Whether you realize it or not, planning is the key to any successful vacation. You do not have to be a vacation tyrant that makes your family dread vacations and the boot camp they entail but by having some sort of plan of action for each day of your vacation you can much better stick to a budget as well as assuring you will get the rest and relaxation that is so very important to the renewal of mind and body before returning to work.
Vacations do not have to cost a vast fortune, even vacations in cities that are known for being expensive such as New York City. Most people fail to realize that people of all economic backgrounds live in these cities as well and there are some forms of entertainment that offer a little something for everyone and many of these are free. If you plan carefully you can have two or three activities that are low or no cost in one area of the city each day followed by a restful hour or two in your room during the afternoon and a very nice event for each evening. This gives you budget control, down time each day for you and your kids and (if planned right) activities in one general area each day rather than spending a lot of time and money on transportation.
Most cities have city guides that can be found easily online. New York City is no different. In fact there are several city guides. It would be a good idea to find out the activities you can do for little or no cost, choose several of those activities that interest you or may interest other members of your family and see where they are all located in reference to each other. Try to bunch the several that are geographically central to each other for one day's activities and doing the same for subsequent days.
Keep in mind that you aren't marrying the plan and shouldn't overlook things you happen upon that may not have been in the guide or may not have seemed as appealing in the guide as they do in person. Some of the best trips we'll ever make in life are detours. Not only that, but if you allowed yourself the cushion of time each day I recommended earlier you have the option of adjusting your schedule slightly and enjoying less rest or skipping one of the less appealing items on your itinerary in favor of this new attraction you found.
Vacations are meant to be fun for the entire family. We often forget that and make plans without getting the input of the family. If you do not allow for open dialog and at least get some input from all family members no one is going to enjoy the vacation. The kids are going to be fussy and irritated, the spouse is going to feel neglected and overlooked, and you are going to feel that no one is sticking to the plan. This is why getting everyone to look over the plan, sign off on the plan, and to compromise is by far the best way to go about things. This way everyone has input, everyone gets something that is important to them out of the vacation experience, and there are no major surprises or upsets involved. Everyone knows what to expect along the way.
It is better by far when you can build happy vacation memories rather than of hours spend in the hot sun with cranky children who feel as though no one is taking their input seriously or spending a day with cranky spouses in desperate need of some downtime themselves. So plan for these times as well as the activities (particularly the more costly activities) in which you will participate. No ahead of time where the bulk of your money will be spent and make it clear that there is only so much money to be spent. Many people don't keep close enough track of vacation spending and find they've spent far more than they anticipated.