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Getting value as if you're a tourist in New York  Dec 14, 2008

There's always something in New York a lifelong New Yorker hasn't seen. Start a family, and eventually the allure of those once unappealing tourist attractions seems palpable.

An indoor Ferris wheel? Yea!

The wax museum? Wow!

An $8.50 ice cream? Ooh ...

But with everyone cutting back, how do you know what's worth spending those precious staycation dollars on? Especially when New York prices are involved.

Here's the inside word, based on a recent schlep with two moms, a 6-year-old girl, a 5-year-old boy and all those appetites.

Toys R Us Times Square Ferris Wheel

1514 Broadway (at 44th Street), 646-366-8800

COST $4 a person

THE HYPE Who wouldn't want to ride a Ferris wheel in the dead of winter?

WORTH IT? This 60-foot-tall indoor ride is like the seventh wonder of Times Square. Each of the 14 cabs has a theme, from red-hot-again Barbie and My Little Pony to the more retro ET (the life-size model actually sits in the bucket).

TIPS Get there early (you can ride as early as 6 a.m. through the holiday season). When we arrived at 9:40 a.m., there was no line to buy tickets. And we were on and off the ride within 15 minutes, even with 30 people in front of us. When crowds become too much, the store assigns time slots for rides, which increases the wait. Kids under 7 must ride with an adult.

WHILE YOU'RE THERE This 110,000-square-foot store is like an amusement park, with a 20-foot-high animatronic "Jurassic Park" dinosaur that roars, a gigantic Barbie dollhouse, and, in true Disneyland style, lots of photo-ops with Geoffrey (you take the shot yourself or pay the store for prints and knickknacks).

Central Park Carriage Ride

Along Central Park around 59th Street and outside Tavern on the Green at West 67th Street

COST $34

THE HYPE The most romantic ride in New York.

WORTH IT? It depends on whether you get a horse that's fast or slow. How can you tell? "Just watch the horse," our driver told us. "If the horse is sweating and breathing heavy, you know he runs fast."

TIP One couple said they'd been waiting close to an hour for a ride; it took us minutes. It's all luck. It's harder to find a ride from 4 to 6 p.m., during a shift change, our driver said. WHILE YOU'RE THERE Play tourist and have your portrait drawn by one of the many artists who set up on the sidewalk. Haggle over the price (we paid $25) and watch your artist work to assess the skill level before you commit.

Madame Tussauds New York

234 W. 42nd St., between Seventh and Eighth avenues, 800-246-8872

COST $35, $28 ages 4-12

THE HYPE Get as close as you ever dreamed of getting to your favorite celebs, alive or dead.

WORTH IT? When it looks like "Hannah Montana" star Miley Cyrus' eyes are following you across the room, the answer would be yes.

TIPS This was easily our most expensive stop. To defray the cost, peruse city guides, look on the museum's Web site for coupons or get one from a guy outside hawking them.

WHILE YOU'RE THERE Make sure to see the 15-minute version of "The Polar Express" at Cinema 4D, which is complete with snowflakes, icy wind and a poke just when you least expect it. And while you're at it, stop to do a little karaoke at the American Idol Cafe.


225 E. 60th St., between

Second and Third avenues, 212-838-3531

COST $8.50-$9 for varieties of Frrrozen Hot Chocolate

THE HYPE Oprah put this funky place on the map when she did an episode on the sweetery's signature Frrrozen Hot Chocolate - also featured in the 2001 film "Serendipity" and hyped more than once by TV cooking diva Rachael Ray.

WORTH IT? Trying to crack into this place is like waiting behind the velvet rope at the hottest nightclub in town. One recent Saturday, a chain-smoking bouncer controlled the crowds. After a three-hour wait, we didn't really feel the trip was worth it ... until we took our first sip of Frrrozen Hot Chocolate.

TIPS Baby carriages and strollers are banned from the two-floor restaurant. Parents with young kids will either have to leave their gear outside (at their own risk) or tip the attendant to stash it at the parking garage across the street.

WHILE YOU'RE THERE If you end up with a long wait and the kids need to eat ASAP, ask when you should return and head around the corner to Cabana Midtown (1022 Third Ave., 212-980-5678, cabana, a very good, kid-friendly, moderately priced Cuban chain restaurant.

FAO Schwarz

767 Fifth Ave., at 58th Street, 212-644-9400

COST Free (to browse, that is)

THE HYPE The world's most famous toy store (also its oldest) deserves a visit during the holidays, right?

WORTH IT? Kids might end up leaving this place more sad than happy. There is just so much to covet at this wondrous store that it's hard to leave without buying something.

TIP Even though there's usually a very long line to get into the store at this time of year, don't fret. It moves fast.

WHILE YOU'RE THERE You'll know it from "Big," but - big whoop - no one needs to see the 1988 film to be impressed by the dance-on keyboard.

The Tree at Rockefeller Center

30 Rockefeller Plaza, 212-588-8601


THE HYPE The famed Christmas tree whose lighting each year shines around the world.

WORTH IT? When a child ahhhhs upon seeing the tree, as my son did, you know the answer is yes.

TIPS Catch this 72-foot Norway spruce before it comes down Jan. 9 with its 30,000 energy-efficient LED lights. Be prepared to jostle for the best photo-snapping location.

WHILE YOU'RE THERE If you can carve out some time, the kids will probably want to ice skate. It's $19 for ages 12 and older; $12.50 for younger kids.

Getting value as if you're a tourist in New York
Toys R Us Times Square Ferris Wheel / Image via

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