Planning to visit New York City for the holidays, but wondering what to expect after Hurricane Sandy? Expect a New York Christmas as usual, at least in Manhattan where most winter visitors stay. You’ll still see store windows lit up with holiday displays on Fifth Avenue, and the big tree and ice rink packed with skaters at Rockefeller Center. Subways, buses, taxis – life itself – are back to normal too. You may be hard-pressed to find any indication that a storm causing 132 deaths and over $40 billion in damage even made its way through here.
Tourism is back too. The city’s visitor’s bureau told CNN that the year’s draw is up from about 51 million visitors to 52 and that 95% of the hotels were back to normal by Thanksgiving. Looking ahead, one million are expected to descend on Times Square for New Year’s Eve.
But that’s only part of the story. Coney Island, Brooklyn, is still recovering. Though it’s likely to be fully back in operation by next spring and summer, iconic eateries like Nathan’s Famous and Totonno’s have had to close, after their locations were flooded out.
In all, nearly 400,000 housing units in New York State and New Jersey were damaged or destroyed. How to help? In addition to organizations like Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity is surveying the situation. Considering this is the season of giving, either donate and watch for upcoming volunteer options in coming months. After Katrina, Habitat for Humanity built dozens of new homes aided by tourists giving even just a day or two to chip in. Check here for updates.
In short, if you’re planning on coming to New York over the holidays, don’t change your plans: the lights are on and Santa’s on his way too. Happy holidays!
Robert Reid is Lonely Planet’s US Travel Editor and a New York City resident.