CGS’s Guide to Conquering The Big Apple

I had not laid boots on the concrete of NYC since 1963. We had driven through on a few occasions but not stopped. So, for practical purposes our recent trip was like having never been there and we made lots of rookie mistakes. Just in case you’re planning a trip to the Big Apple, here’s some tips that may smooth your way.

I had driven in NYC more than once but got talked out of it this time. Instead we made reservations at a Holiday Inn Express in Woodbridge, NJ not far from MetroPark, a train station that offers frequent and affordable half-hour trips into New York’s Penn Station. Penn Station is in the mid-town area so you’re central to where most of the action takes place.

Inbound train from NYC’s Penn Station arriving at New Jersey Transit’s Metro Park Station at Woodbridge, NJ.

Our plans included a Broadway play so we decided against trying to make it back to NJ late at night and booked a hotel just half a block off Times Square and precisely next door to the theater we were attending. Hotels in Manhattan are extremely expensive so if we were to do it again I would stay in NJ and take the train back and forth saving a ton of money.

Taxis are expensive and difficult to get during the peak hours. So, if you have a smart phone download a free application that provides you with maps and schedules of trains, buses, and the subway system. If you don’t have a smart phone get a free city map at any subway station. If you’re going to be in the city for multiple days and move around a bunch, a 7-day Metro Pass cost less than $30. A single subway ride is only $2.25 and the underground is fast, clean, and safe. A single cab ride, with tip, could cost you as much, or more, than what the train into the city and subway fares would cost for a day.

I also need to mention that people in NYC do some walking. To avoid cab fares you’ll simply have to walk between subway stations, etc.

New York City is the most expensive city I’ve ever been in. If you’ve recently spent a day in a theme park and had to contend with $5 hamburgers and $4 soft drinks, that’s what NYC will be like. The cheapest you can get by is with the omnipresent street food vendors and the small off the main drag delicatessens. Neither my wife or I eat big meals so we frequently share a meal. For our first meal we happened into a small deli serving a large variety of hot dishes. The deal was, choose a preferred size container and have it filled with whatever dishes you want for a flat fee. In our case we had a small plastic container of spicy red beans and rice and several slices of excellent corned beef. The cost was $5 and it was both delicious and more than the two of us could eat.

Before taking the boat to the Statue of Liberty we enjoyed a chicken gyro and a bottle of juice from a street vendor. Again, it was delicious, plentiful, and cost about $7. A couple of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream bars, when we got off the boat, cost more than our meal and drink had cost.

Speaking of the Statue of Liberty, it cost $13 for a ticket to Bedloe’s Island visiting the statue. There really isn’t much to see so save yourself some bucks and take the Staten Island Ferry, which is free, and you’ll pass within a couple of hundred yards of the statue. Use the zoom lens on your camera to get some closeup photos and use the saved money to buy the kids some ice cream and yourself a cold beer.

Years ago we began the practice of taking a bus tour of each new city we visited. In Manhattan we bought tickets for the Grayline loop tours. The least expensive option runs $39 per person and includes a lower and upper Manhattan loop. Both loops permit you to exit and re-board the bus at any stop. So, on the lower loop you could get off at the World Trade Center Memorial and re-board after your visit. Our mistake was buying a ticket package that included more things than we would physically have the energy or time to use. For example, by the time we had visited the WTC and Statue of Liberty we had no time or energy left to go to the Empire State Building or the UN building.

Atop an open air Grayline tour bus as it approaches the heart of Times Square. Our hotel was just a half a block to the right on 49th West.

The WTC Memorial is, despite what you may have heard, is free and you do not need reservations before arriving. We obtained tickets from a street kiosk near the memorial’s entrance. They do appreciate a free-will donation. The area is very congested due to all the tourist and the construction going on all around. While we were there preparations were being made to raise the last of the steel beams atop the One World Trade building which is now the tallest structure in the city.

One World Trade is still a year away from completion. Other buildings in the complex have yet to be begun.

I suppose NYC is like any other big city, you can exercise some control over it or you can become totally swallowed by it. My suggestion is to take it in small bites, plan on everything costing more and taking more time than you think, and plan on frequent rest breaks. Oh, and two more suggestions. Do not go to NYC if the temperatures threaten to hover around 100 degrees and while you are there, don’t ever, ever, ever pass up an opportunity to use an available restroom. Public water closets are hard to find!

One thought on “CGS’s Guide to Conquering The Big Apple”

  1. On one of my visits to New York City, upon becoming hungry and looking for a place to eat, just as Larry said, I found the food expensive, but I finally stopped at a small restaurant in Greenwich Village and ordered the cheapest real food on the menu, which happened to be meatloaf.

    Now, keep in mind that living and working in rural Kentucky at the time, there was a family restaurant named Traveler’s where I ate a few times per week. One of my regular meals there once a week or so was meatloaf.

    I said that to say this: That meatloaf in that little diner in NYC was so good that when I got back to Kentucky, I couldn’t even think of ordering meatloaf at Traveler’s for at least a year. It wasn’t that Traveler’s meatloaf wasn’t good; it was just that the meatloaf in that diner was that good.

    Someday, when money isn’t so important, I think it would be fun to just take an eating vacation in NYC; I suspect that it would rival eating in Paris.

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