traveling with teens, there must be selfies. Here,
Anya, left, and Talia Magnuson of Minneapolis stop
for a quick snapshot on while walking on the
family eagerly waited for the curtain to rise on our first
Broadway show. We were about to see the Tony Award-winning
"Newsies." Our plush red-velvet seats were on
the main floor with clear views of the stage. And the
price? Probably less than others in the same row paid.
was the 13th birthday of our younger daughter, a budding
actress who’d pined for New York City for years.
on the other hand, dreaded the idea of planning — and
paying for — a trip to the heart of Manhattan. But this
year, my husband, Jeff; our actress, Talia; our
16-year-old, Anya, and I finally took the plunge, booking
a six-day vacation that was heavy on the city’s free
attractions, but left room for some splurges, too.
careful planning, a smattering of credit card points,
MetroCards good for unlimited rides and a sense of
adventure, our family of four managed to take on Manhattan
without breaking the bank.
money-crunching began with our theater tickets. I’d
bought them months before we ever left Minneapolis with a
discount code I found on TheaterMania. We skipped the
great deals on same-day tickets people can nab at three
TKTS Discount Booths around the city, because we didn’t
want to waste time in line — or risk coming up empty on
such an important part of the trip.
the day of the show, we continued to limit the damage that
Broadway can do to a budget. Keeping to our
splurge-and-save plan, we skipped the fancy sit-down
restaurants so many attend before a show. Instead, we
grabbed tasty falafel sandwiches, taking advantage of the
stellar people-watching near Times Square. The bill came
in at just $42.
family our size could spend nearly twice that amount on
another New York City institution, the Metropolitan Museum
of Art, if we paid the posted price (adults $25, children
$12). Faced with cashiers and large signs, many tourists
don’t realize that the prices are merely
"recommended" fees, thanks to an 1893 state law.
You can pay what you want, and we did, offering up $20 for
the whole family during each of two visits.
for Manhattan hotel rooms are notoriously high — which
is why we worked so diligently to get a deal.
travel hacking to amass credit card points, we sliced our
hotel costs to $40 per night at the Holiday Inn Express, a
comfortable, centrally located hotel with free, hot
breakfast. (See "What is travel hacking" story
for details.) And, yes, we all stayed in one room and it
was a tight fit, but we were rarely there. So what if the
breakfast area was chaotic? The free breakfasts and free
all-day coffee saved us at least $50 a day.
Midtown location was important, too, because it put us
near two subway stops and within easy walking distance of
the Empire State Building, Penn Station — and N.Y. Pizza
Suprema, where you can find some of the best slices in
town for only $4 a piece.
it came to getting around the city, we went hard-core for
the subway. The seven-day unlimited ride MetroCards ($30,
good for buses and subway) were our tickets to everywhere
and anywhere we wanted to go, saving us hundreds of
dollars in transportation costs. We even used it to
connect to the AirTrain ($5), which brought us to and from
JFK. The NYT transit mobile app was our constant guide,
and we had few missteps. By the end of the week, the whole
family felt like subway experts, with the kids reading,
listening to music — and averting their eyes — like
the day we arrived, we barely set down our bags before
jumping on the subway for a quick ride to the southern tip
of Manhattan, where we caught the Staten Island Ferry.
Such a good call. The weather was perfection and the views
of the city skyline unmatched. As we pulled away from the
dock, we sat in the back of the ferry and watched the
metropolis recede. The ferry ride also offered great, free
views of the Statue of Liberty.
the ferry ride, we headed to nearby ground zero. Although
construction around the September 11 Memorial is still in
progress and work continues near the base of One World
Trade Center, the building near the site of the 9/11
attacks has risen to its full, impressive height.
skipped the relatively pricey Memorial Museum ($24 adult,
$15 youth), instead spending quiet time at nearby St. Paul’s
Chapel, which has small displays of letters, photos and
memorabilia from 9/11. The chapel, where many first
responders sought refuge and took breaks after the
attacks, is open to the public (free, donations accepted).
Some of the pews still bear the gouges made by their heavy
other Manhattan freebies competed for highlights of the
trip: walking the Brooklyn Bridge, and exploring the High
Line, an unusual elevated greenway on Manhattan’s west
the bridge walk, we took the subway to Brooklyn so we
could stroll with Manhattan in our sights. The outing
provided some of the best photos from the trip and
although the bridge was fairly crowded, the atmosphere was
celebratory. Just remember to stay on the pedestrian side
of the stripe; fast-moving bicyclists aren’t shy about
the High Line, way up on an elevated freight rail line,
provided a more relaxed experience. The 1.45-mile-long
pedestrian walkway offers amazing views of sunset over the
Hudson — and into the back windows of apartment
dwellers. We walked it on a Sunday night, using it to
connect for an evening stroll in Greenwich Village.
strolling the length of the High Line, we went in search
of a coffeehouse — at nearly 9 p.m. on a Sunday. Alas,
we discovered that bohemians abandon the coffeehouses when
the sun goes down. Instead, we discovered a rather
garishly lit tea house, selling, not cups of tea, but a
bewildering range of loose teas and infusions.
girls were enchanted, falling down an Alice-in-Wonderland
rabbit hole, spending 40 minutes just before — and
slightly after — closing as a saleswoman at David’s
Tea pulled tin after tin down from the seemingly endless
shelves, insisting that they smell this one, that one,
carefully explaining the differences.
we finally left, having purchased $10 worth of tea more
out of a sense of decency than need, the key turned
quietly in the door. The shopkeeper had clearly relished
an audience. And we had enjoyed another great show.
was "Newsies," of course. But also the drum-line
performance on the High Line, the mime in Central Park,
the man playing an ancient Chinese instrument in the
subway — and the city itself.
all agree that this is the best trip we’ve ever taken.
me, one of the best parts came after we returned home. My
email pinged with an alert that my credit card statement
was ready. I hopped online and clicked "pay now"
as easily as swiping an NYC MetroCard.
the Brooklyn Bridge: We took the subway to Brooklyn to
walk with Manhattan in our sights. It takes less than an
hour, depending on crowds.
11 Memorial and St. Paul’s Chapel: We skipped the
September 11 Memorial Museum ($24 adult, $15 youth),
instead spending time at the memorial and exhibits at the
nearby St. Paul’s Chapel, which first responders used as
a refuge and resting place after the attacks (free;
Island Ferry: Sit in back when leaving Manhattan for great
views of the Statue of Liberty and city skyline. You have
to get off and re-board for the return trip.
High Line: Built along an unused 1.45-mile section of
elevated rail line on the West Side, this park is an
unusual, tranquil oasis with views over the Hudson River.
Park and more: In addition to New York City’s crown
jewel, we enjoyed Washington Square Park in Greenwich
Village and Bryant Park near Times Square. Find free
unlimited MetroCard, ($30 per person) covers all subway
and bus travel. Add a $5 AirTrain ticket to connect from
JFK. (Taxis are flat rate from JFK to Manhattan, $54 plus
tolls and tip).
NYTransit Mobile Web app is priceless, http://tripplanner.mta.info/MyTrip.
Also, save the subway map (PDF) to your smartphone:
Inn Express Madison Square Garden: Free breakfast. Clean,
small rooms. Aim for a higher floor: