It’s a wonderful town
Our 15-year-old son won first place in a regional theater competition and was awarded an expense-paid trip to New York City — and suddenly our family was planning an impromptu visit to the Big Apple.
Even if you don’t use a wheelchair, as I do, New York City can be intimidating. Luckily for us, we’ve been there before and know one of the best sources of information for visitors is the city’s official tourism Web site produced by NYC and Company. Also invaluable is the free online book, Access New York: A Guide to Accessible Travel in NYC, which is published by the mayor’s office.
|The urban canyons of the City are exciting to explore, on foot and in a wheelchair. (Below) The authors, between sightseeing jaunts, catch a game in their room at the Hilton.|
New York has three major airports that handle more daily flights than any other city. Before booking a flight, consider how you will get from the airport to your hotel.
When I was able to transfer easily from a wheelchair, we hired a car or took a taxi. As transferring has become harder, I prefer to stay in my wheelchair. At the Newark (N.J.) airport, a wheelchair user can easily hop on the AirTrain and ride to New York Penn Station at a cost of $11.55. From there you can walk or hail a cab.
On our most recent trip, I discovered two services that would take us from the airport to our hotel. Vega Transportation charges $150 per trip for a “white glove” wheelchair-accessible service. (The company came highly recommended by an employee of NYC and Company whose wife has multiple sclerosis and uses a wheelchair.)
Not wanting to spend $300 getting to and from the airport, I called Super Shuttle. The shared-ride ground transportation company has two wheelchair-accessible vans (one was in the repair shop during our visit.) A reservation for accessible transportation must be made several days or even a week in advance of your trip.
Our flight arrived at Newark at 10:30 a.m. By the time we deplaned (wheelchair users are the last passengers to exit) and recovered our missing suitcase which had been sent to Lost and Found, we finally called Super Shuttle to confirm our pickup at 11:40 a.m. Within 15 minutes, our driver, Howard, strolled into the airport and escorted us to a van with a wheelchair lift. The cost of our ride was $17 per person plus a tip.
Springtime in New York is exquisite and expensive. A hotel room that costs less than $200 in February jumps to $375 a night or more in April. If you plan to visit in the summer or winter, check the city’s official seasonal promotions — Summer Breaks (July 1-Sept. 4) and Paint the Town (Jan. 2-Feb. 28). Both offer savings on arts, culture, entertainment, cuisine, shopping and hotel stays.
Real estate is sky high in New York and the hotel rooms aren’t known for being spacious. When choosing a hotel, we look for newer or recently remodeled properties that are close to the most attractions.
The Rockefeller Center Hotel, where we spent two nights, opened in 2006 and offers compact quarters — comfortable for two. Our room included a kitchenette with a dorm fridge and microwave. The toilet wasn’t raised and had only one grab bar placed directly above the tank.
The Grand Hyatt, where we visited a friend, is a massive hotel that connects to Grand Central Terminal. Finding the wheelchair entrance takes a bit of searching. The historic Grand Central Terminal is well worth exploring and has dozens of places to dine. (Caution: The floors are “hilly,” not flat, and are excessively steep. Wheelchair users may need assistance.)
We also spent a night at the recently remodeled Hilton at West 53rd Street and Avenue of the Americas. The rooms have a contemporary décor featuring a rolling desk, minibar and 30-inch flat screen TV. From the hotel’s location between Central Park and Times Square, it’s an easy walk to Rockefeller Center, the Museum of Modern Art and Fifth Avenue.
Manhattan is 13.4 miles long and 2.3 miles wide at its widest point. Twenty north-south city blocks equal a mile. There are a variety of ways to see it all.
Walking is simply the best way to see the city. I used my manual wheelchair, and Jim pushed me along sidewalks crowded with pedestrians. More streets have curb cutouts than on our previous visits, but many are broken, worn or dangerously steep. Pedestrians move quickly and often don’t wait for a green light.
Buses are equipped with wheelchair lifts and cost $2 per ride — no matter the distance. Talk to your hotel concierge and get a map. Purchasing a Metro Card saves money.
By subway (no way)
“Don’t use the subway,” was the advice we received from a New York City visitor counselor. She explained every stop doesn’t have an elevator, and those that do often are broken.
If you take a cab, catch one on a side street instead of a major thoroughfare. Our experience has been most drivers don’t assist you with placing the wheelchair in the trunk — and it’s a tight fit. New York City has more than 12,000 taxis and fewer than 60 are wheelchair-accessible.
In 2007, 50 new wheelchair-accessible cabs were unveiled. During our four-day visit, we saw only one (the universal wheelchair symbol is on the side of the vehicle). The driver got out of the van, lifted the hatch and extended a manual ramp. I rolled into the cab and we were off in less than three minutes. I felt like a real New Yorker as we drove nearly 50 blocks. The $20 fare (including tip) was worth every penny. Unfortunately, you can’t reserve a wheelchair-accessible cab — I tried before we went.
What to do
Prioritize. It’s impossible to see everything, so decide what’s a “must.” In our family, that always means a Broadway show. Tickets for hot shows go fast — especially on the weekend. Limited seating, often at reduced prices, is available for wheelchair users. To ensure you have a seat, purchase tickets early. Information about every show is online at www.ilovenytheater.com. (Note: Only a few shows have Monday performances.)
New York museums are amazing and accessible. The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) has Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” and other world-class works in its permanent collection. Make it a day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met). If you’re traveling with children, the American Museum of Natural History is home to the single largest collection of dinosaur fossils in the world.
Catch an early ferry to see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island Immigration Museum. For a bird’s eye view of the city, get tickets to the Empire State Building or the new Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center. Shop at the world’s largest store — Macy’s — or hunt for inexpensive souvenirs in Chinatown. Dine on the sidewalk in Little Italy. (Insider’s Tip: Save time and cash by purchasing a City Pass booklet.)
Barbara and Jim Twardowski live in Mandeville, La. Barbara has Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT).
Big Apple Greeters Access Program
Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities
NYC and Company
Visitor Information Counselors