Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Tuesdays Travels: New York City

The City that Never Sleeps! The Big Apple! One of my favorite, FAVORITE places to visit! You may or may not know that I am a bit of a drama queen. In my professional life before I stayed home with the kids, I was a drama teacher, and as long as I can remember I was going to grow up to be an actress, but not just anywhere-on BROADWAY!!! Well, Omaha is far from Broadway, but I still love a good musical and love to perform, and I still LOVE New York City!!

I will try to always use the following categories in my Tuesdays Travels series:

  • General Information
  • Getting there 
  • Accommodations 
  • Transportation 
  • Food
  • Attractions and activities
  • Shopping
General Information

New York City is made up of 5 boroughs, each of which is unique and interesting in its own way: The Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island.  I have visited all the boroughs, and stayed in Queens, Manhattan and Brooklyn in my various trips to New York.  In this short story, I cannot possibly tell you all about New York City.

A couple things I would get before I head out to New York for the first time. One, find a good tour book/travel book for New York. Just stop by a book store and browse until you find one you like, then either buy it or go to the library and check one out! You can also get a lot of the same information online. I always buy a travel book and search online as I feel better having an actual book in my hand in a strange place, but that;s just me.  Maybe if I had a smart phone with constant Internet access in it...anyway. I would make sure that book includes a general Map of NYC.  Second, make sure you have or at least look at a subway map (it might be easier to pick one up once you get there).

Getting There

I have both flown and driven into NYC.  When we drove, we literally parked our car on the street in front of my aunts apartment for a week (moving it every 24 hours to comply with the law). So, if you drive, you will have to know a few things, 1-most hotels WILL charge for parking (and it is usually expensive). 2-Parking is scarce, especially if you are staying in Manhattan.

Flying into New York is pretty easy as there are a number of airport options to choose from: JFK in Queens, LaGuardia also in Queens, and Newark in New Jersey. Newark is a bit further out, but I have often found cheaper tickets into there. When you are looking into tickets though, take into account HOW you will be getting from the airport to your hotel (or wherever you are staying).  For example, once I flew into Newark as it was the cheapest flight by about $20. I was staying at my aunt's apartment so there were no shuttles into there, and I was fairly young at the time and it was well after midnight that my flight arrived. So, to avoid a teenager lost on the subway, I took a cab to my aunts house. It cost about $30 to get there...so in the end I did NOT save any money on that flight.  That was kind-of an isolated incident, but I just want to help you think of all the possible costs before you start planning you trip. (Note: Please read my Tuesdays Travels: Overview post for info on how I search for best flight prices and options).


Finding a reasonably priced Hotel in New York City can be like finding a needle in a haystack.  As an FYI, I rarely if ever spend more than $60/night for a hotel anywhere.  When I look for hotels in New York, I have to readjust my thinking about what is "reasonable".  I also have to look at where I am willing to stay.  First and foremost, I would NOT stay in a hotel rated less than 2 or 2 1/2 stars in New York. Second, you need to look at where the hotels are located. Some areas in NYC are less than family friendly.  For me, I like to stay near Times Square as I plan to spend most of my time there (Broadway!). However, it is REALLY expensive to stay in most of the Times Square hotels.  So, I broaden my search, I look for a place that is near enough I could walk or easily take a subway to the attractions I am planning to see. Luckily, Subway access is pretty much everywhere!

A bit more about location. Just to show you how different the prices are depending on where you stay. I just searched for a week in October on Expedia and I can find 2 1/2 star hotels in Newark area as low as $46/night, but the cheapest "Midtown/Broadway" area hotel is $186/night (that is the average price per night-weekend nights cost more than weekday nights). You have to decide what area you are willing to stay in and then you can budget your hotel.

Now, I read on AOL travel that if you travel to NYC between June 26 & September 1, you can actually get hotels much less expensive!

An alternate is to stay at a hostel. I have never done that, but have friends that have. Not sure I would (not even sure you can ) with kids. But you can read more about that option here.

If you are lucky enough to have family or friends in NYC, this might be a place where hitting up the family for a night or 2 might be worth it-it will save some major dough.


I have only a few things to say here: pack your tennis shoes and the stroller, grab a subway map, and get ready to move! Seriously! If you are going to NYC, I would invest in a subway pass for the week (or day or however long you are there).  Plan to walk a lot and take the Subway between places or when you are really tired.  Wes is a walker and we did not even get a full week Subway pass last time we went. We walked pretty much everywhere.  It was a bit tiring, but we had fun, saved money and really got in shape!

If you are traveling with kids, I am sure you worry about getting up and down those subway stairs with your stroller and stuff. A few stations like Grand Central have elevators, but most do not. But moms and dads-worry not! Contrary to popular opinion, New Yorkers are actually quite friendly and helpful overall, and I NEVER got to a subway stair without multiple people offering to help carry the stroller down or up with me.  Trust me, it may seem overwhelming at first, but it is actually not so bad! Give it a chance!!


This one is a toughy! Remember what I said about readjusting my idea of reasonable for hotels? Do the same with food.  The first thing I find near my hotel is a grocery store. These are insanely hard to find in NYC, so ask a local where the nearest grocery store is and go get some groceries to save some dough.  Also, check out the local delis which tend to offer reasonable prices for deli fare. They also happen to be one of my favorite parts about NYC. The delis are the best. You will find sandwiches you have eaten all your life, and you will find things you have never heard of or tried. I ate my first brie and apple sandwich in a NYC deli. Mmmm...I am hungry just thinking about it!

There are also a number of famous (and expensive) places to eat in NYC. If you want to eat at one, start looking for deals online-join the restaurant's online club if they have one, start checking City Deal Tracker everyday to see what the daily Groupon-type deals are in NYC.  FYI-the only food splurge I make in NYC is Lindy's cheesecake!

Another eating tip in New York, ask locals (ones that do not work in tourism) where they eat.  My aunt and her friends took us to places we did not know existed that were excellent, and half the price of the touristy places. 

Oh, and for an inexpensive, purely New York eating experience, find yourself a Gray's Papaya.  Or eat a hot dog or a taco or a Souvloki from a street vendor (they have to follow rules or health and are generally good). And we always eat at least once in Chinatown as that tends to cost less as well.

Attractions and Activities

There are literally thousands to choose from. Since I have no clue what you will be interested in, can I recommend that you take the travel guide I recommended you get, go through it and pick the things you really want to do. You cannot so it all! Pick your favorites, then start looking for discounts online, in the travel books, from City Deal Tracker. Ask at the hotel for discounted deals-they often have discounts available if you ask. Here are a few lists from me.

Choose from these "Must see/do" for first timers
  • Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island
  • Times Square
  • Grand Central Station
  • Empire State Building
  • a Broadway Show
  • Soho
  • Chinatown
  • Greenwich Village
  • Wall Street
  • At least one of the Museums-I would choose the Met, but it could take days to see it all!!! (there are "Pay as you wish" times and days at the museums-check those out)
  • Central Park
  • Brooklyn Bridge
  • Battery Park
  • Rockefeller Center
  • Sporting event (Baseball: Yankees, Mets Football: Jets, Giants  Basketball: Knicks, Nets Hockey: Rangers, Islanders, Devils Soccer: Red Bulls.)
*Note that I came up with most of these on my own, but supplemented the list with ideas from this Trip Advisor article about must sees for first time visitors to NYC.
How to get discounts on some on the attractions that cost:

  • Broadway: You can get inexpensive tickets the day of through TKTS or Rush. Please read what NYC Tourist says about TKTS here and what NY Tix says about Rush (which is usually by far the cheapest) here. I also found an excellent website that offers discounts if there is a particular show you are dying to see.  It is run my NY Tix and it is here.
  • Museum Deals from Go NYC here.
Free Attractions (My FAVORITE!!)

  • Central Park  ( According to Manhattan.about.com, on Friday Mornings this summer, Good Morning America will have free concerts in Rumsey Playfield in Central Park [near the park entrance at Fifth Avenue and East 69th Street] see the schedule here.
  • According to AOL Travel, taking a ride on the Staten Island Ferry will provide you with the chance to take in the eye-pleasing sights of the Statue of Liberty, New York Harbor and Ellis Island for free!
  • Rockefeller Plaza (And an added bonus The Today Show has Friday Morning concerts for FREE at 7 am during the summer, Check out this summer's schedule on Manhattan.about.com here.
  • Times Square
  • St Patrick's Cathedral
  • Grand Central Station Terminal  And, according to Go NYC, "Every Friday at 12:30, visitors gather to experience Justin Ferate's free walking tour through Grand Central and the surrounding neighborhood. Domestic and international visitors, as well as local New Yorkers looking to learn about the neighborhood, will enjoy this walking tour." See details here.
  • New York Public Library
  • Federal Reserve Bank of New York
  • Chrysler Building
  • The mile-long walk over the Brooklyn Bridge.
  • Fulton Street

Oh man do I love shopping in NYC!! I love going into the fancy stores like Tiffany's and Sax 5th Avenue and just browsing! I never buy there, but it is a joy to look!!! I went wedding dress shopping in boutiques and high end stores in NYC and felt like a princess! Some stores I would not miss with kids are the Times Square Toys R Us and FAO Schwartz! Those are a fun adventure!

But let's be honest, I am about as cheap as they come, so I never buy stuff at high end expensive stores, but I do like to buy knock offs and cheaper stuff. In New York, I always check out the stands on the streets for good knockoffs, and I never leave without checking out the merchandise in Chinatown. Seriously, it is great and cheap!


These are just the things I have learned in my NYC travels and my opinions on traveling to NYC. I am not the definitive NYC expert by any means. Please feel free to add your own tips and tricks to this and feel free to ask me any questions you might have.



Spence said...

*Heidi posting under Spencer*
We just spent a week in NYC, another thing some Broadway shows offer is a lottery. You can ask the box office or check online to see if one is offered. Basically, you go the the theater a couple of hours prior to the show and put your name in a lottery. If your name is called, you can get up to 2 tickets for very cheap.
We 'won' tickets to ROCK OF AGES. Each ticket was $26.50. Bear in mind, you have to pay with cash.