What a whirlwind! I returned last night from four nights in New York City to visit the Renzo Gracie Academy and to see UFC 230. It’s been one of the best trips I’ve ever taken and I didn’t get to spend nearly enough time there. This is my experience.
I will cover:
All of the information I have regarding travelling to NYC and training at Renzo’s will be linked in this article so you can click through and find everything you need. Make sure you pack a pair of sneakers or other comfortable shoes because you will likely be doing a lot of walking!
I flew into Newark Airport from Halifax and took the train into New York City. When you arrive, go to the AirTrain and pay $13 for a ticket at the automated teller. I bought a return ticket at the same time.
There are employees everywhere to help. If you get on the AirTrain at Terminal B, it will take you to the connecting train in New Jersey. Once you get on that train, Penn Station New York City will be your last stop.
If you use the train to return to the airport, you will go into Penn Station at the entrance on 8th Avenue, enter the seating area and look on the schedule board for trains with an airplane symbol on them. You will board at Track 2.
It was a bit confusing at the time but it’s your cheapest option if you’re travelling alone. A taxi is about $50.
I booked a closet AKA “cabin” at Chelsea Cabins, (which we affectionately dubbed “The Vegan Prison” because the cabins are so small and no meat is allowed) through AirBNB. (Pssst, click my AirBNB link and get $45 off on your first trip!) The room is about 5’x7′ with a slim cot on one side and a corner table on the other. There is a shelf above the bed and a storage area below the bed for your luggage and personal items.
The walls were very thin so you could hear the people breathing and snoring at night; I recommend taking earplugs if you book there. You will not be able to entertain visitors for obvious reasons. The washrooms are co-ed and the showers are individual stalls. You will receive one towel upon arrival and if you want another one at any point, you will have to ask.
Breakfast is included but when I took advantage, all that was offered was bread and cereal. Another day, I saw bananas and I saw someone with strawberries at one point but when I tried to look in the fridge for them, I was told they weren’t for me.
There is a little grocery store about a block away if you turn left upon exiting the prison where I bought a banana, an large apple and large orange for $2.50 and a CVS up the street a few blocks to the right where you can buy nuts, granola bars, dried fruit, etc. for a reasonable price. The prison has a filtered water dispenser so you won’t have to worry about buying bottled water.
At $95CAD per night, The Vegan Prison is very cheap for NYC so if you don’t plan on spending time in your room, it’s a great option.
The closest laundromat I found was Chelsea Laundry and Dry Cleaners (171 W 26th St). It costs $3.50 per load (32 minutes for a wash if you want to drop it and go get a coffee) and $1 for detergent. They have money changers on site to get quarters. I didn’t dry my gi, etc, I hung it up in The Vegan Prison to dry.
If you arrive and realize you have forgotten gear, Renzo has a store at his academy where you can buy gis, rashguards and shorts as well as tshirts and belts. Otherwise, there are lots of shopping options in the area. I forgot to bring a sports bra for no gi, thinking it was wise to just bring a couple of singlets for under my gi and had to run up to Old Navy. The cool thing about NYC is that there is no sales tax on clothing under $100.
Generally, class consists of a warm up including running and calisthenics, followed by positional sparring, technique, live rolling and a stretching cool down. In Danaher’s noon class, it seemed that people warmed themselves up and then Danaher taught both gi and no gi techniques so you can choose what you’d like to do. There appeared to be an equal number of people doing both.
I wasn’t careful and I hurt my back during positional sparring in the second class I attended so I only got a few rolls in. I was too shy to say I was injured ask to flow roll in the blue basement but then I saw this post by Garry Tonon and wish I had just said something beforehand.
I can say that the women in the blue basement are very smooth and technical and there were a surprising number of petite women who were all very happy to roll. I didn’t meet any doo doo heads at RGA.
If you are unable to make it to New York, you can attend the online academy and learn from its instructors there.
During the visit, we bumped into a lot of professional martial artists and celebrities including Renzo Gracie himself, Igor Gracie, John Danaher, Garry Tonon, Gordon Ryan, Jake Shields, Daniel Gracie, Al Iaquinta, Joel Kinnaman and David Branch. A lot of other people looked familiar but I couldn’t place them. Maybe they were some of my Facebook friends!
The athlete who stood out the most, for me, was Jake Shields. I don’t know who asked who but he rolled with the majority of my teammates and was happy to take photos with them.
The Danaher Death Squad was obviously very used to having people ask for photos; one of the guys pointed out that they seemed to sit a person apart because so many visitors wanted to get a photo with them. I didn’t get a photo with anyone individually. I’m sure they don’t mind but watching it felt like people were treating them almost like zoo animals.
I was also surprised and delighted to have been invited out to dinner with my team and Renzo Gracie. He took us out and entertained us for hours with his hilarious stories. He really couldn’t have been more kind; though he did say his grandmother could party harder than we could. It was a wonderful bonding experience for my team to be able to spend time with our teacher’s teacher and learn more about the lineage of our jiu jitsu.
I have to be honest, my purpose for going to New York City was to train at Renzo’s and to go to UFC 230 but once I got there, I fell in love with the city and my priority became sightseeing. I’m from a small town in Prince Edward Island, Canada so seeing all of the places and attractions I’ve only ever seen in movies was amazing.
During my time there, I trained once a day and visited the following attractions:
- Times Square to see everyone dressed up for Halloween
- Little Italy for some pasta at La Mela. The spaghetti and meatballs was delicious.
- Empire State Building – I got a City Pass from Costco.ca that included several attractions including this one. If you can plan to go before sunset, it’s a cool option to watch the city light up.
- Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour – I only got to do about 1/4 of this before other things came up. You can buy this ticket on Costco.ca or you can wait and get it from the salespeople on the street starting at $29US. The sellers are all around the city, you can look it up online to see where the stops are to buy a ticket. I recommend waiting for a bus that has rooftop seating available because you can’t see as much from inside, obviously. The bus provides you with complimentary ear buds so you can plug in and listen to the tour guide.
- The Charging Bull and Fearless Girl – this was the oddest attraction. People were on that bull like human lice. You literally could not get a photo of the bull without a person leaning on his face. I sat crouched for fifteen minutes waiting for a clear shot and was unable to do so; he was not free for one second.
The girl, however, was not as popular.
- 9/11 Memorial and Museum – Included in City Pass. A must see if you are visiting New York City.
- Central Park
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art – if you can spend a half or full day here, I would schedule that. There is so much to see. This was included in my City Pass and of course, I kept it classy during my visit.
- UFC 230 – this was great but really, my seats were so far away I would have seen as much watching at a bar with some of my other teammates. It was cool to see a tiny Joe Rogan doing interviews and to feel the energy in the crowd when Daniel Cormier did his run to the Octagon. We all know how that fight was going to go though, amirite? I love the Black Beast but DC is on another level. I might not do it again but I’m glad to have seen the UFC at Madison Square Garden once.
I went into some stores for shopping because I’ve always heard about the deals but honestly, I didn’t find the deals were that great. You can do better at home. For example, I went to Nordstrom Rack and Century 21 and the prices were similar, only instead of $79CAD, for example, it was $79USD. The upside is that in NYC, there is a much larger selection but in the end I only bought souvenirs. I found even the menus at the fast food chains were the same price as the ones in Canada, only in USD.
On my last day, I planned to go on the Statue of Liberty Tour, the Guggenheim and the Museum of Natural History because they were included on my city pass but I messed up my schedule, getting lost in the bowels of the subway system, and ended up missing all of them.
- Airfare – $448CAD with travel insurance – expedia.ca
- Accommodation – $410.35CAD for four nights – airbnb
- Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour – $52.99 CAD – costco.ca
- UFC 230 – $248CAD
- City Pass – $141.99 – costco.ca
- Spending money – I spent $USD on food, souvenirs, uber, public transport, and misc. $448USD or $600CAD
- Total – $1,901.65
I feel a little different after visiting New York City. It was so incredible to see the history, the architecture, bright lights and chaos. It made me realize how little I’ve experienced of the world and gave me the travel bug like no other place I’ve visited. I wish I had booked two weeks so I could take my time and see more but maybe getting that little taste is what made it that much sweeter.
The athletes and instructors at the Renzo Gracie Academy were so kind and skilled I can’t recommend them highly enough. There was so much mat space but it was always full! I met people from around the globe who had come to train at this world class facility and yet they felt familiar; we were all on similar journeys.
Have you visited the Renzo Gracie Academy or New York City? What are your travel tips? Please do share in the comments below!