I’ve always wanted to visit The Big Apple. I remember watching those Christmas movies and being so excited by the big city, and knowing that one day I’d visit and enjoy the same magical experience, with the snow gently falling and the festive lights glowing. Of course, as I got older I became increasingly aware that it might not be quite so magical – after getting off a flight, all I want to do is go to my hotel room! But, the dream to go to New York City remained and I finally got the opportunity to go in December 2019.
In case my blog doesn’t give it away, I’m a planner and so before I started to book the trip I already had a comprehensive list of the places that I wanted to visit (right down to where I’d eat and drink) and exactly how many days I’d need to do it all. From the magic of The Rockettes performing at Radio City’s Christmas Spectacular, to paying my respects at the 9/11 memorial, I had various places that I wanted to visit during my trip – but in as short a time period as possible, as New York City is an expensive place to visit (especially at Christmas)!
I managed to condense my trip into five days, and with this in mind I visited a travel agent to see what deals they could offer me. Although travel agents can be expensive, particularly in comparison to booking direct with providers, they can find some very good deals not available direct to customers, and there are also various protections booking in this way. Due to the flights I was taking, and that I had some tours I wanted to do, the booking was complex and it was beneficial to have this all as part of a protected booking in case any of the individual parts of the trip failed.
Accessibility in Manhattan
Manhattan is not very wheelchair accessible. Unfortunately, I came across many difficulties getting around Manhattan, from using the Metro system to finding accessible, but affordable, accommodation. I have no doubt the festive period compounded these issues – the city becomes even busier, with the sidewalks heaving with tourists on top of the usual population. This also meant those typical workarounds to access issues, such as getting an Uber, became more expensive.
Only 25% of Metro stations are accessible – and of course, this is ‘on a good day’ when everything is open and in service. In reality, stations had broken elevators, were closed for works, or simply not in the direction I was trying to go. I was so relieved to be staying in Manhattan, because this meant I was able to get to most places on my wheels, but it certainly did present its difficulties – not least, that I was quickly getting through my battery charge by having to traverse Manhattan entirely by wheelchair!
Although New York City’s infrastructure is quite inaccessible, I was pleased to discover the welcoming support of staff at the various sights that I visited. One particular example of note was the 9/11 Memorial Museum. The staff were so incredibly friendly and supportive right from when I arrived. There was a long queue to enter, and it was lightly raining, and the staff spotted me in the queue and took me inside so that I could get my wheelchair out of the rain, and they guided me through the entrance lobby to where I would start my visit. And as I would expect, the entire museum was accessible to me with it being a new building.
However, not all new constructions were accessible which was quite disappointing. I visited the Winter Village at Bryant Park, one of the key Christmas events in New York City. The accessibility at the event was very disappointing. The majority of the stalls had a step up to them, without a ramp. This is simply unnecessary in today’s society. I was told by one stall-holder I could pre-book an attendant to meet me with a portable ramp at whichever specific stalls I wanted to visit – but this is not true equal access in any sense. Part of the fun of Christmas markets is wandering around, wrapped up warm, sipping on mulled wine and meandering in and out of stalls spotting gifts for my family and friends. Booking in to visit a stall is not the same experience, and is also quite impractical as the Winter Village is so incredibly busy, that it would be challenging to make space to lay out a ramp and manoeuvre my wheelchair.
My top tip for visiting New York City
My top tip has to be to research your accommodation thoroughly. This is a top tip for any disabled traveller, but especially so for New York which is a difficult city to get around. It really helped me to stay in Manhattan, but even so, I still had to travel on foot/by wheel, so I’d strongly recommend considering carefully where your hotel is so that it is easily accessible both geographically and in the physical sense. For example, if you’re particularly keen to visit places in downtown Manhattan, it might be worth trying to find accommodation in that area if you can afford it.