New York weekend specials: luxurious bargains

John and Ann Ward of Boston remember well their weekend in New York City. The weather was little short of atrocious -- heavy rain on the one day, followed by high winds, and more rain the next. Such can be the weather in early spring.

And yet, they had a great time because (a) they enjoyed the splendid comfort of an elegant hotel and (b) because New York is, well, New York, the Big Apple, the place where things happen; where there's more to see, taste, and touch than just about anywhere else in the world.

The Wards insist they are generally economy minded when they travel. They look for budget motels and hotels for the most part. "As long as there are four walls and a good hot shower, I'm satisfied," he says. But on this occasion they were celebrating a wedding anniversary of more than usual importance. It's worth splurging a little, they said, and they did.

The Wards chose The Westbury, near Central Park, but they might have selected anyone of a dozen top New York hotels offering special weekend rates that seem right out of the "bargain basement" compared with conventional weekday costs. As an example, the Westbury charges $75 a person double occupancy for the two nights, including Sunday brunch, taxes, and tips -- a total of $150 for two for the weekend. In contrast weekday costs for a double room run from $95 to $135, all taxes, Tips, and meals extra. The nearby Mayfair Regent charges $99 a person double occupancy, including continental breakfast on both Saturday and Sunday mornings, in a luxury suite that goes for $185 a day during the week.

Indeed, some three-dozen hotels offering weekend specials are listed in the New York City Vacation Packages Directory put out by the New York Convention and Visitors Bureau. These range from accommodation only, to accommodation including some meals, to those including meals and theater tickets with possibly a city bus tour as well. The price range is wide, too. Comfortable accommodation is available from the low $70s for a couple for the entire weekend. Some hotels also have kitchenettes, which add to the economy of the visit.

All around the country the weekend vacation or "escape weekend" as it is frequently called, has taken off in recent years -- but nowhere in such pronounced fashion as here in New York. While the industry notes that a majority of "weekenders" come from areas within two hours drive of the hotel, New York also draws couples from much farther away simply because of its reputations as them American city where the action never stops.

After all there's only one Broadway and how many other cities offer television around the clock. You can even buy an ice cream cone in Times Square at 3:30 in the morning. The city may rest occasionally but it never sleeps. A Gallup poll of American travelers placed the Big Apple, the now established nickname for the city, as the nation's "top city," the "most interesting" metropolis with the "best food."

The Wards concur. They took in a Broadway show -- their first ever -- on the Friday evening considered repeating the experience the next night but in the face of deteriorating weather elected to dine leisurely at their hotel and then wrote, read, and watched TV in the comfort of their own room with late-night room service thrown in for convenience. In between, the raincoat-clad Wards walked a lot, stopped in at some fascinating eateries, and generally took in the sights in this museum-filled metropolis. They had previously thought of New York as an interesting but unattractive city. Now, as they looked more closely -- at individual buildings, many of them brownstones, at the cafes that beckoned cozily, at vending carts that in better weather would be encircled by patrons, at the plazas and fountains of the Rockefeller Center --your mood," says Mr. Ward. "If you're enjoying life, then this city can be beautiful, even when it's wet."

A man on a street corner, whose umbrella blew inside out with impressive regularity, offered them tickets to a preview of a CBS television show -- just one of many "freebies" the city has to offer. Where else but in New York, they said as they walked in out of the rain.

In recent years tens of thousands of people, like the Wards, have "discovered" New York. The number of visitors has jumped to new levels with each passing season -- a record-setting 16 1/2 million in 1977 became 17 million in 1978, which in turn became 17 1/2 million in 1980. Last year's figure have yet to be finalized but all indications point to yet another all-time high.

What brought about the change when the Big Apple's image was rotten to the core at the start of the '70s? "Crime City" and "Fear City" were just two of its appellations, and the terms were as familiar in London as they were in Los Angeles.

It was an image, false in the view of those who knew the city well, that had to go. So seven years ago the New York Convention and Visitors Bureau mounted its now-famous "Big Apple" campaign -- and the "I Love New York" bumper stickers and lapel pins spread out across the land. The change was immediate and dramatic. As the Visitors Bureau president Charles Gillet describes it today: "Its [the campaign's] sensational success has gone far beyond my expectations."

While the campaign did much to polish the city's image in the eyes of outsiders, its even more important accomplishment was to raise the morale of New Yorkers. "It was as if we all suddenly realized we had something to be proud of ," says one resident. "We're all were part of the promotion so we all smiled more than before, we went out of our way to be courteous to each other as well as to visitors." In the process, New York became a better place to live in as well as to visit.

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