When my oldest daughter started college, we met a fellow freshman who said he was also from New York. “Where?,” she asked. “New Jersey,” he replied.
My daughter dismissed him with an icy glare.
“New Jersey is not New York”
The newly renovated Extended Stay America in Secaucus, New Jersey, is just four miles from Manhattan– and there is a bus steps from the hotel that takes you right into Port Authority. You park free at the hotel, which is in a mall and office park. Just for comparison, the Ritz-Carlton in Battery Park City charges $60 per night for parking. A ROOM at the Extended Stay America [ESA] is about twice that.
Good Budget Hotel Choice
Now, don’t turn a withering look on me and say that the Ritz-Carlton is not Extended Stay America. Of course not. But in its niche, ESA can be one of the best values for families.
The rooms all feature full-size kitchens, with a stove top, dishwasher, regular size refrigerator, microwave, toaster and pots, dishes and utensils (it’s larger, I might add, than the kitchen in my first NY apartment).
Even if you don’t want to cook, you can take advantage of the refrigerator to store snacks, drinks and restaurant leftovers. One way we learned to save money when traveling with our young kids was to give them a healthy snack before going out for a meal, and the kitchens make that easy.
Breakfast Is Included
ESA also provides free breakfast: whole fresh fruit, juice, coffee, granola bars and instant oatmeal. I was disappointed that there was no milk, just sweetened non-dairy creamer. If you are here with kids, you might want to keep milk in the fridge for making the oatmeal.
The Food Network star Sunny Anderson recently partnered with ESA and published a booklet with easy recipes you can whip up in your room. Away From Home Cooking has simple recipes and great suggestions, like buying just what you need at a supermarket salad bar to cut down on waste.
The approachable Sunny offered me great tips on cooking, whether at home or on the road:
1. Think outside the packaging. You can break down a hummus snack pack, and use the carrots in one recipe, the hummus on another
2.Check your ego at the front door of a supermarket. There is great stuff in the frozen food aisle (frozen peas and edamame, for example)
3. It’s OK to phone it in sometimes when cooking. Sunny uses shredded coleslaw mix in her Thai wraps; as a vegetarian, I wouldn’t ever buy rotisserie chicken, but I love the idea of repurposing a packaged mix in a simple dish. Who says shredded coleslaw is just for a side dish?
What Works for Families
- Full kitchen
- Free breakfast
- Free Wi-Fi
- Coin laundry
What Doesn’t Work for Families
- No connecting rooms
- No milk at breakfast
ESA rooms are basic, with a breakfast bar opening to the kitchen, a couch (some are pull-out) and a comfortable bed or two. It’s all one open room; there is no separation from the living and sleeping space.
There is no luggage rack.
There were plenty of towels in the compact bathroom.
There are few amenities at this basic hotel. The exercise room has an elliptical machine and a couple of treadmills, with a television on the wall. There is no water fountain in the room, but there is one down the hall.
There is a pool – ask for towels at the front desk, or bring them from your room.
One unexpected bonus is the outdoor patio, with grills available for guest use. This is great area for kids to run around.
Note: Because the hotels are designed for long term occupancy, daily housekeeping is additional. My room was spotless when I checked in; not so much when I left. If you stay for a week or more, your room is cleaned once per week.
There is no restaurant, but the mall has a couple of fast-casual places.
But do you really want to eat at a restaurant in New Jersey? Get on the bus and get into the city.
Disclosure: I was a guest of Extended Stay America. Opinions expressed are my own.