
Macy’s, in collaboration with NYC & Co., also has just opened a Herald Square Visitor Center on its mezzanine. The office will provide maps, guides, and special offers on tickets to major attractions and events.
Several other holiday favorites will get a jump on Macy’s parade this year.
Radio City Music Hall’s Christmas Spectacular, with a new glistening winter wonderland scene, opens Nov. 8 and will run through Dec. 30. New York Ballet Company’s traditional rendering of George Balanchine’s beloved The Nutcracker runs Nov. 25 to Jan. 4. American Museum of Natural History’s annual Origami Holiday Tree blooms with paper creations starting Nov. 25. Another autumn favorite, the Big Apple Circus, runs from Oct. 25 to Jan. 12. This year’s show, Luminocity, is new.
The nationally televised Christmas Tree Lighting at Rockefeller Center will be on Dec. 4. Baked creations will star in the fourth annual Gingerbread Extravaganza at Le Parker Meridian Dec. 6-Jan. 8. Nominated for three Tony awards last year, A Christmas Story: The Musical’ will play at the Theater at Madison Square Garden Dec. 11-29. Handel’s Messiah will be performed at Carnegie Hall Dec. 12 and 15.
Another much-anticipated holiday feature comes when New York’s top department stores unveil their inventive Christmas windows. Attracting hundreds of onlookers in December are window displays by Barney’s, Lord and Taylor, Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman.
And once again, many symbols of the season will lend the city a joyous ambience. A giant snowflake will hover over the intersection of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street, and a giant menorah will grace the front of the Plaza Hotel at Fifth and 59th Street. The Empire State Building will be bathed in red and green light, and Tiffany’s store on Fifth Avenue will be “packaged” with giant red ribbons.
Broadway is a major attraction for visitors, and the new theater season gets gets underway in autumn with such stars as Billy Crystal, Sarah Jessica Parker and Hugh Jackman returning to the stage. (See story, 1J.)
A money-saving way to visit some of New York’s biggest attractions is the New York CityPASS. Priced at $106 for adults and $79 for youths aged 6-17, the pass provides admissions to the Empire State Building Observatory, the American Museum of Natural History, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Top of the Rock or the Guggenheim Museum, and the Statue of Liberty or a Circle Line cruise. The pass is good for nine consecutive days beginning with first day of use and, depending on which attractions you visit, can amount to a 43 percent discount off the price of tickets bought individually. www.citypass.com.
New York City’s tourism folks are urging visitors to explore more of the city’s five boroughs. Manhattan, of course, is where most visitors spend their time, but the city’s other four boroughs also have sites worth exploring, plus their own Christmas displays.
During the holiday season, for instance, the New York Botanical Gardens in the Bronx stages its popular Holiday Train Show, an annual attraction that has model trains running on a half-mile track past 140 replicas of city landmarks. It runs Nov. 16-Jan. 12.
Attracting thousands of visitors yearly in Brooklyn are the Lights of Dyker Heights. The spectacular illuminations in this small neighborhood include a giant Santa, toy soldiers and nativity scenes.
The Queens Historical Society will mount its annual Historic Holiday House Tour Dec. 8. Guests tour seven festively decorated houses and museums by trolley. And in Staten Island, Historic Richmond Town lights up with candles, oil lamps and fireplaces for its annual holiday Candelight Tours Dec. 14.
• Information: www.nycgo.com.