So this is my very last post in regards to the trip I took to the States back in August. It was a once in a life time trip thanks to the competition I won in association with Travel Supermarket back in August 2013. Even though I had the money in my pocket, because I had so much I wanted to do I had to make sure I was still savvy when booking things. I travelled from London to Washington DC to New York to Niagara Falls to New Jersey then back to London. In 10 days. I stayed in lovely hotels, ate good food, spent time with some awesome people and saw some amazing things. And today I’m going to share with you all the websites I used to pull off such an amazing trip.
I booked my flights back in March using STA Travel. I had heard good things from a lot of people who do multi stop flights. As I wanted to fly into and out of two different airports, STA offered the best price and simplicity for booking. I paid just over £500 which for August, isn’t too bad and it included my flight insurance. I flew from London Heathrow to Washington Dulles and then back from Newark to Heathrow. I flew with United Airlines which are no Virgin/British Airways but they were comfortable and the food wasn’t too bad. They’re great if you are travelling on a budget but you do want some comfort.
When I arrived in Washington I booked a Super Shuttle transfer to my hotel. At the time I didn’t have the best experience, I was exhausted, hot (it was like 80 degrees at 8pm, and lets not get into the humidity) and I had booked a shared shuttle to shave on money. It cost $29 one way right to my hotel door which is exactly what I needed after my flight. My stop was last so it took a good hour and a half. However, in hindsight for the price and had I been dropped first (aka had my hotel not been in the centre of the city) it would have been more than worth the price. For Florida I have booked another shuttle service from the airport to the hotel door but I have opted for the private car (in fact my dad chipped in to help pay for it and we’re going “business class”) because I will have Little Miss with me, it will be late and we will have been travelling a long time and of course, it will be hot. But on the whole, using a shuttle service was the same price as a train/bus but a lot more convenient.
Travelling from Washington to NYC I booked a Greyhound bus. I know a lot of people who have used the Greyhound while in the US and although it’s a little more expensive than Megabus, it is worth it for the comfort factor, the plugs and the free wifi. Again it cost $29 (which I should have mentioned above is about £18) and it took just under four hours from Washington Union Station to Penn Station NY. I can’t fault it for the price. It was simple to retrieve my ticket when I arrived as they have self service printed tickets. You could also pick your own seat. But what I liked most was I got to see a little bit more of America.
In Washington DC I stayed in the most beautiful hotel ever, The Melrose. From the moment the shuttle pulled up outside I knew it was something special as it had the big canopy over the door and doormen who called me Miss and carried my bags. I have only stayed in this sort of luxury once when Bee won a competition for us to stay in London and see Grease. I booked a Deluxe King Room for $387 (£240 ish) for three nights. Everything about the room was beautiful, from the bath robe, to the bed that could have fitted four people in easily. It was right on the doorstep of everything and although I gave myself killer blisters I did actually pretty much walk everywhere, except when I took the $1 bus ($1 to anywhere along the route!) to the Capital Building. It’s also right on the doorstep of the place that I now dream about living, Georgetown.
In New York I stayed in two hotels due to my plans changing and my first hotel being sold out. For my first two nights in New York I stayed in a very swish hotel called The Hudson, just off Columbus Circle. For the two nights I paid $338 (£209 roughly) which wasn’t too bad for the centre of New York. Again, I was walking distance from all the main sites, at least the central park/midtown area anyway. Although the hotel itself was fantastic with a rooftop bar, the room was so incredibly tiny. And I had been given an upgrade so I have no idea how small the one I originally booked would have been. It was very modern and the bed was so comfortable but I probably wouldn’t recommend it if you’re claustrophobic!
The second hotel I stayed in while in New York was a Doubletree by Hilton near Times Square. Now this is the hotel I recommend you stay at if you’re visiting New York. The hotel was just along from Macy’s and not far from the High Line. I paid $116 for one night which is about £71. When you think about the fact this hotel is in the centre of Manhattan, it’s a Hilton so it was a REALLY nice hotel with wonderful concierge, that is a good price. And lets not forget the amazing view I ended up having! If I got back to New York, this will be the hotel I book to stay in without a doubt. They also gave you free cookies when you checked in. Can’t get better than that!
I booked all my hotels (including the Heathrow Premier Inn I stayed in when I arrived back in the UK) using Booking.com. I cannot recommend the website enough. Although it doesn’t have every hotel on it, it does have some of the best gems and at amazing prices. Not only that, you can usually pay when you check in, meaning it gives you time to save if you want a better hotel. The more you book with them, the more discount they offer too. I found it so easy to look for a hotel in a certain area (like near Georgetown for DC), at the right price, right number of stars and read all the reviews before booking. It was also so easy to cancel if you change your mind or your plans change since you don’t pay until you arrive. I have used it since to book my airport hotels for Manchester already.
Niagara Falls Bus Tour
One of the main things I wanted to do on this trip was see Niagara Falls. It was on my bucket list and if I was going on a once in a life time trip, I wanted to do something that was once in a lifetime. Thankfully Namu wanted to go too, and then her friend Darien which ended up being such fun. I think it would have been hell if I did it on my own in hindsight.
If i’m honest.. it wasn’t great. The tour itself not Niagara Falls. The fact Niagara Falls was so wonderful, probably did make it worth while. But I won’t dwell on all the bad because if you want to see Niagara Falls, this is probably the cheapest way to do it. We booked through Take Tours and the offer was pay for two people and get one free, so we divided two bookings between three of us which worked out as about $71 roughly £44! And that included the bus ride, the EIGHT HOUR bus ride to the Falls and a night in a hotel. So technically, that wasn’t bad. But you did then have to pay extras for parks, and any shows you wanted to visit. Which did feel like a rip off. The tour guide also had English as a second language despite the fact over half the tour was English speaking. This made it quite difficult to understand.. not to mention the fact she’s rude. However, I have read that there are nicer guides for the same tour. Because it was a bus tour they rushed you through everything which sucked. If you do the tour, the one thing I recommend you pay for is the Maid of the Mist.
Places to Visit
The majority of places in Washington DC are free to visit and I didn’t find the city itself expensive. Places I recommend visiting is The Mall, especially the Lincoln Monument and White House. It’s a great place to have a walk but make sure you have a drink with you as in the height of the summer it is hot and exposed. And don’t forget Georgetown. DC is definitely worth the visit and I would love to go back (I would really want to live there actually) but it is small and I saw everything within one day. I definitely don’t think you could have a weeks holiday there.
This was my third visit to New York so I’d say I have no pretty much seen everything. My recommendations though would be to go up one of the towers (my personal preference is Top of the Rock as you can see the Empire State). Visit Central Park, it’s my favourite place in the city. Buy some food and just sit, I recommend a cupcake or the divine banana pudding from Magnolia Bakery on the Upper West. Take the boat to see the Statue of Liberty, I did this on my first visit but the two visits since I have always went to see her from a distance. The Highline is a must for instillation art lovers.
I really hope anyone planning on exploring the East Coast finds this post helpful. It was the best trip of my life and I can’t recommend it enough. If you can go for longer than 10 days and include Boston or a jaunt to Canada, then do it!
If you want to read my Travel Diaries to see what I got up to on each day, they’re all here.