Last week we were handed a mandatory evacuation order, so we packed up our valuables and crossed “Visit NYC” off our bucket list! The past two years we’ve really tried to travel more and take opportunities every chance we get, so when a friend offered their home as a safe haven from the hurricane, we jumped at the chance!
I’ve always been intimidated to visit New York City because there is so much to see, and I felt that everything would be expensive. How could I possibly plan the perfect trip to visit it all? And not spend a million dollars? And do we stay in a hotel or an Airbnb? Should we drive or take a bus to the city, or do we learn the subway system? Should we take our kids or would we enjoy it more if it’s just the two of us?
We didn’t have time to plan any of that this time, and I’m so thankful we got this mini-vacation before we plan a full one! But I did heed the Traxplorio | Must Have Travel Gadgets blog on what essentials to carry and what to not. I loathe when people do something once and then write a blog post about the perfect way to do it, so that’s definitely not what this is. But for those of you wondering how to even begin planning, or if it’s worth it, this is for you! Also I’ll talk $$$ as much as possible, because that’s a huge factor!
Taking the bus tour first was the best decision we made! We got to see many of the big sites without having to find them ourselves, and it dramatically reduced our walking and travel times. It helped us to get our bearings and see where we wanted to visit. We used a Groupon for the Gray Line Hop On Hop Off Tour on the downtown loop. I had to dig for it– there are so many options and it’s so confusing! But this was the absolute best price at $19 for each of us ($76 for the family). The tour loop took 3 hours, and you can hop on and off to see different sights, then just catch the next bus. I’d recommend going early in the morning if you plan to go to different stops so that you can maximize your time. I had a broken toe, and Zane took a nap on the bus, so we just stayed on the bus the whole time.
*You can do different loops- I loved the downtown loop because it was the sights I wanted to see. We couldn’t see the Statue of Liberty from the bus, FYI.
*When we arrived, they let us know that Zane looked young enough to not need a ticket. He’s 5, but looks 2-3 years old. I would have felt bad about lying, so I’m glad we bought the ticket. But the guy did say, “Only you can tell us how old your kid is…”
We got one week unlimited subway cards for the week for $33 each. Rides are $2.75 each, or $3 if you buy just one ticket. Rather than checking costs the whole time, adding more money to the ticket, etc, I loved the unlimited. Kids didn’t need a ticket (the website says 44″ is the limit)- they just go under the turnstile.
When we got back home, I added up exactly how much we would have spent if we’d bought single tickets. Because we were only there for 2 days, we would have only spent $20ish rather than $33. So if you’re planning on going more than 2 days, unlimited is the way to go! But we didn’t know how long we would be there, and honestly thought it would be more than 2 days because there was a category 5 hurricane headed for our house at the time!
I am not intimidated by subway riding but learning a new city is hard– especially New York!! I googled “Riding the NYC subway for dummies” and found this, which was immensely helpful. Then I read this. Then I downloaded Transit App, where I put in my destination and it told me which train to get on and which stop I was going to. Definitely an awesome app and imperative for our trip!
We stayed on a friends couch. More like an acquaintance. Ok… it was Josh’s Facebook friend that we’d never met in real life!
Sidenote: Josh has a group of buddies on Facebook that all love bourbon. Anytime we travel, he tries to meet up with whoever lives close. It’s definitely not the most normal thing in the world, but we love making new friends. And… it’s worth mentioning that we’ve gotten to do a lot of cool things simply because we know people. They help us out, we help them out, and we have a broader world view in the process. It’s not always the most comfortable thing to stay at someone’s house or have someone stay with you, but we’ve done it a lot, and we get to know more people and do more things as a result of it! On this trip, the couple had a son that was 10 days older than Hazel. It was so cool to peek into their lives and see what was the same and what was different. And the kids loved playing together!
Another side note: Since we brought Zane home, we’ve stayed at 7 different houses during our travels. Four of them were family, 1 was a Facebook friend, and 2 were complete strangers (that had been vetted by a company). Zane has only been home a year and a half!
The family we stayed with was awesome, and we are so incredibly blessed.
The next time we go, finding a place close to the Subway is at the top of my list (this family lived very close to a stop and it was perfect). I’d rather save money and stay further out since I plan to ride the subway anyway. When we went to the city, we typically stayed all day, so a 30 minute subway ride wasn’t a big deal to us. We don’t have a subway where we live, so riding around is part of the experience!
When we hit the city for the day, we carried the daily essentials in one backpack.
-Snacks for the kids
–Refillable water bottles (we brought our smallest ones for the kids, and drank theirs when needed)
-Change of clothes for our youngest (who recently potty trained) as well as his g-tube blended food with syringes (basically whatever we need to feed him for the day)
–Hand sanitizer to attach to the outside of the backpack, and I attached hair ties to that so they were easy to find
-One of the portable phone chargers like this one. Worth every penny. Also great for Disney World! We forgot ours at home, but we did have our drone battery, which can be used as one, so that was a huge win!
-We brought Nikon d750 and a 24-70 lens. It was kind of annoying to carry around, but the images were worth it and we kept it in the bag when we weren’t using it. We did photo and video on it, but also took tons on our cell phones. I used the DSLR for some portraits, and then we used the iPhone for just casual photos. If you have a lighter camera, totally take it! We also brought a 50mm in case we did any portrait sessions, but didn’t take it into the city because the versatility of the 24-70 is king!
-Cash for street vendors
-If you have a younger kid, a Tula or carrying pack would be wise. A stroller can be cumbersome with the subway and busy streets. We carried Zane on our shoulders a lot to avoid carrying the Tula since he walked so much. The Tula takes up a lot of backpack space if you aren’t using it.
We checked into the Statue of Liberty tours. You can go on the island, on the platform, or all the way up in the crown. There are several vendors for tickets, but the pricing didn’t line up with the National Park Service’s website, so I was leery. We opted to ride the free Staten Island Ferry that goes by the statue. When you board from the Manhattan side, go to the right and stand by the window and you’ll see the statue. On the way back, go to the left and you’ll be on the statue side (though it’s from a farther distance on the way back). You’ll also get a great view of the skyline on the way back! On a future visit, we’ll definitely do the Statue of Liberty up close and go up in the crown. Statue Cruises is the only vendor that the National Park Service authorizes for tickets for the Statue of Liberty, so that’s who we’ll use on our next trip– and we will be sure to plan ahead!
I didn’t have MTV a ton growing up, but TRL (Total Request Live) was a staple of my teenage life, right along with TGIF. I all but cried when I stepped into Times Square. I squealed when I saw the McDonalds, and I could have sat there all day. We took a lot of pictures here, people watched, and ate at McDonalds! Y’all, the McDonalds had regular pricing!!! Wha??? They had a dollar menu and everything. I expected theme park pricing, honestly. It was so nice to get the kids a $3 Happy Meal in Times Square and we could all be happy.
They also had a red tiered seating area- I’m not sure if it’s always there or temporary, but it was awesome to sit and see Times Square in all of its awesomeness. As the sun set, we didn’t even notice because it’s so bright. We also went down a side street and got some pizza. Yum!
It’s just a big store with tons of candy and M&M merchandise. If you like candy and picking out your colors, go. If you have kids with you, go. The M&M’s are overpriced, but the kids felt they were at a theme park, so it was worth it. It’s right by Times Square, too!
I’ve always loved the juxtaposition of the tall buildings and the park, and wanted to see Central Park in real life. Because my toe was broken, we didn’t go far into the park. We rode the subway to the closest spot to the playground on the far south side. It was a neat playground, and the kids had a blast! I really wanted to do the horse and carriage ride, but we decided not to on this trip since we’d already done the bus tour, and our kids were pretty tired.
However… as we entered the park, the guys on bikes were trying to get us to take a ride, of course. The one hour price started at $150, then the guy went down to $100, the next guy went down to $85, and the next guy (with a super ragged bike) went down to $50. We didn’t do it, but I wonder if the horse and carriage was the same way on the pricing or if their prices were firm.
There were hardly any kids in the city when we were there. Possibly because it was the school year? I don’t know. I’m sure we looked hilarious walking around, with our two kids, tube feeding Zane on the sidewalk. But you know what? We don’t care if people stare. We enjoy life, and we had a great time!
We did prepare Hazel about street vendors and beggars ahead of time. It was a hard convo to have with a kid, but necessary so we weren’t having it in the middle of the street. We let her know that there would be lots of people selling things, and that we wouldn’t be buying everything. We also prepped her about the characters in Times Square, and that they weren’t like the ones in Disney World, and it costs money to take pictures with them. We explained that we’d rather spend our money on other things.
Letting them buy a souvenir on the first day was awesome. They chose little monkeys they could tie around their necks and it kept them entertained during the trip! The monkeys were also light to carry in the backpack. Hazel also picked out an amazing hat. It’s bedazzled in every possible way, and says, USA really big on the front. I can’t wait for hat day at school this year– you can’t look at the hat and not smile!
M&M world was the perfect “dessert” place with the kids, and it’s right at Times Square. They got to pick out the colors and flavors they wanted, and it was a big ordeal. It was kind of an overwhelming place, but it’s New York… everything is overwhelming. I think it really let the kids feel like they got to do something for themselves, and that’s important on a vacation with kids! They can’t feel like they’re being dragged all around without anything fun for themselves.
We skipped One World Trade Center. I really want to go there, but didn’t want to take my kids. When I go, I want to spend hours. I want to walk around and just feel all the feelings, and reflect on things. Or at least teach my kids about it. This just wasn’t the trip for it.
At the end of the day, there’s no way we could see and do everything we wanted in New York City in one visit, and I’m glad we didn’t try to cram it all in. Any time we go on vacation, we have a family chat about what’s most important to us. We try to at least do one important thing for each family member, so everyone has a good time. Hazel wanted to see the Statue of Liberty, I wanted to see Times Square, and Josh always loves to hang out with his bourbon buddies. Zane is too young to choose most of the time, but we knew M&M’s World would be a hit for him (and it was!).
And here are a million pictures of our visit. 🙂 Note that Zane’s face tells a different story about our trip. Taking a young kid to the city is hard, especially when they have a past like Zane’s. He actually didn’t cry the whole trip, but if we had the camera out, it meant we weren’t 100% focused on him, and that’s when things started to go downhill. But you know what? It’s okay. We don’t expect him to be happy and grateful for every life experience. Overall he had fun. He’s our wild little boy right now, and he honestly did really great on the trip overall!
Josh slept on the bus tour… in the city that never sleeps.Hazel stood so perfectly still for this long exposure picture!!!Here’s the amazing hat that Hazel got. For a hot minute we thought we left it on the subway and everyone was sad. But we didn’t! The hat lives on, and I think it sparkles just like her personality!We encourage her to take pictures, too! So she took a bunch on our phones, including this selfie in Times Square.