I Love New York! How to Plan a NYC Vacation Your Whole Family Will Love

Mention you’re planning a trip to New York City and folks will be quick to tell you how much they love it or…how much they loathe it! A whirlwind girls’ trip whetted my appetite for the city years ago and I knew then: I fall in the “love it” column! Since then, I’ve wanted to return with my husband and two sons, a family vacation that finally took shape this summer.

If you’re considering a trip to the Big Apple, here are some of our family’s tips for making it special for everyone in your group.

Turn to the experts: your friends!

Friends will be happy to share lots of NYC advice. Take advantage of it! We turned to Facebook for suggestions and our friends didn’t disappoint! Even if you’ve been there before, it helps to hear about other people’s experiences.

We were stumped when it came to selecting just one musical. Most friends agreed The Lion King would be perfect for our family. Sure enough, each of us walked away calling the production a highlight of our trip.

Make a list–but don’t be married to an itinerary.

Trip planners beware: not everyone enjoys a day packed with activities. Two in our family will literally run from place to place in order to see it all; the other two prefer more downtime and spontaneity. Being overzealous in creating your itinerary can result in unrealistic expectations, a cranky family, and a disappointed lead traveler.

Darren and Jake relaxing at Rockefeller Plaza.
Darren and Jake relaxing at Rockefeller Plaza.

Taking a new approach, I tried to create a schedule that was more of a “guideline,” allowing time for a little rest and flexibility. We created a list of priorities, then identified activities requiring advance tickets (the Yankees game and the Broadway show). Dividing the list into geographic areas helped us put together each day as we went along. In the end, we accomplished everything on our list, and some of the unplanned fun (like attending a ticker-tape parade and relaxing in Rockefeller Plaza) was the most memorable!

Subway, Uber, Feet Oh My!

Getting around NYC takes a variety of transportation modes. Even if your day’s schedule is light, be prepared to put miles on your feet; it’s easy to walk to lots of destinations in a city like New York (as long as you’re wearing comfortable shoes, that is).

Jake catches a few winks on the subway.
Jake catches a few winks on the subway.

We spent a lot of time on the subway, giving our wallet and our feet a break. Do familiarize yourself with the system first, but don’t be afraid to ask for help. We were unsure of ourselves on our way to Yankee Stadium until we spotted a girl wearing a Derek Jeter jersey. She helped us out and we had a great chat as we waited for the next train. Forget about their reputation; New Yorkers in general are very helpful, especially when it comes to directions.

Finally, Uber drivers and an occasional taxi saved our day a few times, too.

Take advantage of discounts.

Visiting NYC is not an inexpensive vacation, but there are still quite a few activities that don’t cost a fortune. Here are some options that can save money but still provide lots of fun:

• Central Park’s 843 acres of trees, lawns, water features and public art offer a no-cost respite from the hard edge of city life. We spent hours there but still didn’t see it all.

Jake and his mom take a break from running through Central Park.
Jake and his mom take a break from running through Central Park.

• A stroll through Times Square won’t cost a thing and everyone should experience it at least once. Plus, it’s the perfect place for fun pictures and inexpensive souvenirs.

• Lower Manhattan is rich in history and some landmarks have no lines and no fee. Check out Federal Hall, St. Paul’s Chapel, and Fraunces Tavern/Museum for a no-cost peek at colonial era NYC.

Fraunces Tavern near Battery Park.
Fraunces Tavern near Battery Park.

• Reduced price, same-day Broadway tickets are available at three different TKTS Booth locations. If you’re hoping to squeeze in more than one show, this can save you lots of money.

• Ticket packages like the New York City Pass make sense, as long as you plan to visit the attractions included in the ticket book. Otherwise, you’re better off paying separately.

• Finally, staying at a hotel with a free continental breakfast, or stocking up at a corner store, can save on meal costs (which add up quickly in this city). Plus ice cream and food trucks (specializing in soft serve ice cream and freshly-prepared Mediterranean meals) are parked on corners everywhere; the offerings are tasty and the prices can’t be beat.

Zack and Jake enjoyed plenty of snacks and meals from corner food trucks.
Zack and Jake enjoyed plenty of snacks and meals from corner food trucks.

Taking your family on a New York City vacation doesn’t have to be an overwhelming experience. With a little planning, research, and teamwork, it just might be your family’s vacation of a lifetime!

A version of this article was published in Bakersfield Life Magazine, October 2015 Issue

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