David Filipiak is a tourism professional with over 20 years of experience in the field. He uniquely understands what it is to create great experiences for visitors.
In his career, he’s been both a tour operator planning trips and a supplier working for some of the most-revered attractions in the world: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The San Diego Natural History Museum, The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and The Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum. Most recently, he’s spent the past few years launching National Geographic Encounter, one of the newest attractions to Times Square, where he is now General Manager. GroupTools spent time talking to David to get a sense of not only what you can experience at National Geographic Encounter, but how to enjoy the perfect day trip in New York!
First off, tell us a little about National Geographic Encounter. What makes it unique compared to other NYC attractions?
National Geographic Encounter: Ocean Odyssey is a virtual ocean in Times Square where high tech meets the deep sea. It’s the first entertainment attraction of its kind in the world that pushes the boundaries of typical attractions by combining National Geographic’s incredible storytelling with an innovative blend of cutting-edge visual effects and technology — allowing visitors to take an interactive walk-through journey across the Pacific Ocean over one incredible night. Encounter provides entertainment with purpose, allowing people to form an emotional connection to the ocean, and a real appreciation for its beauty. We believe that we protect what we love. Encounter introduces hundreds of thousands of people each year to the magnificent beauty of the Pacific Ocean, and why it’s critical to protect all our oceans. But first and foremost, it’s a lot of fun! Guests can splash in the shallow waters of a spectacular coral reef, escape a magnificent 3-D feeding frenzy, get up close with a 50-ft Humpback whale, play with their own sea lions and more – all without getting wet.
Many tourists can find New York City overwhelming. What would be a good itinerary for a group that only has one day in Manhattan?
Back when I used to plan tours for student groups, NYC was the most popular and my favorite destination to plan. But, it was also one of the hardest, because there are SO many things to do. When I would first consult with a group leader, quite often they would rattle off way too many things they want to do for the time they have. So, my first advice is to not over-stuff a one day trip. Allow your group to enjoy NYC and not feel too rushed. The city is fast enough without adding to it. If you like NYC, you can come back and do other items on your group’s wish list. If your group insists on cramming a lot in one day, then I advise to select things that don’t take up a good chunk of the day. For example, Statue of Liberty is great for a multi-day trip, but for a one day trip, it easily can take half a day to do. Save time (and money) by taking the Staten Island Ferry instead, and still get some great photo moments of Lady Liberty.
My other important piece of advice for a one day trip is to plan geographically. If it’s one day, then pick an area of the city and fill your itinerary with items in the same area. You don’t want to spend your precious time and a lot of the day on a bus or subway getting to and from. I would have some group leaders say they have one day and want to go to the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, Met Museum, lunch at Katz’ Deli, tour of Central Park, then finish with a Broadway show. Well, that’s spending a lot of the day traveling to different parts of the city, and it’s just impossible to enjoy it all (and be too exhausted). So for example, if you’re going to a Broadway show, then plan other things to do in midtown. (Which Nat Geo Encounter is located in midtown and the perfect complement to any Broadway show!)
Feeding a group can be a challenge, what are a few of the go-to restaurants you recommend for groups?
This is one of the trickiest things to plan for a group. You can’t assume all restaurants are equipped to handle groups. But there are many restaurants that specialize in serving groups. (Tip: Call and ask for a group menu or group sales. If they don’t have either, then they’re not equipped for your group.) This is not the time to make an out-of-the-way, do-what-locals-do choice. If you have 20 or more people, go with the specialists in groups. There are so many restaurants in all parts of town in all price points that know how to handle groups. Near Nat Geo Encounter, Bond 45 or Sardi’s are wonderful restaurants for those looking for a higher-end group lunch or dinner. Carmine’s or John’s Pizzeria are moderately priced, expert in groups, and “New York” experiences. If on a budget or tight on time, one of my favorite group places nearby is Planet Hollywood or Bucca di Beppo. There are so many more.
National Geographic Encounter is relatively new to NYC, if you wanted to mix the old with the new, what are a few points of interest you recommend visitors to New York City can enjoy?
When planning an itinerary for a group, you need to find the right balance to the day and purpose of the trip into the city. Let’s assume your group wants a full day of planned activities. That balance comes in several ways. First, you want to mix some icons of NYC like MoMA, Met, Empire State Building, Circle Line, along with some new things that are new to New York and great for groups like --ahem-- Nat Geo Encounter for midtown or One World Observatory, if you’re doing a downtown day trip. Second, you want to have a nice balanced mix of things you’re doing: sightseeing, cultural, and entertainment. Third, you want to mix guided/structured time with some “free time” to explore on their own.
So for example, if I were planning a midtown day trip because my group is going to see a Broadway show in the evening and wants a full planned day, a great midtown itinerary is something like: MoMA and Top of the Rock observation deck or Intrepid Museum and Circle Line sightseeing cruise, then lunch and shopping on own in Times Square area or Rockefeller Center/Fifth Ave area, afternoon midtown activity like National Geographic Encounter, then midtown group dinner at Bucca di Beppo, Carmine’s or Bond 45 (depending on budget). If you find yourself with a little extra time in the itinerary in the day, you can always mix in some free midtown sights like Grand Central Station, a short walk through Central Park, or an hour shopping at Macy’s. (Tip: If you chartered a bus, and if you can arrange it, have the bus swing by before or after dinner to have group drop off any purchases made during the day before going into the theatre.) What a great and full day!
More information can be found on the National Geographic Encounter website.
Article by Victoria Cairl
Victoria Cairl is an independent Marketing and Sales strategist who specializes in theater and cultural tourism. Vic's work has appeared in Entrepreneur and Mogul. She's previously worked at Show-Score, Lincoln Center, The Met Museum and Disney Theatrical.