Manhattan, New York can be a very expensive place to visit, but there are ways to dramatically reduce the cost and still have a great time. The best way to enjoy yourself is to be flexible.
Even less expensive hotels can break a lot of budgets. After determining that a hotel stay would use up the majority of ours, we decided to explore Airbnb. This required a good bit of preparation, but was well worth it in the end. We ended up with lovely accommodations in Harlem for less than half the cost of a hotel stay.
Airbnb has gone to great lengths to ensure that all needs can be met. In their search criteria, you can specify wide doorways, roll-in showers, etc. However, if you select these, they can make it so exclusive that you don’t get results. If you say generally that you’re looking for an accessible place, you will get good results and then you will need to follow up with the host with your particular needs. In our case, it’s wide doorways, no shower doors and no steps – we can work around most anything else. Our host was very accommodating – measuring doorways and sending us pictures. We shared her apartment with her, but had our own bathroom and barely saw her. It was perfect!
If you drive to NYC, you have to deal with unbelievably high parking costs. There are also taxis and ride shares, but they add up as well. We chose the subway. It is all over the city and just a short walk to any station. HOWEVER, this requires homework as well as only about a third of the stations are accessible.
To prepare, we went to the MTA website to view the system map and blew it up on 11×17 paper. You can see which sites are accessible but the print is tiny, so we marked them all with a highlighter to make it easier to see at a glance. You can also download the NYC Subway app, or get a paper map at any station. This map was our bible the entire trip. We mostly stayed in Manhattan, but went to Brooklyn one day and to see our Atlanta United play at the Red Bull Arena in New Jersey.
The second thing we used regularly was the Maps app that comes with the iPhone. With this app, you can enter where you want to go, and then choose, Drive, Walk or Transit. If Transit sent us to a station that was not shown to be accessible, we went to the closest accessible one and continued from there. If it was too far to walk, then we just used Uber.
Finally, we used MapQuest to figure out how to get from the airport (we flew into JFK) to our place in Harlem ahead of time, and cross-referenced that with the station map.
Things to Know
- MTA has a Paratransit card. Unfortunately, getting one requires making an appointment and visiting their office M-F 9-5, which is not how you are going to want to spend your time. The stations have an emergency door that doubles as an accessible entrance. It’s generally locked heading into the station but has a push bar for those coming out of the station. If we couldn’t get in, we just asked someone on the inside to push open the door for us. It was never a problem.
- The stations and the trains are old. We did not run into an issue of non-working elevators, but each station seemed to only have one, and they are likely not all working 100% of the time. Most elevators had signs with alternative access in the event of closure.
- There are no designated wheelchair spots on the train. Robert generally sat in front of the door and held on from there – people would just go around him to get on and off.
- There may be gaps or unevenness getting onto or off of the trains. All accessible stations have a designated wheelchair boarding area, usually in the middle of the platform. This area is raised up about four inches to enable smoother ingress and egress to the train.
- In one case, we went to a station marked as accessible, only to arrive and find that it was accessible in one direction only (not the one we were traveling). This was in Brooklyn where there are not that many accessible stations, so we had to go an additional three stations and then use Uber.
- Double your anticipated arrival time go get anywhere, especially if you have to get there at a certain time. We generally had to walk about a mile to get to our closest accessible station in Harlem (versus a couple of blocks to the closest non-accessible one), and the trains seem to stop and just sit on a fairly regular basis.
- The trains are very entertaining and make for an interesting ride. People-watching is one of the best parts of New York, and you see and hear pretty much everything on the subway, so enjoy the ride!
- Buses are also an option. You can download a map of the bus line and we believe they are all accessible, but we did not try them.
Other Accessibility Information
New York is an old city with old buildings. The tourist attractions seem to generally be accessible, but off the beaten path this is not necessarily the case. There are lots of restaurants and shops with at least 1-2 steps to enter. AXS Map, which was created a few years ago and started in NYC, is a guide to accessible restaurants and other businesses that you can use to help with your planning.
One big tourist attraction is the Brooklyn Bridge. It was an amazing experience to walk across it from Brooklyn into Manhattan. The walking part of the bridge is made of wooden planks which makes for a bumpy ride – if you do this be sure that your legs are secure!
In all of the tourist attractions we visited, membership had its privileges. We were escorted to the front of every line so rarely had to wait. Lines are long, so plan to wait but you probably won’t have to.