The words frugal and New York City are seldom seen together. It’s probably one of the most expensive cities in the world.
Nonetheless, we wanted to take the kids to see the big apple. Driving from Rhode Island, it was a little more than 3 hours away.
(Note: I originally had “staycation” in the title. I’m not sure if driving 3 hours and staying overnight at a hotel qualifies though? Are their “staycation” guidelines?)
The drive was a bit of a long drive for the kids, but with tablets, it wasn’t too bad. Unfortunately, I didn’t do the best job of loading up the two tablets with movies. I might have to consider buying another Amazon Fire 10 to replace my old Nexus 7. It’s much easier to get movies on it.
As with most vacations, the biggest expenses are travel and hotel. That was no different for us. It’s very hard to limit these, but we did save a few dollars over some other options:
- Travel – If it was just one of us traveling a train may have made sense. With the four of us, train tickets get expensive. We opted to drive and park at the hotel. It was $60 for the night, which comes to about $20 per person when you add in gas. Back in college people would take the Fung Wah bus from Boston to New York for around $10, but I think it had about a 70% crash rate. I don’t think it’s still around, but it isn’t worth it anyway.
- Hotel – This is going to be cheating a bit, but hear me out. My wife was able to get a government rate or deal by being a Marriott ranking member. However, the deal wasn’t a big savings. There were other hotel options for a similar price that maybe had a little less luxury or a slightly worse location. The biggest factor in getting a cheap price was that it was the middle of February. We lucked out and got great weather most of the time.
Unfortunately, in our search for a dog friendly hotel, we didn’t realize that Marriott charges a $100 per stay pet fee. My wife said that when she was booking this was a hidden fee a few clicks away from the information that the hotel was pet-friendly. We were only staying one night, so this was a tremendous surcharge. Next time we’ll go with a Hilton that I think charges only $50. We might even be able to do better than that.
The big draw for us to go to New York City was the Pokemon store. My kids are completely obsessed with everything Pokemon. I’d tell you how many episodes they’ve watched, but it’s embarrassing. Did you know there are almost twice as many Pokemon episodes than Simpson’s episodes? There’s a reason why it is the the highest grossing media franchise. It’s just a little shy of being as big as Star Wars and Harry Potter combined.
There’s one lie in the previous paragraph… there’s no such thing as Pokemon store in New York City. It’s a Nintendo store with a section devoted to Pokemon. However, I believe it is the only Pokemon Center outside of Japan. The trip to Japan from Rhode Island isn’t something we are entertaining any time soon.
I wouldn’t have known there was a “Pokemon store” in NYC if my wife hadn’t stumbled upon it a last fall on one of her Broadway tours. She came back and reported that it was nearly a whole floor of Pokemon stuff.
Sadly, on our trip the Pokemon stuff had been reduced to around 20′ x 20′ area. They didn’t have any of the popular Pokemon… not even a stuffed Pikachu. It took awhile, but eventually the kids warmed up to a couple of the options that they had. I’ll have to get my Magikarp some other time. Overall they were happy at a cost of around $30 or so.
Next we went to FAO Schwarz. (Yes, it’s back in business.) The kids had a ton of fun in exploring all the stuff there. We spent hours there and they ended up only wanting to buy a couple of Kinder eggs for a few dollars. Compare that to Trolls’ Experience which was $30 a person for an hour show. We avoided that one.
Another frugal win was Dylan’s Candy Bar. Three floors of candy is fun for any kid. While it might not strike people as frugal, it worked out relatively well for us. It was a slow evening so they took us in the cafe without reservations. Fortunately they were still having happy hour, which meant cheap appetizers and drinks. I hear it’s not uncommon to pay $15-$20 for a glass of wine in NYC.
Our sour patch drinks (drinks with candy!) were $6 each. The kids mostly eat appetizers like mozzarella sticks and chicken tenders so it worked out. It was also helpful that we found that there were a lot of dollar a slice pizza places. The slices are quite big and four slices were enough for a late lunch for our family. Filling up on all that was key to avoiding the big ticket items at Dylan’s. The price of food and drinks at Dylan’s was $50. Factoring the pizza and lunch and dinner was under $60.
We also stopped at the Lego store, but it was a disappointment as well. Some of the things that their artists built were amazing, but it was small and not really that much to do other than look at the few big things and buy Lego sets.
The next morning my wife went to get some bagels to bring back to the hotel for breakfast. When in New York, you have to get some bagels. Unfortunately, they were surprisingly expensive. I think my wife said it came to around $20 for bagels and cream cheese. She said that next time it would have been cheaper to just get the cream cheese at the grocery store on the corner. One the bright side, the kids loved them and they were big enough for two meals.
Throughout the stay, we filled in some of the other time with Pokemon Go. I’ve become quite attached to the game (I’m 2-3 years behind everyone else), especially since it’s something the kids share in. Pokemon Go is, of course, free and all the famous places in NYC means that there’s tons of stuff to do in the game no matter where you are.
Next time we go to New York City, we’ll try to stay longer. I regret not having the time to coordinate a visit with a college friend. We’ll also bring the kids to museums, botanical gardens, and things like that. If there are any New Yorkers reading this who has tips for kids age 6, please drop me a comment.
Despite the efforts to save money, we probably still spent close to $500 (especially with the dog hotel charge) for the day. I understand it’s hard to call that frugal, but it could have doubled if we decided to splurge at one of my wife’s favorite restaurants (Mastro’s) and did the Troll’s Experience. Frugal in New York City is definitely a relative concept.
Do you have any tips for frugal activities in New York City? Let me know below. (You’ll earn 3,278 bonus points if they are friendly for kids in the 5-8 age range).
That sounds like a great trip. I haven’t been to NY and would love to visit someday. $500/day is expensive, though. We’ll need to figure a way to spend less especially if we go for a week or something like that.
Abigail @ipickuppennies says
I don’t have any good tips for affordable New York City vacations, but I will say that I’m impressed by how much you packed into such a short period of time!
Pet fees are always a bear. I understand that they might have to clean the room more thoroughly after a pet (in case the next guest has allergies) but $100 for a stay — especially if that stay was a single night — is always ridiculous to me.
I hope you got a pretzel from one of the stands. I know they’re not as great as I always think they’re going to be, but it’s a big-city staple in my mind. Not as much of a staple as great bagels in NYC, of course, but a staple nonetheless.
Lazy Man says
I read that Marriott does an extensive process for the cleaning like you mentioned. I wish I could opt into a block of dog rooms for a reduced pet fee. I think most people bringing a dog are not allergic to other dogs. (On the other hand, I am allergic to cats, so the type of pet matters a bit.)
We did happen to have one of those pretzels. The kids love them, so that was an easy snack.
ROBYN A. WEINBAUM says
the Zoo. whatever borough you are in, go to the zoo. if you are staying a few days, consider getting a family membership in the NY Zoological society. last time i was home, my kids were 14,11, and 3. i got a family membership in the zoo, we went to the NY Zoo [in central park] the Bronz zoo [during the summer they are open late] and we did all the included options and trekked down to brooklyn to swing through the aquarium. these were some of our favorites when we lived in brooklyn and the kids still love them. if you are members of ANY zoos or museums, you should check their reciprocal memberships. we were members of the Franklin Institute in Philly, and that got us free admission to over 100 science museums: hall of science, Scitrek, Orlando science center, a bunch of botanical gardens and kids museums too. oh yes! The Staten Island Children’s Museum is one of the BEST children’s museums i’ve ever been to. my kids also like riding the train, the bus and the Staten Island Ferry. lots of small museums and reenactment events too. it depends on how long you have. btw, if your kids are into handcrafts, there is a carousel museum in connecticut i think.