In this addition of my Digital Mom travel blog, I’m talking about traveling to New York City with teenagers, a surprise birthday trip and what 2 days in New York City looks like!
You guys, I love New York City and the last time I was there – my daughter was 3-years-old. I knew for her sweet 16 birthday, a surprise birthday trip to NYC was in order and somehow I managed to pull it off.
16th Birthday Trip to NYC
Here’s the deal. My daughter is extremely Type-A, UNLIKE her Type-B mother (that’s me.) She likes to know schedules and plans for everything, so the weeks leading up to her big 16th birthday she started hinting at what was going to happen for her big day. Little did she know, I had somehow managed to arrange this surprise New York City trip from Dallas, not just for her – but it ended up being a NYC Girls Trip! Her 13-year-old cousin, and her 2 aunts tagged along.
Did I mention I was Type-B? For me to schedule a trip, during the school year for 5 people felt insane, but it happened and I’m here to tell you all about it.
Z was in the midst of trying out for Color Guard for the next school year, but it was the week of her birthday and coordinating 5 schedules is a joke. Our flight out of Dallas Love Field on Southwest was scheduled for first thing in the morning. This was a few days before her birthday, so she still wasn’t clued in on what was going to happen.
My sister arrived at our house at 3 am in the morning. Wanting to make this surprise vacation to New York City a well, surprise – I did what any good mom would do. I got a confetti canon, had my sister play Frank Sinatra’s NEW YORK – NEW YORK and we raided her room to wake her up with the reveal. She was clueless and confused and that’s exactly what I had hoped for. This was her big birthday gift, along with new clothes (which I packed for the trip.)
Next up, was to my brother’s house to pick-up my sister-in-law and niece. My niece had no idea that we were had a NYC flight scheduled so that was fun to surprise her with as well.
2 Days in New York
Our surprise travel to NYC was a quick but FULL vacation. We just had 2 days in New York for sightseeing. 3 days total, but 2 half days and 1 long full day.
DAL to LGA Cheap Flight on Southwest
We were able to score cheap NYC flights on Southwest from DAL to LGA. Which in human terms is Dallas Love Field to LaGuardia Airport. LaGuardia is a bit outside of the city, in Queens. If you are flying in to LGA and headed to NYC, plan at least an hour for the commute.
Originally the plan was to take the subway. I found this great video on how to take the New York subway from LGA to time square. By taking the subway from LaGuardia, it will only cost you $2.75. Alas, none of us had slept the night before our trip and we were too exhausted to think. We all piled into an UberXL, which cost us around $75. While it was pricey, it was worth being able to sight see from the Uber. Plus, since all 5 of us were exhausted – I’m sure we would have just slept on the subway.
Where to Stay in NYC
When planning our trip, I had a few requirements. New York City is not known for huge hotel rooms and with 5 people – I knew we would have to get 2 rooms. The next task with finding a NYC hotel that had 2 queen beds in each room. We wanted to find hotels in midtown NYC or hotels downtown NYC. BONUS would be if it was a Marriott property, as I’m an Ambassador Elite (due to a 137 night stay when our house was destroyed!) We ended up finding an amazing Marriott hotel, with 2 queen beds in each room in an awesome NYC location. Check out our views and how cool this hotel is! If you are looking for a NYC hotel, here’s a snapshot of hotels in the area with room prices.
Moxy NYC Downtown
We ended up at the Moxy NYC Downtown hotel. Moxy hotels are owned by Marriott. I have to admit, New York City hotels are just weird to me! This was the coolest hotel, very nice, great upgrades but walking in I wasn’t 100% sure about the place. In NYC, space is limited, so the lobby is on the first floor, the restaurant and bar is on the second floor and then the rooms are on the higher floors.
Our check-in was 4 pm, we got to the hotel around noon. Membership has it’s perks. That Ambassador Elite status enabled us to check-in, no problem. Our 2 hotel rooms were next to each other on the 17th floor. The hotel is situated downtown NYC, next to the financial district. The views were incredible, as well as the hotel room. It has a very cool vibe, and while the rooms weren’t Texas size – they didn’t feel too tiny, just very well organized.
Here’s our view from the Moxy NYC Downtown.
Things to Do in NYC with Teenagers
So I mentioned the stress of trying to plan a surprise birthday vacation for 5 people during the school year. So on top of the stress of finding a nice hotel and flights, I also had to find things to do in NYC with teenagers because both my daughter and her cousin, well – they are teens! Traveling in New York with teenagers is different than our normal family travel and yet, they aren’t adults so it wasn’t like a girl’s trip that I would do with my girlfriends. So these things to do in NYC are teen approved.
New York City Itinerary
When I say itinerary, I say that with a LOL. Listen, we knew we had a flight there and back and a hotel. Other than that – thankfully all of us are VERY easy going and knew that there were certain things we wanted to do in NYC and looking back thru the photos and the list of things we did, I’d say the trip was a success!
We ate a lot, but walked a TON. The first day, I registered over 30,000 steps.
- Enjoying Authentic Italian Food in Little Italy
- Experiencing Time Square
- Broadway Show – Be More Chill
- Snacking at Rice to Riches
- Viewing the NYC at Night at the Top of the Rock Observation Deck
- Late Night Pizza at Joe’s Pizza
- Walk thru Central Park
- 9/11 Museum and Memorial
- Hop On / Hop Off NYC Bus Tour
- Enjoying the Soup Nazi
- Museum of Modern Art (MOMA)
- Visiting St. Peter’s Church
- Fresh Pastries at a Local Bakery
- Saying Hello to the Statue of Liberty
- Riding the NYC Subway
- Shopping and Eating in China Town
As you walk thru Little Italy, especially at lunch time – be ready to be hit up with “lunch specials”. While yes, these are more affordable than a typical New York meal, watch out for the add-ons.
We ended up eating at Il Cortile Restaurant. It was amazing and TRUE authentic Italian food, which is just a must when in NYC!
Experiencing Time Square
Time Square is the heart of New York City life. Standing amongst the thousands of people, loud noises and non-stopness of it all – I quickly remembered that I am an introvert and would have a very hard time living in the chaos of NYC.
Broadway Show – Be More Chill
While our original plan was to see Dear Evan Hansen, Z’s second choice was Be More Chill.
It was her birthday so her choice. Definitely not what the adults would have chosen, and I’ll leave it at that.
Snacking at Rice to Riches
Rice to Riches is a rice pudding bar. Yes, RICE PUDDING – so random, I KNOW! It’s been a staple in NYC for years. My in-laws lived in Jersey and worked in the city for a couple of years. They sent us Rice to Riches rice pudding one year, and well – let’s just say that we have spent probably a thousand dollars in the last decade on rice pudding from this place. You can order online and have it overnighted. Yes, it’s a bit extra – but oh it’s amazing and full of carbs and calories.
Our favorite is sex, drugs and rocky road. It’s like rocky road ice cream, but replace the ice cream with rice pudding.
Viewing the NYC at Night at the Top of the Rock Observation Deck
We just happened to be on Top of the Rock during Autism Awareness. We saw random building lit blue to bring awareness to autism. (I’m an autism mom!)
Late Night Pizza at Joe’s Pizza
Our favorite was a LATE night pizza run to Joe’s Pizza. Open 24 hours, Joe’s Pizza is a NYC staple. Don’t expect anything fancy. We had to wait at 2am for a table – and it was a bistro table where my niece still had to stand to eat. Joe’s defines what GOOD NEW YORK PIZZA is.
Walk thru Central Park
We enjoyed a brisk walk thru Central Park on the way to MOMA. We totally got lost. It was FREEZING cold. We did see Strawberry Fields and some other things like the Elf bridge – but did I mention we were lost and it was cold? Memories were made and photos were taken. Someday I’ll go back and dedicate a day to Central Park and all of its gloriousness.
If you are looking for a fun FREE New York City activity to do with the family while traveling, go to Central Park.
9/11 Museum and Memorial
Hop On / Hop Off NYC Bus Tour
The hop on and hop off bus was a great way to see the city from a tourist point of view.
Enjoying the Soup Nazi
The soup nazi did no disappoint. Though, I really wanted to hear someone say NO SOUP FOR YOU.
Museum of Modern Art (MOMA)
A long time dream was to visit MOMA. The Museum of Modern Art in New York was everything. My breath was taken away. All of that art history from middle school instantly came back to me as I cried when I saw Starry Night just a few feet in front of my face.
I will say that my sister-in-law who I adore is hilarious. So hilarious she was taking photos like the one above but got a little TOO close and security swept in. We had eyes on us the entire stay at the museum. It was still amazing. Van Gogh, Monet, Frida – I love art and my heart is full just thinking about our time here.
Visiting St. Peter’s Church
As a ex-Catholic, I still do find solace and holiness when entering a cathedral. St. Peter’s was absolutely a beautiful spot to thank God for this amazing trip, my people and all that my life is.
Fresh Pastries at a Local Bakery
Fresh pastries within walking distance were amazing. Plus all that walking, I didn’t feel that terrible devouring all the carbs.
Saying Hello to the Statue of Liberty
Our intent was to get on the ferry and visit the Statue of Liberty.
When we saw that the wait was over 2 hours, we decided that our short New York City trip would be best spent not waiting. We said hello and moved along to China Town.
Riding the NYC Subway
We live in the country and even when we do go to the city (Dallas) – there isn’t a subway. In addition to being a mode of affordable transportation – the NYC subway is an experience. It did not disappoint and gave the girls some time to sleep. Yes, they were exhausted and fell asleep on the subway.
Shopping and Eating in China Town
We shopped and ate our way thru China Town. My sister and sister-in-law were trying to buy knock-off Louis Vuitton bags but after a weird situation and a lady who would not stop arguing, we left bagless.
New York City Travel Tips
Here are final take aways after our short NYC vacation. I hope these New York City Travel Tips help you on your vacation! Make sure to leave any travel tips that you have in the comments!
1. Budget Your Trip with a New York City Pass
If you are wondering how to afford going to all the New York City attractions, or even how to budget for a NYC trip – my number one bit of advice is this. BUY A NEW YORK CITY PASS.
You are able to do so many different tourist things and not have to worry about budgeting in the moment. Make sure to purchase your NYC City Pass ahead of time.
2. Talk to the Locals
One of my favorite parts of the trip was talking to one of our Uber drivers. We had taken an Uber late the first night from Rockefeller Center back to the hotel in downtown NYC. The ride ended up taking a good 40 minutes and cost us a pretty penny. Remember, with 5 people you have to take an Uber XL. Thankfully we split most of the charges so it wasn’t QUITE as painful.
Talking to the locals is always a great way to find the best places to eat, must visit attractions, and learn about the culture of an area. We learned how expensive it is to park downtown. Our Uber driver works nights because he can find early morning parking for cheap. He was telling us that if he works a shift into the morning, he ends up taking his car to Staten Island and riding the subway home because it’s cheaper than parking in the city. How crazy is that!
How Much Does an Uber Driver in NYC Make?
Our driver told us that he made $140,000 last year as an Uber driver and Lyft driver in New York City, but with rent and parking costs – it’s not as much as it seems. Considering in our 3 days in New York, we spent well over $400 on Ubers, I have no doubt that Uber drivers make a decent income. $140,000 in Texas is a hell of a lot more than in NYC, that’s one thing I know for sure!
3. A Trip to NYC Makes An Unforgettable Birthday Gift
While I would love to take my kids on a trip every birthday, it’s just not practical. Having a special sweet 16 birthday trip was absolutely perfect. The memories made and the time well spent together with each other and with family was worth every penny spent.
4. Download a New York City Map
You would think in 2019 that you wouldn’t need a New York City map, right? WRONG. So one thing we learned quickly is that GPS and cell connections in between all of the skyscrapers can really suck. I have an iPhone and my sister has an Android. Both phones were useless several times during our adventures. We had to ask for help and learned we needed to keep a downloaded map on our phones!
5. Try New Things
Of all places to try NEW things, New York City would be the place to do it. Let go of your anxiety, I know – easier said than done. But believe me, it is worth it.
6. Bring a Backpack!
So I’m typically a messenger bag type girl, but after experiencing crazy shoulder pain after last year’s road trip to Chicago – I knew better. I bought this simple collapsible backpack on Amazon.
It was super cheap and has zippers that ensure that your goods are safe. I’ve used this on several outings since this trip, definitely worth the investment.
7. New York is a Great Family Vacation Spot
We are planning on taking the whole family to New York for a family vacation with the boys in a few years. While there is a TON of things for kids to do in NYC, our 7-year-old and 9-year-old are just too immature to appreciate the city at the moment. We will definitely be getting New York City Passes and seeing ALL THE THINGS on our next visit!
Best Sweet 16 Birthday Trip
Looking back, there is nothing that I would change! We celebrated Z’s sweet 16 birthday trip doing all the things we wanted to do, but most important we celebrated her.
Sixteen years old is a milestone age and so thankful that it worked out that we could celebrate her in NYC!
Content creator, lover of sweet wine and tacos and mom to 4 kids. Molly appreciates the unique things in life, is a Ennegagram 7w8 and has been blogging here at Digital Mom Blog for a very long time (10 years!)