Friday, March 23, 2012

New York City, Family Style, Part 1: Lodging, Transportation, Food

This is Part 1 of 4. Read the rest here:
Central Park and Times Square
Brooklyn Bridge, 9/11 Memorial, Staten Island Ferry, Top of the Rock
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

So this year when Randy asked "What are we going to do for our anniversary?" I said: "Let's go to New York City. With the kids." Now usually the two of us go to the mountains, rent a little cabin with a hot tub, do a little hiking, grill steaks, etc. But somehow, this year seemed like the year for NYC.

We started planning back in January for our March trip. I did lots and lots of googling and read a few blogs that reported on NYC trips. Cost was, of course, a factor. We put most of our money into our lodging and looked for low-cost activities that would give us a great taste of New York.

I read lots and lots of reviews, and I just really liked the sound of the Chelsea Lodge. Every review on various sites was positive, and that's unusual.

Laurel in our room watching the passersby
I am absolutely certain that we could have found accommodations that were much less expensive and just as nice; however, we were totally happy with our choice. The room was spacious enough and extremely clean and the beds were comfortable. For those who go from dawn until night and use the room only for sleeping, this might not be so important. But we were leisurely about waking up, having coffee and breakfast food (which we'd brought with us) in our room, and we came back by 7 or 8 each evening, so we needed a nice place in which to relax. Also, we loved leaving the bustle of midtown NYC for the relative quiet of a Chelsea neighborhood.

We drove to NYC (11 hours). Mapquest got us to our hotel perfectly. Make sure you have cash on hand for all the tolls leading into the city. I can't remember exactly, but I think the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels were both $12 and other tolls were a little over $2. Parking is expensive. I printed out several coupons for "guaranteed low price" on parking garages; however, Randy got totally rejected when he tried to give the guy a coupon. He was emphatic with "40 bucks firm," so we ended up paying $120 for our 3-days there. Still, we felt comfortable that our van was safe, and the price of tolls, parking and gas was still way, way less than 4 plane tickets! (Plus, I got a whole lot of reading done on the car trip!)

The subway: Duncan's favorite part of the trip
Once in NYC, we took the subway everywhere. It's easy to use if you have a subway map. A subway ride is $2. You have to buy a MetroCard, which you can get at pretty much any subway stop with your debit card (or cash). We  spent a total of about $60 for the four of us on subway tickets for 3 days. For Duncan at 11, the subway was possibly the highlight of the trip. He would have been perfectly happy to ride it all day. And riding the subway is for sure an essential NY experience.

Food is expensive in NYC—there is no getting around that. We brought breakfast foods with us: muffins, apples, granola bars, etc. I also brought snacks in my purse wherever we went: protein bars, fruit snacks, etc. and a couple bottles of water. Randy went out each morning and got coffee. We had a coffee maker in our room but no coffee. Plus, he really liked walking to a local coffee shop and feeling part of the city. I think the basic rule in NYC is to get a couple of streets away from the main drags to find food a little cheaper. The first day we grabbed hot dogs and kebobs from a vendor. You're supposed to do that in NY, right?

Blech. It was extremely unexciting, though edible. I was going for something amazing, something bursting with flavor. Again, perhaps a different vendor would have offered that, but these felt like a big waste of money at $18 for 2 hot dogs and two chicken kebobs. Later that same evening we splurged on cupcakes and black-and-white cookies (in upstate NY we call those half-moon cookies) at a bakery near Times Square. That was the absolute WORST black-and-white cookie I have ever encountered. It so scarred me that I never got another one while there. I don't know if the upstate vs. downstate definition is different or what, but I will have to make a batch of my own to satisfy my craving.

We had better success the second day with a huge slice of pizza each at a little place near the Brooklyn Bridge ($20 for 4 big slices and 4 drinks). For dinner that night we chose Lasagna, an Italian restaurant near our hotel in Chelsea. You don't even want to know how much our meal cost, but it was totally worth it. The food was excellent and the service spectacular, and we got to eat outside on the sidewalk, watching the passersby. Again, we chalked that cost up to experiencing New York.
Waiting for our lasagna at Lasagna Ristorante.

Our third day was a mixture of feeling outraged and enjoying a good meal. We ate lunch in the cafeteria at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (more on that in Part 2). We spent nearly as much there as we did at Lasagna the night before (and I'm only exaggerrating a little bit) and the food was absolutely nothing special.  All of our meals at the Met were $10-$14. Our choices were based on weight, and we had very small portions. That said,  I'm not sure we would have done anything differently. We could have left to find a nearby restaurant, but I suspect we would have been so tired that we might not have returned to the museum. Also, the food nearby may have been just as expensive.

That last evening, we again chose a restaurant in Chelsea. This time we went for Spice, a Thai restaurant that had great reviews. We have a fantastic Thai restaurant in our hometown here in Tennessee, but we all agreed that Spice was much better. Again, we were able to sit at a table by the sidewalk, watching the city move. Totally worth it, and this was less expensive than Lasagna.

So, food in New York is expensive. Had we been a bit more adventurous, we might have walked a few blocks away and found less expensive options; then again, it is extremely possible that these prices are normal for NYC. Reading the reviews of Lasagna, I noticed several locals commenting that this was a great "low cost" option. It's all relative, right?

All of the above is really a prelude to what we actually did in the city! We went to New York to see and do stuff, after all!

But I would be breaking all the rules of blogging if I continued on with this extremely long post, so stay tuned for Part 2 of our NYC trip! In the mean time, here are a few photos to give you a glimpse of what we did.

Want to see what all we did in NYC? Check out these others posts:
Central Park and Times Square
Brooklyn Bridge, 9/11 Memorial, Staten Island Ferry, Top of the Rock
The Metropolitan Museum of Art


  1. So jealous! The trip sounds lovely...even if the food situation was not always ideal...can't wait to read about the rest!

  2. I was just going to ask my friends for NYC hotel reservations! This was perfect timing. Thanks for all the tips! So exciting!


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