Friends, let’s talk about that NYC trip that you’ve always wanted to take because you’re an absolute lover all of things theatre but never have because it just seemed too expensive/too complicated. Well, I’ve got news for you; it doesn’t have to be either of those things. Because of where we are situated in Southern Maryland, endeavoring to take a weekend theatre trip to NYC is rather straightforward. And hey, I’ve got you covered on all of the tips and tricks that will make navigating this trip a piece of cake.
To give you a bit of backstory on my experience with theatre and New York, I’ll begin by prefacing that I lived in Brooklyn, NY for a little over a year from 2017-2018. While there, I saw 20 unique Broadway musicals, including the show that swept the Tony Awards in 2018 (The Band’s Visit. Do yourself a favor and track a traveling version of this showdown. It’s one of the most beautifully mesmerizing shows that I have ever witnessed). I also ate an absurd amount of amazing food that I have yet to find anything comparable to. Since moving to Maryland in early 2019, I have returned for four theatre trips, and am currently planning to return this April. However, I am also a stay at home mom on a budget who can’t afford to fly first-class to New York, stay at the Ritz Carlton, and sit front row center orchestra at every show. Due to this, the focus of this article will be on how to maximize what you’re spending in order to have the most amazing trip possible.
For ease of comprehension, I will be splitting this article into six easily digestible (and referenceable) sections: travel from MD to NYC, packing, lodging, how to obtain Broadway tickets, traversing NYC, and general itinerary planning. If that sounds like a lot, I promise you it’s not. The key to having a flawlessly fun and wonderful NYC theatre trip is all about planning ahead of time so that once you get to your destination, you can just let loose and enjoy the ride.
Travel from MD -> NYC
If you’re situated in Southern Maryland or the DC Metro area, this part is going to be a breeze for you. I always take the bus from Bethesda, MD to New York, NY through a company called Tripper Bus. They’re a smaller company, so your departure and arrival cities are a bit limited (they only offer Bethesda or Arlington to NYC and back), but for what we need it for, this company meets all of our needs at a very reasonable price. They provide comfortable seats, free bottles of water, a clean bathroom on board, and somewhat reliable, free wifi. The tickets are priced at $60 round trip ($30 per one-way ticket) per person. They also have a free loyalty program where for every 6 regular priced tickets you buy, you get 1 free ticket. So, if you’re planning on making multiple trips with two people, you’ll have a free ticket every other trip.
*Pro Tip:* There are random slight price fluctuations in the ticket price on certain days and at certain times. Right now, it looks like certain Friday and Saturday morning departures are $37 instead of the regular $30 per ticket. With this in mind, just plan your trip around these in order to save some money. They also will occasionally have a coupon code that saves you $1-2 off each of your tickets, so make sure you search google beforehand for that.
At the end of the day, you can’t beat having a bus that takes you directly into Penn Station (within walking distance of the Theatre District). I’ve flown into NYC before, and let me tell you, it is not fun trying to traverse the airport and then be stuck either floundering with a million connections on the subway or paying a fortune for an Uber into the heart of NYC.
I will begin this section by giving you the same exact advice I gave to a group that I recently guided around NYC: you are not in New York to look cute or meet your future mate. You are there to see amazing theatre on Broadway and have a great time. That being said, this is not the trip where you should pack for a million different changes of clothes and an entire carryon bag full of your make up/extra personal hygiene products. Here’s what I recommend packing in the most supportive, lightweight backpack that you own:
- The exact number of shirts and undergarments for the days of your trip (you can wear the same pair of pants for 2-4 days. And I sense you giving me a judging look right now, but we all know you wear your jeans more than once)
- A pair of pajama pants (you can sleep in the shirt that you wore that day or the shirt you plan to wear the next day)
- Basic dental hygiene products, deodorant, and face moisturizer (this is not a place to skimp! NY is very harsh on the skin due to all of the pollution)
- A pair of great earplugs and a sleep mask (NY is known for being loud sometimes and this mitigates that problem)
- A portable charger (for those of us who may or may not have the latest version of our respective phone and therefore have a horrible battery life) and a regular phone charger
- Your wallet (bring some cash since some food places do not take credit cards)
- Your phone along with a set of earphones (these will be used for the 4-hour bus ride so that you can watch various downloaded movies on your phone or listen to your favorite podcast or playlist)
- Any medications/medical products required for your health
- A pair of comfy walking shoes (most days I typically log anywhere from 5-9 miles walked while in the city)
And that’s it! Seriously. I promise that you do not need any hair care products. Most Airbnbs provide rudimentary shampoo, conditioner, and body wash. And, if all else fails, just throw your hair up in a ponytail or accept the fact that you’re a theatre tourist in NYC for a single weekend, and it’s okay to look like a hot mess. No one will even notice you. Alas, that’s actually an upside of the city versus the suburbs.
*Pro Tip:* In case if you’re wondering if it’s appropriate to wear jeans and a t-shirt to a Broadway show: it is in New York. In fact, if you dress up in your fancy attire, you’re more likely to stick out.
*Double Pro Tip:* If it is possible for you to drop off your backpack at your Airbnb right after you get off of the bus in NYC, do it. Even though your pack may not seem heavy at first, you will quickly find yourself feeling like a backpacker in the heat of summer in South Africa after walking for a few hours to various activities.
Most people’s initial inclination when considering where to stay in NYC is to research hotels. I will only say this once: hotels are ridiculously expensive and completely unnecessary. I stayed in a hotel near Times Square when I traveled to NYC with a friend years ago and it was a horrific experience. It was incredibly loud, overpriced, and we stayed in a cracker box of a room (all for the insane price of $250 per night!). So, here’s my solution: stay instead at a reasonably priced Airbnb in either Williamsburg or Brooklyn Heights in Brooklyn, NY.
When I say reasonably priced, I’m talking $80-100 per night for a room (after all of the cleaning/service fees on the app). If you’re traveling with someone (which most people do), the price breakdown will only be $40-50 per night per person. The reason that I recommend staying in Williamsburg or Brooklyn Heights (both boroughs or neighborhoods in Brooklyn) is because of their close proximity to the theatre district in Midtown Manhattan (typically about a 30-minute subway ride into the city) and the relative safety of them compared to other parts of NYC. I’ve stayed in three different Airbnb’s in Williamsburg this last year, and while I definitely liked each of them to varying degrees, each one of them was safe and reasonably priced.
*Pro Tip:* Certain rooms that you stay in will be louder at night because of people in surrounding rooms being loud or people walking by on the street. To avoid these problems, simply choose an Airbnb that advertises specific quiet times in the apartment and a room that is either not at street level, or is at the pack of the building. I also always use a white noise app on my phone to help block out any ambient noise, along with the aforementioned earplugs. I’m an incredibly light sleeper, and I always get a great night’s sleep when I travel to the city.
How to Obtain Broadway Tickets
If you ever tried researching how to obtain Broadway tickets, it can be an absolute headache and practically panic attack inducing. You’re either paying absurdly high prices to sit in nose bleed seats with partial view obstruction, having to sign your life away by signing up for some weird newsletter that promises discounts or spending a ridiculous amount of time waiting in line while in NYC in order to buy ‘discounted’ tickets (I used quotes there because sometimes they’re not as good of a deal as they advertise, especially when you account for what your time is worth while on vacation). Well, look no further than this article, because I have two simple, inexpensive solutions for you depending on your personal preferences: Broadway Roulette and TodayTix.
When I first heard about Broadway Roulette in 2017, I was very skeptical. They purport to offer $49 ($59 on weekends) Broadway tickets that you can purchase online, thereby never having to wait in a line in busy Times Square. I spent months reading Yelp and Facebook reviews on them until I was willing to take the proverbial plunge to finally purchase tickets through them. Once I did for the first time in December of 2017, I never looked back. To date, I have seen 28 unique Broadway shows with their service. However, I will preface their service with this: only buy tickets through them if you genuinely enjoy most Broadway theatre and have an open mind, theatrically-speaking.
Where they really shine as a company (other than the low-ticket price and convenience) is how the service remembers what you’ve seen through them. Due to this, you will never see the same show twice. You can also exclude up to 4 shows that you do not want to see and tell the service if you would like to see a musical or are open to seeing plays as well. Any negative Yelp reviews of this company typically have to do with all of the add-ons that they offer: a family-friendly option (adds $15-18 per ticket) and the ability to exclude an additional two shows (adds $10 per ticket). While these options can seem helpful in certain circumstances, they can quickly cause the ticket price to skyrocket. I would instead suggest sticking to the basic ticket that retails at $58-68 per ticket after a $9 ticket fee. If that sounds expensive to you, I promise you it isn’t. Most ticket fees are upwards of $25 with the tickets themselves starting at much higher than $49.
Broadway Roulette guarantees that it will never seat you in partially obstructed view seats and will always beat the listed ticket price for a show, and in my experience of seeing 28 shows with them, it always has. One of the best deals I ever got through them was when I saw My Fair Lady and sat in seats that were worth $160 a piece.
*Pro Tip:* Follow them on Instagram in order to obtain coupon codes for $4-6 off per ticket on one order. They also have outstanding customer service that you can call or email if you have any questions.
The second reasonable way to obtain Broadway tickets is through the TodayTix app. While I don’t have any firsthand experience using this app (I’m a Broadway Roulette junkie, what can I say), they have fantastic reviews and I have known people who have used the app and loved it. This app caters primarily to the person that wants to see a specific show for a reasonable price and not be stuck waiting in long lines all day. Everything is done through the app and is super convenient. Keep in mind, you will typically pay more on average per ticket through this app versus through Broadway Roulette because you are able to choose a specific show.
One of the main factors for why a lot of people never take the plunge to travel to New York to see Broadway is because of how daunting the subway system can seem to people who have never navigated it. Sure, travelers of yesteryear had their work cut out for them, but thanks to technology, you don’t have to. The two main apps that I use to navigate the subway system/NYC, in general, are a basic maps app (I use Apple maps since I have an iPhone) and CityMapper. I tend to use the maps app for walking directions and CityMapper for the subway system. The nice thing about CityMapper is that it updates in real time to tell you if any trains have been rerouted or delayed. It basically does all of the work for you. I used both of these apps to traverse NYC during the year that I lived there and continue to use them whenever I visit. I’ve yet to get lost as long as I am following their directions and information.
*Pro Tip:* All of the high-rise buildings in NYC can throw off gps apps sometimes. Due to this, make sure you are always following the direction that the current location arrow in your app is indicating that you are going. It is also helpful to know what two cross streets you are located at. For instance: 7th avenue and 31st street or Broadway and 43rd.
*Double Pro Tip:* If all else fails and you actually do get lost near Times Square, stop and ask one of the many police officers in that area. They are all very kind and great at pointing tourists in the right direction. Some New Yorkers can also be helpful in helping you to get where you need to go, but obviously use some caution and common sense in that scenario.
General Itinerary Planning
Like I mentioned at the beginning of this article, having a successful theatre trip to NYC is all about how much you plan ahead of time. My rule of thumb is that it’s better to plan too many things to do while you are there than not planning enough and being bored. For instance, while I normally only eat two large meals a day, I always plan for three meals and snacks just in case I happen to be hungrier while I’m on a trip.
Another thing to keep in mind is that you’ll only be seeing one Broadway show per day (either a matinee or evening performance). Due to this, you’re going to have some time to fill with other activities (mainly food, if I’m being completely honest. New York has some of the best food that is currently on offer in the States). While some activities can cost money (think Statue of Liberty and museums), others are completely free such as Central Park. During the weeks/months leading up to your trip, Google should be your best friend. There are tons of lists on various websites that can recommend the top places to eat and/or visit. Do keep in mind that it’s best to cross reference any recommended restaurants on these websites with the corresponding Yelp page. My general rule of thumb for Yelp in New York is that if it doesn’t have at least 4 stars, steer clear of it. New Yorkers do not play around with their food and will immediately let you know if a place is not worth eating at.
In order to keep all of your plans in a concise, easy to access format, I would recommend using the Notes app of your phone because it’s easy to amend during the planning process and very convenient to pull up while you are on your actual trip. It also makes it extremely easy to share your itinerary with your traveling companion(s) via text message.
*Pro Tip:* Do not get overambitious with the amount of theatre that you want to see in a small amount of time. During my most recent trip, I opted to see both a matinee and evening performance on the same day, and I instantly regretted it. I found myself having trouble focusing on each individual show because I didn’t have an adequate amount of time to digest the content/artistry of each production. It also forces you to be stuck in Midtown all day (which is a part of town that is notorious for having overpriced, mediocre food). My new rule of thumb is one show per day. No more, no less. I personally opt to see three Broadway shows over the course of each three days, two nights trip that I take to NYC.
Phew. I know that was a ridiculously long article, but I believe that it’s necessary to know all of the facts before embarking on any kind of trip. After all, knowledge is power. Before I go, let’s take a minute to break down the approximate price of a 3 days, 2 nights trip per person if you follow all of my suggestions:
1 Round trip bus ticket: $60
3 Broadway Roulette tickets: $204 ($68 each for weekend shows after fees, before any discount codes)
Airbnb: $80-100 for two nights
= $364 per person at the absolute most (based on two people going on the trip). This price can get lower if you opt to see shows Tuesday-Thursday (price drops to $58 per ticket) and utilize discount codes (will save you $4-6 per ticket). If you can also find an $80 per night Airbnb, the overall trip price before food comes to $302. On average, you can easily get away with $30 per day spent on food if you opt for quick foods like pizza and bagels with one sit down restaurant each day.
So, there you have it, friends: it is, in fact, possible to have an easy, fun and inexpensive theatre filled trip to NYC to see Broadway. I truly believe that getting to witness Broadway theatre helps you to better appreciate the local community theatre scene that we have here in the DMV. Whenever I return from a trip to the city, I always find myself having a renewed appreciation for our local theatre scene here. While you’ll definitely encounter shows on Broadway that have far more monetary resources than the companies have here locally, it’s interesting to see that money doesn’t always equal better. I’ve seen certain actors, set designers, and directors in the DMV that are either far more or just as talented as some of their counterparts that I’ve seen on Broadway. There’s also something to be said for getting a chance to see the theatre equivalent of what Hollywood is to all of film (Broadway).
All that to say, I hope this article can be a helpful guide (and maybe the kick in the pants that you’ve been needing to finally go!) for your next NYC theatre trip.
Best of luck and wishes with your next NYC theatre trip endeavor!