What a whirlwind the last 2 weeks have been. I drove 2 of my kids (13 and 16) to Cooperstown, NY for my sons baseball tournament. That’s an 18 hour drive as a single driver. We spent 6 nights in Cooperstown where my husband and our youngest daughter (11) met us after their softball tournament in Tennessee. Once our baseball tournament in Cooperstown was over, we started the trek back home together. The 5 of us….in a sedan. First tip, don’t drive 18 hours with 5 people in a sedan. Ha!
We made two tourist stops on the way back. New York City and Washington D.C. These were semi-planned trips. We booked the hotels just before leaving Cooperstown. We had the kids make lists of what they wanted to see in each city. As my husband drove from Cooperstown to NYC, I googled and tried to map out our plan of action. The drive was right around 3 hours.
I wanted to share some tips we learned along the way. I highly recommend having a plan of action instead of winging it last minute like us. And of course if you can have more than a day and a half in the city, do it. There is a lot to see and do. However, we were able to see quite a bit in our short 1.5 days in the city.
Wear comfortable shoes
Wow my feet and legs were burning after the first day in the city. Although, our Cooperstown trip required a lot of up and downhill walking, so I was already a bit sore from that. If you’re like our Florida family, your closet is full of flip flops, slides, and sandals. Not going to fly in the city. My oldest daughter only packed sandals and she was regretting that choice. The rest of us wore sneakers and were grateful for them by the end of the day. First day? 8.2 miles of walking.
We traveled in the hot summer month of July. I carried a backpack with 2 waters per person. This was not enough. We ended up purchasing more. Keep in mind, prices are higher for almost everything in Manhattan. Plan accordingly.
Walking vs sightseeing bus
I have been to NYC many times without my kiddos. I have done the sightseeing bus tours and I’ve traveled in taxis, subways, and even a pedicab…P.S. I don’t suggest that in NYC traffic! If you’re short on time, walking is so much better than the sightseeing bus. I know that sounds backwards, but the lines waiting at all the sightseeing bus stops that we passed were extremely long. I’d guess you’d have to wait about 3 buses to get on one. No good for my kids. They wanted to go, go, go. So we walked it out and used the subway for anything that was over a mile or 1.3mi away.
List your must see attractions and map it out before heading out
Each of our kids listed their must-see places. On the list:
a subway ride
a ferry ride
The Vessel / High Line
Shopping for souvenirs
Foods to eat:
I’m happy to say that we visited everything on the list except the Vessel / High Line, but we did see it from afar! We had time to see it at the end of our trip, but the kids were so exhausted that they each agreed they’d rather get back to the car and rest.
Where to Stay
By now, you all know that I’m thrifty. I like to save as much money as possible, yet still want my kids to have great experiences. This took a little planning when choosing where to stay in NYC. If you’re looking to save a little money, keep reading.
NYC offers many, many hotels. When I did a search, not one hotel offered free parking. Parking started at right around $30 per day. We had our car, so this was a big deal. 2 days = $60+ just for the car. Not good. Plus, who wants to fight the traffic to get to your hotel in NYC? Not these Florida drivers. Also, hotels in New York City collect a city tax on top of their already higher tax rate. I also had a hard time finding a good hotel with breakfast included, which is a great savings for a family of our size. Also, to reserve a quality (3 stars+) in NYC, which is what we were looking for, the prices were just not in our budget.
Our solution? Stay just over the water in New Jersey. We saved on taxes and parking. Our car was safely in a parking garage the entire trip, free of charge. Our hotel in New Jersey was across from the bus stop that would take us to Port Authority in NYC..and it was only a few dollars. Or they had a free shuttle over to the ferry boat..which was on the kids to do list (and kids are free!). Our hotel was perfect. It was clean, in a good area, walking distance to shopping, and had a Starbucks in the lobby. Also, it was about $50 less than any hotel I found in NYC that had similar ratings/stars BEFORE taxes! And, we were able to sleep soundly. No honking horns and sirens all night long like my past stays in Manhattan. This is a huge perk if you have kiddos. The only drawback, no free breakfast. We all wanted a fresh New York Bagel anyway, so this worked out great.
Tips on Riding the Subway
First things first. The subway is safe in NYC. I remember going for the first time and being terrified thanks to things I’ve seen in movies and on TV. I felt very safe on the subway every time I’ve visited New York City. If I didn’t feel safe, I would not have brought the kids. The only issue that we had, which turned out just fine, was the very first time I visited New York City as an adult. I was just 20 years old. I got off on the wrong stop. I walked up the stairs, walked about a block and turned right around to go back. It was not a good neighborhood and I was not welcome. Now 20+ years later, I know most of the neighborhoods have vastly improved!
Tip #1: ASK FOR HELP! If you’re not familiar with the subway system, navigation can be quite a feat. There are so many – A train, B train, P train, Yellow, Orange, blue, etc etc. I had been on the subway before and knew that you need to have a plan before getting down those steps. ASK. In my personal experiences riding the subway, I’ve always had the best luck asking the front desk employee or bellhop at our hotel for subway directions. They are patient and very helpful. Or if you find a police officer, they are also very helpful. The subway employees were not as helpful and seemed quite annoyed with tourists. This was just my experience. Also, our phones now have public transit info on google maps. But, be careful, we were having a hard time with ours down in the subway. So, my tip is, ASK and get directions BEFORE going down those steps. Once you’re down there it’s busy and loud..also hot and stinky in the summer.
Tip #2: Beware of locking out your credit card! You are not able to purchase your tickets in bulk. We had 5 people with us, so that meant 5 transactions back to back. Our bank card did not like this and after the 3rd it locked us out of our account. Transactions back to back like that I suppose our card was flagged for fraud. Not good on a vacation. We used a second card for those last 2 tickets, then had to call our bank and iron that mess out.
If you’re trying to get the best value, my best tip is, find restaurants away from the most popular attractions. Our first stop was for pizza. Times Square/Broadway had plenty of places for pizza, but it was 3x as much as the pizza that we saw on our way from the ferry. I wish I had written down the name of the pizza place we found. We were able to snag a slice and a canned soda or bottled water for $2.50! YES it was an A rated restaurant! This beat the $4.50 slices and $2.95 sodas in Times Square. And it was DELICIOUS!
Looking for cannoli’s? Shop around in Little Italy. The further we walked down the street, the better deals they offered. I learned this the hard way the first trip to Little Italy. I paid $6.50 for a cannoli, only to walk further and find 2 for $5! Yikes. I haven’t had a cannoli that I don’t like in Little Italy. Not a fan of cannoli’s? These NYC bakeries have amazing cheesecake, lobster tails, and gelato. Try one of each.
NYC has everything when it comes to shopping. From top designer stores to cheesy tourist shops. They have it all. This trip with the teens was not about shopping, except for a few tourist items. And what better place to grab a deal than Canal Street. China Town didn’t disappoint. My older daughter wanted to experience China Town and we all wanted a little something to take home to remind us of our trip. I taught my girls how to get a bargain by deciding how much they wanted to pay for an item and then offering a much lower price. It worked! My kids were able to experience their first outdoor fish market. Or should I say they were able to smell their first outdoor fish market.
Buy your tickets online before you arrive. This will save you a few dollars. My kids were happy with just seeing the sites. They didn’t want to go into the Empire State Building or over to the Statue of Liberty, they just wanted to see them and take photos. This saved us quite a bit of money.
So many sites to see are free. The 9-11 Memorial, the Vessel, High Line, Central Park, Battery Park, Times Square, all free! Another little tip if you can stay out late is to wait at the back door of the Broadway shows. I’ve done this in the past and seen quite a few celebrities. So much fun!
That’s all I have for now. Are you traveling to NYC? What is on your must see list?