How to Spend 2 Nights in NYC With a Preschooler…and On a Budget

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Are you the type of person who browses for flight deals with no intention of traveling at that time? I admit I am guilty. An ad pops up for $39 one-way to Denver, and then I find myself searching for roundtrip tickets and vacation packages to Australia an hour later. Well, that is how this trip occurred. I already booked a trip “back home” to Metro Detroit, and, of course, saw a deal pop up.

Well, that is how this trip occurred. I already booked a trip “back home” to Metro Detroit, and, of course, saw a deal pop up for tickets $49 each way from Detroit to NYC during the time I was there. Granted, it was Spirit, but with it only being a short amount of time, I wasn’t worried. I compulsively bought tickets, picked out the seats, and clicked no luggage for my son and me, for a few days in the middle of our already-planned trip. Essentially, it was a vacation within a vacation.

We flew out to Detroit on a red-eye and spent a day and a half with family (stayed tuned for another blog on that trip). We then had to leave for the airport at 4:30am to head to NYC. Mind you, our bodies were still on Pacific Standard Time, so that was an adventure in itself. While my son “napped” on the plane, my excitement kept me awake, as I drank a couple of coffees to prepare for a long day.


After arriving, we hopped on the shared shuttle, which we boarded first, and of course were last to get dropped off (because that’s how things always happen, right?) My son slept the whole two hours we were on it…yes, 2 hours of gridlocked traffic. For once, I didn’t mind since we couldn’t check into the hotel yet and my little guy needed sleep. So, thank you shared shuttle driver, for sparing me having to deal with a tired child (we all know how that goes!)

We arrived at the hotel, Broadway at Times Square Hotel, and it was in the perfect location, in terms of Times Square, plus was about 40% less expensive than other hotels in the area, yet was comfortable and spacious for NYC. To spare you from reading a novel and fast forward to the part of this that you are looking for, I’ll skip to it.


Day 1 started off with a later time than expected. There were literally no plans that went into planning this trip though, other than to explore, which is different than my usual OCD agendas. We walked a couple of blocks away and tried some street food, then headed to the M&M Store. As we were walking through Times Square, our eyes wandered around, admiring the lights and entertainment. The last (and first) time I was there was about ten years ago for New Year’s Eve…something I would never do again, but am glad to say that is nixed off the bucket list.


After shopping at the M&M Store, we got information on a bus tour and thought, oh what the heck…mine as well! For the Big Bus NYC Tour, if you purchase your one-day ticket after 4pm, it will work the next day as well (24 hours), plus kids under 5 are free. So, I basically got a 2-day pass for the both of us for the price of a 1-day pass for 1 adult (only $53.10). Score!

We hopped on the bus and went to the top of the double decker, open air bus. I decided to do the Uptown tour, which was around Central Park. Although it was a hop on, hop off tour, we just stayed on for the loop. We viewed the sites, listened to the tour guide, and learned a lot!

During the Uptown Loop (about 2.5 hours long), we got to see: Times Square, the Theater District, Radio City, Central Park, Lincoln Center Plaza, Strawberry Fields, American Museum of Natural History, Cathedral of St. John the Divine, Grants Tomb, Apollo Theater, Harlem, Museum of the City of New York, The Guggenheim Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Frick Museum, Central Park Zoo, The Plaza Hotel, and Carnegie Hall.

It was neat that you could get off at any of the stops, explore or go into a museum, and then hop right back on a bus. Even better, my preschooler loved and and wanted to learn even more.

After the tour, we headed over to the Hard Rock Cafe to get a pin (we collect them), and decided to eat dinner there, and head back to the hotel for the night. However, we did have to make a stop at the Disney Store before hitting the sheets.


Day 2, we had the free breakfast at our hotel and lunch at Tonic Times Square…it was a typical sports bar, nothing too “New York” about it, however, kids ate free, so it was a bonus! We then headed back to the bus to take the Downtown tour.

During the Downtown Loop (2.5 hours), we got to see: Bryant Park, 5th Avenue, the Empire State Building, Korea Town, Flatiron District, Union Square, Greenwich/NYU, NoHo, SoHo, Little Italy, China Town, the Brooklyn Bridge, City Hall, Wall Street, the Charging Bull, Statue of Liberty, Battery Park, South Street Seaport, Lower East Side, East Village, United Nations Building, Rockefeller Center, and Midtown East.

Afterward, we browsed in the Disney Store (again!) and took a ton of pictures in the LINE store. For dinner, we went to Guy’s American Grill (Guy Fieri’s restaurant), where the servings are large (and they don’t have kids menus), so split the chicken mac ‘n cheese, and it was more than enough!

Day 3 was a short day. We packed the night before…we only packed one small backpack between the 2 of us to avoid Spirit’s baggage fees. We brought back a small plastic bag to put any souvenirs in as well. After checking out of the hotel, the concierge/baggage checked our bags so we didn’t have to tote them to lunch.

We ate at Junior’s Cheesecake, and did splurge on this one since we were leaving. I mean, what is New York City without cheesecake? We managed to get there before a rush, so enjoyed a Turkey Reuben with enough turkey to feed a family during Thanksgiving, and a strawberry shake topped with none other than a piece of the best cheesecake I’ve ever had on the top.


Normally, this is where I would end the blog and say we went back to Detroit, the end…however, there is one last thing.

Now, remember when I told you about the shared shuttle to the hotel at the beginning? Well, I purchased it as a roundtrip, so took the shuttle back to the airport. We grabbed our bags from baggage claim and waited for the shuttle. Thirty minutes later than the original arrival time, the shuttle arrived. We still had about 2 hours until the flight boarded, so it was no big deal. The shuttle was about full, so I figured we would head to the airport. Twenty minutes later, we arrived at a hotel to pick someone else up, who I assumed just got fed up and called for a cab.

Okay, at this point it was about an hour and forty minutes until the flight boarded. I was thankful that we already had our tickets and didn’t need to check bags. Onto the airport we went…until I started noticing that it was a lot further than before, and the scenery didn’t look the same. That was until I saw a sign that said “Kennedy Airport”. I quickly pulled up Google Maps to see we were headed south.

“Excuse me, sir,” I said from the backseat, “Are we headed to LaGuardia?” “We are now…I was going to the wrong airport,” he replied. A warmth set in on me, as I Googled directions… 20 minutes away… I was trying to remain calm and keep a smile on my face so my son wouldn’t notice any panic. By the time we made it through security and to our gate, boarding just began. Thank goodness we made it, however, I would strongly suggest to avoid a shared shuttle, especially Airlink NYC.

Overall, the short getaway to NYC was a blast, and even more of a blast to see my son’s eyes light up with excitement. To truly enjoy NYC, you definitely need more than a couple nights, however, it will definitely give you that city craving that you are looking for!

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19 thoughts on “How to Spend 2 Nights in NYC With a Preschooler…and On a Budget

  1. This was a fun read. The title grabbed my attention. πŸ™‚
    Glad you enjoyed NYC. Despite it being a short trip, and with a toddler, you managed to do a lot. πŸ‘

  2. Wow! You are braver than I taking a preschooler to NYC! I hardly manage to get my little ones to the grocery store and back! But it looks like you had an awesome trip and you can tell your son had fun! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Great list! We visit NYC frequently with our kids and it’s so fun to explore the city with young ones. So much to see and do and explore!!

  4. I love the spontaneity of the trip and you all sound like you had so much fun. The pictures are awesome. Thanks for sharing your money saving tricks. I’ve never been to NYC but it’s on my must visit list!!

  5. I absolutely loved reading your adventure with your son !!! I love traveling with my little boy too! I’ve pinned this to my traveling board to share with others πŸ™‚

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