updated 8/25/2004 10:47:45 AM ET 2004-08-25T14:47:45

It’s not exactly backbreaking work. Go to the Statue of Liberty. See “Aida” on Broadway. Shop at Bloomingdale’s. Ride a tour boat around the isle of Manhattan.

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Buy a funny hat.

“There was a time you did things all day long,” said Sen. Pete Domenici, chairman of the New Mexico delegation to the Republican National Convention. Things like work, he means. “Then it moved in the direction of ‘Why work all that time? We’re just inventing work.”’

The 4,853 delegates and alternates to the convention aren’t coming just for business. They’re coming here for fun.

And so, with the party focused on presenting a shiny, prime-time television show — and with nearly everything decided beforehand including the party platform — the Republicans arrive Sunday in the Big Apple with a lot of spare time on their hands. For the entire four-day convention, there is only one scheduled daytime session to conduct party business — from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Monday.

As always, the delegates will be at the televised nighttime sessions — waving wildly, their heads balancing strange hats — to cheer the speeches by President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and a host of other politicians and celebrities.

But what will the delegates be doing during all those free daylight hours?

The Californians are going to see “Aida” at the Palace Theater. The Georgians are going to see “Beauty and the Beast” one block away at the Lunt-Fontanne. The Michigan delegation is having brunch, courtesy of General Motors, at Central Park’s swanky Tavern on the Green. Delegates from the president’s home state of Texas are partying at a “honky tonk” staged inside the Roseland Ballroom and lunching at the Waldorf-Astoria.

“As a Texan who’s never been to New York, I’m looking forward to doing some sightseeing,” said 50-year-old Roy Casanova, a firefighter from San Antonio.

The real order of business is “all about putting on a show for television,” said political scientist Henry Brady at the University of California at Berkeley. “It’s not like the old days where there was really real drama and real debate.”

The delegates know that.

“You don’t make news,” said attorney Tom Rath, 59, from Concord, N.H., a veteran of six conventions. “It’s hard to even get a good rumor started anymore.”

Tom Conlon, of Minnesota, wishes the convention offered more time to conduct party business. “They really have become more window dressing than true conventions,” he says. He’ll be going to a matinee of “Phantom of the Opera.”

Other dance card offerings: breakfast at Bloomingdale’s and five hours to “shop, shop, shop!” according to the city’s tourist bureau; excursions to Ellis Island; a tour of Fifth Avenue to browse Saks and Tiffany & Co.; sojourns to the Brooklyn Botantical Garden, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the United Nations and various opportunities to board a double-decker tour bus that slowly traverses the congested streets of Manhattan — or, if one prefers nautical transport, a cruise boat that chugs the waterways surrounding the city.

Seemingly everyone plans to visit the site where nearly 3,000 people lost their lives in the World Trade Center towers on Sept. 11, 2001. “We want to go to ground zero for sure,” said Dorothy J. Ginther, of Webster, Ohio.

It’s not all sightseeing. On Tuesday, the delegates have a chance to participate in several community projects across Manhattan, from helping Habitat for Humanity build a house in East Harlem to helping with street cleaning in Chinatown.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who like Bush has encouraged consumerism as way to fight terrorism, is urging conventioneers and protesters alike to eat and shop at restaurants and stores surrounding Madison Square Garden. Discounts are being offered to both groups. “It’s no fun to protest on an empty stomach,” the mayor says.

The city’s tourist bureau is offering discounts to attractions such as the Museum of Sex. Spend more than $10 at Kroll Office Products and get a free felt-tip pen.

Jonathan Collard, a 25-year-old public affairs specialist from Albuquerque, N.M., couldn’t be happier with the light workload. He’s also pleased to be on the guest list for a Monday reception honoring the party’s rising female stars.

“I’m single,” said Collard. “I guess that could be a motivator.”

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