Well, I just got back from my amazing trip around New England, so get ready for a series of posts about my fantabulous (that’s totally a word) trip! My husband and I are all about finding cheap airfare and then planning a vacation around that location. We usually fly to the cheapest place we can find, and then do a little road trip loop around the area. That’s exactly what we did for our most recent Spring Break Trip. We flew into New York City (JFK) because the husband found airfare on Jet Blue from Palm Springs, California to JFK, for a ridiculously low $132 a ticket. Of course we had to snatch up that deal. We plotted a route that would start in NYC and take us to Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, (with a short drive through New Jersey), and back to New York City. We spent two nights in NYC at the very beginning of our trip and did a whirlwind tour. Get ready to get all the hot tips you ever wanted on traveling to NYC with two kids while staying on a budget. Read on to find out how we did it.
Where We Stayed
I scoured through hundreds of pins on Pinterest and read tons of blogs about cheap (but nice) places to stay in the city. Then the husband comes across this little gem. The Nesva Hotel in Queens was the perfect place to stay for this little family. First off, they let us check in at like 8:00 in the morning. I know that isn’t always going to be an option, and they happened to have a room open at this time of the morning, but this basically saved our behinds. We came in on the first flight after a blizzard. We took a red eye, and we were so tired. We were just gonna drop our luggage off and take a subway to Manhattan, but I am so glad we were able to sleep before we took off on our adventures.
Secondly, this place was only $100 bucks a night and it included a free continental breakfast. I didn’t even know they had breakfast until we checked in. It was nothing too fancy, but it had coffee, juice, muffins, pastries, cereal, yogurt, etc. I haven’t heard of too many hotels that close to the action giving complimentary breakfast. This place was also a solid 3 star hotel and it was just a short subway ride away from the action.
The subway is just a half a block from the hotel entrance and we had no problem finding it and getting to the city. Everyone that we met that worked at the hotel was friendly and gave amazing customer service. The room was small, but I imagine all rooms in the city are small. We didn’t spend too much time in the room anyway. The internet was also a little finicky in the evening. Other than that, this place was fantastic. I will stay here every time I come to New York City in the future.
My Vacation Pants (MVP) Tip: Get some good old fashioned take out food delivered right to your hotel room. We grabbed some take out menus from the front desk, ordered over the phone, and in 30 minutes we had dinner at our door. This was a great option for a family with some tired kiddos.
I was a little nervous about using the subway. I read a bunch of guides before we went, but it is actually quite easy to use. That was the main transportation we used in the city, and now that we know how to use it, I would probably use it even more next time. Here is a step by step guide.
Step 1: Make sure your hotel is near a subway stop. Ours was a 4 minute walk from the front of the hotel which was super convenient.
Step 2: Buy a Metrocard. You just need to purchase one for your entire party. It costs $1 to buy a pay-per-ride Metrocard. Add how much you want to add at the machine or pay at the tollbooth. Children 5 and under are free and the attendant will tell you to just have the kiddos duck under the turnstile. If you are 6 and up, it costs $2.75 a ride no matter how long or short you ride. That’s quite a deal.
Step 3: Board the right train. I thought that some of the trains were really direct and easy to use while others you had to be a local to know the information. For example, if you are going to the Staten Island Ferry Terminal on the Subway, only the first five cars in the train are able to exit to the terminal. This is due to damage that has not been repaired from Hurricane Sandy. We didn’t know this, and they didn’t make the announcement about this particular stop until the stop right before Staten Island. Luckily, a nice local woman overheard our kids excitement about going to the Statue of Liberty and told us that we needed to jump a train car at every stop before we got the station. Whew, crisis averted.
Step 4: As long as you don’t exit the subway terminal you only have to pay the $2.75 per ride. You can Google Map your route before you get on the train and see how many transfers you need to make. You only have to pay if you have to leave the subway station and go to another one.
MVP Tip: Never board an empty subway car. There is usually a reason that car is empty. Stay with the crowd.
What We Did
I know there are a gajillion things to do in NYC, but we only had two days there and it was our first time visiting, so I think we did pretty dang good in our sightseeing tour. We did it for really cheap as well. The first day we took a subway to Times Square and planned to walk around. When my husband and I walked up the subway and laid our eyes on Times Square, I have to admit that we both got a little misty eyed. We have seen so many movies with New York as the back drop, and believe me, NYC lived up to the hype. I couldn’t believe we were actually there. I think the coolest part about being in the city the day after one of the hugest snow storms of the year was how empty the city was. It was like we got the whole place to ourselves. I guess my tip is, if you can time your trip to go at a cold and non peak time, you are going to avoid the crowds, which we did. Okay, check out the list below to see what we did in order of appearance.
- Times Square – Make sure you get a shot of Times Square. It’s like your are in a movie.
- M & M World – On Times Square they have a bunch of candy stores including the triple decker store of M & Ms. We had a blast walking around and seeing all the merchandise and candy, but it was a little spendy for a pack of candy, soooooo we walked down the street and bought a much cheaper bag of M&Ms at the convience store.
- Mini Plexi Glass Waterfall Tunnel – As we were following our Google Map walking directions to the Nintendo Store we stumbled upon the iconic waterfall tunnel. The waterfall was frozen because it was the dead of winter, but it looked really cool with the snow and there wasn’t a big crowd trying to take pictures.
- Nintendo Store – Did you know the only Nintendo Store in the entire world is in NYC? My hubby and son are like the hugest Nintendo fans ever, so we had to stop there. It was like a museum, store, and video game lounge all in one. We had fun escaping the chilliness of the day and playing some video games.
- 30 Rockefeller Center – I am a huge fan of the television show 30 Rock, not to mention Saturday Night Live, so seeing 30 Rockfeller Center was on the must do list for sure. There are so many iconic structures, like the Rainbow Room sign, NBC studios, the fountain out front, the flags, the ice skating rink. There is a mall in the basement where we grabbed a quick bite to eat. Definitely worth going to while you are in the city.
- American Girl Store – As we were walking along the shops of 5th Avenue, we came upon every little girl’s dream, the American Girl Store. My daughter was bedazzled by all the pink girlishness. I heard afterwards there is usually a line to get in, but since we were there in the down season we had the whole store to ourselves. I would have loved to have had my daughter bring her American Girl doll and get to go around the store, but remember I am a bargain traveler, and there is no way I would have paid $20 plus dollars for her doll to get her hair done. But it did look like a lot of fun. If you have a little girl that is a fan, it is definitely worth stopping at.
- Empire State Building – We were running out of time on our first day in the city, so we just walked by the building and got shots from afar. There is something very romantic about the building. I guess it is all the movies I have watched growing up. It is also just a classic NYC icon. You have to see it.
- New York Public Library – The building itself is a wonder. The lion statues out front are eerie and mesmerizing. Also, hello, Ghostbusters. There was a line to come in and see it, plus you have to go through an airport style security check to go inside, so maybe leave the purse at the hotel for that visit.
- Flat Iron Building – I have never seen anything quite like it. Worth a walk by for sure. #selfiespotThat was it for day one. We headed back to the subway, got back to the room, and had some authentic New York style Chinese takeout delivered to our room. Yummers!Day 2 itinerary:
- Back to the subway, this time to the end of the line: Battery Park.
- Battery Park- Battery Park is where one of the boats that goes to the Statue of Liberty takes off from. We bought our tickets to Lady Liberty two months in advance because I did not want to miss it. My kids had two requests, the Nintendo Store, and the Statue of Liberty. I needed to secure those tickets. You can get the tickets from Battery Park or New Jersey, so we opted for Battery Park. The subway was about a 10 minute walk from the park. You get to take in the Manhattan skyline and see some old buildings set against the new buildings, which is quite a sight to see. The ocean views are stunning as well. The ticket center for the Statue of Liberty is inside an old battery, hence the name Battery Park. We spent a lot of time at Battery Park because we had to wait in a three hour security line to get on the ferry. I suggest taking the earlier boats out to the island. I feel like the afternoon boats are really packed. They funnel thousands of people through one tiny door and it is complete chaos. Make sure you are prepared for that experience.
- Statue of Liberty – Once we got on Liberty Island I feel like the crowds thinned out. It seems like everyone is going separate places. We rushed over to go up and use our crown tickets. They only let people use their crown tickets until 3:30 and we almost didn’t make it with all the traffic from waiting for the ferry. The crown was the highlight of our trip to New York. You have to try to get crown tickets. You take a spiral staircase to the top and the views are simply breathtaking. Then you take a separate spiral staircase down. My husband and I are bigger folks, so I was happy they had little resting areas for us to catch our breath and let people by, but I definitely did not regret the experience one bit. A lot of people had bought pedestal tickets and the wind was too dangerous to let people out on to the pedestal, so they closed it. I would have been so bummed if we didn’t get to go to the crown.
- Fearless Girl – Over by the bull in the Wall Street area stands a temporary art installation called Fearless Girl. It was supposed to only be up for a week, but they have extended her stay for another year. It was fun and emotional to see something so temporary and beautiful. I loved that my #fearless children got to see her in all her glory as well.
- Wall Street – We made our way walking around the city and saw Wall Street. It is a hubbub of activity and you can see some very wealthy people walking around the city. It is an interesting contrast to other parts of the city.
- World Trade Center Memorial – My daughter just learned about 9/11 in school this year, so it was particularly moving seeing the names of all the people who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks. My children were quiet and pensive as we watched the waterfalls and thought about that sad day. I think it is important to talk about the hard stuff with your kiddos sometimes, so that they understand the world we live in.
- Soho Neighborhood – We decided to walk through the city some more because we wanted to soak in as much as possible before we left the next day. I was happy we went through a couple of the neighborhoods. Soho is so hip and fun.
- Tribeca Neighborhood – Another famous NYC neighborhood is Tribeca. It was fun seeing all the fun little New York City stores and eateries and it just looked like a fun place to live.
- Greenwich Village – After walking for three miles, we decided to stop and get some cookie dough at before we headed back to our hotel. I will talk about that in the food section of this post, but we actually really got to take in a lot by just walking though the neighborhoods. I’m glad we decided to walk through them instead of Subway through.
These are the main things we did in our whirlwind tour. Whew! I need to take a nap now!
While we were in NYC my husband downloaded Uber and I downloaded Lyft. We ended up using Lyft three times during our two day trip. It was cheaper and easier to find at the airport. They even had a pick up sign out front of the airport. If you are getting picked up at JFK, no need to go to the taxi area. Just head out to the normal pick up area and find the Lyft sign. We were picked up withing 7 minutes of ordering our car. One of the nights we opted to take a Lyft back to the hotel instead of the subway. The kiddos were so tired and sometimes it is worth just keeping everyone on the verge of happiness. All our drivers were really nice and got us to our destination in no time at all.
What We Ate
Although we didn’t quite have time to go on the culinary tour I intended to, I think we still made some really excellent choices as far as food goes. Now remember, we were eating on a tight budget, and we only had two days in New York, so fast food and take out was the way to go.
- Street Carts – From New York Pretzels to Halal food, we loved taking in a little street side snack during our trip to New York City. It was like we didn’t really have to stop our tour because there was amazing street food every five feet. Make sure you bring some cash on your walking tour through the city.
- Good Taste Chinese Restaurant – We grabbed some take out menus from the lobby on our first night and ordered a family meal from Good Taste. Well the name is pretty fitting because it was so good. We got soup, entrees, egg rolls, noodles, and more. Best part is, they delivered it right to our hotel room and it was only $30 to feed the whole family. We had tons of leftovers too. It tasted so different from the Chinese Food I have had in California. It was fun to try something different and yummy.
- Mike’s Pizza – On our 2nd night we decided to order in again. We figured it was a great way to wind down from the day and we had such a good experience the first night. We needed to get some greasy New York style pizza. I called down to the local pizza place and ordered a good ole pepperoni pizza. This time we fed the whole family for $20 with a tip, and again fresh hot pizza, delivered right to our hotel door. We just bought some sodas out of the hotel vending machine (with our credit card).
- DO – So I know you have all seen the Facebook video of the place in NYC that serves cookie dough like ice cream. Well, we saw it too, and so did all the people in the hour long line we waited with in the freezing cold. It was worth the wait for sure. You have to wait across the street in a long line so you don’t block the businesses on the same side of the street. You are given a ticket and you cross the street and our let in to the storefront with your special ticket. It is about a 20 minute wait once you are inside and presto, you have cookie dough to munch on for dessert. We bought four large cups and we really didn’t need that much, but it didn’t go to waste. Since they use pasteurized eggs the dough keeps for up to three weeks in the fridge. Luckily we didn’t have to eat it all in one sitting.
Well there you have it. Two days in New York City. New York is officially on my return list, and if I ever find cheap airfare again I will be returning. I am totally not a big city girl, but I fell in love with this big city. It was that fantastic. Check out our travelogue below and don’t forget to check back about other New England states we visited during this trip. Happy travels everyone!
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