A VACATION to the northern latitudes during winter will doubtless incur some cold weather penalties, so the chosen destination had better be worth the trip.
New York City (NYC) ticks all the boxes, offering plenty of reasons why you should visit it during the pre-Christmas or Christmas season.
Good cheer awaits in all its well-known places, including Rockefeller Center, where a giant Christmas tree — probably the world’s most famous — holds court.
The tree is placed in the iconic plaza of Rockefeller Center on Nov 29, when its 50,000 lights are turned on for the first time. It is then lit every night through the Christmas season until Jan 7.
This year’s Norway Spruce stands at 23m in height and weighs around 11 tonnes. It was cut down in the town of State College, Pennsylvania, and is topped by a Swarovski star.
The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree tradition has been enacted for over eight decades, starting in 1933. It has helped to see New Yorkers through hard times like the Great Depression and the 9/11 attacks, when the tree was lit in patriotic red, white and blue. Over half a million people are expected to pass by the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree every day.
Store displays and ice skating
The tradition of decorative storefront window displays may have had its origins in Britain, but has likely reached its greatest expression in NYC.
The window displays here are elaborate and creative in marquee stores such as Macy’s and Saks Fifth Avenue. The best part is you don’t have to be a customer to enjoy these delightful sights.
Visitors can even book tours down the most festive streets to see the big store window displays. Daily tours by WindowsWear start at Macy’s in Herald Square and journey up Fifth Avenue, passing the Empire State Building, Bryant Park, Rockefeller Center, Central Park, and more.
There are also outdoor ice rinks that dot the Manhattan cityscape, luring both good and bad skaters, as well as couples, to glide along patches of floodlit ice surrounded by city towers.
The most popular is The Rink At Rockefeller Center, where the circling flow of skaters starts early and gets heavier through the day and into the evening hours.
There are also two rinks in Central Park, including Wollman Rink, the most iconic and filmed spot. For instance, it plays a key, plot-resolving role in the film Serendipity.
The Wollman Rink is at 62nd and 63rd Streets, near the southern end of the park, while the Lasker Rink is located at 106th and 108th Streets at the northern end of Central Park.
An additional skating option is at Bryant Park, which offers free access to the ice, as well as views of the New York Public Library. Another worthy spot is the scenic Brookfield Place Winter Garden, located in Battery Park City in Lower Manhattan.
Lastly, Chelsea Piers has the Sky Rink, an indoor facility. All the others are open to the elements — including hopefully romantic sprinkles of snow.
With the exception of Bryant Park, entry fees are required for all the other rinks and range from pricey (US$25 — about S$33 — at the Rockefeller Center) to more reasonable — as little as US$7 at the Lasker rink.
You will need to pay a fee for skate rentals, which will be about US$12, although discounts on entry tickets and rentals are available for seniors and children.
All these sights and activities give NYC a larger-than-life Christmas experience that can’t really be duplicated anywhere else.
Also worth a visit is the site of the former World Trade Center towers.
Those buildings and the tragic events of Sept 11, 2001, have since been memorialised at the Ground Zero site, which has been given a new lease of life with expressive architectural designs, including the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.
Directly adjacent to it is the new One World Trade Center. With its angled, reflective walls, it is the most striking structure in the Manhattan skyline. It is also the tallest building in the western hemisphere and the sixth tallest in the world.
Atop One World Trade Center is the One World Observatory, whose observation deck is composed of floor-to-ceiling windows. The observatory provides spectacular views of Manhattan, the Hudson River, Brooklyn Bridge, Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.
This year, a new attraction has opened at One World Trade Center. It uses the so-called indoor observatory, which is a giant wall of video screens that is programmed to display different stories and themes.
In this case, it has been designed around a Winter ONEderland experience, a planetary tour to landmarks like the Great Wall of China, the Pyramids of Giza, and more. The show celebrates the “one world” theme of the observatory, and will run until Jan 7.
Maybe the most unusual architectural exercise in the whole Ground Zero campus is the Oculus, which houses the World Trade Center commuter train station and an adjoining upscale shopping mall.
The building features two rows of gently curving white steel ribs that rise from the ground on either side of a concourse dome. The design, which symbolises a dove taking flight, is an arresting sight.
Cold weather with the potential of icy rain or snow is always a possibility in NYC in December — it is winter, after all.
Thankfully, the city has no shortage of indoor diversions to escape the chill — from art and history museums, to shopping malls and live performance theatres.
A recent favourite is Gingerbread Lane at the New York Hall of Science. Rows of homemade gingerbread houses provide a tempting but no-touch alternative to the kid-friendly exhibits at the Hall of Science. These include 450 interactive displays that help demystify science for young visitors.
Another favourite, but with a much longer history, is the Christmas stage show by the Radio City Rockettes. The 2017 edition has been given a technological overhaul —including, for instance, an 8K LED wall to offer eye-popping light shows.
The updated tech is being used to support the performance of well-loved gems like The Twelve Days Of Christmas, Here Comes Santa Claus and the finale number, Snow, over the course of the 90-minute production.
Don’t forget to add a new attraction to your list. The National Geographic Encounter: Ocean Odyssey is an immersive entertainment experience that goes high-tech to simulate an underwater journey.
Visitors can “travel” across the Pacific Ocean to meet the ocean’s greatest wonders, such as humpback whales, great white sharks and Humboldt squid. Advance ticket purchases are recommended, as they allow you to choose your entry time slot.
There is plenty more to keep visitors busy and occupied during a Christmas holiday visit to NYC.
But it is best to have a healthy, replenished credit card on hand for your trip.
I flew on Singapore Airlines via a stopover in San Francisco.
■ Gratuities are expected. Add on about 15 per cent of the bill when you make payment.
Winter months in NYC can be cold and snowy, so remember to bring warm clothes for the outdoors.
■ More stylish gear like leather jackets are fine for dashing from a taxi to the theatre, restaurant or boutique.
But boots, stylish or not, are recommended for negotiating wet streets, sidewalks and puddles.
■ Bring warmer, water-resistant jackets for outdoor activities such as ice skating. A down jacket under a waterproof shell is an ideal combination. Don’t forget gloves and hat — and wear a thin additional layer of clothing under your jeans. It can get pretty cold when you fall on the ice!
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