I'll Take Manhattan

| Monday, 11 Mar. 2013

Mandarin Oriental, New York is pure luxury

Everyone knows New York's iconic lures - Broadway shows, world-class museums and architectural skyscrapers top the list. But now New York has a new feather in its versatile cap: It's now a bustling cruise port. Who knew? I grew up in New York and only just visited the Manhattan Cruise Terminal for the first time a few months back.

You might think this port is only busy in the summertime. But New York is becoming a year-round homeport for Norwegian Breakaway, an ambitious new 4,000-passenger vessel sailing from Manhattan to the Bermuda, Bahamas, Florida and Caribbean this spring.

Other Norwegian ships also visit the city. Cunard Cruise Line offers highly popular transatlantic sails between New York and Southampton. And luxury lines, like Silversea, Seabourn and Crystal Cruises, dot the coastline each fall, sailing New England and Canada during prime foliage time, with voyages that begin or end in New York.

Setting sail from New York without a pre-stay is like being gifted a five-pound box of chocolates and never once opening the lid. If you're already familiar with New York's highlights, or have limited time beyond the cruise, two days is enough time to feast on the city's offerings. Here are up-to-the-minute tips on where to eat, stay and play - on the Great White Way, of course.

EAT

* New York is foodie heaven for every budget. Any cuisine, no matter how exotic, is just a subway ride away. Dine inexpensively at neighborhood coffee shops like standout Viand (don't miss the fresh-sliced turkey sandwiches) and hotdog stands such as the incomparable Papaya King.

* Speaking of cheap eats, thin-crust pizzas are quintessential New York treats. City dwellers constantly quibble over which pie is best. Lombardi's in the Village dishes up terrific pizza. Grimaldi's coal oven pizza in Brooklyn is more than worth the subway ride. I also love Franny's in Brooklyn, but this terrific Italian restaurant (with transcendent pizzas) is in the process of moving. Visit the web site (frannysbrooklynn.com) for locale updates.

* New York is ground zero for the country's best delis. Bypass tourist traps like Carnegie. Barney Greengrass (Upper West Side) and Katz's Delicatessen (Lower East Side) are the real deal. Do not expect décor or loving service. In these institutions, stop and take a deep breath, to deli lovers, the aromas of fresh-sliced brisket and juicy pastrami are like Chanel perfume. Just place your order quickly; New Yorkers have no patience for slow out-of-towners.

* Bagels are another primo New York food experience, and the best are now scored at Absolute Bagels on the Upper West Side. Absolute Bagels don't come in a zillion flavors (that's so West Coast) but their chewy crust is swoon-worthy. Eat a warm one on the spot; fresh bagels lose quality within minutes of baking.

* Browse Grand Central terminal's food court. The main hall is an architectural stunner and food choices are awesome. Classic cream New York cheesecake is sold at Junior's Bakery. The moistest cupcakes ever are found at Magnolia Bakery.

* Eataly, created by star chef Mario Batali, has become a tourist attraction. This incredible market showcases a mindboggling array of Italian delicacies, such as olive oil representing seven different Italian regions. Eataly's seven restaurants, each with a different specialty, prepare mouthwatering dishes from ingredients sold in-house. (eataly.com)

* Sky's the limit? Pick Per Se, a gastronomic extravaganza, courtesy of major toque (and food god to some) Thomas Keller. The sophisticated tasting menu experience will set you back a small fortune, but you will never forget the meal.

SLEEP

Manhattan Cruise Terminal is located on the West Side, on 12th Avenue and 55th Street (nycruise.com). Cross-town traffic can be torturous, which is why I'm only recommending West Side hotels. Here are three hotels I like at differing price points:

YOTEL New York

* Expect big bang for the buck. This modern mecca, beloved by an international hipster crowd, offers teensy rooms with outsized amenities. And you'll love the YOTEL lingo. Rooms are called cabins, staff is crew and mini-kitchens (featuring complimentary hot drinks, purified water and ice) on each floor are galleys.

* Devotees love YOTEL freebies. Think complimentary Wi-Fi, delicious fresh-baked muffins, coffee and tea each morning and luxurious bath amenities. DohYO, the in-house restaurant, serves eclectic Asian-Latin-influenced cuisine by star chef Richard Sandoval. The food is good and well priced. (Pulled chicken salad with cashews, dates and tamarind vinaigrette is knockout.)

* The Times Square locale is ideal. It's a short walk from the hotel to theatres, saving cab fare (if you can even find a taxi post-theatre.)

Premium "Cabin" at YOTEL New York

* I recently checked rates online for a May 4, two-night check-in. Best flexible rate is $309 without tax. However, the hotel often has good sales. One caveat (besides the postage-stamp size of the room): the bed is hard. Really hard. Ask for a featherbed mattress cover when booking and you'll do fine. (yotelnewyork.com)

DohYO Restaurant at YOTEL New York

InterContinental New York Times Square

* This hotel may belong to a chain, but it feels boutique. The 607-guest room hotel is a serene respite from the nonstop frenetic energy outside. The staff is wonderful, matching the warm attentiveness of those working the many chichi Upper East Side properties.

* The Lobby Lounge is a draw; it has comfy chairs and a fireplace. Guest rooms feel Manhattan residential. Floor-to-ceiling windows offer impressive city skyline and river views; deluxe beds sport soft high-end sheets and plump pillows, spa bathrooms possess soft plush towels, first-rate amenities and gorgeous blue mosaic tile. The 24-hour 2,000-square-foot health club is complimentary.

* World-class chef Todd English (his eponymous restaurant is onboard Queen Mary 2) runs an in-house brasserie, Ça Va. I'm not always a fan of this stretched-to-the-limit chef, but that said, I ate here a few times recently and was pleasantly surprised by the food, service and moderate prices.

InterContinental New York Times Square Guest Room

* Times Square locale ensures easy walks to theatre and restaurants.

* Current early May rates for a king deluxe are about $381. This is a super price for a quiet NY hotel with such a hospitable, intimate feel. You will, however, pay extra for Wi-Fi.

InterContinental New York Times Square Guest Reception

Mandarin Oriental, New York

* Mandarin Oriental, New York is pure luxury. A showstopper. Located in the Time Warner Center some 280-feet above ground level, this swank hotel offers incomparable skyline, Central Park and Hudson River views. Breakfast at Asiate among power brokers and society mavens and you'll feel like king (or queen) of the world.

Asiate - Dining with a view

* The 244 rooms possess both Asian and contemporary New York influences in a most elegant design. Posh features like Spanish marble and Italian granite abound. Most baths feature soaking tubs for soaking up the skyline view as well as your body. Rates begin at $850 a night for early May. At this price, expect every wish to be granted and pampering extraordinaire. (mandarinoriental.com/newyork)

75-foot lap pool

PLAY

Book tickets way in advance for Broadway shows, particularly the hot shows, to ensure good seats.

* I like BroadwayBox.com for best prices. You'll always find discounts for long-running shows, like Rock of Ages and Jersey Boys.

* If you can't plan ahead, try your luck at TKTS, same-day discount ticket stands (nytix.com). Be open to sitting separately from your travel mate; you could find yourself with orchestra seats at bargain prices.

* Off-Broadway plays are often as good as Broadway shows (some shows are headed there) and are less expensive.

* Here are the plays generating big buzz right now. Matilda the Musical, the rage of London's West End, is in previews in New York. (I saw this feel-good, high-energy play in London; it won seven Olivier Awards - equivalent of our Tonys - and it's terrific family fun.)

* The Nance, starring Nathan Lane as a homosexual burlesque star living a secret live in New York in the 1930s. This play opens April 15. Lane is a scene-stealer and should shine once again.

* I'll Eat You Last: A Chat with Sue Mengers, a one-woman play starring Bette Midler about the powerful talent agent. Opens April 24. Midler is a perfectionist; count on a gripping performance.

* Tom Hanks, in Lucky Guy, written by the late great Nora Ephron. This show has been so well received, its run is extended until June.

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