Last week, I was able to go to New York City to see the Christmas decorations! I have been to New York City a few times before, but never during the holidays. While I knew what to expect from previous experiences in the city, I knew that Christmas is one of the most popular times to visit, so I didn’t exactly know what to expect before landing in New York.
Here is an overview of the things I did (excluding meals and wandering around the city):
Day 1 (Thursday)
- Staten Island Ferry
- Financial District/Lower Manhattan
- Radio City Music Hall to see the Rockettes
- Rockefeller Plaza
- 5th Avenue at Night
Day 2 (Friday)
- Top of the Rock
- Bryant Park
- Hotel Lobbies
- Avoid weekend crowds, go to the city to see Christmas decorations during the week if possible. This is the only time I’ve been to NYC at Christmas time, so I personally can’t speak to the crowds on the weekend. I have heard it’s very very crowded! I was there on a Thursday and a Friday. There definitely were people at the places we went, but there were no major crowds that had a significant impact on our trip.
- If you are flying into LaGuardia, sit on the left side of the plane in the window seat for the best views!
Make Sure To Include On Your Packing List
- Gloves that you can push around in!! I did not bring gloves with me as it was not too cold on the days I was visiting. However, on our second morning, it was colder and my hands got cold so fast from constant contact with my metal rims. Thankfully I was able to stop and buy some gloves not too far out of my way which kept my hands warmer and cleaner.
- Hand Wipes!! I usually have a pack in my bag but didn’t this time when we arrived in New York. With all the pushing I did around the streets of New York, I felt that my hands were significantly dirtier than they usually are. I ended up buying hand wipes at my first opportunity, and they were a lot more expensive than what that pack of wipes would usually cost at home. I would definitely buy a few packs before leaving home and keep some on you at all times!!
Transportation was by far the most difficult and stressful part of this trip. While I did see more wheelchair accessible taxis than I expected, my mom and I were never able to get one to stop for us. The logistics of navigating the city (especially in a wheelchair) was overwhelming at times, and this trip was the most difficult to navigate that I can remember (I’m sure this is partly due to recency bias though). I do want to add that when I travel, I always have someone with me who can help me get in and out of any car that my chair can fit into the back of, up and down stairs (within reason), etc, meaning that I don’t always have experience navigating truly accessible forms of transportation. Navigating the city in a wheelchair only using wheelchair-accessible taxis I think would be much harder. However, as I mentioned earlier, I was encouraged by the number of accessible taxis I saw, so I don’t want to completely discourage someone who needs fully accessible transportation from trying to go to NYC.
Good news: I was able to skip the long line for taxis at LaGuardia. We originally got in the long line, and an employee saw us and told us to come up front. She directed us outside, where there was an accessible taxi available to take us to our hotel.
Bad news: We were only successful one other time in getting a taxi. Since I was with my mom, we didn’t need a wheelchair accessible taxi and could fit into an SUV. On several other occasions we tried to hail taxis and ultimately ended up either walking to our destination or catching an Uber.
For most of the trip, we walked around the city. I pushed for 13 miles on Friday, which made my shoulders and arms very sore the next day! For me, it was worth it. I’m glad it was the last day of our trip so that I didn’t have to face sore shoulders and arms while trying to navigate the city.
When using the metro, I relied on the map of accessible stations, found here. Please note that some stations are only wheelchair accessible when heading in a certain direction. I only took the metro once, and it was my first time using the NYC subway system. At the station where we were getting on, there was a gap of about 3 inches and a lip of about 2 inches to get onto the car. This could vary station-to-station, I’m not sure. I did get a boost from my mom and we were able to get on without significant problems. I think with practice I would be able to hop on and off by myself. I did have to pop a wheelie, so I’m not sure how easy it would be if you were in a power wheelchair and can’t do wheelies like I can.
Unfortunately I don’t have any great solutions for how to navigate the city, it seems that each way comes with its pros and cons.
I went to Bryant Park because they have a wonderful winter village/Christmas Market. Each little store in the winter village was in small kiosks. Some of the kiosks have one step to get in, others have a small ramp or are even with the path. However, those kiosks are so small that you would be able to ask the person running that kiosk to help you with anything you could need without actually going inside.
According to the Bryant Park website, “To gain access to those kiosks with a step, call 929-418-2065 for assistance. An attendant with a portable ramp will escort you into those kiosks for the duration of your visit. You can also ask any uniformed staff if in the park for assistance!
There are accessible park entrances on the eastern end of the park near the Upper Terrace on 40th and 42nd Streets between Fifth and Sixth Avenues.” I only went into one store that had a step, and I just had my mom help me get up the step. I did not know about the ramp service at the time, so I didn’t try it out.
Here is the website for the Park: https://bryantpark.org/activities/holiday-shops.
There is no longer the iconic FAO Schwartz that was located on 5th Avenue. We briefly went into the new FAO Schwartz at Rockefeller Plaza. There was a long line, but me and the 3 people I was with were able to skip the line. However, the inside of the store was very crowded and we quickly left after deciding that it wasn’t worth it for us. There weren’t a lot of Christmas decorations and none of us were in the market for children’s toys, so we decided to leave.
One of the warmest ways to see beautiful holiday decorations in New York is to go into hotel lobbies. I went into The Plaza, The Peninsula, St. Regis, and Lotte New York Palace. My favorite decorations were at The Plaza and The Peninsula (see my reel on Instagram!). The only hotel I needed assistance getting into was The Plaza. A bellman helped me access the lift to enter and exit the building. At the other hotels, I was able to enter and exit without assistance. If you need assistance at those hotels, there was usually a bellman there to help.
Radio City Music Hall
I went to the Rockettes, which was wonderful! However, the only accessible seats that were available for purchase on Ticketmaster the week of the show were “semi-ambulatory seats”. I looked at several shows for both days that I was there, and that was all I could find. My mom was able to help me into the last seat on the row, but it was kind of hard to do because it was up a step and the armrest did not move up. After the show my mom looked around at the venue (we were on the top level so we could see most of the seats), and she didn’t see any spots that looked like a wheelchair user could sit while in their chair. However, one employee did say that there were spots for wheelchair users. If you plan on staying in your wheelchair and want to attend a show, I would suggest contacting the Disabled Services Office at Radio City Music Hall.
Here is the link for Radio City Musical Hall Disabled Services: https://www.rockettes.com/christmas/disabled-services/
I went to Rockefeller Plaza on a Thursday night around 11pm to avoid crowds. At that time, there were still people around, but it wasn’t too crowded. I didn’t have any access issues here! I realize that staying in town this late is not an option for some people, but if it’s something you can do I recommend it. I definitely recommend going to see the tree at night. I saw it both during the day and at night and it is much more magical at night!
Staten Island Ferry
Once I got on the Ferry, I was able to access everything well. There was an elevator to take me up a level so I could go on the platform on the back of the ferry, where I was able to see the NYC skyline as we went across the water towards Staten Island. However, the ramp to get on and off is very steep! I wouldn’t have been able to go up the ramp by myself, and I wouldn’t have felt comfortable going down the ramp independently either. Thankfully, I had my mom with me so I was able to get on and off the ferry safely. I would NOT recommend going on the Staten Island Ferry for the first time alone if you are a wheelchair user, but if you have someone to help it is a great free way to see nice views of the skyline and the Statue of Liberty! The ride each way is about 25 minutes. I went across from Manhattan to Staten Island, then back on another ferry shortly after to see the sunset as we arrived back in Manhattan.
Top of the Rock
I recommend visiting the 67th and 69th floors, but skipping the 70th floor (the rooftop). Since I can’t stand up, I couldn’t see over the railings. The views from the 67th and 69th floors are wonderful though!
What I Ate & Restaurant Accessibility
Black Seed Bagels: I went to the location in the basement of 30 Rock. The store was crowded and narrow so my mom went in to order for us, but I think I could have done it if I was alone. I got a plain bagel (toasted) with plain cream cheese and it was really good!!
Patsy’s Italian Restaurant: The staff here was great! I had linguine al pesto and it was good. The portion size was much bigger than I could eat and I was sad to have to leave a lot of it behind. Their bread and olive oil was phenomenal!
The Champagne Bar at The Plaza: We weren’t sure if we were going to be able to eat here because we were not guests at The Plaza and our phone calls to try to make reservations were not returned. However, we were able to show up and get a table with a very short wait. The french toast was excellent, and the hotel was decorated so beautifully! This place is quite pricey, but my mom and I had a wonderful special breakfast here which was very relaxing before a busy day around NYC. My mom got the eggs benedict which was also good, but I liked the french toast more.
Joe’s Pizza: For lunch we went to Joe’s Pizza from the Broadway location. We took our pizza to go and ate it at Bryant Park which was close by. We got in line around 2:30pm and there was still a line out the door and a crowd in the restaurant. I decided not to go inside the restaurant because I wasn’t sure if I would fit and it wasn’t really necessary for me to go in since there were others in my group that could order. If I had been alone, I probably wouldn’t have stayed in line because I would not have been able to carry the pizza out of the store and over to Bryant Park while pushing my chair. Joe’s Pizza also does delivery, so that may be a more accessible option. On my last trip to NYC, we had Joe’s Pizza delivered to our hotel and it worked well. Another idea is to call Joe’s and ask what times are usually less crowded and if they have any suggestions for the best way for you to order/eat their pizza. The pizza is very good, I had cheese and caprese and they were both delicious.
Overall, I am very glad I was able to make the trip to New York at Christmas time to see all of the beautiful decorations in person. I think it is definitely possible in a wheelchair although it does take extra planning.
If you have any questions, please reach out to me on Instagram @rosieroaming! I would love to help in any way that I can.
Have you been to NYC before? If so comment on my Instagram what your favorite part of your trip was!
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!