We landed at LaGuardia a good hour earlier than expected and into the city a full two hours ahead of schedule. It was a great start to our Christmas in New York experience. Here is a look at how to have a great NYC holiday in 36 hours and never leave Rockefeller Center.
We checked into the Club Quarters hotel on 51st, directly across from 50 Rockefeller Center. Our corner room had views of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and we could see the Christmas tree in the plaza. Already this was looking great. Once settled in we literally walked across the street and directly into a sea of humanity on the Sunday before Christmas. Everywhere you looked was wall-to-wall people, and everything had a line; FAO Schwartz, the ice rink, Lego Store, Top of the Rock, Radio City, all of it. There were lines to get into lines (yes, literally).
We got our bearings as best we could, getting our selfies in front of the tree, the rink, and the Plaza out of the way before we headed down 50th to Top of The Rock where our first tour started; the VIP Top of the Rock Tour. We walked past all the people who would be waiting for the next couple of hours to get inside, went to the door man who immediately took us in straight to someone who would help us. We were not 100% sure what we had purchased for ourselves but whatever the line, whatever the obstacle to getting to the top floor of Rockefeller Center, was instantly removed with the words “they are VIPs” from our escort. There were more than a few dirty looks from those who had been in line for a long time as we sauntered past every single que and waited for nothing. The VIP experience is also good for getting down where the line is just as long. What would take most people over 3 hours to do took us less than 40 minutes start to finish. This the difference between the $40 general admission tickets, and the $185 we spent. Worth every penny.
We timed it perfectly, finishing up the extraordinary views of the city from the best spot in all of New York, we went to the opposite end with dinner reservations at the Rock Center Café located in the lower levels. Our table next to the glass overlooking the ice rink awaited us along with delicious drinks, exquisite food, and wonderful service. We ate and drank while watching people skate at the iconic rink exclaimed with a proposal on the ice. Fat, happy, full of food and drink, and exhausted from a day of travel we retired to our room at Club Quarters.
The next day was Christmas Eve and I had planned a semi-fast paced day with tours staggered throughout and time for food in between. We started with breakfast sandwiches at Teressa’s next to CQ. At 10 AM we had our first tour of Rockefeller Center, exploring the building itself, its history, architecture, and art hidden in plain sight. At noon, we moved just down the hall over to NBC where we had a tour behind the scenes tour of the studios of some of our favorite shows like Nightly News, The Tonight Show, and SNL. We got a bit more than the typical tour because it was Christmas Eve and much of the building was empty for the holiday.
Our final tour of the day was at 2:30 PM for the Stage Door Tour at Radio City. We had just enough time to grab a slice of pizza in the concourse at 30 Rock before battling the 6,000 people in line for the 3 PM Rockettes Christmas Spectacular Show that were just outside. Our tour coincided with a show, which was a great preview of what we would be seeing later that evening as we viewed the show from the top of the mezzanine. The tour gave us a better appreciation for everything that goes into this amazing performance; from the sets, the costumes, lights, and the building’s history. We even had a chance for a meet and greet with one of the Rockettes and a photo after.
Tours complete, our minds were full, but bellies were not. We freshened up and changed into something more appropriate for dinner at Del Frisco’s, literally 20 steps from CQ with views of the replica Swarovski Christmas Star on display in the plaza. While a chain restaurant, we have never had a bad meal at any of their locations, and Christmas dinner was no exception. The staff was on point and had holiday cheer to spare.
In true dinner-and-a-show fashion we headed back to Radio City for the 8PM showing of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. Our seats were 5th row dead center. As cliched as it sounds though, there are no bad seats in Radio City for this show. Each angle, be it from the front row or top of the mezzanine provides a different perspective but the precision of the show is evident no mater where you sit. However, from up front you can see the exquisite detail of every stitch, prop, and movement. The Christmas Spectacular is just that and cannot be described more aptly than holiday precision. After the show we discovered that Adam Sandler had been sitting in front of us the whole time as well. So, if you can score tickets up front, you don’t know whom you may meet.
36 Hours at the Rock – Cost for two people
Club Quarters – 1 night stay $225
Top of The Rock VIP Experience $180
Rock Center Café Christmas Dinner Menu $225 with drinks and tip
Rockefeller Center Tour $55
NBC Tour $66
Stage Door at Radio City $72
Del Frisco’s Christmas Dinner Menu $225 with drinks and tip
Radio City Christmas Spectacular – 5th Row $650
Random Food and Chokies $100
Total approximately $1,800
- Make reservations as far ahead as possible for everything. Purchase directly through the attraction website for tours.
- If you want something more than pizza or a street-cart hot dog, you will need a reservation. Use the Open Table app for a quicker way to find and get a table.
- Rockettes tickets go on sale about 6 months in advance. Plan your ticket purchase accordingly if you want great seats up front.
- Hiking shoes. No explanations needed.
- Ibuprofen. Because you didn’t listen to tip 4.