Think New York City, an Alternative to Disneyland

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New York City may not be the first place you think to bring your family or school-age children, but after you read this, you will have a new perspective on the Big Apple. With so many free (and low cost) sights to see and things to do, just think, New York City may become a new vacation favorite. What an imprint this trip will make on them! They will leave with a lasting impression, enjoy a historical education, and return to the classroom to speak about seeing and experiencing the landmarks they read about in school.

Want An Exciting Alternative To Disney, For A Fraction Of The Price?  Think New York City.
Photo by Scott LeBlanc

Iconic Sites for Free or Low Cost

Ride the Staten Island Ferry to view the Statue of Liberty

Let’s start with the Lady of Liberty. Landing at either New York airport (LGA or JFK), you may capture a glance of her as you land. But, did you know that you can take a boat ride to see her for free? The Staten Island Ferry, run by the New York City Department of Transportation, is a free, round trip boat ride that runs about every 30 minutes. The Ferry operates between the Whitehall Terminal in Lower Manhattan and St. George Ferry Terminal on Staten Island.  From Lower Manhattan, you will have an amazing view of the Statue of Liberty.

Each way takes approximately 25 minutes, for a round trip total of about 50 minutes.  Note that all passengers must debark from the ferry into the terminal, then re-board, but you do not have to exit the terminal. Just wait patiently for the announcement to board the return ferry. There are coffee shops and many food vendors, and the terminal has restrooms. On the return from the terminal, you will have another opportunity to see the Statue of Liberty as well as one of the best skyline views of Manhattan you can get. 

A helpful tip when selecting seats: Go to the right side of the boat from Manhattan, then left side returning to Manhattan.

Read More: Cool Things to do In NYC

INSIDER TIP: This free service does not take you directly to the Statue of Liberty nor does it provide you the ability to do the Statue of Liberty tour.

Want An Exciting Alternative To Disney, For A Fraction Of The Price?  Think New York City.
Photo by Frank Michel

People Watch in Times Square

Day or night, you will have a glimpse into the hustle and bustle of this famous landmark.  At night, you have an impressive view of the illuminated neon lights and screens, with lots of advertisements and movie promotions.  The “Red Stairs” located by TKTS provide free seating and an elevated structure for a better view. It’s a great spot for pictures and a few moments to sit down, relax and people-watch in the middle of Times Square.

The daytime also offers a great experience. If you are interested in a Broadway show with the family, many shows offer a midday option on Wednesdays and Saturdays. For other experiences, check out Madame Tussaud’s, Dave and Busters or the NFL experience in 4D. Many of these venues offer discounted tickets through Groupon.

If your schedule permits time, why not experience Times Square twice – a day visit and an evening visit. To read more and plan your experiences tailored to the dates of your visit, use Times Square NYC.

INSIDER TIP: Some New York city restaurants require you to purchase something to use the restroom. Your cheapest option is the McDonald’s in Times Square. You will find a bathroom code on your receipt. You will enter the code on the keypad of the restroom door. Save your receipt!

Want An Exciting Alternative To Disney, For A Fraction Of The Price?  Think New York City.
Photo by Anita Ng

Walk the High Line

The High Line is a converted elevated railway that now serves as a free, public park on Manhattan’s West Side. The park offers a long trail, surrounded by trees, artwork, murals, and views of the Hudson River, New York City skyline, and the new Vessel sculpture. The High Line offers great views of the city, hidden away from the noise of the traffic. Along the walking path, there are plenty of places to stop for refreshments and seasonal vendors, like ice cream carts. Plan for about an hour of walking on the high line. There are benches available to sit and take a break. 

The High Line runs between Gansevoort Street to West 34th Street, between 10th and 12th Avenues. Weekends are busy, so if possible, time your visit during the weekdays.

INSIDER TIP: Visit the restroom before walking up the high line entry stairs, as access points are limited once you start down the High Line. 

Read More: 3 New York Road Trip Destinations
Want An Exciting Alternative To Disney, For A Fraction Of The Price?  Think New York City.
Photo by Petr Broza

Explore Central Park

Central Park is 5 miles long, with an impressive 843 green acres in New York City. While 5 miles may not sound extensive, Central Park has been designed to include so many amazing stops. In fact, when planning a trip to Central Park, many people cite that it takes a full day to cover only half of the park. The park is maintained well and filled with many people walking their dogs and running and biking. You can choose to tour the park by foot, pedicab, a horse carriage ride, bicycle rental, or more recently, via scooter. The park is free, and activities have some additional fees.

Upon entering the park, you will have many great photo opportunities at several viewing points, with backdrops of the city and the lake. There are many landmarks along the way. Central Park has its own zoo. The zoo has over 100 animals, including two polar bears, snow leopards and California sea lions.

A beautiful carousel is a favorite attraction in the park and runs year-round. Another favorite attraction is the Bethesda Fountain with its Angel of the Waters statue. The Lake and Loeb Boathouse offer rowing boat rentals, for a leisurely trip around the lake.

When you are done with Central Park, the kids will love a stop at Dylan’s Candy Bar. A short walk outside of Central Park (or cab ride away), you will find a three story building filled with new and nostalgic sweet treats. You cannot miss it – the outside is also decorated with bright colors and lights.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Near Central Park is the The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The MET has over 2 million items in a 3 story building. The collection includes one of the largest collections of Egyptian artifacts, and many well-known artists. If you make it to the third floor, you will find paintings and pictures from New York in prior decades. The MET asks for donations for each adult, and is free to children under 12.

Read More: A Weekend in New York City
Want An Exciting Alternative To Disney, For A Fraction Of The Price?  Think New York City.
Photo by Najla Mamou

Visit the 9-11 Memorial

The 9-11 Memorial is a pair of two reflecting pools, now occupying the footprints of the previous buildings, known as the Twin Towers. The two pools are lined with the names of each victim. The Memorial is a separate experience from the Museum. The Memorial is recommended for children of younger ages. Many people find it a place of quiet reflection. The Memorial is free and open daily, but closed to family and friends of the victims on September 11 each year.

INSIDER TIP: You may find single white flowers on name plates. Those single flowers represent the birthday of a victim. You may also find cards, notes, and bouquets of flowers, left by loved ones. The staff members remove the tokens each evening.


For an exciting and educational getaway, with low and minimal costs for family activities, think New York City. With so many free and low cost sights to see and activities, evaluate NYC for your next destination for spring, summer, fall or winter. Consider the impact it will have when your children speak about seeing the Statue of Liberty in Social Studies or share the experience about standing and viewing in the 9-11 Memorial on September 11th, or the amazing paintings and sculptures at the MET form the most famous artists.

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Think New York City, An Alternative To Disneyland

Najla Mamou
Manager of projects by day. Avid traveler, gravitating towards national and international parks and landmarks. If you want to make small talk with me, just ask me "Where's the next trip?" and we have a great conversation to be had.

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