Road Trip to New York City – Trains, Boats and Buses

NYC skyline

We spent three days at an Airbnb in Staten Island. Our host, Michael, is a NYC fire fighter. We stayed in the basement apartment of his house. He was really nice and gave us some good tips on getting around. Traffic was absolutely nuts coming into town, so we were glad to get to Michael’s, park our car and not have to drive anywhere for a few days.

This was the first time we ever booked an Airbnb (since we couldn’t find any hotel deals in our desired price range) and everything went even better than expected. There were some hiccups, but they weren’t related to our Airbnb (more on that later). Overall, we had a very fun and memorable road trip to New York City!

The Staten Island Railroad

staten island rail station

The SIR (Staten Island Railroad) was in walking distance from our apartment. All we had to do was hop on the train to St. George Terminal, then catch the ferry into Manhattan. The ferry is free, but the train costs $2.75 each way. However, you don’t pay until you get to St. George (so you basically have to pay to leave or enter St. George terminal). You have to buy a MetroCard and slide it through the stall for it to open.

Getting through on the first day wasn’t a problem. However, we had some trouble while returning to Staten Island. My Metro Card glitched and wouldn’t let me through the stall. A local man in the stall next to mine hit my hand and said, “not like that, like this”. But I wasn’t scanning it wrong. It turned out that I was using the card Katie had used earlier and she had scanned it twice when it didn’t seem to work. The stall registered it as going through twice, so when I used it later it showed insufficient funds.

The rest of the family was already on the other side, so I had to go to the machine and buy a refill for my Metro Card. It was taking too long to process my debit card, so I canceled it and pulled out the smallest bill I had, which was a $20.00. The machine spit my $20.00 back out because it doesn’t give change over $9.00 so I had to dig around for $2.75 in change in my purse. Meanwhile, the train left without us and I’m still feeling really upset because a stranger hit me (seriously, who does that?) and the employees were just standing there watching me struggle.

drawing of woman screaming

I was doing this on the inside

I managed to dig up enough change to refill the card and get through the stall so we could get the next train. Then we accidentally got on the express train instead of the local. We figured this out pretty quickly when the train didn’t stop at any of the stations. At least we got to sit in an air-conditioned train car as we watched our stop fly past us through the window. Once the train finally stopped, we walked back to the other side and got on the local train going towards our stop. Finally, we made it back to the apartment. A little stronger, a little wiser.

We didn’t have any problems with the train the rest of the time, but I worried every single time we went through the stalls!

The Staten Island Ferry

Staten ISland Ferry

We really enjoyed riding the ferry. Not only do you not have to deal with Metro Cards, but there are a lot of good places to sit as long as you don’t ride one during rush hour. There are schedules posted everywhere (as well as online) that highlight rush hour times in yellow. The ferry goes from St. George to Whitehall in Manhattan (and back) and takes 25 minutes each way. Once we got into Manhattan, we would check the time and decide we just needed to be back there by 3:30 or 4:00 pm to beat rush hour. If you can avoid those rush hour crowds and sit outside, the ferry trip is very nice and calm, and the views are incredible.

Statue Cruises

New York harbor cruise ship

Once you step away from the Whitehall terminal, you will encounter people trying to sell you tickets to see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. I read about this before we ever went and sure enough that was our experience too. These are scam artists, so ignore them! There is only ONE company that is the official boat cruise to Liberty Island and Ellis Island, and that is Statue Cruises. I ordered our tickets online the night before and they were waiting for us in Will Call when we arrived. The cruise leaves from Battery Park, which is right next to Whitehall terminal. It couldn’t be any easier. Of course. there are still long lines, but we wouldn’t expect anything else in New York City in July!

statue of liberty

We had a great time walking around Liberty Island. We got a close-up view of the Statue of Liberty and learned more about how she was made. We stopped and ate our lunch that we had packed (we were glad they allowed us to bring our own food, but they do have a café there if that is your preference). Bring lots of water in summer. We had eight bottles of water with us (two for each of us) and even then we had to stop at water fountain refill stations.

kids at liberty island

Our next stop was Ellis Island. One set of my great-grandparents and one set of my great-great-grandparents were among the immigrants who arrived in Ellis Island at the turn of the 20th century. It was fun to learn what all of that must have been like for them.

kids at Ellis island

Ellis Island

We had a great time and got back just in time to catch the ferry before rush hour started!

New York City Bus Tour

New York City

We debated for a long time about how we were going to see the sights of Manhattan we couldn’t walk to. The subway is cheaper, but we liked the idea of having a tour guide, since we had never been there before. As you know, we try to save money anytime we can, but there are times when it is worth paying more and this was one of those times. Between not wanting to get lost, and with images of every CSI New York episode I ever saw running through my mind, we chose tour bus. We purchased tickets for a hop on, hop off bus tour with CitySightseeing New York (we purchased them online and our host Michael printed them out for us).

You can hop on at any of the bus stops, so when we saw one in Battery Park, we happily hopped on (happy because we didn’t have to walk far to find one). That particular bus was on it’s last few stops and the top was full, so we had to sit down below (what the tour guide called “the dungeon”). Doesn’t sound that great at first, but there was hope. A couple stops later, enough people from the top had hopped off that we were able to move up there. The top is where all the fun is so if you can’t get up there, just wait until enough people hop off and you’re golden!

We really liked our tour guide, Allan. He was friendly and personable and told the best stories. Since we had hopped on towards the end, we just stayed on while it started all over again. We drove by Times Square, Rockefeller Center, Empire State Building, and the usual sights. We hopped off later to visit the 911 Memorial, which was really emotional. Allan told us he lost eight friends that day.

Change of Pace

highway traffic

We had such a great time visiting New York, we started wishing we had booked an extra day. Time goes by so fast and before we knew it we were on the road again. We’ve done a lot of big sightseeing things now we’re going to switch gears somewhat. This next part of our trip will be more of a relaxing change of pace.

First, we had to get back out into the crazy traffic though! When I say it’s nuts I mean NUTS! Not only that but people are impatient to the point of ridiculousness. We were sitting at a red light and the split-second it turned green, the person behind us laid on their horn.

Finally, we got out of all that and things calmed down a lot. Deep breath. New England here we come.

Have you been to New York City? What was your favorite part?

Happy Travels,


Barbra Jones


  1. I also used the hop on hop off and we loved it. I just enjoyed seeing it all really.

  2. We went to NYC last year. We had a great time! Not sure what my favorite was, maybe the Empire State Building and Top of the Rock. We did the hop off and on and wanted to sit below because it was so hot! But we couldn’t, it was too only. Some of us did have some trouble with the Metro cards. And getting on the wrong one. We had some help from some strangers more than once.

  3. I have not been to New York City! I if we go I will be sure to take a tour bus!

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