Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Frugal Guide to NYC

Somehow, my title has become the New York whisperer. I had family living in Brooklyn, friends from Manhattan, and have been there myself a few several times. I'm a total Broadway Baby who loves to dance, admire art, discover culture, and live up every moment in the city. Within the past two years I've had numerous people contact me with recommendations on where to stay, what to do, and most importantly, how to save money.

While planning my fifth outing in New York City with my family, I undoubtedly stumbled upon some unique gems. I'm in college, and while my family is fortunate enough to not count pennies, we are certainly watching our checkbook. Needless to say, my undying love for New York placed me in the position to plan our summer getaway with a limited budget. So in case anyone finds themselves in the same boat, I have compiled a list 10 ways to experience the Big Apple on a tight budget.

1) Book Your Stay in a Package. 
We just returned from a trip to New York in a weekend package for the 4th of July. Hotels, transportation, and activities are pricey anywhere, especially in New York City, but visiting during the summer brings a different crowd. Sure, it may be a strictly tourist crowd, but most of the locals have left the city for the summer so it is a prime time to experience NYC. Numerous travel agencies such as Travelocity, Expedia, and my personal favorite, TripAdvisor will help you find packages of hotels and flights with better rates during whichever allotted vacation time you choose. It doesn't have to be on a holiday, and they also provide lists and reviews of restaurants, tours, activities, and sightseeing opportunities that are available to you! 

2) Utilize Public Transportation!
Don't waste your time (and your cash) hailing a cab everywhere you go. They are almost always full and you will get stuck in traffic. It may seem like the easiest way to get around the city, but it is one of the least efficient and expensive methods of transportation. Instead, take a bus or the subway! Bus routes are more reliable than taxis because they are on a schedule, however, traffic is still traffic. So specifically during rush hour, check out the subways! They are incredibly efficient; just make sure you aren't a victim of the MTA tourist trap. Check out Why You Should Put $19.05 On Your MetroCard To Outsmart The MTA, and be aware that you'll have to do your own math. After this article was published, the MTA raised their one-ride rate to $2.75 instead of $2.50. And if you're comfortable with navigating crowded streets via cycle...don't overlook New York's newest form of public transportation, the CityBike!

3) Skip the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island Tour. 
If you only want a glance of the iconic monuments without spending your whole morning on a tour of the islands, take a free ride of the Staten Island Ferry. You will have a great view of both Liberty Island and Ellis Island, not to mention the gorgeous skyline of Lower Manhattan. (If interested in an in-depth tour of iconic locations, get them in a bundle and experience more! Check out NewYorkCityPASS.) 

4) Enter Your Name For Broadway Lottery Tickets. 
If you're a Broadway nut like I am, you know that the prices of Broadway tickets can be a couple hundred dollars per person. But if you're going to be in the city a few days, enter the lottery! Show up to the play/musical of your choice a couple of hours early and place your name in a drawing for tickets priced at $20-30. Half an hour later, if your name is drawn, you will have the option to purchase a limited number of tickets for the show. This is a great way to see big-hit Broadway shows for incredibly discounted rates. Make sure you bring cash, and may the odds be ever in your favor!

If you're a Broadway Baby who can splurge a little of their money, I highly recommend taking a tour. Tim Dolan at Broadway Up Close Walking Tours is a complete open book with an abundant knowledge of shows, theaters, actors, and history! He has hired a team of working actors to show you around the theatre district and give you a feel for what it takes to make yourself a Broadway star. The tours last an hour and forty-five minutes, but he was more than willing to answer some questions for a few minutes with us after the tour was over. He will answer everything from Broadway history to how much his rent costs, and if you have the money, be sure to look into the specific tour Broadway Up Close and Personal, where you can meet and have dinner with a cast member from the show you're going to see that day. 

5) Never Underestimate New York City Parks.
These are a far cry from the swing set in your neighborhood. Central Park is home to some amazing monuments, activities, and incredible play-spaces for the kids. It features Strawberry Fields, a zoo and carousel, and numerous amazing lawns to picnic on. If you're a theatre buff visiting in the summer, be sure to check out Shakespeare in the Park! Other well-known parks include Union Square, Battery Park, Bryant Park, and Washington Square Park, all free of charge!

6) Avoid Those Chain Restaurants. 
No one wants to get on Facebook to see you eating at the New York version of your Friday night
usual. Shake Shack is the only chain worth visiting (and believe me, it is worth visiting), but other chains will not give you the "New York experience." Ellen's Stardust Diner is a 50's themed restaurant with a waitstaff that sings Broadway showtunes. While it is an overpriced tourist attraction with okay-food, the atmosphere is incomparable. It will be one of your best New York memories, so if you're looking to splurge a little, do it here! But mainly, don't be afraid to try the food trucks. Contrary to popular belief, they aren't just hotdogs and pretzels, they can be trusted, and they are very, very good! If in town at the right time, don't pass up Smorgasburg in Brooklyn (also featured in other parts of NYC throughout the year). These street vendors are set up together offering and selling samples of food from all over the world, and our meal at the South Street Seaport Smorgasburg was the best meal we had there! 

7) Visit the New York Public Library!
They host all kinds of activities throughout the year. It is architecturally exquisite, furnished in the most elegant fashion, and is decorated to perfection. You may have seen portions of the building featured in numerous classic movies, and you can visit exhibits that you never knew they had: including the original Declaration of Independence, a Gutenberg Bible, and thousands of old maps. Be sure to check out the Reading Room while you're there! Visit their website for more information.

8) Hang Out At South Street Seaport.
South Street Seaport is an incredibly overlooked part of New York featuring shopping, dining, live music, and of course… A pier. This little getaway resembles more of a boardwalk than anything else in the city, and hosts many events throughout the year. I attended to watch the fireworks for the 4th of July this year, and have to say this is probably one of New York’s best kept secrets!

9) Do Your Research. 
Even the locals are still discovering new things to do and places to go, so deals are lurking in unseen places. Friday evenings at the Museum of Modern Art (featuring works by Picasso, Van Gogh, Andy Warhol, and Monet) are free admission to the general public. TKTS discount booths hold incredibly discounted tickets for select Broadway shows. Central Park shows free movies in the summer, walking tours are available for certain parts of the city at no charge, and the High Line is a walkway of free, breathtaking views. Look into all your options before you go and you can find some really great deals! 

10) Explore! 
New York City is home to thousands of iconic locations, all free of charge! Times Square holds the M&M factory, Hershey’s Store, and many other unique shopping centers. The Toys R Us even has a ferris wheel inside, and a life-sized Barbie dream house holding tons of Barbie memorabilia. You can take a walk on the Brooklyn Bridge and 5th Avenue, experience Chinatown and Little Italy, stroll through the financial district and Rockefeller Plaza, and visit Grand Central Station. The 9/11 World Trade Center Memorial is also free at Ground Zero, and though the One World Trade Center Sky Deck and Museum are both ticketed events that cost some money, they are definitely something everyone should experience at least once. It was the most impactful, gut-wrenching experience I have ever been a part of.

Don’t feel like you have to plan every second of your vacation. After all, the best adventures in life are spontaneous! Feel free to contact me with any questions, or give your own suggestions right here! 

Have a great trip!

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