London to New York … in style!

International travel during the covid pandemic hasn’t been easy but as with everything, if you take the risks the reward is there. So in June 2021 with the USA well and truly closed to international visitors we found ourselves booking a week in New York in December for my 50th Birthday.

To be honest there wasn’t that much of a risk. We booked through British Airways so it only took a £150 deposit to secure the hotel and flights with the remainder being paid a month before we went and with no end to the travel restrictions in sight the cost of flights were stupidly low. We managed to book business class flights with BA at an absolute bargain price, from memory I think they were cheaper than premium economy tickets with Virgin.

Much whooping was heard and jumping for joy done when in September 21 President Biden announced that America would be once more be opening its borders to holiday makers from November. OUR HOLIDAY WAS ON!!! We didn’t bet on a new variant rearing it’s ugly head though.

It wasn’t “easy” travelling with the new testing regimes in place but at the same time it wasn’t difficult. BA released the Verifly app which took you through what you needed to do to travel in baby steps – namely, supervised lateral flow test 24 hours before flying and filling out a couple of forms. I think the hardest thing was trying not to get too excited just in case we had a positive test on our fit to fly LFT’s

So, on the 12th December at 13:00, we found ourselves waiting nervously in a Lloyds Pharmacy having had our supervised LFT’s. The 15 minutes to get the results felt like hours but we were both negative …. We could go to NEW YORK 😀

We hadn’t dared to pack yet in case we were positive so we rushed home, packed 4 suitcases full of New York weather proof clothing ( waste of time lol) and tried to relax … very difficult.

We got to Heathrow airport the following morning at around 5am (for a 9am flight). Business class check in couldn’t have gone any smoother with the Verifly app taking most of the strain and we were through security in 5 minutes. The BA business lounge at Heathrow T5 was disappointing. Not sure what I was expecting but I did expect more than a rock solid crusty cob with a sausage inside it and the worse coffee I’ve ever tasted. We have paid £20 for better lounges before so it wasn’t the greatest start to the Business Class experience. It was however quiet and away from the hustle and bustle of the terminal but that’s pretty much all it had going for it. Our early arrival may have been the reason and it could be a great place if you are flying later in the day but it was meh for breakfast.

We boarded the plane at around 8:30 am and all thoughts of the poor BA lounge went out fo the window. It’s the first time I’ve ever flown business class before and I could really get used to it! Just the ability to stretch your legs out straight on a plane was fantastic, and that before you started playing with the seating etc. The TV screen was great however the choice of what to watch wasn’t fantastic in my opinion but i was more bothered about listening to my music and relaxing so it wasn’t a big deal for me. Breakfast was served on crockery with a real knife and fork. I had a full English. It wasn’t very full but it was very tasty and a cut above the usual plane food. Drinks were plentiful throughout the flight and with a good tail wind we landed at JFK about 10 minutes early.

Being one of the first off the plane we were one of of the first at the immigration queue in JFK. That went relatively smoothly ( for JFK) and we were standing outside, looking for our driver about half an hour after landing.

We had pre booked our transfer from JFK to The Arthouse Hotel with New York Airports Transportation on facebook. They were excellent, competitively priced and highly recommended. Our driver was pleasant and pointed out various landmarks and recommendations for food and days out etc. I wouldn’t hesitate to use them next time we visit NYC ( and there will be a next time)

We stayed in the Arthouse Hotel ( formerly NYLO) in the upper west side. It’s an area we know quite well and love. It’s away from the hustle and bustle of the tourist traps with loads of little diners and restaurants and only a 30 minute walk ( or two minutes on subway) down to Times square. We usually stay across the road in the Belleclaire but you couldn’t book that one through BA hence trying the Arthouse. We weren’t disappointed, It’s a great boutique hotel and very “New York”, and is nothing like a faceless chain hotel in times square. The lobby, bar and breakfast area are all very nice and the room, whilst being on the small side ( I think we had the smallest room on the floor) was more than adequate and came with a good coffee machine and a fridge etc and when it comes down to it, a hotel is only a place to rest your head each night.

We had initially decided to have an easy afternoon and first night but we ended up walking all the way down broadway to Times square and then the Rockefeller centre to see the Christmas tree and all the way back up 5th and 6th avenue. We dined out on fine Shake Shack burgers and Starbucks caramel lattes kept us going. What should have been a light walk turned into 2ok+ steps and aching feet …… That bed in the arthouse was the best bed in the world after such a long day 😀

Key Largo and a tropical paradise

After a late breakfast at the Old Town Manor, it was time once more to pack the car and hit the roads again. We enjoyed Key West but I’m not sure we will revisit. As nice as it was doing nothing but eating, drinking and wandering we couldn’t get over the fact it felt a little bit like America’s version of Benidorm, not quite that trashy but nevertheless a party town first and foremost.