Arriving in to Newark Airport (it's cheaper to fly to Newark than JFK), bleary eyed but excited, I walk from where the plane has parked to collect our bags. Glancing to my left I am surprised to see the awesome New York skyline, which seems very close. New York is such a flat state (as I noticed from the air) that despite Newark being a distance from down town NYC, the skyline is a clear as day from the terminal building. Downstairs in the terminal building we easily locate the stand where we will catch the SuperShuttle. These blue mini-vans are a shared taxi system. At just $18 return per person from the airport to your hotel door, this is far cheaper than a taxi and much easier than navigating the buses or trains after a long flight.
Squashed into the back of the van (hey for that price you can't expect luxury) we head towards the world famous city, a big smile beams across my face. New York has been on my list of places to go for a long time and now that we are here it all seems a bit surreal. It's one of those places that you have seen so many times before in the movies or on TV that when you actually get there it feels as if you have been dropped into a postcard. The buildings tower above you, the bright yellow taxis pepper the streets all around you and the steam really does rise out of the ground (well it is November after all). The journey took about 40 minutes, but this did involve getting stuck in the tunnel for a while.
Four nights is a very short amount of time to visit New York. A very short time. There is so much to do and so many places to see. Our hotel was near to Times Square so once we had got checked in to our hotel we headed outside and in to Time Square. Wow! With its mesmerizing array of lights, sounds and people Time Square can literally take your breath away. Think about it how many places in the world are there with TV screens as big as buildings and dozens of them to boot?
For the first few days we spent a lot of time just walking around, rather than taking the subway or taxis. I always feel that when I go on a city break that we spend a lot of time walking but it really is an excellent way to see a city. Think about it, where was the last time you took a walk around your local area that deviates from your normal route. Try it, it's amazing what you see when you aren't whizzing passed in a car. We walked from Century 21 (see below - next to the World Trade Center site) back to our hotel in Time Square via Chelsea, Little Italy, Flat Iron etc. I was a long walk but worth it as we saw so much. Cost of walking = $0.
Some Frugal Tips for tourists (and maybe even locals):
One of the main things that my girlfriend wanted to do was some shopping. Frugal Tip - go shopping when there is a massive economic crisis and all the retailers are offering huge discounts! In Macy's if you hold a foreign passport you can go to customer services and get a card that gives you 11% off all purchases. I think they change the offer all of the time but it was 11% when I went. Check out TJ Maxx (which is called TK Maxx in the UK), Filene's Basement and Century 21. These shops offer huge discounts on designer gear. There stock moves fast and is replenished quickly. Be prepared to spend a bit of time rumaging to find some hidden gems.
Check which attractions you are visiting that offer combined tickets. We visited the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), which has lots of Picasso and obviously the odd Andy Warhol, and the Rockafella centre on the same day. MoMA didn't advertised the fact that you could get combined tickets, had we gone to the Rockafella Centre first we would have noticed this and saved $10 each to visit both attractions. I suspect that the Rockafella centre is cheaper than the Empire State Building? We chose the Rock becasue it offers the view of the New York skyline with the most famous building in your sights. If you are standing on top of the Empire State Building you can't see it!
I put a call out on Twitter (and checked out tips on this blog) for free things to do. We visited the Apple Store (I have to I'm a geek) and took a couple of walks in Central Park. These are great things that just make New York a cool place to be.
A sensible tip that I heard (though we didn't do this) was that the many hotels with good restaurants struggle for lunchtime trade so you can get some great offers.
Not So Frugal
We were visiting New York as a birthday present from me to my girlfriend, so there were some extravagances (the whole point of being frugal in my opinion is so that you can have some money to indulge yourself occasionally). We stayed at the Westin Times Square which turned out to be an excellent choice of hotel. It's central location meant that it was great for getting to anywhere in the city, and the room was very spacious and surprisingly for a hotel has the most comfortable bed I have ever stayed in (their trademarked Heavenly Bed concept). Checking out reviews before we went we spotted a tip to request a high corner room, which we did and were pleased to have been allocated. This meant that we had a larger room with windows on two sides. Obviously this tip would apply to a lot of hotels but it is staying here that gave us the idea to ask for this in the future. For my girlfriends birthday we went to Buddha Bar in Meatpacking district. A cool place. Not sure if I was cool enough to be in there, but we had fun. We also saw the lengendary guitar inventor and recording artist Les Paul at Iridium Jazz Club on Time Square. Les Paul is 93 and plays two shows there every Monday. If you are a guitarist, this is a must see gig!
I had a great time in New York, it was just not long enough. I'm sure I'll be back soon!
Tipping (extra notes for Brits)
A few notes on tipping! This is a major leap for Brits, tipping in restaurants and maybe your barber is customary, but in America it's a whole new ball game. Firstly get hold of a load of dollar bills.
Tipping standards (or so I saw):
- Bell Boy - $1 per bag, $1 per taxi hailed.
- Restaurants - 18% apparently (obviously adjust for service quality, and watch out for those restaurants that already include a charge)
- Taxi - 15% is customary.
- Other - If I was supposed to give anyone else cash I must have missed them. I struggled understanding how much to give the concierge to book us a table at a couple of restaurants for example.
I was only there for four days so obviously only scratched the surface of all the great stuff New York has to offer. I will be back, what tips can you share in the comments for next time?
Now for a Frugal Friday tip! If you were using Quickcards for the PATH system, they are no longer available. Get yourself a SmartLink card and you will continue to pay the cheaper $1.35 fare instead of $1.75. For additional links to frugal tips and tricks follow me on Twitter. If you would like to contribute to FrugalNYC in any way (guest posts, articles, ideas, interesting links, advice, financial assistance, or anything else), feel free to contact me via email. Click here to add FrugalNYC to your RSS reader
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