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Finances & Money

Clever Dude’s Weekend in Manhattan

radio city music hall

One of Stacie’s friends came in from Australia and along with another of her friends, we all decided to meet up in NYC (Manhattan to be specific). Personally, I’ve never been to NYC. People seem to gasp when I say that, but I highly doubt that everyone except for me has been to the Big Apple. I’ve driven past it, and even been to Long Island this past summer, but I’ve never been to the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building. I didn’t make it there this time either.

We’re not very good planners, so we sort of put together the trip at the last second. However, the whole trip came out as a success, except for some GI distress I had all day Saturday due to a drug interaction with a percocet and ibuprofen. I haven’t needed the meds for a while now, but decided to play it safe since we would be walking so much. Unfortunately, it backfired, literally (pun intended), but by Sunday I was feeling OK.


We priced out our various transportation options last week and determined driving/parking was too stressful and Amtrak was way too expensive (about $500 round-trip for both of us).

Although I can handle driving in D.C. fairly well, it’s because I’ve been doing it for almost 7 years. I decided I didn’t want to drive (and park) in NYC, and I think I made the right decision. We decided to drive and stay with a friend in southern Jersey on Friday night, and I secretly left a $20 bill on their steps as a thanks for breakfast and lodging.

Running Total Cost: $20

Stacie’s friend found out about the NJ Transit train which only cost $21.50 round-trip per person from Trenton, NJ. We drove up from south Jersey on Saturday morning, met with a friend at the train station and got the 10:21am express train to New York Penn Station. We bought the tickets at the station, and they were good for any time that day, in case we missed a time slot (there’s 3 each hour). The return train on Sunday runs once per hour.

Running Total Cost: $63 (add $43 for 2 train tickets)

Once in NYC, we had to decide between the subway or a taxi to get to the hotel (see below) and meet the “Aussie” friend (she’s actually an American who lives in Australia now). She already arrived via bus to Penn Station and took a taxi to the hotel. She said the cab cost $14. The subway is $2 per person for one trip, but we weren’t familiar with the subway yet so we went for the taxi. Except for one subway trip, we took the taxi all weekend. We probably ended up spending a total $15-18 more with the taxis than the subway because we didn’t do our research.

Running Total Cost: $73 (add $10 for our portion of the taxi)


I was really worried about the cost of a hotel on a Friday night in Manhattan, but our Aussie friend pulled through and booked a suite in the Sohotel in, of course, SoHo. The room had 2 full and 1 twin beds, and was very clean, comfortable and nicely furnished for what we needed. We didn’t spend much time in the room and didn’t notice until the morning that there was no phone or clock in the room. However, it had a nice 42″ Vizio flat screen TV that we watched for a whole 3 minutes on Sunday morning. I can recommend the SoHotel as it was warm, quiet (except for a faint thumping from the club nearby), clean and it felt safe.

The “Category B – Regency Room” was $169 plus tax for the night, but it is less on other nights. Rounded off, it was $200 total, so only $100 for our portion. We paid for the room on our Discover® More(SM) Cardand earned 5% cashback as Discover is running a special on “Travel” spending categories (the categories no longer include travel though).

Running Total Cost: $173

The Rest of the Trip

Since the hotel is right next to Little Italy and Chinatown, we walked around the area, taking in the sights (and smells) until we were ready for lunch. We stopped for a “bubble coffee” in Chinatown, which I shared with one friend. I believe my share was about $2. I’ve had these drinks in Vietnamese pho cafes here in the D.C. area, but the “bubbles” in this drink were gummier than the others.

Unfortunately, Stacie doesn’t like Chinese food, so we went for Italian. It was an interesting experience as each restaurant had a lady or gentleman highlighting their specials out on the sidewalk and inviting us in. You don’t see that in D.C. The gentleman at Il Palazzo on Mulberry recommended that we get skip dessert wherever we eat and go to La Bella Ferrara down the road instead. Perhaps they also owned the bakery?

Before making a decision, we continued down the road and stopped by the bakery. We bought some small cannolis of various types and were very happy with the price ($1.25 each) and taste. I got a chocolate dipped one with chocolate mousse filling, and a regular riccotta cheese and chocolate chip filling one for a total $2.50.

Total Running Cost: $177.50

Il PalazzoSince the Il Palazzo guy recommended such a good bakery, we decided to each at his establishment. The lunch menu prices were excellent (under $10 each), whereas the dinner menu entrees range from $25-35 each. I got Cappellini Bolognese, while Stacie got a chicken salad and a bowl of pasta fagioli soup. Total cost: $27 with tip (that’s my dish in the picture).

Total Running Cost: $204.50

So, we just got to NYC, checked into the hotel, walked around Chinatown and Little Italy and ate lunch. It wasn’t even 2pm yet and we had no plans for the day. We decided we could either wander around SoHo, or head to Upper Manhattan and check out some sights. We didn’t want to spend our time waiting in lines at tourist traps as this was a day for the girls to hang out, so we decided to take the subway up to Rockefeller Center.

We took the D line from Grand Street up to Rockefeller. Since we were comfortable with the D.C. Metro, we were able to navigate the NY subway fairly easily. I’ll leave out my opinions of the NYC subway for now except that they don’t mark or announce the metro stops very well and you need to pay close attention if you’re not used to their transit system. The subway only cost $4 for both of us for a single trip, but was our only subway trip of the weekend.

Total Running Cost: $208.50

nintendo world

Once at Rockefeller, I snapped some photos of the architecture and the ice rink, while the ladies stopped in some shops. I thought we were going to visit Macy’s, so I insisted that we stop in the Nintendo World Store nearby. I didn’t buy anything as I could get all this stuff online, but I enjoyed their little museum exhibits of old-school Nintendo systems and handhelds. Oh, and we never made it to Macy’s.

After Rockefeller, we stopped by Radio City (see my leading photo above), then walked down 5th Ave and ogled at all the expensive stores. However, we didn’t step into any as we were just enjoying the walk, sights and conversation. We weren’t just wandering around aimlessly though; we were headed for the FAO Schwarz toy store! We got to the store and spent about 45 minutes inside, checking out the range of stuffed animals, science and educational toys, and of course the giant keyboard from the movie “Big“. Before leaving though, I got 0.45 lb of candy (rock candy and chocolate espresso beans) from the dispenser for $4.50.

Total Running Cost: $213

Speeding the story up a bit, we took a taxi down to Greenwich Village to find someplace to eat dinner (our taxi cost: about $6) and found the Cozy Soup & Burger diner. The waiter seemed like a certain famous soup guy, but he got the order perfectly correct and was very prompt. We lounged for well over an hour, but our portion of the bill only came to about $25 as I split a turkey club and onion rings with one of the girls. I also got a coffee, stuffed grape leaves (dolmades) and Stacie got a chicken wrap and a hot tea.

Total Running Cost: $244

On the walk back to the hotel, we stopped by a Lucky Brand Jeans shop just to look around. I asked the salesman if he could fit Stacie in a pair of jeans where she didn’t need to cuff the bottoms of the legs (she’s short and thin and it’s hard to find well-fitting pants). He found a great pair that she thought were very comfortable, but they were a low-rise cut and Stacie (and her friends) suggested something a bit more modest. Too bad because the jeans were half-price from an original $120. I can’t imagine spending $60 for jeans for myself, but I would for Stacie if it meant a good, comfortable, stylish fit.

Back at the hotel, we all chatted until past midnight, then conked out. We got up and showered, checked out of our room, and then headed to a local market that served breakfast. I got an egg muffin, hashbrown and can of Fresca soda, while Stacie got a bowl of Special K cereal. Before leaving, I also bought a very large bottle of Poland Springs water for the trip home and a container of chocolate-covered pretzels for Stacie. Total cost: about $12. The liter of water was pretty pricey at over $3.50, but I felt hung over from the diarrhea the day before, plus much more coffee than I normally drink, so I really needed it.

Total Running Cost: $256

We took a taxi from the market up to Penn Station to catch the 10:30am bus (for the Aussie friend) and the 11:14am train back to Trenton for ourselves. We already had our tickets, so we weren’t in a big rush. We hit almost all the green lights and no traffic on the way to the station, so our share of the fare was only about $5. Once in the station, we waited till the track number was posted, then hurried down to the train and got our seats.

The Ride Home

The train ride was about 85 minutes long, and the first 15 were pretty interesting. A woman sat down with us, but was only riding to the first stop. She reeked of cigarette smoke, but she was very nice. We learned she earns money by participating in clinical trials, and runs a tattoo parlor on the side.

We talked about her recent trials, including Alli (interesting as Stacie’s friend who was with us on the train works for GSK, maker of Alli) and Celebrex. She made $2,500 on the Alli trial and $3,000 on Celebrex, and each only lasted 11-12 days. Not a bad take in a month for just hanging out (they take care of her lodging) and getting blood drawn about 61 times (literally).

When we got to Trenton, we deboarded, went to the parking garage, said our goodbyes and parted ways. I didn’t mention this before, but we parked in a parking deck that cost $18 per day. There were supposedly options in the $7-8 range nearby, but 1) we couldn’t find them and were in a hurry and 2) anything further than 1 block from the station seemed very unsafe. I could be wrong, but I didn’t want to take a chance. The final cost for parking was $28 (only $10 for the portion of day 2).

Oh, and on the way through Delaware, we stopped for a late lunch at the First State Diner in Delaware. I resisted the brunch buffet for $6.99 and instead got an egg salad club with fries. Stacie had a chicken sandwich with fries and a hot decaf tea. With tip, the total was $15.

Total Running Cost: $304 (added the taxi from above too)

Other Costs, Times and Conclusion

Before the trip, I rented a vehicle (a GMC Envoy) but only because I had an accident with my truck which I’ll write about separately. Allstate will cover the rental so I’m not adding in the cost ($22 per day or about $75 with taxes for the 3 days). The Envoy was on empty (the gas light wasn’t on though) when I picked it up, so they said I could bring it back on empty. I filled up before leaving for Jersey on Friday night, and dropped off the SUV with the gas light on. Therefore, I can say we used all of the gas I pumped in on Friday, plus another gallon for a grand gas total of about $60. Additionally, we spent about $20 in tolls (maybe less) using our new E-ZPass.


So the whole trip was under $400. Granted, we didn’t see the big tourist sights or museums, but that wasn’t the intention of this trip. The girls wanted a chance to get together in a central location, and I got a chance to be an escort for them and a “sense of security”, and I got to visit Manhattan for the first time. It was nice to be able to split the cost of taxis and even dinner, but now that I’m familiar with getting to and around the city, I’d like to go to NYC with just Stacie. That’s when we’ll see the big stuff.

As for travel time, it took about 4.5 hours to drive and take the train each way, not counting stops for dinner, waiting for the train to arrive, or overnight stays in Jersey. Seriously, had I known it was so simple, I would have booked trips to NYC years ago. However, I had to be “forced” into this trip before I finally got to see it first-hand and “learn the ropes”. I’m definitely far from an expert, so the next trip will be a little more planned so we can check out more sights and dining specialties.

I hope this little story helped either entertain you or educate you in case you’re in my position and you’re basically afraid to visit NYC. Honestly, Manhattan felt very safe during the day, and if you’re in a group at night, you shouldn’t have to worry either. I was actually surprised that there weren’t many people on the roads or sidewalks, as it was decent weather (sunny and upper 40s). I’m sure it would be different around holidays and warmer weather though.

About the author

Clever Dude


  • There’s are various buses that go from Chinatown in DC to Chinatown in NYC. It’s $20 each way or $35 round trip. It’s very popular.
    I used it last summer when I was in DC and my friends from the area say everyone uses it all the time to travel to NYC. It’s pretty much a straight shot. Granted, it is a bus and it’s not the most luxurious choice, but it’ll get you there and back without the hassle of parking and driving.

  • We had considered the Chinatown bus, but didn’t plan ahead enough and just decided to drive most of the way. I think the next time I’ll look into it since we might stay at SoHotel again, which is right next to NY Chinatown

  • Sounds like a fun trip. I was fortunate enough to visit NYC and see the twin towers before 2001. They were a spectacular sight, as was the view from Ellis Island!

    I can relate to the Percocet reaction. I was prescribed some after shoulder surgery, and they never quite agreed with me.

  • I enjoyed reading about your adventure!

    For not putting much into planning, you did really well.

    I’ve visited NYC twice, each during my school’s spring break. I went on an expense-paid trip both times (everything paid but food and entertainment).

    Some subways are good at announcing upcoming stops both with a blinking sign and audio. Some subway cars don’t have that for some reason.

    Anyway, I’m just itching to go back some time this summer when it’s actually warm outside. Hope I can do it for under $400!

  • Hope you are feeling better!

    I love visiting NYC, especially around Christmas or spring.

    It is funny that we never take advantage of the things that are close. When I lived in LA i think I went to the beach 3 times!

  • Glad you enjoyed New York. I’ve always had a good and cheap time there. Big cities aren’t as daunting as you think – once you’ve been in one, you can manage them all. You’ll have to make plans to come over to the UK and experience London at some point.

  • Very nice. I think that sounds like a great trip! Someday I’d like to go up for a night and a Broadway play. When we have more money…perhaps when Micah has a full-time job. 🙂

  • Photo of Cappellini Bolognese: disgusting. Why would you take a photo of a very nice dish with used utentils sticking out of it? I’m sick to my stomach. Otherwise, nice post.

  • Erik, the utensils looks used because I mixed up the noodles before I took the photo. I wasn’t taking it with intent to use it for a post, but since it had the name of the restaurant on it, I decided to do so. Honestly, it didn’t look much better when it was brought out a minute before, but it tasted great anyway.

  • Hey CD, glad to hear that you made it through Manhattan. Shoot me an email next time you are in town so we can either meet up or I can let you know all the tips a native New Yorker can give. Since you were visiting for the weekend, you could have parked your car in some neighborhood streets for free for the whole weekend. Also, try the website for subway directions. The lengths of the trips are off but the directions are practically spot on.

    As for subway cars announcing the next stops and such, it’s usually at the personal preference of the conductor to announce those. Some lines have automated announcements. If you didn’t hear anything at all then I just assume the speakers in the car were broken.

    Ferrera’s is the right choice for dessert in Little Italy!

    Anyways, like I said, if you ever come back, I’d be happy to recommend stuff for you to do/see.

  • Il Palazzo is a great choice. I like to take people there when they want to visit Little Italy, which, while touristy, is still fun.

    The staff at Il Palazzo will forever be loved by me for how nicely they treated my then two year old daughter when we were there for what turned into a very long dinner a couple years ago over the July 4th holiday. The waiter brought her a rock sugar lollipop (it was actually her first lollipop ever) which kept her happy while everyone else ate and drank themselves silly.

  • I really enjoyed how you itemized everything! A friend and I are thinking of flying out to NYC next winter and this post was quite informative. Thank ya’.

  • Great story Clever Dude. We plan on hitting the NYC area for 2 overnights, Feb and April. The first is with the 2 kids, and the second is for my wife and I to go see Grease. Both will probably be just one nights stay. For the kid trip, we might actually stay in Jersey City. Rates are cheap especially since it is during the weekday.

    I have no worries about driving into the city, as I as been through quite a few times. Anyway, because our youngest may have a special stroller soon, subways will be out of the question.

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