Every summer, I intend to grab life by the horns and drink it down with gusto. Add in whatever other cliches and metaphors you’d like to that and you get the picture.
Summer is meant to be spent sleeping in and relaxing by the pool. It’s meant for impromptu block parties and late evenings looking at the stars. But it’s also meant to get out and explore! And that’s where my ambitions don’t always match my reality.
Enter an email invitation for me to attend an event in NYC and suddenly my wheels start turning. At 9 years old, Evan has never really been to NYC even though it’s a mere three hours away. I respond YES to the invitation and immediately start thinking about how to turn this into a mini-vacation at the least and a mini-adventure at the most.
Here’s how I did exactly that on a pretty limited budget and how you can learn from my lessons if you decide to venture out with your kids to the greatest city in the world (arguably).
Plan in advance for your train (or plane) ticket
Personally, I hate to plan anything too far in advance, mainly because I can’t bear the thought of waiting so long for my next adventure. I got an email on June 23rd for an event on August 8th so I had adequate time (but not too much time to plan).
Living so close to NYC, I love to take Amtrak from BWI airport right into Penn Station. Not only is the train relaxing (free wifi, outlets in every seat, easy entry and exit, cafe car), but it can be relatively inexpensive if you catch fares at the right time.
Going to NYC is definitely a weekend adventure for most. Finding a great fare on a Friday afternoon and returning on a Sunday evening is nearly impossible unless you book months in advance. But if you can shift your dates to an off-peak time, you’re in business.
For our trip, we booked 14 days in advance and got the “Saver” fare. If you catch one of the frequent sales on Amtrak, you can get a fare like mine – $49 each way adult, $24.50 each way child (ages 2-12). Score! For $150, I didn’t have to worry about driving, gas, tolls, or parking. And Evan got to experience his first train ride.
Work your hotel connections
Location in NYC is so important but for the love of God, do yourself a favor and stay away from Times Square. Unless, of course, you enjoy lots of lights, noise, and really annoying people.
For this trip, I totally worked my hotel connections. Last year, I attended an event at the Loews Annapolis Hotel and posted a photo during my stay on Instagram, as one does. By using the hotel hashtag, Loews Hotels saw (and liked!) my photo and asked if they could use it for their #TravelForReal campaign. In exchange for my permission, they provided me a certificate for a complimentary one night’s stay at one of their properties. Score!
We were able to make a VIP reservation for a one night’s stay at the Loews Regency Hotel which is within walking distance of Central Park (and Times Square, for that matter). Talk about a luxury stay!
I can’t say enough about the treatment I received even though I wasn’t paying a dime. I was greeted by the VIP Manager, shown to my extraordinarily large room (for NYC), and had wonderful interactions with everyone I met, especially the concierge on the day we were checking out.
Now, what if you don’t play on Instagram or nobody notices your fabulous social media presence? That’s okay too. You can still pitch local hotels (if you’re in the influencer space and have something legitimate to offer them) or you can find a great deal on great sites like Booking.com (my favorite), Hotels.com, HotelTonight, or even calling a hotel directly for last minute availability.
Do some touristy things with a CityPASS
Admittedly, there are some perks to being a member of the media. CityPASS, which one of my friends raves about for other cities, happens to offer a media experience for those looking to write about their experience. They like to have 30 days notice to accommodate you and, of course, I gave them about 7 days. Typical.
And accommodate me, they did! They graciously provided me two CityPASS booklets for New York City. What exactly did that provide me?
The CityPASS NYC selects and provides tickets for six tourist experiences for you for one set price ($116 for adults, $92 for youth – ages 6-17):
When you add up the admission prices, the CityPASS saves you about 40% off the ticket prices AND it saves you from waiting in the ticket lines.
However… I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you a few things you should know before purchasing the CityPASS for New York City.
- This is a great deal if you plan to go to all six attractions on the list. We had about two days worth of tourist time which just wasn’t enough to take advantage of everything. I’d look at spending at least four days in NYC to take full advantage of the CityPASS.
- While the CityPASS usually allows you to bypass the ticket line, it doesn’t give you any shortcuts on the admission line. Sometimes the wait for an attraction was over an hour just to get in. My recommendation is to see things early or late in the day and allow plenty of time.
- The CityPASS is a perfect introduction for someone who doesn’t know much about the city. Don’t know what to see or where to go? This is a great roadmap for you. If you’re an experienced NYCer (or NYC tourist), you might be better off winging it on your own.
See a show on Broadway with the help of your friends
Depending on the age or temperament of your child, Broadway might not be the place to experiment with theatre. I knew, however, that Evan had interest after watching some of the recent live productions of shows like Peter Pan on TV. Also, I asked him and he definitely wanted to see a show.
You know how I got a great deal on Broadway tickets? I asked my friends!
In case you hadn’t noticed, people on Facebook love to give advice. So when I asked questions on my Facebook page, as a Broadway newbie, I got everything I needed to know.
Best shows for kids:
Best ways to find cheap tickets:
How to dress:
Apparently, there is no real dress code anywhere anymore. But take my advice. Teach your kid that there are some things worth dressing up for. This was one of them.
Try new forms of transportation
Personally, I think it’s hilarious that after our trip to DC this summer, “Uber” is now a part of Evan’s vocabulary. Everywhere we went, he requested we get an Uber. While Uber is great in a large city like New York, I didn’t want him to miss out on the best part of a city vacation – walking! We did a lot of walking and there was mild complaining. That’s to be expected.
We did take our fair share of cabs but the money and the time spent sitting in traffic really adds up. So I did the unthinkable. I RODE THE SUBWAY. Not only that, I rode the subway WITH my son and WITHOUT and experienced New Yorker with us! And you know what? It was amazing.
Now I don’t want New Yorkers to hate me for sending tourists into the subway, but it’s not nearly as intimidating as I thought. It’s hot and smelly, sure, but it was so easy. Instead of spending over $20 and probably an hour in a cab to get from downtown all the way back to our hotel, we hopped on the subway and did the trip in 20 minutes for only $6.
For our trip planning, I simply entered the “to” and “from” destinations on Google Maps, picked public transit as my preferred method of transportation, and it scouted the not only the best line but the most efficient line for the trip (which varies depending on the time of day and reliability of the trains).
Lower your expectations
I fully expected Evan to have every awe-inspired moment that I’ve had in New York City. But then again, my first trip was as an adult. It took me a while to realize that Evan wouldn’t get excited over seeing THE Radio City Music Hall because he really had no idea what it was.
Instead, we slowed our pace. We took the time to climb a rock in Central Park. We zipped through The Met and giggled at the modern art. We skipped the Empire State Building and visited the Top of the Rock.
When we were hungry, we grabbed hot dogs and hot pretzels from a street corner. When we were tired, we sat down and had something from Starbucks. When he was overwhelmed, we went shopping at the Nintendo store (it was a source of familiarity for him).
And when we didn’t know what else to do, we looked for Pokémon. Seriously. That was probably one of the most exciting things for him simply because he was in NYC at a Pokémon Go hotspot that our cab driver told us about.
For his first trip, he got enough of a taste that I think he’ll want to go back. While we were hot, sweaty, and exhausted, we did make an adventure out of it and we made sure we left plenty still to see.