Have you ever wondered how to visit New York on a budget? Are your kids old enough to handle the city or should you make this an adult only trip? It can be a fun adventure for either but they are very different trips.
We took our crew of 6, only 2 adults, over Thanksgiving. That is another story for next year. I LOVE Manhattan and even lived there for a while in my 20’s, so I go back anytime I get a chance.
If you are flying, flights can be inexpensive. I prefer to fly into JFK because you can hop right on the Airtran, the elevated automated airport train, which will lead you to the subway. This is the fastest and cheapest route, especially during peak drive times. Then you can take the subway to almost anywhere in the city. It is a good idea to know a bit about your route before attempting this for your first time. It can be a bit confusing but contrary to popular belief, most locals are happy to help you with directions. You can always grab a cab if you are not the adventurous type.
The list of activities is long but here are a few options:
Times Square is famous for Broadway and the theatre district. If you are traveling with your kids, visit the huge Toys R Us store, with the inside Ferris wheel, Disney or the M&M retail store. Outside in the pedestrian area you will see characters such as, Mickey Mouse, Spiderman, and Hello Kitty. But beware a quick glance and you will notice they are the cheap knockoff version. They are there to take pictures with you and immediately ask for payment. My kids were informed that these were NOT the real characters and mommy would not pay to have their picture taken. Their enthusiasm, however, never waned. Upon seeing one of these imposters, my kids would yell something like, “Mom, it’s the fake Smurfette, can I please give her a hug?” It is free entertainment. The harder one to explain is the Naked Cowboy, who often inhabits the same space. The original Cowboy was a staple for many, many years but now he seems to have employed a few helpers. If you are unaware, he stands on the corner in his tighty -whities and plays his guitar in his boots and hat. The temperature doesn’t seem to matter. I am personally over him but he always attracts a large crowd.
If you have a little princess in your life, the American Girl store is just a few blocks away. This location includes the salon, hospital and restaurant for lunch with your best girl and her doll of choice. Not to mention the three or four floors of pure American Girl/Bitty Baby shopping bliss. They have so many things that my daughter never knew she needed but now dreams of possessing. For blocks, you will see women carrying those big red American Girl bags.
If you are interested in a show at a discount, you have several opportunities. There is always the TKTS ticket booth. It is the red and white awning booth in the center of Times Square. They offer discounted tickets for shows that day. You should try to be in line early if you have a specific show in mind. The line can be long at times. If you are flexible there are some other options. You can get General Rush or Lottery tickets to many shows the day of as well. The tickets run between $25 and $30 a ticket and are often very good seats. These must be purchased at the ticket office for the individual show. General Rush tickets are available usually at 10:00 the morning of the show and Lottery tickets are available roughly 2 hours before curtain. Lottery typically involves putting your name on the list and they will draw names. Two tickets per person is often the norm. If you are chosen, you purchase your ticket on the spot and enjoy a phenomenal deal. Not every show does this, so check ahead. I have seen some great plays this way.
The Radio City Stage Door Tour is a fantastic behind the scene tour of Radio City Music Hall and a meet and greet with a real Rockette. It is offered 11-3 daily and is $20 for adults and $12.50 for children under 13. It is best for children 5 and up.
Empire State Building is another tourist favorite. You can visit the main deck with waiting for $25 per person, ages 6-12 is $19 or pay $47.50 for the same 86th floor view with no waiting. While you can buy tickets to the top deck, I would not suggest spending the money. It is a very limited view and extra money. You can purchase a ticket from one of the companies around the building that includes the SKYRIDE. It is a virtual tour of the city narrated by Kevin Bacon. You get the ride plus express trip to the main deck with no waiting for about $42 per person 6 and over.
The Staten Island Ferry is the best way to see the Statue of Liberty. It is a free ride and it takes about 30 minutes each way. I would suggest getting a spot on the upper deck for photos. If it is chilly, you may want to sit outside only one way.
You can reserve free tickets to the 911 Memorial online prior to your visit. This is really the best way to experience the moving memorial for the families of the September 11th attacks.
You could spend an entire day in Central Park, with or without kids. They call it New York City’s backyard. This would be a day well spent.
Shopping is a favorite pastime in NYC. Macy’s in Herald Square, FAO Swartz, Bloomingdales, and Fifth Avenue are some of the more famous department stores. My three never miss spots are Century 21, H&M and Loehmann’s.
Century 21 is in the Financial District. I have even gotten my husband hooked. He will however, only shop the men’s department and shoes. If he ventured beyond, it would lose its appeal immediately. This is a huge store and usually packed. The men’s section is far more organized than the women’s. I’m sure this is by design. Bring patience and plan on many hours devoted to shopping. You will find some amazing deals and designers you wouldn’t find at this price anywhere else.
H&M has several locations throughout the city and is very trendy. While the quality tends to be a bit lesser quality in general, you can find some really “hot” articles of clothing. You don’t mind if they are out next year because you didn’t pay too much. Our teenage son finished his entire birthday/Christmas shopping list in this store.
Loehmann’s also has several locations and some incredible deals. Again, you will spend time looking as the best deals are sometimes part of the hunt.
Don’t forget Chinatown for some cute bags, sunglasses and/or the latest movies. Then you can stroll over to Little Italy for lunch.
This is really just the tip of the iceberg but a little taste of many of our favorite activities. If you have any questions about New York please feel free to email me.
Smarty mom’s please post any of your favorite New York secrets. We would love to share with our other savvy moms.