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East Coast Road Trip: New York City!

Welcome to my 14-day series on our East Coast Road Trip where I share our adventures along the way, how we’re doing this on a budget, honest reviews of attractions & restaurants we visit, and money-saving tips and ideas. If you missed it, read Day 1 here, Day 2 hereDay 3 hereDay 4 hereDay 5 here, and Day 6 here.

We had SUCH a fun adventure in NYC and I had a terrible time picking the pictures to share with this post, because there were so many I wanted to share!

It was my 4th time to be in NYC, Jesse’s 2nd time, and our kids’ first. The first time I came, I was overwhelmed. This time, it was still thrilling, but it felt much more familiar and much easier to navigate (even though the subway is still a challenge!)

Riding the Bus from New Jersey

Instead of staying in the city, which would mean we’d also have to drive in the city (something we wanted to avoid!), we took a bus from our hotel in New Jersey to the Port Authority Bus Station in Times Square. It cost $8.50 for a round-trip ticket for ages 12 to adult and it’s $4.25 for kids 11 and under.

This was our first time to stay outside the city and this worked really well. It was also much cheaper and simpler than trying to stay in the city ever would have been.

When the bus dropped us off at the bus station, we then walked to Times Square for a little while. Our kids basically stood in Times Square with their jaws dropped. “You see the pictures, but it’s nothing like actually being here!” Yup, that’s the truth!

9/11 Memorial & Museum

After spending a little time in Times Square, we took the subway to the 9/11 Memorial & Museum and spent the afternoon there. The memorial is beautiful and such a poignant reminder of the lives lost.

Some things you should know before visiting:

  • The memorial is free to visit, but the museum is a little on the costly side (though they were incredibly kind to give our family free press passes since I’m a blogger and would be blogging/sharing on social media about our time there).
  • If you are wanting to go and can’t afford the ticket price, they offer Free Admission Tuesdays where you can get in completely free from 5 p.m. to close!
  • They also offer discounts to FDNY/NYPD/PAPD and free admission to military members and 9/11 Families & Rescue and Recovery Workers.
  • They allow you to bring water bottles and sealed snacks into the museum. We had these in our backpack. However, they asked us to check our backpack at the coat check as they don’t allow you to carry around large bags/backpacks in the museum. (Update: Here’s what I found out about bringing food into the museum from the staff there: “Food can only be brought into the museum if it is completely sealed and put away. Then it can only be eaten in the upstairs atrium of the museum. In other words, if you brought a closed bag of chips in your purse, we wouldn’t ask you to throw it away before entering the museum, but we would ask that it only be opened in that designated area.”)
  • It was really chilly in the museum (at least for me!). I wish I had brought a sweater. It’s mostly all underground and is a lot bigger and more spacious than I expected.
  • The main exhibit chronicles the entire day of 9/11, as well as what led up to the attacks, and how America responded. It was very, very well done and, even though I’ve read a lot of books and watched a lot of videos on 9/11, I learned quite a bit. They did a really amazing job of honoring everyone impacted and affected by this tragic day and honoring those who lost their lives.
  • The topics and videos might be upsetting to very sensitive kids. Again, I went through the museum with Silas (8) in order to explain things to him at his own level of being able to take it in. We mostly skipped over the part where it talks in-depth about terrorism and the attackers because I felt like he isn’t quite ready to take all of that in just yet and it would be pretty overwhelming for him and possibly a little scary (especially since he was SO impacted by the Berlin Wall display at the Newseum and has brought that up over and over since then).

I would strongly, strongly encourage everyone to make going to the memorial and the museum a priority. I’m so glad we went — just like Arlington and the Holocaust Museum, it was a heavy sort of experience, but one that is an important piece of our history and that we want our kids to understand.

Staten Island Ferry

We then walked to the Staten Island Ferry to take a round-trip on it. It was almost 7 p.m. when we left, if I’m remembering correctly, so we got to see amazing views of NYC and the Statue of Liberty — at dusk and at night.

I would highly recommend making this Ferry Ride a priority if you visit NYC. It’s such a fun experience and it’s the best price: FREE!

Times Square & Good Conversations

We then took the subway back to Times Square and decided to let our kids get a little taste of NYC at night. We walked around with the eclectic masses of people for awhile and then splurge on Frozen Yogurt with toppings and a Tiramisu Crepe at 10:30 pm at night!

And then we road the bus back to our hotel and got in around midnight! I thought everyone would be ready to crash (I sure was!), but nope! The kids wanted to process the day and talk about their thoughts and feelings about the whole experience!

That’s one of the beautiful things about this trip that we didn’t really expect: the questions that our kids asked and the conversations that have resulted from all the experiences we had and the many varied and interesting people from all walks of life that we met and saw and interacted with.

I feel like it has expanded their horizons, deepened their appreciation for our country, and given them a very different taste of culture outside of Kansas and Tennessee!

Next stop: Boston!

To be continued…

Have you been to NYC before? If so, any inexpensive or free suggestions of places to visit or things to do?

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  • Therese says:

    So glad you are having a great time in NYC!

    I live here. Here are 3 sites that we locals use to find things to do:

    You can use these to search depending on the type of activity you want and the audience.


  • Jeanine says:

    We used to live in North Jersey, and always used to recommend that people stay in NJ and take a bus to NYC! As for free things, go to Bryant Park, which is a small but charming park in the middle of a bunch of skyscrapers, or of course Central Park. Also, you really should all walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. The views are amazing, and it’s kind of crazy to be walking on a bridge that has all these cars going by. Also, once upon a time I went to Teacher’s college at Columbia University. If you can, go walk past the university, and then take a walk up Riverside Drive. When I went to school there, it made me feel like I was seeing the “real” New York. 😀

  • Coco says:

    Hi! I am super excited to read that you are visiting New York City! I have followed Money Saving Mom for 7 years.

    I am a teacher and live in Brooklyn. What a great move to be in New Jersey and come to New York without a car! The Subway by far is an easier way to travel, with nicer people when it is not rush hour. Don’t hesitate to ask people for directions. Most New Yorkers are kinder than the usual conception.

    Museums are a great way to enjoy New York City and out of the heat. Some of my favorite museums are Hall of Science, Transit Museum, MoMa, and the Met. The Met goes by suggested donation. It is an extremely large museum, so I advise choosing only a couple of spots to see.

    New York is famous for bagels and pizza. There’s a lot of very famous pizza places (Grimaldi’s, Lombardi’s, Joe’s, Artichoke Pizza, Di Fara in Brooklyn), but any thin slice pizza is really tasty (even the dollar ones).

    New York is famous for Broadway and Off-Broadway shows, but tickets tend to get really expensive quickly. Some shows offer discounts that go by different names: lottery both online or in-person –; day of tickets – go into the booth and just ask the box office; student tickets; stand by – you stand for the show. There’s some famous shows that are children appropriate (The Lion King, Blue Man’s Group, Aladdin, Bubble Show, Wicked, School of Rock).

    Don’t want the problems of going Broadway? Enjoy local shows and activities for free through NYC Parks ( Bryant Park located at 42nd Street has open activities available that are great for children ( Union Square or 14th Street has a line up of activities for children on Thursdays ( like fitness and story time. I personally really enjoy the wonderful things offered at the parks because it’s access to nature, which is something you probably get easily.

    Our libraries also offer free children’s programs at times. It probably isn’t worthwhile to go to a new place and see their library, but some of the Manhattan libraries are really nicely made (53rd street library). They all have air conditioners, which is a great way to stay out of this summer heat. You can also go to a Barnes and Noble with a completed summer reading form ( or search barnes and noble free book pdf) and your children can get a free book that’s listed on the form. It’s a nice way for your children to get a book to remember this travel-filled summer.

  • Fran says:

    It is so wonderful that you are exposing your children to the world outside of their own backyard. I love this quote by Mark Twain: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

  • Jen says:

    I love NYC! I lived there for one glorious year after college while volunteering with Americorps. As such, I lived on a VERY tiny budget and learned all of the free/inexpensive things to do there.

    First, I love using Priceline to get a less expensive room in the city. I enjoy staying in Manhattan or Brooklyn (where I used to live!) and being near the train so I’m willing to pay slightly more for that convenience. Priceline offers “Express Deals” which provides basic information about a hotel – neighborhood, amenities, star level, guest rating (in most cases), the percent off the hotel is by using the Express Deal, and the price you will pay for it. What most people get hung up on is not knowing what hotel they are going to get. With the information they do provide, you can filter hotels offered by Priceline to figure out what hotel you are going to get. Once you select the Express Deal your credit card will be charged and you cannot back out from the selection, you get what you get at that point.

    For example, a hotel is listed as three star, in Times Square, offers free internet and a gym, has a 7+ rating by guests, and is available for $145 (a 39%) savings. To figure out what this deal is, you back out of Express Deals and go back to the section that lists all of the hotels on Priceline. You filter your search to only show hotels in Time Square which are 3 star and have free internet and a gym. It might pull 4 matches, so you next look at which hotels are rated 7-7.9 by guests. Let’s say there are two hotels left at that point, then it’s simple math…which hotel is a 39% savings from the price listed on this screen. Make sense? Hopefully! It takes a little practice, but with this method I’ve always been able to figure out what hotel I will get (and usually at a huge savings!). I have successfully done this over three dozen times. You should also use Ebates if you buy a hotel on Priceline (you get 3-4% back typically).

    One way to save money in NYC is by eating in non-tourist locations (avoid Times Square, Herald Square, etc.). You typically overpay and don’t receive as high quality of food as you can receive elsewhere. There is so much amazing food in the city and quite a bit is affordable if you know where to look! Plan a bit beforehand to find food on Yelp or Tripadvisor that fits into your price point. I love Indian food and go to “Indian Row” in the East Village (6th St btw 1st and 2nd Ave) to get authentic Indian for an incredibly reasonable price (4 course “dinner special” for $10ish).

    A number of museums offer free entry during a specific time during the week or provide a suggested donation amount but you can give what you can afford to give. Bank of America offers free admission to some museums at specific times during the month. NYC is big on festivals and special events, which are typically free. The summer is often quite warm in the city but it is also the time when there are a TON of free events, such as the New York Philharmonic Concerts in the Parks, Shakespeare in the Park, etc. One of my favorite activities to do in NYC is exploring neighborhoods. Manhattan’s streets are mostly gridded so it’s pretty easy to get around.

    Subway tip: express trains and local trains sometimes run on the same track, double check to make sure you are getting on the right letter or number!

  • Nancy says:

    What a wonderful trip to New York City and the pictures are just great. It makes me want to plan a trip and take my family. Thank you for sharing.

  • Keri Travis says:

    Thank you so much for this post. Your pictures are incredible! I’ve been to NYC twice but my kids haven’t. I can’t wait to take them. It’s been a few years since my last trip so I have no advice except go, go to NYC it is amazing.

  • Julie says:

    How long did it take to go thru the 9/11 memorial ?
    Looks like you and your family had a blast ! Great memories for the kids.

    • We spent around 2 1/2 hours there total. We could have spent longer, but Silas was ready to go after about 2 hours. 🙂 Poor boy endured a LOT of museums and a LOT of walking on our trip and did so with very little complaining!

  • Kristie says:

    I’m enjoying this post! We went to NYC for the first time this spring, and it sounds like you are hitting some of the same places we did. I am saving your article onto my FB page because it’s a great resource for anyone who wants to go with a family and not spend a fortune.

  • Cheryl says:

    When you go to Boston you should check out the Boston Public Library. It’s amazing and free. They have a great children’s room. If you go on a Tuesday or Friday you can hear a live radio show in the Newsfeed cafe. It’s located in Copley Square, not too far from the Boston Public Gardens. Also during the summer some of the museums here offer free admission. Ask at your hotel about events in and around the city. There are lots of them this time of year.
    Enjoy the rest of your trip! Safe travels.

  • Jeanette says:

    Wow, these photos are stunning!! The one of your hubby looking across harbor to Statue Of Liberty is beautiful! Thanks for sharing this incredible trip with us!

  • I’ve been to NYC once. While I don’t remember too many places where we were, it was amazing to be in the subways and hear so many languages being spoken. It was quite the experience that I would love to enjoy again.

  • Michelle says:

    Where do you stay in NJ in order to take the buses over? That sounds like a great idea since the hotels are pretty pricey in NYC. Thanks! Looks like ya’ll had so much fun.

  • Anna says:

    What a great blog post–and just in time, as we are about to make a trip to this area of the country! The post and many of the comments have a lot of very helpful information. Can I ask what camera you used for these pics? They turned out beautiful!

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