Few weeks ago, my family had a chance to visit New York City area. It was my kids’ first time in NYC, and they were very excited. You can view all the details on how I used miles and points in this post. I will have a separate write-up on our Spirit flight, so stay tuned for that.
Review of the property, plus our commute to NYC
We chose to stay in Holiday Inn Express and Suites Meadowlands Area. There were two reasons for this. One: we had plans in the area and having New Jersey base was more convenient, especially since we flew in and out of Newark airport. Two: the hotel was dirt cheap, at only 15,000 IHG points per room, and we needed two units. A real bargain, considering we got 10% rebate as well, due to having IHG co-branded credit card. The hotel usually goes for $135 per night.
Let’s face it, if you’ve seen one Holiday Inn Express, you’ve seen them all. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing because it gives you an idea on what to expect. The best part about this property, hands down, is its proximity to NYC. In fact, you can see Manhattan skyline from your room (if you happen to be on the high floor that is facing New York). I’ll let the photo speak for itself:
Not that close to NYC, but close enough
The property itself is actually quite decent. The room was clean and the bed was very comfortable. Plus, there was a sofa bed to accommodate my son.
The sofa does turn into a queen-size sleeper, but we didn’t bother since my boy is quite small. There was an unpleasant incident where my husband tripped over the table at night and injured his toe. I guess I need to hubby-proof hotel rooms from now on!
The bathroom was decent size, and counter had plenty of space, which is always good when you travel with kids
Breakfast at this property was actually better than average. They had delicious cinnamon rolls each morning, and scrambled eggs tasted pretty good. That’s usually my beef with Holiday Inn Express breakfast: mediocre eggs. The hotel had an indoor pool which was yet another family-friendly feature. My kids had a blast there! Another bonus: a laundry room with coin-operated washer and dryer. Can’t beat that. Overall, I was quite pleased with redemption value of this property. Link to TripAdvisor reviews
Of course, the main reason we selected it was so we could easily do a day trip to NYC. And the hotel didn’t disappoint in this respect. There is a bus stop very close to the property (a short walk away), and buses go every 10 minutes or so. The cost is $3 per person one-way. The reception clerk will be happy to give you a schedule if you ask. It took us only 25 minutes to reach Port Authority depot in NYC, which is located close to Times Square.
Map courtesy of Rome2Rio
On the way back we decided to use Uber (my referral link, which will give you $5 off your first four rides). It cost us $50 to get to hotel from Metropolitan Museum of Art area. There were six of us, so we had to use UberXL option. Otherwise, a regular Uber ride (maximum of 4 people) would cost only $28. It took us about $35 minutes to get back to the hotel on a Sunday night. We brought our own booster for my son, but there was an option to request it for $6 extra per ride.
Speaking of Uber, I was such an idiot. I never used the app before, and mistakenly thought we were supposed to meet the driver half way when his location popped up on the map. Wrong! Eventually I figured out that we should stay put and a very nice Israeli guy finally picked us up. He told us that his wife is originally from Belarus and that Belarus wives are the best. My husband said: “That’s true.” Though to be fair, I was sitting behind him and would smack him on the head if he remained silent.
I was concerned that getting to NYC from our new Jersey hotel would be complicated, but it wasn’t the case at all. That said, if you plan to spend several days in the city, you will probably want a more central location because trekking back and forth will get old after a day or two.
I recommend you look into Wyndham because all properties in that program cost a flat 15,000 points per night. There are some bargains to be had, like TRYP by Wyndham NYC Times Square South (you have to call 866-315-0884 number in order to book it). For other points options, check Pointimize.com or HotelHustle tools.
Not letting the storm sideline our NYC plans
Unfortunately for us, our visit occurred during the time when a major storm was passing through the city. Yes, the one you’ve heard about on the news. Not much we could do, since we were going to be in the area for only three nights, and our plans for the following day were fixed.
So, off we went, in the rain. After our relatively short bus ride, we got out to the street level. And there was New York City, just the way I remembered it. Honking galore, people everywhere, energy bursting at the seams. I love everything about this place:
Emerging from the underground station, I felt like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz: I guess I’m not in Kansas anymore!
We then made our way to Empire State Building, hoping to catch a glimpse of the famous view from the top. Lack of line (which is usually quite long) was not a good sign.
Unfortunately, we were told we would only see the clouds. Still, I decided to pay $180 admission fee for the six of us because how often are we in NYC, right? My kids loved the fact that they were “walking” through the clouds. Making lemonade out of lemons, I guess.
It is a fascinating building even without the view. There is an exhibit inside that highlights all that was involved in the construction process of this famous skyscraper. Looking at old photographs from the thirties, it’s easy to see that New York was truly the center of the world during that time period. I guess it still is.
On the way out, they had photos of various celebrities, posing at the top of the building. There was even Justin Bieber there, looking ridiculous as usual.
After our visit to Empire State building and lunch at Wendy’s across the street, we were off to Metropolitan Museum of Art. It’s an incredible place that requires several days to appreciate fully. Unfortunately, we only had a few hours. But before we could even get to the exhibits, we had to stand in a long line on the street, in the rain.
I know my son is picking his nose, but I still think he looks cute holding his penguin umbrella. What do you think? Instagram-worthy?
The museum has pay-what-you-want policy unless you buy tickets online ($25 for adults, $17 for seniors). The big plus if you choose to go with the latter option is that you get to skip the line outside. If you do it inside, kids can enter free, but adults have to pay something. I went ahead and charged $50 to my credit card for the four of us, and the cashier seemed very happy with that amount. Apparently, many give only $1 or $2.
After few incredible hours at the MET, we found a tiny diner that was full of locals (always a good sign). The owner insisted I buy a bagel with smoked fish on it and even let me try a piece. When I opted for pita sandwich instead, he seemed genuinely offended. Those crazy New Yorkers! Afterwards, off to the hotel we went.
We went to NYC only two days before the recent deadly attack, and I would go again in a heartbeat. As unsettling as those type of events are, chances of you being in the wrong place at the wrong time are relatively small. Take a look at what’s happening in this country. There are shootings at Starbucks, Home Depot and even places of worship. You will not be 100% safe no matter where you are.
But what about staying home in your safe cocoon? You could get into a deadly accident on the way to the movie theater in your own city. I will say that I was a bit disturbed by the lack of meaningful security at the MET museum. It was more of a “security theater” type deal, with an untrained employee looking around people’s purses. Empire State Building was better because it had metal detectors. That said, I would still go to the MET knowing what I know now.
This isn’t meant to be a preachy rant on how I won’t let terrorists change my travel plans, yada yada yada. I think everyone has to decide for themselves on where exactly their comfort zone lies. But if you are on the fence, I recommend you go to NYC because it’s truly one of a kind. Take it from a control freak, the only guarantee in this life is that there are no guarantees.
P.S. For tips on visiting NYC with kids, check out this article in the New York Times.
Leana is the founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.