Just got back from my first time in NYC yesterday and thought I'd share my first impressions:
Landed at JFK and off the plane quickly, took just 10 minutes to clear border control and another 15 minutes to collect baggage. Went to the info desk and they sorted out our pre-booked shuttle (Go link). On the road out of the airport just over an hour after landing. Impressive.
Getting around - super easy, the block system makes it so simple - we were staying at 1st and 44th, so could work our way out from there and back by just looking at the streets - no map required. We did a lot of walking though - on average about 20 miles a day so get a sensible pair of shoes (highly recommend a pair of Skechers!)
The subway is great value and we got a 7 day pass for $33, well worth it. The subway was a little confusing at first but I used a free MTA map and also asked locals for advice and no issues.
Yellow cabs - these are awesome! Used about 5 or 6 times and always a good experience. Straight to where you want to go (just say the corner) and easy to hail. Surprised that most drivers are quiet - in the UK there's usually a lot of banter. When paid, always got change back (IE they didn't take a tip) and had to say to keep it. Learnt to give a $10 for $7 ride and say no change though which made sense.
Tipping - not quite as daunting as expected, some bills will have 15%, 18% and 20% figures on so you don't have to work it out and you tip as you see fit - there was no pressure to tip and we forgot once and walked out (nipped back in and let a tip!) Sometimes you had to go out of the way to give a tip as they walked off - totally the opposite of what I expected, but the service was great in every aspect so didn't mind tipping at all.
Safety - totally no issue. There are NYPD officers everywhere - not just in tourist locations. In addition, you also have army at major train and airport stations, and also "local" security in most places such as Rockefeller, Bryant park, and so on. We saw 1 monk in central park, and 2 CD sellers in Time Square - no pressure and waved them away and off they went.
Food - lots and lots of places to eat from street carts with hot dogs, falafel, fruit and so on to restaurants and fast food. Nothing was over the top price wise and was far more reasonable than I expected. There were far less McDonald's than the UK and more varied food.
We found the area around 9th and 42nd to be good for food - wide choice for good prices and it felt authentic.
New York residents - really friendly and helpful when you ask (and I did several times). Always happy to say best way to get to a place and direct you to the train. Unfailingly polite and always seemed sincere. There were more homeless on the street than I expected, but never had hassle for money or anything. It gets busy at rush hour, but as long as you are sensible (IE don't walk 4 in a line on the sidewalk) then it's simple to get around. The roads are easy to cross over as long as you keep an eye for cycles! My quick way to spot a local - walking with a dog, face-timing as walking along (there were a LOT doing this!) or wearing headphones and looking down. Must also mention how clean the place was. Hardly any rubbish on the floors (gum, cigarette ends, cans, etc) other than the odd trash bags for collection.
Overall not at all what I thought it would be like - it was better! Really enjoyed and making plans to go back and see more of the city :)
I was planning on doing a trip report on the days in NYC if anyone would find that useful?