Pre-Cruise Day 1: Hanging in NYC

A picture of Paul reclined on a lounger in Times Square in New York City
Me, chilling on some random loungers in the middle of Times Square.

The nice thing about cruising from New York is being close enough to take the train up from our home in Alexandria, Virginia. A short four-hour train ride put us in Manhattan by noon, where we checked in for a two-night pre-cruise stay at the Hilton Garden Inn Time’s Square. The hotel was right in the heart of the Theater District on 8th Avenue and 48th Street, which would be convenient for us the following night when we were scheduled to see the Phantom of the Opera. The hotel itself was great—spacious and clean, and not too big, which helped avoid crowding and long lines (both of which we’d face plenty enough of in the days ahead on the Escape).

We stopped at the hotel just long enough to drop our bags in our room, and we then quickly grabbed an Uber to head to my favorite restaurant in the entire world for lunch. We ate at Barbuto on our last trip to NYC and to say I loved it would be selling it short. I’d say that eating is the driving force behind most of our travels, so believe me when I tell you that this restaurant is my number one dining destination I’ve experienced, on land or on the seas, in the U.S. or elsewhere.

Or, it was my favorite restaurant in the entire world, until it closed in May of 2019. I’ve written my ode to this most delicious of restaurants, so I won’t rewrite that here. Just know I’m still not over their closure, not by a longshot.

Jonathan Waxman's famous carbonara
I’ll never forget you, beautiful carbonara.

After an hour of pure eating bliss, we took a post-lunch walk through the West Village. We realized that we’d forgotten to pack our sunscreen, so we stopped at a Duane Reed to pick up a replacement. We then hopped on the subway back uptown to our hotel for a couple hours of cleaning up and relaxing before hitting the streets again.

Freshly showered and clothed, we hopped back on the subway and made our way to the East Village. We walked the streets for a bit, and we tried popping in to a record shop to do some browsing. Unfortunately, the proprietors didn’t think we were young or cool enough to shop in their establishment, so they tried to scare us out by BLASTING some rap music at top volume. The joke was on them, though, since I like rap and wasn’t scared away at all. In fact, we later found the song they played on Spotify (Know Yourself, by Drake), and we made it our song of the trip by singing it constantly for the next week.

Following that mini-adventure, we stopped in a small cozy wine bar for a few pre-dinner drinks. I’ve really become an oenophile as I’ve aged, and I tried a number of great wines on this trip. This wine bar, called Bibi, offered some great choices, and they had excellent happy hour prices until 8:00 ($7 per glass), and I’d definitely recommend stopping in if you happen to be in the East Village and looking for a tasty glass.

Dinner that night was at Risotteria Melotti, which specializes in risotto. Unfortunately, the experience and the food left a lot to be desired. When we arrived for our reservation, the only table they could seat us at was a weird spot where one person at the table basically had to sit on a windowsill. They offered a cushion to sit on, but it was basically still sitting on a hard marble bench, which I naturally took (giving Kathleen the single chair). There was a lower ledge and a higher ledge, so it offered me too equally-unappealing choices: either sit so high above the table I’d have to hunch over to reach my food, or sit so low that basically only my head was at table level. I chose the latter.

Paul seated on an uncomfortable window ledge at Risotteria Melotti in New York City
This. Is. Bullshit.

As you might guess, this did not put me in a mood wherein I wanted to linger and enjoy a nice dinner. Where I might have otherwise ordered a nice bottle of wine (or even two!) and multiple courses, I basically wanted to get my food as fast as possible in order to get my injured butt off of that hard freaking torture seat.

Fritto Misto at Risotteria Melotti in New York City
The best thing on the menu was not the risotto.

I might have been more willing to go through this for good food, but unfortunately the food was almost as lackluster as the accommodations. For a place that specializes in dishes made with rice, they surprisingly didn’t know how to cook it. The rice was undercooked in every dish we ordered and it generally lacked flavor. It was overall not at all worth the price, or the injured butt.

Risotto at Risotteria Melotti in New York City
Some risotto may be worth the terrible seating situation, but not this risotto.

After a long day of travel and eating, we decided to Uber back to the hotel rather than take the subway. We got back to the room and dropped off to sleep almost immediately, excited for our next day in NYC.

Up next in pre-cruise day 2, pizza, pizza, and more pizza!


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