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Staten Island, New York

Go ahead, call me cheap, but to my mind you canít beat the value of the Staten Island Ferry Ė itís free! Better yet, the passenger-only vessel cruises from the tip of Manhattan to Staten Island while providing plenty of photo ops of the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and Governors Island as well as unobstructed views of Lower Manhattan. That makes for an amazing free ride of exceptional value especially when compared to the price of many other harbour cruise options. And that's not all. There are a lot of sights to explore once the ferry docks at the island borough.

A short bus ride from the Staten Island Ferry terminal is the Snug Harbor Cultural Centre. Once a refuge for retired merchant seamen, Snug Harbor's historic buildings now house art galleries, performance spaces and museums.

Outdoor enthusiasts will also find Staten Island worth exploring. Fort Wadsworth, one of the oldest military installations in the United States, is now part of the Gateway National Recreation Area. Here, visitors can also enjoy a range of recreational pursuits such as fishing, sailing, soccer, baseball, and model airplane flying. Most public programs and organized group tours are free of charge but some require advance reservations. And while there is no fee for entrance to the Recreation Area, parking and beach passes must be purchased. Seniorsí discounts are available.

If more refined outdoor settings are your preference, check out the Staten Island Botanical Garden. One area is the internationally renowned Chinese Scholarís Garden Ė the only authentic one of its kind in the country. One of my favourite parts of the Botanical Garden is the Connie Gretz Secret Garden, a charming space modeled after the childrenís literary classic by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Admission to the Botanical Garden is free, but there is a small charge (with seniorsí discount) for entrance to the Chinese Scholarís Garden and the Secret Garden.

Got young grandchildren in tow? Theyíll be amused for hours at the Staten Island Childrenís Museum. This interactive museum will appeal to a range of young visitors Ė whether they want to watch live bugs, are keen to try walking in snowshoes or drive a dogsled, or would like to pretend they are a firefighter or a pirate, or thrill to explore dozens of other experiences. The museum is free and open late on the third Thursday of each month. Grandparents are admitted free on Wednesdays.

Another must-see is the Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art. This is not only the largest collection of Tibetan art outside Tibet itself, but one of only two Himalayan-style monastery buildings in the Western world, and the only one in the United States. Yes, thereís a seniorsí discount there, too.

And donít miss the Staten Island Zoo with its celebrated collection of reptiles, as well as an aquarium, tropical forest, African savannah and a popular children's farmyard. Thereís a seniorsí discount, and admission is free for all on Wednesday afternoons.

Thereís a lot more to see and do on Staten Island. And itís all just a free ferry ride away from Manhattan.

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