We have been to New York twice – the first trip by ourselves and the second with two 18 year old nephews, Luc and Thom, in tow. Our approach to big cities when travelling by ourselves has been to go for a decent period of time (at least a week) book a nice hotel, go to a few key museums or major tourist sites of most interest, but otherwise to simply meander through different neighbourhoods. Frankly, if that is the type of trip that you are doing a tourist pass won’t save you much. When the boys first decided to come with us, however, it became apparent that this was going to be a very different trip. Planning and decision-making was handed over to them, with the result that a list of things to do was prepared, cogitated and redrafted. The list was extensive, not immediately clear that it was capable of being achieved and, disastrously, made no allowance for afternoon naps. How things had changed from the first time the nephews had travelled with us overseas as 11 years olds. On that occasion, after their first day in London spent visiting the Palace, Westminster Abbey, the Natural History Museum and Harrods, I was met with the plaintive cry of “Aunty Chelle – can we do a bit less tomorrow please?” Seven years on they were taller, fitter and stronger, but the years had been less kind to me. We clearly needed a way to do this as inexpensively and efficiently as possible. A search on the internet turned up several different passes (all of which were described as “official”). An analysis of those passes against what we intended to do on the trip resulted in the choice of the New York City Pass.
Value of the Pass on our Trip
Using this pass the boys saved about $275 each, and we saved a bit less than that. This can be seen by the following day by day analysis of our trip:
Day One – Macys (free, not in pass); New York Skyride (saved $42 – located in the Empire State Building, a simulated ride over New York. Not really our thing and done only because of the pass); SoHo, Little Italy and Chinatown Walking Tour (saved $35).
Day Two – Times Square (free, not in pass); Madame Tussauds (saved $36); Discovery Times Square (saved $27 – an exhibition space, the interest factor depends on the exhibition. In our case it was the Art of the Brick which the boys were really keen to see); Statue of Liberty (saved $18); Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade balloon inflation (free, not in pass).
Day Three – Grand Central Audio Tour (saved $8); Food on Foot East Village Tour (saved $49); Top of the Rock ( saved $29); NBC Studio Tour (saved $24).
Day Four – having exhausted us, we went our separate ways for the day. We did some shopping and the boys continued trying to cram as much as possible in: Cake Boss Christmas Cookie Workshop (not in pass); cycle around Central Park (saved $49); Empire State Building (saved $29).
Day Five – Wall St Walks (saved $25); Brooklyn Bridge (free not in pass); 9/11 Memorial (saved $15); Carolines on Broadway Comedy Club (not in pass).
Day Six – Guggenheim (saved $22); Metropolitan Museum of Art (saved $25); Natural History Museum (saved $22); Shopping.
Day Seven – walk through Greenwich to Magnolia Bakery for cupcake purchase (free); walk the Highline (free); Intrepid Sea Air and Space Museum (saved $22); New York Public Library Tour (free, not in pass); Mathilda – the musical on Broadway (not in pass).
Does it really save you money?
Various writers on the internet have questioned whether the pass really saves you money, pointing to the fact that admission fees at certain museums are recommendations only and not mandatory and to the fact that MOMA has an evening each week where entry is for free. For us it did save money – but for the pass we would have paid the recommended fees and, given all of the queues for payment at the venues, it would appear most people are of a similar disposition. In relation to the free evening at MOMA in my view it is not worth seeing art under those conditions. We popped into MOMA briefly during this evening and were overwhelmed by the number of people there. We did not return to MOMA even though it was included in the pass because Rob and I had been previously and the boys had by that time well and truly exceeded their art viewing limits. There are many other options of things to do on the pass and the more energetic could undoubtedly fit more in and get more value out of the pass than we did. Left to their own devices, the boys would have probably seen and done a bit more.
There are three main other advantages to the pass:
- I hate queuing, so the ability to jump queues and enter the fast pass lane for the busier attractions was handy;
- once you have your pass and a 7 day transit ticket you only need to spend money on food. This means that you don’t feel as though you are constantly having to put you hand in your pocket to pay for things;
- you probably see and do more than would otherwise be the case (albeit some of the stuff you do you could quite easily live without).
The bad stuff – disadvantages
It may have been me, but I could not figure out how to book the Statue of Liberty in advance and still take advantage of the pass. That meant we did not book a visit to the Crown or the Pedestal. If you don’t reserve in advance for those sections you won’t be able to gain entry to them on the day.
The pass warns that some tours (particularly the food and other walking tours) must be booked in advance, or risk them not being available on the days suitable to you. Unfortunately there was no central booking mechanism, so each tour had to be booked through each company – not all of which had the most intuitive of online booking systems when it came to pass holders.
The pass cost us $200 each, when we purchased it during a special discount phase. There are probably, however, more days on which the pass is offered at a special discount than days at which it is offered at full price. Just watch the prices on the internet regularly and select the discount phase which best suits you.