Don't pay full admission. This museum is one of the wealthiest in the world - its gift shops alone makes more than GDP of a small African Nation. Its wording regarding admission 'suggested' being the operative word here, is a violation of its covenant with the city of New York - they are legally bound by their charter to give free admission (though some say you must donate at least 1cent ((which I do)). They are currently being sued for what is being described as their deceptive signage.
I have watched families pay up to $100 to get in and as a Manhattanite it makes me ashamed. New York is expensive enough. I urge you not to allow this implied custom of the country/shaming to interfere with your visit. And do not feel awkward about the transaction; they will probably think you are a native - or a savvy tourist.
And charming as the food venues are if you are on a budge AND you want a true New York experience take a break from your walk through this treasure and go out and buy a hotdog or in the winter, warm chestnuts and sit on the front steps (except when it is -12) and watch Fifth Avenue 'happen': The apartments across the street are among some of the most expensive in the world - doormen stand vigil at the entrance - breaking their stance to run to the curb and open the door of a black Mercedes for the tenants/owners who emerge with shopping bags from Barney's and Bergdof's and almost never, Bloomingdales: The whole thing a cultural/American Studies learning opportunity in and of itself.
Total cost per person -
$3.50 for the hotdog
1 cent for admission
Experience - priceless.
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