For thousands of New Yorkers, taking the train is about as ordinary as having coffee in the morning. The subway is a part of the city’s culture, so what better way to experience New York than to do as the locals do?
Lucky 7 Subway Tours offer tourists and residents the opportunity to ride through seven neighborhoods and learn some history along the way.
“Travelers, they all want something new,” Will Candis, spokesman for the group, said. “Manhattan has changed for the worse and has lost its character and soul, but one of the things New York is most known for is diversity, and Queens has that to offer in spades.”
Erwin Diaz, a 24-year-old Jamaica native, will take tourists on an “urban safari,” past icons including the Citigroup Building in Long Island City and the Unisphere in Flushing Meadows Corona Park.
The tour guide even sports a safari helmet as a campy wink to the concrete jungle.
The ride is fun and Diaz’s charisma and knowledge make the historical talking points much more interesting.
While the idea is creative, sitting on a train and seeing buildings through a window can get dull, something Diaz and Candis avoid by taking groups off the train at certain stops.
“There are a few stops we want people to get out and take a look at their surroundings,” Candis said. “Especially in Sunnyside and Long Island City where there are great views of the neighborhood, as well as the Manhattan skyline.”
The No. 7 train acts as a strange tour bus of sorts, and to many a lifelong New Yorker, the instinct to roll your eyes at the idea of a subway tour is palpable.
But once that typical New York cynicism fades, the tour really is fun and full of interesting facts to intrigue anyone.
For example, Jackson Heights is the birthplace of Scrabble, the Steinway Piano factory has a three-month waiting list for tours and the 74th Street station is one of the city’s first environmentally green buildings.
The groups are small. Candis said he’d like to have between 10 and 20 guests a week.
“We’re not going to try and overcrowd people,” he said. “We don’t want to intrude on people who are on the train and we want to keep it intimate and conversational.”
Starting in Manhattan, the tour winds through Long Island City, Sunnyside, Woodside, Elmhurst, Corona and Flushing Meadows.
The final stop is Mets-Willets Point, where tour-goers are taken into the iconic Flushing Meadows Corona Park and left to explore at the Queens Museum.
Before he leaves, Diaz provides guests with a few choice eats as well as a fortune cookie.
“The train is lucky and the cookie just adds to it,” Diaz said. “We tell people to play the Lotto with the numbers on the back to see if you’ve got extra luck.”
Lucky 7 Subway Tours launched last week and costs $20 a person, but Candis said he hopes to bring that price down to zero eventually.
“If we’re able to offer it for free, that’d be really great,” he said. “Queens is cool and the 7 train is really known as lucky. It’s very historic and there’s a lot of meaning behind it. We’re trying to give people a sense of what it would be like to live here.”
Since it is so new, there were a few hiccups here and there, but nothing that took too much away from the overall experience.
Lucky 7 Subway Tours is by appointment only. Those interested can call the tour office at (347) 965-8225.
“Visitors want a sense of place, so that when they come back, they’re familiar,” Candis said. “I feel like the time for Queens is right now and we want to share that with people. We’re still grassroots but we’re building momentum.”