Travelers beware: Your New York Christmas vacation may be derailed by the omicron variant
New York City is a popular Christmas and New Year's destination for people worldwide. But it isn’t holiday cheer that is spreading – it’s COVID-19.
And while the Rockefeller tree is still as brightly lit as ever, omicron is having an impact on NYC at a rate that may surprise anyone who thought their holiday plans were good to go even just a few days ago. Whether you had planned to see a Broadway show, watch the Rockettes dance at Radio City Music Hall or go out to eat, your plans may be in jeopardy due to the surge in cases and related cancellations and closures.
While 72% of New Yorkers are vaccinated, the omicron variant, which may be more contagious and contain several spike protein mutations that may make it less responsive to COVID-19 vaccines, is fueling a surge in positive cases throughout the five boroughs.
More than 21,000 new positive cases were reported in New York on Dec. 17, which is a new one-day high for positive case reports for the state. There’s also been a 48% change in hospitalizations in the city in the past two weeks, a sure sign that the pandemic situation is getting even direr. The mayor’s office announced that the city would distribute 500,000 free at-home COVID-19 tests and 1 million higher-grade KN95 masks to New Yorkers through community organizations.
Unfortunately, this all comes just a week before Christmas and two weeks before New Year's Eve. And if you have holiday plans to the Big Apple, your vacation may not be the same because of the omicron variant. If you're weighing your decision, getting a sense of what's open (and closed) should help.
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What’s still on in NYC
While this list is accurate as of the time of publication, you'll want to double-check nothing has changed since publication time as things are rapidly developing.
Luckily, kids can still take photos with Santa at Macy’s Herald Square Santaland. However, Santa, his helpers -- and you -- must wear a mask. Visits with Santa are by reservation only, and Macy’s said it would “monitor & align with local & state health guidelines” and implement changes if warranted. Additionally, all reservation slots are currently booked for the next five days -- as far out as the reservation window extends -- so be sure you've got a booking before heading to Herald Square.
Times Square Ball Drop
Perhaps the biggest unknown is the fate of the New Year's Eve celebration.
The mayor’s office hasn’t made changes to the festivities, which will draw thousands of vaccinated spectators to Times Square. Notably, the schedule for New Year's Eve 2022 is not yet available. The Times Square Alliance says spectators should check back for updates “later in December” – yet we’re two weeks away from the ball drop.
Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters on Dec. 16 that his office is monitoring the coronavirus situation but said the fact that revelers must be fully vaccinated to attend is “a game-changer.”
“We’re going to make that decision based on the data and the science,” de Blasio said. “We’re going to keep looking at it as it gets closer.”
New York Rangers: The New York Rangers vs. Vegas Golden Knights NHL game is still scheduled at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 17, with another game scheduled for Dec. 22. Guests age 12 and older are required to provide proof they have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, per New York guidelines. Children ages 5 to 11 must have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose.
New York Knicks: The Knicks have three home games scheduled leading up to Christmas: Dec. 21 versus the Detroit Pistons, Dec. 23 against the Washington Wizards and Dec. 25 against the Atlanta Hawks. So far, it appears the games will go on as scheduled, at least for now; however, at least 5 Knicks players are in the NBA’s COVID-19 protocol right now.
If you need to cancel: If you have Knicks or Rangers tickets and want to cancel, you can contact Madison Square Garden’s Guest Relations at 212-465-6225 or email@example.com.
Brooklyn Nets: The Nets have 5 home games at Barclays Center through Jan. 1, but, like the Knicks, several players are in COVID-19 protocol.
If you need to cancel: If the game is canceled due to COVID-19, your account will be credited for the face value of the tickets. Otherwise, all sales are final.
Ice skating and light viewing
Outdoor activities such as ice skating in Bryant Park or Rockefeller Center are still available (though tickets are getting scarce, so make sure you're set there). Additionally, there's been no change in viewing the decorated storefronts along Fifth Avenue or taking in the holiday lights in Dyker Heights.
What is canceled in New York City right now
Many Broadway shows
Broadway is a massive attraction for tourists, but if you’re coming to the city for the holidays, there’s a very real chance you may not see a show.
The coronavirus situation is hitting the industry hard, still recovering from over a year of closures. Several Broadway shows were canceled this week due to multiple breakthrough COVID-19 cases. In the last few days, multiple Broadway performances, including the Tina Turner musical “Hamilton,” “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” "Mrs. Doubtfire," "Moulin Rouge" and “Ain’t Too Proud” have all canceled shows.
The same is true over at Radio City where all of the Dec. 17 productions of the "Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes" have been canceled due to breakthrough COVID-19 cases.
The canceled shows, plus the threat of the new variant, led TPG Editorial Director Summer Hull to pull the plug on an upcoming New York City trip due to the omicron variant.
“After months of anticipation, we canceled our tickets to a Broadway show for next week for a few reasons,” Hull says.
“First, since it was the main reason to travel to NYC, the reality that multiple shows are canceling (often at the last minute) due to positive cases in the company, it was too big a risk to make the trip only to not be able to see the show.” She also cited tightly compact areas, like theaters, being a reason to cancel with the spread of the omicron variant.
Luckily, if your event is canceled, you shouldn’t have problems getting a refund. For instance, those who were supposed to attend the Tina Turner musical will receive a full refund. If you’re trying to get a refund, your best option is to reach out to your point of purchase.
If you’re wondering if your show is still on, Playbill.com is an excellent resource that displays showtimes and more.
Got restaurant plans? Getting a reservation isn’t the concern right now – it's if the restaurant is even open. A handful of eateries have temporarily shut their doors because workers are testing positive. City favorites that have temporarily closed due to the coronavirus include Yellow Rose in the East Village, Marea in Colombus Circle and Di An Di in Greenpoint.
New York State also recently reimposed its indoor mask mandate, so if you plan to wine and dine your way through the city, make sure to check your restaurant is open, bring a mask and your vaccination card.
How to cancel your flight and hotel to New York City
If you’re forced to cancel your New York City travel plans because of a positive test – or you no longer feel comfortable traveling and want to wait until things even out – you should know your options for getting a refund on your flights, hotels and activities.
With the uncertainty in travel, you’ll want to make things as simple as possible and book directly with an airline or hotel instead of an online travel agency because you’re primarily on your own if something goes wrong (or you need to cancel) when booking through an OTA. Also, the cheapest deals may not always be the best option, particularly for flights.
Most airlines allow travelers to change or cancel their itinerary without paying a penalty, as I've written previously. However, some Basic Economy fares are non-refundable and non-changeable, so if your plans change, you’ll lose out on the value of the ticket.
Generally, with hotels, individual cancellation policies in place at the time of your reservation will apply at many chain properties like Marriott and Hyatt. That said, many hotels offer fully flexible booking options and the ability to change or cancel up to 48 - 72 hours before arrival. However, even if you are officially after that window, it makes sense to politely ask if there are any cancelation options as we have heard some success stories due to the rapidly changing situation.
When it comes to Broadway tickets, you may be able to get a refund at your point of purchase until a few hours or days before the show, in the event you are no longer able to attend.
Finally, the omicron variant is a great reminder to purchase travel insurance that specifically covers the pandemic. And if you want even more flexibility and peace of mind, you may want to buy a cancel-for-any-reason add-on policy that covers COVID-19 cancellations.