Touring Manhattan over Afternoon Tea
By Dawn M. Barclay
My firstborn, Maki and I have been on a teahouse kick ever since we first visited Tealuxe in Boston, probably 23 years ago (unfortunately, now closed). Since then, we’ve sampled unique teas, pastries, and scones with jam and clotted cream wherever we could: the Empress on Victoria Island in Canada; Silver Tips in Tarrytown, NY (also closed); Sally Lunn’s in Chester, NJ; and even a Mother’s Day visit to Fezziwig’s Food & Fountain in Portsmouth, NH.
So, when I noticed a Facebook ad for TopView’s Tea Around Town NYC, we were both onboard, so to speak. The website boasted a 4.5-star rating and a sizable discount for booking online. It promised a 75-minute double-decker bus ride touring some of midtown’s highlights such as Grand Central Terminal, Columbus Circle and Radio City Music Hall, along with scones, savory and sweet food items, tea, narration, and entertainment. Because we agreed to schedule the trip around my birthday, we booked a noon departure (6-10 departures operate each day) and bypassed the standard admission ($69 plus fees) in favor of the premium service ($109 plus fees), which promised a guaranteed private table seating, priority boarding, an enhanced menu, and a glass of champagne, Prosecco, or sparkling grape juice.)
I must add that the “fees” were sizable; when you took the total for two tickets ($298), subtracted the discount ($80), but then added on the ticketing and handling fee of $24.52 (Really? When the tickets instantly appeared on my app?); a facility charge of $40.88; and a fuel cost ($10.90), the final charge was $294.30. Of course, the promise of an unforgettable vacation memory often overshadows the price involved, and I have to admit, what could have been a hokey few hours turned out to be quite an enjoyable afternoon.
The pickup spot was located on 42nd Street between 5th and 6th Avenues, right near Bryant Park and opposite 11 West 42nd Street. We were checked in via QR code upon arrival and handed a fake flower brandishing table number 11. When the bus arrived, boarding went quickly, with Maki and I seated at a table for two on the upper level which had been refitted into a restaurant on wheels with a see-through glass roof. Waiting on our table were two bottles of spring water and a three-tier serving tray with four small scones, strawberry jam, and clotted cream on the bottom tier, various finger sandwiches in the middle, and five varieties of pastries on top.
Naturally, we’d finished most of the sandwiches before the bus pulled away, especially since one of the choices was a mini-lobster roll, enough said. Other choices I sampled included “egg mayonnaise with watercress” (egg salad for us less posh), and smoked salmon with lemon cream cheese. Maki enjoyed the Cucumber with Labneh & Dill, the Pesto and Sundried Tomato Crustless Mini-Frittata, and the Wagyu Beef Tartare on a Gaufrette Chip with Mini Pickle. These were all delicious and left us wanting more.
I exercised supreme impulse control and waited until the tea was poured before diving into the scones (I’ve been on Weight Watchers for around 21 months so when I say “dive,” I am not exaggerating.) Six varieties of teas were offered (Earl Grey, English Breakfast, nothing particularly exotic), along with coffee for the more renegade passengers (probably the ones who order fish at a steakhouse). Both the raisin and cranberry scones were moist and flavorful, and I remembered what turned me onto the high tea experience in the first place. My favorite pastries were the mini cheesecakes with either Dulce de Leche or vanilla frosting, the fruit tarts, and macarons. Maki also enjoyed the eclairs. Less successful, in my opinion, were the sweets featuring either chocolate whip or meringue.
The servers were smiling and attentive. While we dined, the loudspeaker alternated between narration and singing by a Canadian named Jack, who regaled us with tunes like “Fly Me to the Moon,” “New York, New York,” and “Love was Made for Me and You.” Many of us sang along, adding to the sense of camaraderie.
Most of my fellow passengers were women. Like me, a significant percentage of guests were celebrating birthdays, including our neighbor Beverly. A transplanted British ICU nurse, now living in Miami, she was visiting New York for the first time with her daughter, a designer named Chanel. They said that they’d learned of the tour from a video on TikTok and were delighted they had.
I’ve lived in or near New York City all my life so none of the sites were new to me, but the tour gave me the opportunity to share some special memories with Maki: the building where I’d worked as a travel agent, my first apartment, the hotel where my husband and I were married. In the end, this was certainly a fun way to spend a few hours.
For those visiting the Big Apple for the first time, or just reminiscing, check out Tea Around Town NYC as long as you have the budget to do so. A minimum purchase of two tickets is required, and no one under the age of three is permitted onboard. For more information, visit https://www.topviewnyc.com/events/tea-around-town-nyc.
Dawn M. Barclay has held senior or contributing editor positions at Travel Agent Magazine, Travel Life, Travel Market Report, and most recently, Insider Travel Report. She won the 2023 Lowell Thomas Gold Award for her guidebook, Traveling Different: Vacation Strategies for Parents of the Anxious, the Inflexible, and the Neurodiverse. She also writes psychological and domestic thrillers as D.M. Barr and is a proud member of SATW, ASJA, and NY Travel Writers Assn.