Sunday, April 14, 2013

Start Spreading the News: Part 2 - Connecticut to New York

Part 1:  Heading East
Part 2:  This page

With a 3-hour jetlag effect, we didn't get to bed until well after midnight.  And that night happened to be the switch to daylight savings time, so we didn't get out of the hotel until around 10:30.

We spent a few terrific hours with some family we hadn't seen in years, and then hit the road.  We made the mistake of relying on our GPS and not the map we had bought the day before but left somewhere in the luggage.  Anyways, I think it took us at least an extra half hour more to get to New York City than it needed to.  

Once in New York, we made good time on the Henry Hudson Parkway until we got to the light at around 57th (?) street, where we stopped and spent about a half hour trying to get through a traffic light.  We drove on streets to get from there to our hotel, the Holiday Inn Soho, and it took at least another half hour.  But we found the hotel and it is pretty unassuming from the street.  Knowing that we would be returning a car soon,  we had kept our eyes open for a gas station but never found one.   I dropped off the wife and kids, we had a porter handle the luggage, and I went to return the car.  

Returning the Car

I checked the GPS and found a gas station just about a half mile north, at Lafayette and Houston.  I got there and found every cab in lower Manhattan gassing up before their shift was up.  After a 20 minute wait and pissing several people off for driving in the wrong direction in the gas station, it was my turn.  During gas "rush hour" it was full-serve only, which only means that someone pumps gas for you and you pay more, I think it was $4.59 a gallon.  Fortunately I only needed about a half tank.  Also, the guy pumping was pretty calm and helpful in serving me when it was my turn, even though I hadn't been following whatever rules might normally have prevailed there, so I gave him few dollars as a tip.

I found the Dollar on East 22nd Street and returned the car.  The guys there were very helpful and the process went smoothly.  I recommend returning a car there should you have the occasion to return a car in New York City.

Took the subway back to the hotel.  The subway stops just a block down on Canal Street.


The "Junior Suite" at the Holiday Inn Soho was probably huge for Manhattan, which means it is about as big as an average sized hotel room in most other places.  I estimated it at 400 square feet, including closet, bath, and a narrow entryway.  It is an L-shaped room  in the corner of the building, with a queen bed on one side and a double on the other, and a TV in the corner.  There are lots of windows on both exterior walls, and a comfortable amount of floor space.  The only shortcoming is that the only seating was a single chair at the desk.  That, and the toilet.

I didn't take any pictures of the room, because my wife thinks it's lame, and you know what?  I think she is right.  Our camera is better used to experience our vacation.

The Finagle

If you have hotel points, it doesn't usually make much sense to spend 50,000 of them to stay one night at the Venetian in Las Vegas, when you can usually get a comparable room there for $149, or off the strip for $46.  You can get better value by spending 25,000 of them in a place where a hotel room costs at least $200.  This includes cities like New York, Washington DC, Tokyo, etc.  As an added bonus, when you get a free room, you also usually avoid the room taxes, which can be hefty in some of these places, sometimes $50 a night or more, since a lot of places tack on a tax specifically on hotel rooms in addition to sales tax.  (It does sometimes make sense to use the Priority Club points in other places if you can take advantage of a PointBreak deal, etc.)

My Priority Club credit card gives me a certificate for a free night a year (not truly free because the card itself carries an annual fee of $49 a year), and I also had just over 75,000 Priority Club Points.  We could have used the free night at any Intercontinental or Holiday Inn chain hotel, and there are some in this corner of the blogosphere (do blogospheres have corners?) that will retch when I say: we used the free night not at the 4.5 star Intercontinental in midtown, but at the 3 star (maybe 2.5) Holiday Inn Soho (actually Chinatown), where we also used our 60,000 points for 3 nights (20k each).  (Pardon the excessive use of parentheticals)  For us, this hotel was far superior to the Intercontinental because:

  • We only had enough points for 1 more night at the Intercontinental, but we had enough for 3 more at the Holiday Inn.
  • With 2 kids and a total of 7 distinct luggage items, no better way to ruin a vacation than to switch hotels after the 1 free night coupon to the 3 nights free somewhere else.
  • IC has internet for, what, like $20 a day?  In my day, we would have called that bulls--t.  Nowadays the kids seem to be calling it racist.  Either way, no extra charge at Holiday Inn.  (I've heard that Priority Club will soon give free internet to all platinum members.)
  • What do you do for breakfast?  Everything in Times Square costs like $50.  Last time I ate there, in 2005, I got a cup of coffee and a slice of cheesecake for $16, and that was when the minimum wage was $3 lower than it is today.  Near the Holiday Inn, we found a take-out deli a block away where the whole family could eat for $17.  And there are literally hundreds, maybe thousands, of mom and pop restaurants within walking distance of the hotel.
  • I am bald and bring my own electric toothbrush and razor with me.  So I couldn't care less what brand the little shampoo bottles are.  
  • Before we had kids, when we stayed in a hotel, we wanted things like a high floor, view, fancy bathroom, etc.  which now seem completely irrelevant.  With a family of four traveling together, the most important amenity we want out of a hotel room is space.  It took me a while to realize that Star ratings are completely orthogonal to room size.  On our previous trip to NYC, we stayed in a 4.5 or 5-star hotel in midtown (may have been the Intercontinental - I don't remember exactly) and the room was some of the most beautifully appointed 150 square feet I have ever experienced.  Sumptuousness doesn't really help much when all you need is a little elbow room.
Actually, what I really want in a hotel is a room with 2 queen beds, since I don't want to get 2 rooms and my wife and I can't sleep in anything smaller than a queen.  (And I can't sleep in the same bed as one of my kids because they end up sleeping sideways, etc.)  However, this is completely nonstandard in New York City, and as far as I could tell, none of the Holiday Inns that were within my point price range With my Priority Club credit card, I have "platinum status" which means the hotel should give me some kind of an upgrade, if available.  In my experience, they usually do.  About a week before our trip, I wrote the hotel the following email:

Dear Hotel Manager:

We are looking forward to our stay at the Holiday Inn Soho next week for our 10th anniversary celebration trip to New York City. Our stay actually involves 2 reservations, one for 3/10 and another for 3/11-13. 

If at all possible, could we please be placed in either a room with 2 queen beds or a suite?  We would very much appreciate it given that we are traveling with our children.  We prefer non-smoking.

Thanks very much,

and signed it with my Priority Club platinum number.

A couple days later I got the following response from the hotel manager:

I will gladly upgrade you to one of our Junior suites with 2 bed to accommodate the entire family at no extra charge. Happy 10th Anniversary.

Please feel free to contact me directly if you have any further concerns. Thank you


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