Ok so here's my tips/advice for anyone wanting to visit New York... we will definitely be going back!
-Stay in Manhattan if you can afford it, otherwise much of your time will be consumed just in traveling. Otherwise, check out the subway maps and try to find a hotel near a stop so you can ride into the city (Brooklyn or Queens).
-If you can't get a hotel there, and need to stay in New Jersey, try to find someplace where you can get to either Newark Penn Station, or Staten Island quickly. We stayed in Woodbridge, and it worked out well for us.
-Some hotels in Newark will provide shuttles to Penn Station for a fee, otherwise parking costs $21/day. You can probably find parking cheaper if you don't mind walking. A train ticket to the New York Penn Station costs $5.25 each way, but sometimes they don't collect the tickets. If they don't, you can re-use them. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Most people are really nice, contrary to popular belief lol. Now put those same people behind the wheel of a car, and it's a different story :p
-Staten Island has a toll of $15 just to enter. Once there, head north to the ferry. Parking is limited, and you might have to wait for a spot, but it's only $8 to park all day. The ferry is free, and passes right by the Statue of Liberty. This is what I found to be the cheapest way to get into the city. We didn't even have to pay for parking, because some nice guy was leaving and gave us his parking pass.
-Once at the ferry station or Penn station in New York, there are subway stations that you can purchase a Metro pass. For a one week, unlimited pass, it's $33, and you can ride subways and buses (no trains). There is an app for android for the NY Transportation system, that shows all the subway maps and helps you plan your trip.
-Some of the museums are free on certain days/times, but be prepared for large crowds. Other places have a "pay what you want" policy at the desk. At one museum I purchased student rate tickets from the automated machines because I'm in college. No one ever asked to see my college ID, but I had it with me just in case.
-Lombardi's is the first pizzeria to ever open in the US, but it's not necessarily the best. The toppings were good, but the crust was dry and burned. No refills on drinks, and service is sloooowww. If you go, keep in mind you are going for the experience.
-Go to Black Tap and get a milkshake. They are $15, but really big,so you can share if you want. It's a cool place. We went to the one in Soho, because the other location was closed due to frozen pipes.
-If you stay in NJ, Walmart isn't open 24 hours, but Dunkin Donuts is! I love where they have their priorities lol.
-You aren't allowed to pump your own gas in NJ. I don't know about NY. Tip the assistant though... especially if it's cold.
-We stayed at an extended stay hotel. It was cheap and basic, but it worked. We bought food for breakfast and dinner, and ate out for lunch. There was no coffee pot, but I bought a coffee mug, a bottle of water, and some instant cappuccino, and I was good.
-If you go to Penn station, carry some cash for the musicians that hang out there. We heard some beautiful cello and violin music that these guys were there performing, and I had no money for a tip.
-It is incredibly expensive to do all the tourist-type things, so look for those freebies and discounts anywhere you can. Try to save your restaurant experiences for the places you really want to go, and eat before going to the city.
-There are a lot of poor people in the city... it will rip your heart out. Every where we went there were people begging for money. Those weren't the ones that got me though. It was the people eating out of trash cans, the man whose pants were so tattered and torn and he was basically wearing rags, the old man at the ferry station who was severely under-dressed and whose teeth were chattering from the cold, and the people who looked so broken, cold, and hungry. If you go, please carry extra granola bars or some kind of food to give those people; and if you go during the winter, try to carry an extra scarf, hat, or gloves... something you don't need and can help them out with. This winter storm that just came through has me so worried about all those people that I saw. I don't know how they survive. evening party wears online
-Prior to New Year's the city was completely packed, but a couple days later it had cleared out a lot. We missed out on getting to do some things we wanted because of the crowds and temperatures, so we will definitely go back when it's warmer. I'm glad we went though. There's something magical about the city with all the Christmas lights everywhere.
That's all I can think of for now. If you have any other tips, please feel free to share!