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Seeing New York on a Budget

If you are experiencing some malaise around the house, grumpiness about school, cranky kids who are at each other and parents who are tired of refereeing, try the perfect cure-a few days in New York City. There's no better time than now, before the hot, sticky, oven-like summer sets in, to take advantage of what this exciting, fascinating city has to offer.

We've taken each of our three kids on separate visits when they were about seven or eight and again, when they were teenagers. Yes, the price of hotel rooms can be high; the pace frenetic, and the people you run into a bit eccentric to say the least. I'm reminded of the guy who painted large purple footprints for miles on the pavement of New York or the sidewalk fortune teller who tried to read our kid's palms despite our protestations. But a trip to the Big Apple certainly shakes off the cobwebs. Each of our kids has come home with renewed vigor and enthusiasm.

Thankfully, you don't have to be a millionaire to enjoy New York City. Here's how to have fun and stay within the family budget:

  • Take a free tour of the New York Stock Exchange, Grand Central Station or the New York Post office.

  • for the United Nations Security Councils meetings and the General Assembly are free on a first-come/first serve basis.

  • Visit a world-famous museum on their pay-what-you-wish evenings: Thursday and Friday evenings from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m at the Museum of Modern Art, 5 to 8 at the Solomon R. Guggenheim or sign up for a free family sketching workshop on Friday nights at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (suggested donation admission price: $7 for adults, free for kids under 12).

  • Line up for half-price tickets for Broadway show at the Times Square Theatre Centers at Broadway and Forty-seventh, and 2 World Trade Center. The box offices open to the line-ups around 3 p.m.

  • Send for free tickets to the David Letterman show (212-975-5853) or Rickie Lake (212-664-4444).

  • Be sure to visit Central Park, the 840 acres smack in the middle of Manhattan that is the city's playground. On weekends during the day, hundreds of New Yorkers flock and it feels safe. Take youngsters to catch fish at the newly stocked Harlem Meer pond at the north end of Central Park, feed the ducks at the Conservancy Water, (known as the sailboat pond by New Yorkers, who sail model motor boats there on Saturday mornings), walk on the wild side with the Urban Park Rangers, hear the storytellers at Belvedere Castle or slide down the pink granite slide in the new Rustic Playground near east 67th street.

  • For a small amount, attend a puppet show at the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre at 79th St. and Central Park West, visit the penguins and the polar bears at the Central Park Zoo and Wildlife Center or play mini-golf beside the Wollman roller rink (where each hole is a scale model of a New York city landmark).

  • Take teenagers to Strawberry Fields at 72nd St. and Central Park West, Yoko Ono's memorial to John Lennon that is an International Peace Garden as well as a playground.

  • Shop for lunch on Saturdays at the Union Square Green Market where New York farmers set up booths for fresh produce, baked goods and apple cider.

  • Take a time out at St. John the Divine Gothic Cathedral near Columbia University with its children's sculpture garden and interesting fountains.

  • Ride the antique carousel in Central Park for 90 cents or the Staten Island Ferry for a wonderful view of the city for 50 cents. Once you've paid for the ferry from Battery Park out to see the Statue of Liberty ($6 for adults, $3 for kids under 17), you can climb up to the Lady's crown for free (go early to avoid long lines) and stop over at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum, a fascinating journey for anyone like us whose ancestors arrived through this clearing centre.

  • Eat hot pretzels on the sidewalk, huge pastrami sandwiches at the Stage or Carnegie Delis or a Big Mac at a McDonald's with a doorman, grand piano, stock quote board and espresso (160 Broadway). For a splurge, try Asti Restaurant with Italian food and opera-singing waiters or Rumplemayer's, a restored ice cream parlor, for their famous sundaes.

  • Stroll the Orchard Street flea market (near Greenwich Village) on Sunday morning for toy bargains and discount clothes.

  • Call the Hotel Reservation Network (1-800-96-HOTEL) for rates as low as $100 per night, stay at the Mayflower Hotel overlooking Central Park for $149 or book a two room suite at Gramercy Park Hotel for $190.

  • Call New York's Visitors and Convention Bureau 1-800-NYC-VISIT about all of the above as well as their new Funpass and Citypass offering discounts to more expensive attractions such as the Empire State Building.




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