Cruise from New York – the essential guide

It’s hard to put just how fantastic New York is into words. We had a packed 3 days with great sightseeing, good food and fun activities – everything from skyscrapers, boat rides and world-class museums to Broadway and neon lights. It was a perfect way to start our vacation before boarding a luxury cruise to relax!

New York is a cosmopolitan city for all seasons. From the hustle and bustle of summer to the more laid-back pace of winter, there are many sights to see and activities to do. But what if you only have three days to explore before your cruise from New York? This article helps you decide how to spend your time in the city before you begin your cruise adventure! 

How to get from the airport to your hotel in New York

There are three main airports servicing New York City.

A private car service is the most expensive way to travel from the airport. If you want the convenience this offers, you can often book this directly with your hotel when you make your room reservation.

Alternatively, you can travel between the airport and your hotel using one of the following:

JFK International

Located 21km south of Manhattan, JFK International is not our favorite airport. A bit old and somewhat chaotic, with facilities that have seen better days, you will not want to spend more time than you have here.

Taxi: A Taxi from JFK to Manhattan will cost around $60 plus a tip to your driver (approximately 15% of your fare). A taxi is the most convenient and direct way to get to your hotel.

Bus: New York City Express bus is the shuttle service that offers transportation from the airport to Midtown Manhattan. A return ticket costs around $35 per person. This will get you into Manhattan but it is not a door-to-door service.

Shuttle Bus: Go Airlink NYC offers a good shared-ride shuttle service from the airport directly to your hotel. You book online before you leave home. Beware though, that your journey time may be extended depending upon the number of hotels the shuttle bus stops. A ticket costs around $25 per person.

Train: There is also a commuter train and subway combination, but we do not recommend this when visiting the city. There are too many stops, and it’s too complicated to navigate with luggage.

Newark Liberty International Airport, New Jersey

The airport is located approximately 30km west of Manhattan, New Jersey.

Taxi: A Taxi from Newark Airport to Manhattan will cost around $80 plus a tip to your driver (about 15% of your fare). This is the most convenient and direct way to get to your hotel.

Bus: New York City Express offers transportation from the airport to Manhattan. Buses go from terminals A, B, and C and take you into Midtown Manhattan, but not directly to your hotel. The stops in Midtown Manhattan are:

  • Grand Central Station (41st Street between Park & Lexington Avenues) 
  • Bryant Park (42nd Street & Fifth Avenue) 
  • Port Authority Bus Terminal (41st Street between 8th and 9th Avenues)  

Unless your hotel is within walking distance, you must get the subway or taxi from here.

Shuttle Bus: Go Airlink NYC offers a good shared-ride shuttle service from the airport directly to your hotel. You book online before you leave home. Beware though, that your journey time may be extended depending upon the number of hotels the shuttle bus stops. A ticket costs around $25 per person.

Train: The Airtrain departs from all 3 of Newark’s terminals and runs every 15 minutes very conveniently. Follow the signs at the airport and buy your ticket at one of the machines before boarding. Get the Airtrain to Newark Liberty Airtrain Station (journey time about 10 minutes), then change trains. It would help if you had a New Jersey transit train to get you to New York Penn Station, about a 30-minute ride. A one-way fare is around $16 per person.

La Guardia

As a smaller airport, La Guardia services domestic flights and is located just east of Manhattan in Queens.

Taxi: A Taxi from La Guardia Airport to Manhattan will cost around $50 plus a tip to your driver (about 15% of your fare). This is the most convenient and direct way to get to your hotel. However, traffic is unpredictable, and the journey could take only a half hour, or if busy, over an hour.

Shuttle Bus: Go Airlink NYC offers a good shared-ride shuttle service from the airport directly to your hotel. You book online before you leave home. Beware, though, that your journey time may be extended depending upon the number of hotels the shuttle bus stops at. A ticket costs around $22 per person.

Train/Subway: You can use the subway to get to Manhattan from La Guardia. Buy a metro card at the machines at the airport and follow the signs.

Swipe your card at the entrance to the subway. It will take you to Broadway and W. 106 Street. If you have heavy luggage, we do not recommend this option.

Where to stay before your cruise from New York

Let’s start with where to stay before you start your cruise from New York. Staying in Manhattan will allow you to get around quickly to all the major sites, attractions, and experiences the city offers.

Here are our recommended hotels in Manhattan!

Sixty SOHO

Sixty SOHO is an edgy, intimate hotel in the heart of new york’s Soho district. It is a good choice if you are a couple. There is a great restaurant and a fantastic rooftop bar, A60, where you can see the New York skyline in all its glory.

The hotel’s standard rooms are pretty small but beautifully furnished. Perfect for a couple. However, you need to book two rooms for a family of 4 with older kids. We love the location. You are between Lower Manhattan and Midtown, close to the vibrant Greenwich Village.

Courtyard by Marriott Soho

Courtyard by Marriott Soho is excellent if you are a family and need a room for a maximum of 4 people. They offer rooms with two double beds, alternatively a double bed and a sofa that converts to a double. Perfect if you are traveling with kids, tweens, or teenagers and you want to save on the cost of booking two separate rooms.

Holiday Inn Manhattan 6th Avenue, Chelsea

Located about a 12-minute walk from the Empire State Building, this Holiday Inn is in a good, convenient location. They have family rooms that comfortably sleep up to 4 guests, and as with all Holiday Inn hotels, you can include the breakfast price in your booking if you want to.

Crowne Plaza Times Square Manhattan

If you want to be in amongst the bright neon lights, then the Crowne Plaza Times Square is a hugely popular choice with visitors. Located on Broadway, you are within walking distance of all Midtown Manhattan sights. And Strawberry Fields in Central Park is less than a 30-minute walk from your hotel.

ROW NYC Hotel

What we love about this trendy hotel, located close to Times Square, is the City Kitchen. A food market that opens seven days a week, offering a taste of the city’s best dishes – right at your hotel.

Holiday Inn Wall Street

Do you prefer the buzz of downtown and want to be close to the Financial District? Then this is the hotel for you. Well priced for the location and surrounded by cafes, bars, and restaurants, Holiday Inn will give you comfortable accommodation and good front-desk service.

3 ways to see the best of the city before your cruise from New York

We cover three broad areas of the city, each of which you can explore as much or as little as you have time. And in any order you like.

In a city with so much to offer, it’s a good idea to add a pocket guidebook to your cruise packing list so you don’t miss anything. And remember not just to walk it, but explore too. Take time in the New York library, the One World Observatory, or boating in Central Park, depending on what you want most out of your trip. Are you traveling with kids or teenagers? They will love New York too, we promise!

Day 1: Lower Manhattan

9/11 Memorial and Museum

Start early at Ground Zero. The former World Trade Center site and now the 9/11 Memorial & Museum. Experience through media and narration the effects of 9/11 and see and read the stories for yourself. The memorial is free, but you must purchase museum tickets in advance. It is an incredible experience, and we spent around 2 hours here, so start early to make the most of your visit.

As you leave the memorial, remember to look at the spectacular architecture surrounding you. Go inside the Oculus. That’s the building of graceful white lines that looks like wings. It’s the transportation hub of the World Trade Center. Go inside to explore the plaza and shopping mall.

When you leave, walk 10 minutes south to arrive at the Federal Hall National Memorial, just at Broadway and Wall Street. Stand beside the statue. You are now on the spot where George Washington was inaugurated as the first president of the United States in 1789. 

Trinity Church and Stock Exchange

From here, walk straight up Broadway until you reach Trinity Church, where you will find the grave of Alexander Hamilton, one of the Founding Fathers and the historical figure portrayed in the Broadway hit Hamilton.

Walk over to the Stock Exchange but expect long queues if you want to go inside. The neoclassical facade hides a hive of activity, with traders shouting their messages to each other and constant news updates on giant screens.

After some photos of the famous bronze bull, grab a morning coffee and pass the bronze Charging Bull statue to sit in Bowling Green Park, the oldest public park in New York. 

Battery Park, Statue of Liberty, and Ellis Island

Continue towards the Cunard Building, which now houses the New York Post Office, and look at the beautiful interior before heading towards Battery Park.

Lying alongside New York’s harbor, the Castle Clinton National monument marks where the first immigrants to NYC landed. Walk through Battery Park, and you’ll see one of the most iconic views of New York, the Statue of Liberty. You can buy a ticket to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty here.

A visit to the Ellis Island immigration museum will take you a good couple of hours, and we bought a ticket through statue city cruises. The last entrance is at 5 pm, so aim to be on the ferry by mid-afternoon at the latest. We bought a priority entrance ticket with access to the grounds of Liberty Island and Ellis Island with the audio tour. But if you buy a New York City Pass, you will save on the entrance price when you book.

Day 2: Midtown Manhattan and Central Park

Start your day early at the train station! Your starting point today is the fantastic beaux-arts-style Grand Central Terminal. Probably the most beautiful train station you will ever visit. The station has been designated a National Historic Landmark and has many snack bars, boutiques, and a great food market. So grab a coffee and start your day here.

Empire State Building

Exit Grand Central Station on West 42nd street and walk until you turn south onto 5th Avenue. You will walk past the New York Public Library. If you want to go inside, visit the Rose Main Reading Room – famous for its 50-foot vaulted ceiling and elaborate chandeliers. You can peek inside without any entrance fee.

Continue down 5th Avenue to the Empire State Building. The elevator to the 86th floor (the main deck with an open-air viewing platform) takes less than a minute. Inside the elevator, you see a great movie showing the history of the skyscraper before you get to the exhibits.

The observatory offers 360° views over New York and Central Park 320 m up from the ground. You can see uptown into Harlem or downtown to Brooklyn Bridge. If you have time, take the elevator from the top deck to the 86th floor to the 102nd floor. You’ll have to upgrade your entrance ticket first to do this. This viewing deck is much smaller and glass enclosed.

Tip! If you purchase the New York City Explorer Pass, you can enter the Empire State Building and Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center. If you visit the Empire State Building in the evening instead, you’ll see the city in lights – an unforgettable sight!

A short 5-minute walk away, you can get your fill of shopping before lunch at Macy’s Herald Square. This iconic department store covers a whole block in the heart of New York. Get clothes from Ralph Lauren, cosmetics from Estée Lauder, and electronics from Sony all under one roof. You’ll find Macy’s located on Broadway and West 34th Street.

Times Square, Rockefeller Center, Radio City

Head north on 7th Avenue to Times Square and marvel at the neon lights, the noise, and the traffic, at one of the world’s best-known Squares. You can visit Rockefeller Center, Saks 6th Avenue, Radio City Music Hall, and the Museum of Modern Art. This area is packed with sights and endless shopping possibilities.

Rockefeller Center is located on Sixth Avenue and West 48th Street. This iconic building houses commercial offices, restaurants, and a famous ice-skating rink in the wintertime. You can pay to take an elevator up to the observation deck for some of the best views over Manhattan.

Take your time and enjoy yourself before heading toward Carnegie Hall, home of the most prestigious concert stage in the USA. From here, you are a short walk away from the edge of Central Park.

Central Park and world-class museums

Central Park has the Metropolitan Museum of Art on one side and the Natural History Museum on the other. The Natural History Museum is one of the world’s largest art museums. Pre-book tickets online to avoid queues for entrance tickets which can be hours long! There is a whole floor devoted to dinosaur exhibits, with more than 30 fully-mounted skeletons. It’s a great place for kids too.

Enter the center of Central Park and stroll around this vast open space and explore Strawberry Fields (John Lennon’s memorial). Visitors from all over New York City flock here for a breath of fresh air. It’s a much-loved oasis surrounded by skyscrapers.

If you have enough energy, continue up the park’s east side and visit the famous Guggenheim museum. At the end of your day, take a taxi or the subway back to your hotel.

Day 3: Greenwich Village, Union Square, and The High Line

We love Greenwich Village and its orderly north-south/east-west grid system. You find yourself in a tree-lined maze of smaller streets full of charming low-rise brownstones.

Greenwich Village

Explore MacDougal Alley, Washington Mews, Grove Court, and Cherry Lane Theater. You’ll soon appreciate how these traditional buildings contrast with Manhattan’s modern skyscrapers. And why Greenwich Village is so loved. Walk between West 4th and West 8th streets. It’s packed full of small shops and cafes. The historical Italian café Caffe Reggio on MacDougal street is a great place to relax with a coffee.

Washington Square Park and Union Square

Time for a scoop of gelato from DO, Cookie Dough Confections on LaGuardia Pl. and West 3rd St. Walk over to Washington Square Park. Named for George Washington with its iconic arch, you are mixing with locals, artists, chess players, and university students. Head to the fountain. You are now standing where Bob Dylan sang his first protest songs. 

Walk through the arch and onto 5th Avenue. After about 15 minutes, turn east onto 15th St and head into Union Square. Here is a busy pedestrian plaza, food market (Green Market), and a good choice of lunch venues.

Exit the park on the other side and head north on Broadway to reach the Flatiron Building. The iconic narrow steel building is shaped like an iron. From here, we walked about 30 minutes into Chelsea. Once there, we made our way to the start of the High Line.

The Highline and Little Island

The Highline is one of the best places to take a walk in New York City. This 2.3 km long park built on an old elevated rail line has become a destination for visitors and locals alike. So much so that it’s worth planning your visit around the schedule of events happening at various points along this stretch. The Highline stretches through Greenwich Village, the Meatpacking District, Chelsea, and Midtown Manhattan with fantastic views. It’s also an excellent walk to do with kids.

Along The Highline are plenty of highlights and a few places where you can stop for lunch or coffee.

There are multiple starting points for your walk along the Highline. The south end of The Highline is at Gansevoort St. and Washington St. If you prefer to have a guide, many tours begin here. The whole walk takes around 2 hours to complete.

Close by the Highline in the Meet Packing District is the newly opened Little Island public park. This wonderful, free public park is located at Pier 55 in Hudson River Park at West 13th Street. Inside the park are a theater, a stage, and a plaza where you can buy food and drinks. The idea is that this outdoor space is open to everyone to enjoy a green oasis in the middle of the city. You can see live performances and listen to music—all with a backdrop of the NYC skyline. Please find out more information before visiting and what’s on in the park on their website.

How to get to your Cruise Port from Manhattan

New York has three cruise ports:

Check your cruise ticket to see which port your cruise departs from, and allow plenty of time to get there. Traffic can be pretty much a nightmare at any time of day in Manhattan.

We strongly recommend pre-booking a transfer service with a private car from your hotel to your cruise port. Alternatively, ask your hotel to book you a taxi cab. There are alternative ways to get there using public transport, but it takes too much time with too many changes along the way. This, together with carrying luggage, makes for an exhausting transfer.

Keep it easy and trouble-free by taking a car or taxi. We transferred from our hotel in Greenwich Village to the Cape Liberty Cruise Terminal in Bayonne, NJ, for our cruise with Royal Caribbean International. It took nearly an hour. Allow plenty of time to get there. Traffic in New York is chaotic and unpredictable. Even if you arrive at the port earlier than your designated boarding time, you will likely be able to board your cruise within a short time of arriving and checking in.

Which cruise lines offer cruises starting in New York or New Jersey?

You are spoiled for choice when it comes to cruises from New York. The top cruise destinations that the Big Apple offers include a transatlantic cruise on board an ocean liner rather than a cruise ship with Cunard. They regularly sail from New York to Southampton in the British Isles. Enjoy Celebrity Cruises to the picturesque coast of Nova Scotia and New England, discover Bermuda with Norwegian Cruise Line, or sail to the Bahamas and the Caribbean. And many more!

Often with at least three sea days exploring your cruise ship when cruising to the Caribbean, you can make the most of your floating hotel with amenities such as designer shops, numerous dining options, broadway-style shows, spa treatments, and relaxation by the pool.

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Meet the author: Sarah has created and booked hundreds of travel itineraries for thousands of customers during a career in the travel industry that spans 20 years. Having worked hand in hand with cruise lines, hotels, airlines and tour operators worldwide, she offers inspiring & detailed insights in the world of travel and tourism.