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By ARRazorback
July 25, 2006

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Hello to all. I thought I would report back on my trip to NYC since you guys gave such fantastic suggestions on food and places to go. And it fits with the theme of this board as I was looking to go as cheaply as possible and see a lot of things--my budget was $500. This amount had to cover food (including one meal at a "nice" restaurant of some ethnic origin I have never eaten), lodging, transportation and attractions (including a Broadway show) for me. We started planning it at the last moment so I wasn't sure if it would be possible with that budget. Turns out I did very well on that amount and got to experience a lot of new things. Maybe some of the things I learned can help others.

Transportation to and from NYC:

I currently live in western Massachusetts and was wondering what was the cheapest way to get there. My friend who was going with me had been to NYC before (it's about 3.5 hours away from where we live). We had several options to get there and back:

1) Fly from Albany to NYC. Since the trip was so last minute, the tix prices were pretty high. The cheapest fare was well north of $400.

2) Drive to NYC. My friend has a Civic Hybrid so gas would not be costly. The problem was where would we park the car/store it while we went around the city. I investigated hotels online and noticed a majority didn't seem to offer parking. Those that did were high end hotels or were farther out from Manhattan then we wanted to be (like in New Jersey). Those hotels that offered parking usually charged anywhere from $25/day on up. We decided against this option as we would rather use the money on fun stuff---not parking.

3) Drive to Albany, park the car there and take an Amtrak train from there to NYC. The roundtrip tix were approx. $100 each and then we would have parking charges on top of that.

4) Turns out there are commuter trains going from NYC to upstate NY. We looked around and found trains leaving Wassaic, NY (about 1.5 hours away) for about $30 round trip ($25 if bought online). Parking at the station was about $3.75/day. Train from Wassaic took about 2 hrs to get to NYC so we wouldn't lose much time compared to driving. Also, we wouldn't have to deal with parking in Manhattan. Much, much better.

We had the option of buying the tix online/over the phone for a cheaper price. The only problem was you could not print boarding passes. They had to mail them to you via snail mail and we were looking to buy only a couple of days ahead of leaving so we decided to buy the tix at the station. Good thing too because the tix are bought for fare out of specific stations. At our intended point of departure, the Wassaic station, the parking lot was full. So was the Ten Mile River lot about 0.5 mile away. We drove 5 miles down to Dover Plains and finally found a parking space. Round trip tix (Dover Plains to Grand Central) cost $25.50 each and parking was $11.25 for the time we would be gone.

My transportation cost to and from NYC: $36.75 (My friend paid for the gas and I paid for the parking.)

Hotels in NYC:

For anyone who has never traveled to NYC, let me warn you if decide to visit in the future. Many hotels there are different. Anywhere else in this country, you walk into a hotel room and you typically see what? Two double beds, a dresser, a desk with chair (or table with two chairs) and a full bathroom and lavatory. This is what I expected with NYC. And I assume if you walked into the Waldorf or one of the national chains, that is what you would get.

However, after looking at www.hotels.com, I knew we could not afford even the national chains. They were either close to $200/night or well over $200/night. This was of course on the island of Manhattan. There were several chains in NJ, the Bronx, or Brooklyn that were affordable but we wanted to stay on Manhattan because we figured we only had three days (and a good portion of one would be spent traveling) there and didn't want to spend most of it on the subway commuting back and forth. Turns out this was a good idea as many of the boroughs suffered a power outage while we were there and heavy rains closed many of the subway lines.

So we concentrated on finding a really cheap hotel on Manhattan. That is when I started noticing ads for rooms with two twin beds and a shared bath. HUH???? A shared bath? Just twin beds? I thought that was only in Europe. Nope---seems to be very common in NYC. Now, I didn't have a problem so much with twin instead of double beds. I thought it weird but it would be like I was back at camp. And I could have probably made it with a shared bath but for many places in Manhattan, shared bath doesn't mean like a suite situation that you find in many college dorms. Oh no. The whole floor can share one bathroom.

And with my luck, I would end up sharing the bath with someone like my sister who spends two hours getting ready inside a locked bathroom (and refuses to let anyone in until she has her face on). Scenes from my childhood were flashing before my eyes. I was determined to find a room with two double beds and a private bath for a reasonable price. It just had to exist.

I searched several sites and googled around until I found a place called www.woogo.com. The company, based in the UK, owns several properties in NYC. One listed on their site was called Hotel 307 (upon arriving we found its real name was Imperial Court) at 307 West 79th on the Upper West Side. It had a special going for a double-double with a private bath for just $130/night (cost split between two people).

I booked it immediately for three days, two nights. Turns out it is partially a residential hotel/apt building that has fixed up several of the units and rents them out to tourists. This room also had a kitchenette, cable and A/C (a necessity in NYC in July). It was a little rundown but it was quiet and clean. It is also near a subway station (Line 1 that goes all the way to the tip of Lower Manhattan).

My total cost of lodging/luggage storage: $158.50 (includes taxes)

Getting Around NYC:

Currently, local buses and subway rides cost $2/person/ride. I can't remember what all our options were but the four I remember are:

1) Buy an unlimited pass for a year.

2) Buy an unlimited pass for a week.

3) Buy an unlimited pass for a day.

4) Buy a pass with a certain dollar amount on it.

We decided on the unlimited 7 day Metropass that would give us the option of taking either a bus or subway. It cost $24.00 and is invaluable if you have a habit of getting on the subway train going in the opposite direction of where you want to go (ahem). Each station had a machine to buy Metrocards at. Also the passes can be used for buses---important if you go to the Upper East Side (where museum mile is because no subways go that way according to the maps).

My total NYC transportation cost: $24.00

Cost of Attractions in NYC:

I would highly recommend getting a guide like Lonely Planet's guide to NYC if you have never been. The LP guide is about 2 years old so some of the cost of the attractions listed are a little dated but it gives you an idea of what to expect.

The LP guide mentioned two discount passes:

1) The New York City Pass (www.citypass.net)

Costs $63.00 and gets you into the following for free:

Museum of Natural History
Museum of Modern Art
Guggenheim Museum
Intrepid Sea Air Space Museum
Circleline Sightseeing Cruises
Empire State Building Observatory

You can bypass tix lines (but not security lines) and you have 9 days from activation to see each attraction once.

2) The New York Pass (www.newyorkpass.com)

$54 one day pass
$89 two day pass
$114 three day pass
$144 seven day pass
Days start from first use of card.

There are kids' cards available for cheaper prices. Sometimes, these passes go on sale (we eventually got two of the two day passes for 10% off each�total cost per card $80.10). These passes allow you free admission to 40 top attractions from the Empire State Building Observatory to the Statue of Liberty to the United Nations. It also includes discounts at 25 restaurants and stores, and line skipping. Furthermore, you can visit each place more than once (assuming you have time)--you can see each attraction once every 24 hours--very nice if you want to go to the Empire State Observatory during the day and then go again later some other night to see the city lights. Because it covered almost everything the other pass did (only exception I think was the Modern Art Museum) and more, we decided to go with this one. Watch for the sales on the cards to save a little more. The card can be bought in advance up to a year. It also comes with a guide that tells you what you are entitled to and the address and phone number of each attraction/restaurant/store.

It was fabulous to NOT have to stand in the sweltering heat for tickets.

Additional attractions not covered by pass:

Bodies the Exhibition $24.50
Broadway show tix (The Producers bought 50% off at the TKTS booth in Time Square): $56.00
The Met: $15.00

My total cost for attractions: $176.50

Food Costs (includes all taxes and tips):

Note: I typically drank water with most meals because 1) it was hot as hell and 2) it was free�the tea there is like $3/glass!

7.19.06

Lunch at diner next to train station: $5.10
Bottle of water once in NYC: $2.00
Dinner at Victor's Caf�: $29.50
Late night snack in Times Square to people watch: $5.95

7.20.06

Breakfast at H&H Bagels: $2.00
Lunch at Lombardi's in Little Italy (had their white pizza, yummy!): $15.86/2 = $7.93
Two bottles of water during day to stay hydrated: $4.00
Afternoon snack at Liberty Island: $6.78
Late, late dinner at Planet Hollywood: $3.98 (got $10 off my $11 hamburger with pass)

7.21.06

Breakfast at small Greek diner: $4.76
Bottle of Coke (needed the caffeine): $2.00
Bottle of water (Coke made me thirsty): $2.00
Lunch at Heartland Brewery: $19.75 (gave larger tip than normal�BEST SERVICE in NYC!!)
Late dinner at the Met cafeteria: $8.50

My total food cost: $104.25

Total cost of trip: $499.10

Some of the Attractions/Places Seen:

-Grand Central Station
-Times Square (at day and night)
-Victor's Caf� (yummy food--I had never eaten Cuban food before)
-Staten Island Ferry/Staten Island
Took the above ferry close to sunset to see Lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty at sunset.
-H&H Bagels (yes it was on the must eat list of my friend)
-Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island tour (if you want to go inside Statue a separate reservation must be made in advance�they are booked for several days in advance so do not wait until you get to NYC)
-Battery Park and the sculpture the Sphere
-Ground Zero and bronze mural remembering the fallen
-Century 21 (designer clothes at discount prices)
-Wall Street and the NYSE (flag was on greek columns outside)
-American Stock Exchange
-Federal Hall
-Trump Building
-Chinatown (walked about�some parts are scary in broad daylight)
-Little Italy (walked about)
-Ate at Lombardi's (white pizza good)
-Saw a Broadway show
-Walked through Central Park
-Empire State Building and Observatory (must buy extra ticket to go above 86th floor�decided against this because it was so freaky hazy)
-Chrysler Building (no tour but saw its lobby�awesome if you like art deco)
-The Metropolitan Museum of Art
-Museum of Natural History
-United Nations
-Flatiron building
-Walked around on 5th Ave/Tiffany's/Cartier
-Walked around on Madison Ave.
-Walked around on Park Ave.
-New York Public Library and saw Gutenberg Bible (if you want to see items in their rare collections (like books bound in human skin�gross I know yet I find it fascinating that people actually would will their skin to somebody for this purpose) you need to make a reservation in advance ;-(
-the Mac store (had to check email)
-Bodies the Exhibition
-Washington Square Park and the Arch
-Museum of Natural History

Some other tips for an enjoyable NYC trip:

1. The subway stations have huge maps of the subway trains' routes. Go to the person hiding in the bullet proof booth and ask for it--it's free.

2. Make sure you bring back up batteries/film etc as the stores really stick it to tourists. I saw a 4 pack of AA batteries for $20 (Times Square area).

3. If you do have find a hotel room with a kitchenette, you might want to bring some bottled water to save money. The going price for water there is about $2.00/bottle.

4. According to traveller's opinion sites and reviews at Travelocity/Orbitz/Expedia, several hotels seem to have problems with bedbugs. You may have seen news reports about the re-emergence of these pests in the US due to international travel. I would look up what these things look like before going anywhere (not just NYC) so you know what they look like.

Then when you first enter your room set your luggage on a hard surface (lavatory, desk, tile floor) and check the beds immediately. They tend to congregate around the tags on the mattress so this will involve stripping some sheets. Leave the room immediately if you find them. Never set luggage on fabric surfaces or the luggage may become contaminated. Then you bring the luggage home and your house becomes contaminated. I had a friend who had to throw everything fabric out of his house (rugs, carpet, sofa) because his luggage contaminated the entire house. Apparently, the bugs are hard to kill.

5. If you want to go inside the Statue of Liberty or just on top of its star shaped base, you must have reservations. They get booked up early so make your reservations early.

6. I found it helpful to make a list of everything I wanted to see along with the corresponding addresses. Each day we made a list of things that were in the same general area and figured out using the map mentioned in #1 which subways/buses to take and what order would make the most efficient use of our limited time. Make sure you get the addresses prior to leaving home or use the huge ass phone book in your hotel room the night before.

7. The buses there seem to not accept dollar bills. Just change and Metrocards. A roll of quarters might be helpful.

8. Many attractions have extended hours in the summer. The Empire State Observatory stays open until 2AM. A lot of times this is not mentioned in the tour books. Check before leaving home.

9. Many museums have "pay what you like" or free admissions on Thursday and Friday nights.

10. Many hotel clerks will watch your bags prior to your check in/after your check out for a fee per bag. Grand Central Station got rid of all of its lockers after 9-11 and so had many other places. It was nearly impossible to find a place with luggage storage. Make sure you ask if your hotel provides this service. You do not want to schlep your luggage around with you if you have time to kill before checking in/waiting for your train home.

11. Many restaurants take/require reservations so if you have one in mind I would make a reservation as early as possible. One way to get around this: It seems NYers eat dinner rather late (at least in my book)�8 pm-ish. If you go somewhere around 5pm, you are likely to get in without a reservation because there were many tables empty and no lines to get in.

12. If you go to Lombardi's even for lunch, make reservations. Otherwise it is a 20 minute wait out on the hot sidewalk or at the bar running up a tab. Water is free at the bar though.

13. If you want to go higher than the 86th floor observatory in the Empire State Building (into the tower part on top), you have to buy an extra ticket ($14.00--not worth it on hazy days).

14. To see rare collections at the NY Public Library, again you will need advanced reservations.

Pleased to report that with all the sweating and all the walking I lost about 7 pounds while in NYC. Also, I don't know how New Yorkers ever got the reputation for being gruff. Everytime I stopped and pulled out a map, someone always stopped to ask if I needed directions/help.

I will definitely be going back. Some pics are below:

http://pg.photos.yahoo.com/ph/williams_eph/my_photos

If anyone is interested in the hotel I stayed at, I do have pics. Just email me.

ARR


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