NEW YORK – Red double-decker tour buses began rolling Thursday and Circle Line boats started plying the waterways from a Hudson River pier as tourism in New York City took a few more baby steps toward normalization after the disruptions of superstorm Sandy.
Many other attractions in midtown and upper Manhattan reopened Wednesday, including the Empire State Building, Broadway theaters, the Museum of Modern Art and Metropolitan Museum, and many stores. Top of the Rock and the Rockefeller Plaza ice rink were also open.
City parks, including Central Park, were expected to reopen Saturday, according to Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Liberty Island, where the Statue of Liberty is located, and Ellis Island both experienced "severe water damage" from the storm, according to National Park Service spokeswoman Jane Ahearn, and were closed pending damage assessment. The 9/11 Memorial was also closed but Joe Daniels, the CEO of the 9/11 Memorial organization, said in a statement that it "came through in beautiful shape," with the "survivor tree" — which survived the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack — continuing to stand tall among the memorial's oak trees.
Most of the city south of 34th Street remains without power or subway service.
The Circle Line boats departing from 42nd Street at the Hudson River, and the red New York Sightseeing buses, which are operated by the Gray Line company and are normally a ubiquitous sight on city streets, were not back to full schedules yet. But tourists whose vacations had been ruined by storm closures gratefully lined up for whatever tours were available.
Adrian Garner, who arrived in New York Saturday with his wife and two children from their hometown near Leeds, England, to celebrate his daughter's 16th birthday, found nearly everything they had expected to do closed for several days because of the storm. "It couldn't have been any worse," he said.
But finally on Thursday, they made it to the Empire State Building and then stood in line with dozens of others for a 1:30 p.m. Circle Line boat. The sightseeing cruises are being offered as two-hour tours, rather than the full circle around Manhattan, and because the company's phone lines remained down, visitors wanting tickets had to go to the pier.
"The boats are fine, the pier is fine," said company spokesman Jason Hackett. "We operated our first boat this morning at 80 percent capacity."
The Staten Island ferry, a free ride that's popular with tourists because it offers a beautiful view of New York Harbor, is expected to resume by the end of the week, with full service by Saturday, Bloomberg promised.
The Brooklyn Bridge — a popular destination with tourists — was open to pedestrians but was more crowded with locals than usual as subway outages in Brooklyn and downtown Manhattan forced folks to walk and bike to work.
The New York City Marathon is scheduled to take place as planned Sunday.
Andrea Forrest, a German tourist boarding a Gray Line double-decker tour bus on Eighth Avenue Thursday, showed fortitude worthy of a New Yorker as she summed up her experience here riding out the storm. "We weren't afraid," she said. "We had a lot of fun."