New York: Secrets and savings in Central Park

Courtesy lumina59/myBudgetTravel

Did you know that Central Park has free activity kits at various visitor centers? You can borrow one as long as you have a photo ID you can hand over as a deposit, just like when you rent shoes at a bowling alley. Click these links for more info…

Chess & Checkers House: Channel your inner Bobby Fischer with chess and checkers game pieces for play on one of the facility's 24 mosaic-topped tables.

Belvedere Castle: Grab a Discovery Kit backpack filled with binoculars, a bird guide, and colored pencils and paper for self-guided birding discoveries in the Ramble.

North Meadow Recreation Center: Stay active with a Field Day kit tote bag packed with a wiffle ball and bat, cones, a playground ball, and other sports equipment for play around the North Meadow.

Charles A. Dana Discovery Center: See what's biting in the Harlem Meer with catch-and-release fishing equipment, including fishing poles, bait, and basic instruction.


Another free park feature: a variety of guided walking tours (led by volunteers) offered year-round, including Amble Through the Ramble, a stroll through the park's 38-acre woodland, and Views From the Past, a journey through the beginnings and history of Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux's urban masterpiece.

And for those willing to spend a little money to get a more personalized experience, custom walking tours with an advanced-level guide can be arranged for groups of up to 25 people ($12 per person, $100 minimum cost). And if you really want an unparalleled park experience led by a true insider, try one of the park's new private van tours, in which Sara Cedar Miller, official Central Park photographer and historian and best-selling author of Central ParkAn American Masterpiece and Seeing Central Park, helps you design your own themed itinerary. Miller is uniquely qualified to share never-published secrets and stories about the 843-acre park. Among the suggested options is a Garden Tour, in which the curator of each garden visited joins in on the tour. The high level of expertise is reflected in the price: A one-hour tour for up to seven people is $500 and includes one free signed copy of Miller's most recent book.

All of these activities come courtesy of the nonprofit Central Park Conservancy, which raises funds and manages day-to-day operations of the park.


Another lesser-known fact: Becoming a member of the Central Park Conservancy can save you money year-round—not just inside the park, but all over NYC. A $50 one-year "Gardener" level membership ($48 of which is tax-deductible) gets you access to the Central Park Perks program, which offers discounts to nearly 100 hotels, restaurants, stores, museums, and other activities citywide. Perks include two-for-one admission at The Museum of the City of New York, National Academy Museum, and The Paley Center for Media (admission at each is $10); 10 percent off room rates at the Hilton Garden Inn Times Square, Loews Regency Hotel, and InterContinental The Barclay; and 10 percent to 15 percent off the bill at restaurants like One Fish Two Fish, Penang, and Sarabeth's, among many others.


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