West Point offers a welcome alternative to Woodbury Common

Woodbury Common, Woodbury Common, Woodbury Common. I've come across that name so many times here in Ireland. Read it in the papers, heard it on the radio, even heard it from my children who heard it from friends of theirs. Woodbury Common is so well known that it often seems as if a visit there is the primary motivation for most Irish people's trips to America.

If you don't know, Woodbury Common is a huge discount retail park, full of brand name outlets, near New York City. Over the past few years the combination of the Celtic Tiger's inflated prices and the favorable euro-dollar exchange rate has turned an American vacation into a shopping bonanza for Irish people. The prices are too good to pass up.

At first Irish shoppers were happy with the prices in Manhattan at Macy's and Bloomingdale's, but gradually the more canny among them learned that a trip to New Jersey or further afield could net even greater benefits. Woodbury Common was one of the 'outside the city' locations that Irish people discovered.

Woodbury Common became so well known that it seemed like people talked about it as if it was just on the outskirts of Dublin. Everybody here seemed to know about it. Everybody but me.

I didn't know where it was, although gradually I came to understand it was somewhere near Newburgh, NY. A few times I've met people here and when the inevitable "Where do you come from?" question elicited my answer "upstate New York" there was an instant follow up of "Near Woodbury Common?" Sometimes they seem deflated when I responded, "No, and in fact, I've never been there and I'm not really that sure where it is."

Well no more. I was over in America with the family last week and we stopped off at Woodbury Common (exit 16 on the Thruway if you're interested). Now I know where it is and what it looks like. Sort of.

I drove to Woodbury Common, but I never got out of the car. Everything I now know about Woodbury Common I know thanks to my wife and daughters. It's very crowded; there are loads of British & Irish people there (some wearing pajamas – Uggh!); the stores have chip & pin devices; it's really nothing special; it's really way too crowded.

That's right. I didn't go to Woodbury Common. Thanks to some excellent planning and a few wise words in my 9-year-old son's ear - he's never a happy shopper - I found somewhere else we could go to spend some time while the women folk shopped. West Point.

It takes about 25 minutes to drive to West Point from Woodbury Common. That's 25 minutes each way to avoid the fate of walking around crowded stores, waiting for people to try on clothes, etc. I'd have driven 3 hours if I had to.

And West Point's worth seeing. I'd been there back in 1990 and things have changed. You can no longer just drive onto the campus, park the car, hop out and walk around as you could then. September 11 put paid to that. Security today requires you to park and buy tickets for a bus tour.

The two tickets cost me $21 and truthfully I felt a bit rushed on the tour. I really wanted to walk around more. On the up-side, the woman who was our tour guide was very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about West Point. My son really enjoyed it. He wants to go there when he finishes school.

Would I recommend it? In a heartbeat. Anything beats shopping. I even mentioned to our tour guide that they should offer a longer tour starting at Woodbury Common.

I bet there are many Irish men (and British and others) who would like nothing better than to escape the hellish shopping experience for a bit of military history and beautiful scenery. West Point is your refuge.

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