Family life

Travelling on a budget

Amy and her family enjoyed a low-cost March Break vacation in New York City

By Amy Baskin
Travelling on a budget

Talia enjoys the sights and sounds of New York City. Photo by Amy Baskin.

Jack and I adore the Big Apple. Because of the noise and the large crowds, we never thought Talia would enjoy it. But when friends offered us an Upper West Side apartment for March Break, we couldn't resist. With juice boxes and an iPad in the backseat, Tal was happy for the long drive there and back. Well — for most of the long drive there and back! Read on for our trip highlights and for tips on saving cash while exploring the city.

The subway: If your kids are fascinated with trains and subways, they’ll love this town. With a seven-day Metro card ($29 each), we zoomed through all the subway and bus rides we could stomach. No need for expensive taxis. Great people-watching too.

Central Park Zoo: It took a bit of sleuthing to find the zoo — the park is massive. After passing joggers, cyclists, fountains, dogs and an outdoor skating rink, we finally found it. Since it was a weekday, there were few crowds and no lineup to get in. Tal especially loved the penguin display and the sea lions shaking "hands" with their trainers. With a packed lunch, we skipped the pricey chicken fingers at the snack bar. A great outing for young kids or those who do best with a small, walkable zoo.

FAO Schwarz toy store: We followed Tal’s lead as she wandered from floor to glorious floor admiring the giant stuffed lions, tigers and bears and countless other cute stuffed creatures (Including a wall of dangling stuffed snakes). There were also dolls, games, science toys, magic tricks, art kits and the giant floor piano from the movie Big. To up the wow factor, costumed staff gave toy demonstrations and posed for pics. Remarkably, Tal didn’t want any toys. So, we just loaded up a lootbag at the magnficent candy bar on the way out. (Loved devouring giant gummy rattle snakes while waiting for the subway).

Toys R’ Us at Times Square: Outside the store was gaggle of costumed characters, including Minnie Mouse and the Smurfs. While hugging Minnie Mouse, Tal positively beamed. But after our camera clicked, Minnie held out her cloth Tip Bag. “It’s for charity,” she squeaked. (Beware costumed characters with tip bags.) Store highlights included a cookie decorating bar and an indoor ferris wheel. ($5 a person for a ride). At that price, we refused to give it a whirl.

Broadway shows:
We scored half price tickets to two musicals: Rent and Jesus Christ Superstar. Since both shows have glorious song-and-dance numbers, Tal loved them. Tip: We tried two different TKTS ticket outlets, both offering show tickets from 20 to 50% off. At the South Street Seaport booth, we had no wait at all. At Times Square, we waited for an hour to score tickets. Warning: This an be a huge, crowded, sensory-overload experience. To make it easier, Tal and I relaxed on the nearby Times Square steps while Jack lined up.

Ferries and free museums:
For a stunning view of the Stature of Liberty, we hopped on a 25-minute free ferry ride to Staten Island. “It looks just like the statue at the East Side Mario's restaurant,” Tal said. “Only without the tomato.” After exiting the boat, we boarded the next ferry for the return ride. Afterwards we visited the nearby National Museum of the American Indian — fabulous and free admission.

Have you ever travelled to a big city with kids? Any tips for keeping costs down and spirits up?

This article was originally published on Mar 20, 2012

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