EF’s Courtenay Betts exploring places open in NYC like the Empire State Building

Global experiences

Behind the scenes in NYC: A Q&A with EF’s Courtenay Betts

Because of EF Explore America’s thoughtful approach to travel and on-tour safety, groups are back out on the road, confidently exploring all the excitement, history, and charm of North American cities and national parks. As the world learns how to adapt to the current times, New York City in particular is experiencing an exciting resurgence. Broadway is back, museums and restaurants are opening their doors, and the Big Apple is once again bustling with the energy of locals and tourists alike.

We connected with EF’s resident New York City expert Courtenay Betts to peek behind the curtain (Broadway pun intended) and learn what it feels like to visit this iconic city.

Q: Thanks for chatting with us, Courtenay! First, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your role at EF Explore America?

A: Hi! I’m originally from Toronto, Ontario, Canada. I first entered the tourism industry as a Tour Director, leading Canadian students across major destinations in Canada and the United States—my favorites being Ottawa, New York City, Chicago, and California. I began my career with EF over a decade ago, and have held a few different roles in tour operations throughout the years. I’m currently the Senior Procurement Manager, so I directly oversee all of our needs for hotels, meals, and attractions for tours traveling to New York City, New Jersey, and Hawaii.

NYC subway pulling into train station and EF group exploring places open in NYC

Q: We heard you traveled to New York recently. Can you tell us about how it feels to be back and what kinds of places open in NYC you visited?

A: I try to visit New York City for at least a few days every month. It’s one of the most amazing cities in the world, partly because it’s always changing and evolving. New attractions, restaurants, and stores are constantly opening, and it’s a crucial part of my job that I keep up with its (literal) changing landscape. While New York City was certainly hit hard at the beginning of the pandemic, New Yorkers have proven to be resilient by coming together, putting work in, and transforming the city. I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to both watch and participate in this revival. If there is one thing I want travelers to know, it’s that New York City is BACK! Museums are open, new parks have been developed, and outdoor dining has added a new energy to the streets. New Yorkers are out enjoying their city, and the process of reopening progresses every day.

Q: We’re thrilled that students can experience all NYC has to offer again—including Broadway, which just reopened! Have you been? And how does this contribute to New York City’s culture?

A: Broadway is open and I have been! It’s one of New York City’s top attractions for visitors—whether you consider yourself a theater nerd (like me) or are just interested in seeing what all the hype is about, there is a show for everyone.

Broadway was closed for 18 months—the longest closure in its history. As an industry, it’s one of the largest job sources in the five boroughs of New York City. Each show employs hundreds of people, so its closing during the pandemic had a huge impact on people’s livelihoods. The performers, backstage crews, front-of-house staff, costume and set designers, marketing companies, etc. were all out of work overnight. There were no audiences to fill the restaurants or souvenir stores in the adjacent neighborhoods, so many of those jobs were lost as well. Luckily, now that Broadway is back, many of those places are also open again in NYC.

Broadway is a community. Whether you live in NYC or come once to see a show, you become part of that community. It feels amazing to have it back.

The theater district is buzzing again, and the energy is amazing. While each show has set their own reopening date, Hamilton, Wicked, The Lion King, and Chicago all chose September 14, signaling the official Broadway reopening. Every week since, more theaters have opened their doors. As the lights go down, audiences are cheering with more excitement than ever! Theater fans have been posting all over social media as they buy tickets for their highly anticipated “first show back.”

When I went to my first show back, I didn’t know what to expect. Will I be nervous? Is it going to feel different after so much time away? I’m thrilled to report that it felt the same as it did before the pandemic—even comforting. To help keep shows open, there are new health and safety procedures in place, but these pieces did not take away from the experience. Having theaters be dark for so long made audiences realize how much they missed live performances, and they’re ready to do their part in helping to keep Broadway open and safe.

Places open in NYC include Edge, the new observation deck at Hudson Yards

1/6 EF’s Courtenay Betts stands atop Edge, the new observation deck at Hudson Yards, during construction.

Places open in NYC like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as explored by EF's Courtenay Betts

2/6 Places open in NYC include museums like the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The view from Edge, one of the places open in NYC, looking out over One World Trade Center, the Statue of Liberty, and the Hudson River

3/6 The view of One World Trade Center, the Statue of Liberty, and the Hudson River from the observation deck at Edge.

Courtenay Betts at the Empire State Building, one of the places open in NYC, enjoying an interactive exhibit

4/6 Courtenay finds the perfect photo opportunity at an interactive exhibit in the Empire State Building.

Another one of the places open in NYC, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, bustling with visitors

5/6 The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum is once again bustling with thousands of visitors every day.

Overlooking many of the places open in NYC as Courtenay flies into LaGuardia Airport.

6/6 Manhattan’s iconic skyline nears closer as Courtenay flies into LaGuardia Airport.

1/6 EF’s Courtenay Betts stands atop Edge, the new observation deck at Hudson Yards, during construction.

2/6 Places open in NYC include museums like the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

3/6 The view of One World Trade Center, the Statue of Liberty, and the Hudson River from the observation deck at Edge.

4/6 Courtenay finds the perfect photo opportunity at an interactive exhibit in the Empire State Building.

5/6 The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum is once again bustling with thousands of visitors every day.

6/6 Manhattan’s iconic skyline nears closer as Courtenay flies into LaGuardia Airport.

Q: Lastly, as New York City’s landscape constantly evolves, do you have any new discoveries in the city that you’d like to share?

A: Yes, every time I visit I discover something new! Just before the pandemic, Hudson Yards had opened, bringing new attractions, shopping, and dining experiences to the island’s West Side. This neighborhood also connects to the High Line, which is a personal favorite of mine. It’s such a unique use of space and offers a fun way to traverse the city and see it from a new perspective.

This past summer, Little Island opened, and I immediately fell in love. This new urban oasis, built on the remnants of a historic pier that was once operated by the British Cunard-White Star Line, is now a reimagined public space. It’s home to an amphitheater for outdoor concerts, has plenty of space for food trucks, and offers great views of Lower Manhattan.

Also, it would be an injustice to NYC if I didn’t mention something about its food. Right before the pandemic, there was a surge of food halls opening across the city, and that trend is only intensifying. I love visiting them because the stalls are filled with local vendors, and you can enjoy almost any type of cuisine you’re craving.

Experience New York City’s exciting comeback.

Maddie Poulin

Maddie is a copywriter at EF. She loves dissecting movies and TV shows, making playlists for every mood, staying active, and dreaming about her next trip.

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