Chepstow School New York Tour 2015
On Monday April 6th 2015 we took 28 excited students on a trip of a lifetime to New York City. None of them had been to New York before and for some it was their first time abroad or on a plane - not a bad first destination!
This trip was organised primarily for our music and drama students.
Here is an account of the tour. Have a look at the photos and watch the video for a taste of our experience!
We met at school at 4am to board the bus to Heathrow, and with a quick transfer and helpful staff at check in, we were through security and enjoying breakfast in Terminal 5 by 7.30am. Our flight departed at 10am and after 7 hours of flying with no poorly passengers and lots of films watched, we landed at JFK at 12pm US time. We transferred to our Hotel on West 31st Street (10 minutes from Times Square) and had a couple of hours to unpack and relax before we headed along Broadway to Times Square. We arrived at this iconic location in daylight, so we had a quick look around then headed to the Hard Rock Café for dinner. We left Hard Rock at about 7.30pm, just after sunset, and spent an hour experiencing the amazing sights and sounds of Times Square at night. After that we took a leisurely stroll home, having been awake for 23 hours!
Day 2 – 7th April
It was an early start for breakfast at Speedy’s, the local Deli. The food was fast and very tasty and we knew that eating there would give us a good start to each day. Following that, we headed to the first of our two workshops. This took place at the Ripley Grear Studios, one of several rehearsal venues used for Broadway productions. We met with a Broadway Director, Musical Director and dancer who had featured in the very first production of Hairspray. The students worked non-stop for 2 hours, learning to deliver a song in their own style, as well as the dance moves to "You Can’t Stop the Beat." They also worked on the Les Miserables medley that they would be performing during the tour. The students benefited greatly from working with these professionals.
We then had a quick subway transfer to Battery Park, where we boarded the Ferry and met our guide Harry, who took us to see the Statue of Liberty and the Ellis Island Museum. At this point we realised that we were starting to fall a little behind schedule (we had packed a lot in!) so we made our way to Little Italy for our pre-show meal. On the way we managed to visit Wall Street and the 9/11 memorial. A very quick subway ride back to Broadway and we just made it to our seats in time for curtain up of a fantastic performance of Kinky Boots, which brought day 2 to a close.
Day 3 – 8th April
Speedy’s provided us with breakfast again and then it was time to head North to Harlem. The students were a little nervous about visiting Harlem. There was a very different feel here compared to the affluent parts of the city we had seen so far. We took a brief walk from the subway to a small church right in the heart of Harlem. We sat and waited, not sure what to expect from the Gospel workshop we were attending. As we waited a couple of people brought in equipment and set up microphones. An hour later we had successfully recorded a full Gospel worship song in 4 part harmony, and the students had also experienced local church community life. Full of energy, we headed to a Soul Food Café for a hot buffe, which we shared with the locals of Harlem. Our tour guide John took us around Harlem and spoke passionately about the troubles and difficulties Harlem faced and still faces, but also told us all about the musical heritage of the area, including the home of Scott Joplin and the iconic Apollo Theatre. By the time we boarded the subway home we all felt like they had experienced the real Harlem, taking with us an attachment to the people we had met and for a an area of New York which has so much to offer but is so often overlooked.
We returned to the Hotel, inspired by our visit to Harlem, and prepared for our first concert, fittingly at BB King's Jazz Club. We performed in the iconic venue to an appreciative audience and ate a meal there afterwards. Some of us then spent a little more time in and around Broadway, taking an alternative route home, past the library and along 5th Avenue, giving us fantastic views of the Empire State Building, which is lit up at night.
After breakfast we walked all the way across town to the Hudson River to our second concert venue, the Intrepid Air, Sea and Space Museum, on the Intrepid warship itself. The museum was very busy which gave us lots of people to perform to, as well as an opportunity to visit the latest exhibit, a NASA space shuttle.
After the concert we boarded a coach for our first city sightseeing tour. We stopped at the Rockefellar Centre for lunch, 5 Guys Burgers being a particular favourite! The tour took us all over the city including Central Park, Carnegie Hall and Greenwich Village. We had learned our lesson regarding timing and made sure we got back to the hotel with plenty of time to prepare for our final evening meal and show.
Ellen’s Stardust Diner is a fantastic venue where budding Broadway stars serve you and sing at the same time. We celebrated two birthdays that had taken place during the trip with the whole restaurant singing "Happy Birthday." After that we headed to the theatre to see the amazing "Matilda." We returned to the hotel knowing that we would be heading home the next day.
Day 5/6 – 10th/11th April
Our final day but by no means a wasted one! We left the hotel at 8.30 with our tour guide Amadeo. He showed us the sights of the city linked to the movie industry with over 40 locations that have featured in films such as "Ghostbusters", "Spider Man", "I am Legend" and many more. We also saw famous buildings used in TV programs such as "Seinfeld", "Will and Grace" and "Friends." After all the walking we had done we were quite glad to be driven around for a while, however we knew we had one last walk to do. This time it was walking down 5th Avenue to spend some money! After our hours of shopping we collapsed at the hotel under the weight of all the bags!
Our bus collected us at 6.30pm to head to JFK. Our flight was at 11pm and got us back to the UK at 11am UK time. We had a bit of trouble finding our bus but eventually we headed home to a welcoming party at the school. Everyone felt totally exhausted but we had an amazing trip with memories that will last a lifetime.