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Cruises

Exploring Outside of Manhattan

For most first time visitors, New York City typically conjures up images that consist of the area from Central Park to Battery Park and everything in between. (Think Times Square, the Empire State Building, Little Italy and the 9/11 Memorial.)

And while all of these areas are iconic and “must-sees’” – the staff at New York City Vacation Packages (NYCVP) believe that to get the complete NYC experience it pays to venture off the island and into the other four boroughs that make up the Big Apple.

Whether you are a first time visitor or you’ve lost count how many times you have seen the magnificent skyline, you are guaranteed to find something new every time you step off the subway, bridge or ferry and explore outside of Manhattan. And NYCVP can get you started on your journey through each borough with a selection of tours, attraction admissions, sporting event tickets and even shopping discounts!

The Bronx

The number one draw for most to venture up to the Bronx is to take in a game at Yankee Stadium. NYCVP not only has tickets to see the Bronx Bombers in action – but complete packages as well.

These packages include accommodations, transportation to the venue (complete with a NY Yankee insider as your guide to answer questions and share trivia about the team), main level seating and their bonus inclusions that come with every vacation package.

While Yankee games may be the most popular reason why visitors head there – the Bronx is home to more than just baseball. Here you can also stroll through the beautiful and fragrant New York Botanical Gardens that will have you feeling light years from the hustle and bustle of Times Square.

Winter, spring, summer or fall – the grounds at the gardens are breathtaking and oh so Instagram worthy! Or if you prefer animals over azaleas, you may choose to spend your time at the Bronx Zoo – the largest metropolitan zoo by area in the United States at 265 acres. From mice to monarch butterflies, from bears to bison, from sea lions to snakes and much more, you are sure to find this menagerie of animals worth the trip!

And did you know that the Bronx is considered the birthplace of hip hop? Find out the history of this infectious music genre on The Birthplace of Hip Hop Harlem/Bronx Bus Tour that NYCVP offers. Bonus: it leaves from a convenient Mid-Town location year-round and is guided by an actual hip hop pioneer!

Brooklyn

One of the best ways to get to Brooklyn is to walk or bike over the world-famous Brooklyn Bridge. The views span up and down the East River and give you an incredible vantage point to take in the skyline. You can opt to take a leisurely stroll or ride on your own or accompanied.

NYCVP offers both bike tours and several different walking tours (including one with your own private photographer!) all of which allow you to learn about the history of the bridge from a knowledgeable tour guide while crossing it.

Once you are in the borough you can pick from your choice of activities. Into sports? Check out a Brooklyn Nets game at the Barclay Center. NYCVP has tickets and complete vacation packages for most home games. Up for some thrills? Head to Coney Island for a spin on the infamous Cyclone Roller Coaster. Looking for a place to chill? Head to Prospect Park for a picnic. They have a zoo there too! Thirsty? Stop in the Brooklyn Brewery to sample some of their tasty beers. Or better yet – if you are there on a weekend – take the Sunday Funday: A Boozy Brooklyn Tour offered by NYCVP. Not only will you get to sample some mighty fine beers – but you will also enjoy award-winning BBQ and some tasty chocolate along the way.

For an unbeatable look at the iconic graffiti that makes the Bushwick neighborhood so rich in this vibrant art form take the Graffiti & Street Art Walking Tour. (You can also give this art form a try for yourself with the Graffiti Art Workshop in Brooklyn!)

And finally, no trip to Brooklyn would be complete without checking out it’s hippest neighborhood – Williamsburg. For a great overview at this trending area try the Best of Brooklyn Walking Tour.

Queens

Not a Yankees fan? The Mets play at Citi Field in Flushing, and their stadium is about the same age as Yankee Stadium, just over a decade old. In town in late August / early September? Catch a tennis match at the world-famous US Open. And yes, NYCVP offers admissions as well as vacation packages for both!

And even if you aren’t into baseball or tennis check out Flushing Meadows Corona Park anyway. It’s a piece of NYC history as it was originally created to be the site of the World’s Fair in 1939. Today it houses 1964’s World’s Fair iconic Unisphere as well as the popular New York State Pavilion Observation Towers, the Flushing Meadows Carousel, the Queens Zoo and more.

Museums more your cup of tea? Queens has those as well. For film and tv buffs there is the Museum of the Moving Image. If experimental and contemporary art is your thing, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) has a location in Queens housed in an old school: MoMA PS1. While admission is currently free for all NYC residents, purchasing MoMA admission with NYCVP includes your admission to MoMA PS1 for up to 14 days!

Staten Island

Getting to Staten Island is easy – and free! As a bonus, you get great views of Lady Liberty on the boat ride over and back. Once you disembark the ferry, head to the new Empire Outlets – it’s a shopper’s paradise literally steps away from the ferry terminal.

Featuring stores like Nordstrom Rack, Old Navy and Gap Outlets and the Nike Factory Store – plus favorite dining spots such as Starbucks and Shake Shack (and more sit down options opening soon) – it’s the only outlet shopping destination in New York City. Not to mention when you book a package through NYCVP you receive exclusive access to a VIP coupon book valued at $25.00!

Afterward, hop on the bus and head to Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden – only a 15-minute ride and a must-see on the island. Admission is free to walk the general grounds and gardens and it’s just $5.00 to get into the New York Chinese Scholar’s Garden – which is undoubtedly their most popular area.

Once a retirement community willed to elderly sailors it is now home to more than a dozen distinct garden areas, a contemporary art gallery (also a $5.00 entrance fee) and more.

With all of this and so much more happening outside of Manhattan, it’s guaranteed there will always be a reason to keep coming back to New York City! Make plans now to start exploring all five boroughs with New York City Vacation Packages.

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Cruises

Exploring Baltic Sea nations on Viking Jupiter

Call me shallow, but I’m a country counter. Any cruise that hits eight nations in two weeks is the one for me.

In this case, the attraction was even greater because I would be sailing on the 930-passenger Viking Jupiter, the newest ship in the growing fleet of Viking Ocean Cruises. Viking, best known for its river sailings on three continents, now has six nearly identical ocean ships, with 10 more optioned through 2027.

It was my first time on Viking, and from the moment I entered I was impressed by the cool design vibe throughout. That’s largely owing to Torstein Hagen, the line’s chairman, whose Nordic fingerprints are everywhere. “Tor was born in Norway, so basically everything — cuisine, interior design, all of it — is very Scandinavian,” said Chad Grossman, a publicity consultant for Viking. 

A small museum celebrates Norwegian culture. A gift shop emphasizes Norwegian woolens. The ship’s library is full of exploration books in honor of the original Vikings. There’s even a cafe, Mamsen’s, that serves gravlax open-face sandwiches and traditional Norwegian butter cookies. But no lutefisk, Odin be praised.

All considered, one could hardly choose a more appropriate ship for this particular journey, Viking Homelands, a 15-day circuit of the Baltic from Stockholm to Bergen, Norway, with stops in Helsinki; St. Petersburg, Russia; Tallinn, Estonia; Copenhagen, Denmark; and along Norway’s west coast. (The itinerary is scheduled again in summer 2020.) There were so many ports, in fact, that I wondered when I would have a chance to catch my breath.

As part of the chockablock schedule, Viking’s mission is to offer passengers intensive port experiences wherever the ship docks. On this itinerary, there was at least one complimentary tour in each destination. (Additional tours cost $79 to $250 per person.)

In St. Petersburg, passengers had 17 tour choices over two days. I chose a boat tour on the Fontanka and Neva rivers through the heart of the imperial city. Along the way we motored by icons of St. Petersburg’s storied past (including the naval cruiser Aurora, whose cannonfire launched the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution) and little-known curiosities (a charming 19th-century bankside coffeehouse, recalling Russia’s early passion for coffee after it was introduced to the country by Peter the Great).

The Soviet Flashback tour in Tallinn was especially memorable. Entrepreneur Olavi Andla portrayed a uniformed KGB colonel who (literally) marched our small group of “prisoners” into an exhaust-spewing 1980s bus, which promptly broke down. He ordered the men outside to push, including an older gentleman with a cane. To celebrate our success restarting the engine, he produced some vodka, passed around the bottle and paper cups and ordered us to “save enough for the driver!” The amusing aspects of the portrayal soon gave way to Andla’s somber reflections on Estonian life under Soviet domination.

Back aboard the ship and starving, our culinary choices were nearly as numerous as the typical day’s shore excursions. On the upper end, two specialty restaurants (dinner only; no extra charge, but reservations required) are worth dressing up for. Manfredi’s serves classic Italian with a la dolce vita vibe — the Florentine-style rib-eye in garlic oil still haunts my dreams — while the Chef’s Table has a three-course international menu, with wine pairings, that changes nightly. (If you’ve never had wine pairings with octopus tostadas, reserve the Chef’s Table on Mexico Night.)

The casual, all-day World Cafe is like the best deli you’ve ever visited, with soups, salads, sandwiches and intriguing hot entrees (seared calf’s liver in raspberry sauce, roasted duck a l’orange) served cafeteria-style. Falling in between is the Restaurant, a three-meal, white-linen spot (translation: no jeans) with a selection of regional and vegetarian mains. A complimentary tea is scheduled every afternoon in the glass-roofed Wintergarden.

It wasn’t until our lone full day at sea that I was able to inspect some of the ship’s other attractions. The LivNordic Spa, with six treatment rooms and unexpectedly spacious gym, has a complimentary unisex area with a large Jacuzzi, heated pool, cold-bucket pour and a snow grotto for those who like the Scandinavian hot-and-cold regimen. The main pool, though too small for serious swimming, has a retractable roof to make it accessible all year and in all destinations.

For passengers not totally knackered by their shore excursions, the nighttime activities were quiet and few. The popular after-dark spots onboard were the Explorers’ Lounge, with its comfortable upholstered chairs, cozy leather settees and atmospheric faux fireplace; the adjacent bar, Paps, where C.J. the bartender could sometimes be cajoled into doing table magic; and Torshavn, a music lounge modeled on a 1940s jazz club.

Something found on very few cruise ships is the state-of-the-art Explorers’ Dome planetarium, which holds up to 26 guests to watch a rotating selection of 3D programs. I managed to see all three shows but nearly fell asleep each time because of the uber-upholstered, nearly reclining lounge chairs. The Viking Jupiter even has a resident astronomer onboard.

Retiring at the end of the day was a treat: Even the smallest staterooms are a generous 270 square feet plus veranda. The service, too, was remarkable. My cabin steward noticed that I had been using an empty sugar packet for a bookmark; when I returned to my cabin that evening, I found that he thoughtfully had substituted a branded Viking bookmark.

Despite all the active shore excursions and my comfortable stateroom, I usually found it hard to go to bed at night. There was always too much planning to do for the next day’s port call.

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