New York's best cheap hotels

Our expert gives advice on saving money in Manhattan, plus panda-watching in China, arranging a private island stay in the Bahamas and wheelchair travel tips.

Published May 27, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

I'm looking for great, cheap, smallish hotels in midtown Manhattan. Do you have a list or a resource I could check out?

-- Jade

New York City has its share of smallish, cheap -- which in New York translates to anything under $100 per night -- hotels. The trick is to find those that are clean and whose beds don't sag badly. They do exist, but they tend to be fully booked weeks in advance, especially on weekends.

In recent years a number of European-style "boutique" hotels have opened. Several of them are moderately priced, but with the city's room tax of 13.25 percent plus a city occupancy tax of $2, the nightly tab usually creeps above $100.

For openers, visit the Web site of the city's Convention & Visitors Bureau. Also, knock on the door of the hotel page at CitySearch and you'll find a search engine that will quickly show you a couple of dozen places for under $125.

Among them:

Herald Square Hotel, 19 W. 31st St., phone (212) 279-4017 or (800) 727-1888; fax (212) 643-9208.

Hotel Wolcott, 4 W. 31st St., phone (212) 268-2900, fax (212) 563-0096.

Portland Square Hotel, 132 W. 47th St., phone (212) 382-0600 or (800) 398-8988; fax (212) 382-0684.

Washington Square Hotel, 103 Waverly Place, phone (212) 777-9515, fax (212) 979-8373.

Cosmopolitan Hotel, 95 W. Broadway at Chambers Street, phone (888) 895-9400, fax (212) 566-6909.

The Mayfair New York, 242 W. 49th St., phone (800) 556-2932, fax (212) 307-5226.

Even less expensive are the several YMCA branches, and hostels operated by AYH-Hostelling International.

I will be going to Chengdu in China's Sichuan Province and also to Wolong outside of Chengdu this summer. I'm wondering if you have any information about the area. I'll be checking out the giant panda research site, the Chengdu Zoo and the panda reserves.

-- M.C.

There's no better place to watch pandas, of course. Researchers estimate only about 1,000 giant pandas are alive, and 80 percent of them are said to reside in the western mountains of Sichuan Province, of which Chengdu is the capital.

A good primer to the pandas' region can be found through the Sichuan Public Information Service site, where there are links to other informational resources about Chengdu and environs.

There is also useful sightseeing information at the Rough Guide site, although it offers a dismal view of the zoo: "The animals sit lethargic and flea-bitten behind bars while the public throw ice-cream sticks and rubbish at them to try and get a reaction."

If you plan to be around in late June, don't miss one of the western area's highlights, the Torch Festival, during which lines of natives bearing torches spread through the hills at night, presenting a dramatic image. The festival also includes wrestling, horse racing, bullfighting, goat-fighting and cockfighting.

I understand there is a secluded island in the Bahamas where a couple can be taken by boat and dropped off for a week or so (with supplies and a two-way radio). What can you tell me about this and with whom do I need to get in touch?

-- Ann

The Bahamas Tourist Office denies knowing anything about such a deserted-island getaway, but with hundreds of islands in the chain it's quite possible that individual resorts or private operators offer such an experience.

It also stands to reason that you may have to plan such a trip yourself -- locate an outer island and arrange for a fishing boat, mail boat or other watercraft to drop you off. When you think about it, a resort or outfitter who's in business to make money isn't going to embrace sending you off to an island for a week on your own.

Even wilderness outfitters charge $100 or more per day largely because of the expertise and personal attention their guides provide. No guide, no personal attention -- who's gonna pay for that?

Despite its sprawl, there is a wealth of information available on the Bahamas, including plenty of contact information for marinas and fishing outfitters in such guides as:

"Fielding's Bahamas," by Wink Dulles (Fielding Worldwide, 1997).

"Hidden Bahamas," by Richard Harris and Lynn Seldon (Ulysses Press, 1997).

"Bahamas, Turks & Caicos," by Christopher Baker (Lonely Planet, 1998).

The Bahamas Tourist Office can also be reached by calling (800) 422-4262.

What is involved in traveling to Europe by plane if a person needs to use a wheelchair?

Federal regulations require airlines to accommodate wheelchair users, so you should be able to proceed largely as you would on any flight. It would be prudent to contact the airline well in advance to see what it recommends as far as early arrival and so forth. Also ask what routine you can expect at your destination. Assuming you're flying into a major international airport, it will probably be well-equipped to handle any wheelchair users.

Wheelchair users generally must check their own wheelchairs as baggage and be transferred to an airline wheelchair designed to fit into the aisle of a plane. One caution -- small planes such as commuter flights often cannot handle wheelchairs at all.

If you'd like to know more than what the airline can tell you, touch base with one of several companies that regularly help wheelchair travelers, such as:

Accessible Journeys, a Ridley Park, Pa., company that arranges tours for mobility-impaired travelers and is part of a network that has offices in nine European countries. For information by phone, call (800) 846-4537 or (610) 521-0339.

Undiscovered Britain, which specializes in arranging holidays in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland for wheelchair users and their friends and families. Phone information: (215) 969-0542. Undiscovered Britain can be found on the Access-Able Travel Source site, which has links for many other resources.

A book called "Smooth Ride Guides: United States Eastern Seaboard" (FT Publishing, 1996) covers 18 Eastern states and Washington, D.C., and offers great detail on organizations within each state that have an interest in helping mobility-impaired travelers. It's in bookstores, or contact Seven Hills Book Distributors, (800) 545-2005.

The Society for the Advancement of Travel for the Handicapped publishes a quarterly magazine, Open World, which aims to inform and inspire readers to travel. SATH's phone number is (212) 447-7284.

By Donald D. Groff

Donald D. Groff has been dispensing travel advice for a decade for such publications as the Philadelphia Inquirer, Newsday, the Boston Globe and the Kansas City Star.

MORE FROM Donald D. Groff

Related Topics ------------------------------------------