New York City with Kids
Nine Themed Days in the Big Apple
This New York City with kids adventure was the second half of a luxuriously long summer vacation—Part 1 took place in Quebec, where we discovered that you don’t have to cross the ocean to experience France. Wandering in the Big Apple with minors requires some planning—which I did with gusto. That may be why that, despite sweltering temps and numerous temper flares, this family vacation ranks as one of our all time favorites.
DAYS 1 & 2—Arrival
After a reasonably painless nine-hour Amtrak trek from Burlington, Vermont, we emerged from New York’s Penn Station at 7 p.m….into an oven. So this was the infamous East Coast summer heat I’d been warned about. The rumors didn’t do it justice.
TIP: If you’re coming to New York City with kids in summer, load up on shorts, hats, water bottles, misting bottles…anything to offer solace from the brutal heat and humidity.
The Bedford Hotel (now closed) on E. 40th is in the heart of Manhattan and was priced incredibly (at approximately $235/night) considering its central location. I smiled when our cab stopped in front of an old brownstone building that screamed New York City. The room was frill-less, but had the blessed benefit of room for all of us to breathe, a tiny (barely functional) kitchenette, two fold-out couches, and TWO televisions. My breaths would be taken behind the closed door of the one bedroom. The view of the Empire State Building out the back window was the delicious icing.
TIP: Don’t underestimate everyone’s need for personal space on any trip longer than 4-5 days.
Dinner at one of the city’s top-rated themed restaurants was a reward for the kids for a peaceful train ride. Mars 2112 (now closed) was a journey. After a nauseating spaceship ride to the red planet [where I almost lost my appetite], we arrived at a kitschy miniature theme-park. The red faux stone floors and walls were filled with intergalactic screens projecting alien advertisements to all patrons. Live aliens approached us from all directions. This prepared me for a culinary disaster, but it could have been so much worse. Of course, we were funneled through the arcade on the way out, but we were all too worn out to care.
DAY 3—Welcome to New York City!
Today’s theme is “Welcome to New York City!” On the docket is Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty, and the Brooklyn Bridge.
The sweat erupted the second we walked out Bedford’s front door onto E. 40th. The moans commenced on the bridge. Would we survive a potential two-hour wait for the Ellis Island ferry? My choice of a 1:45 p.m. ferry reservation was a gift for the 3 out of 4 of us who savor a leisurely morning. It was looking like it would be a visit to Hell. But, we were saved!
TIP: If you’re visiting New York City with kids in the summer, make your ferry reservation for the morning.
It lasted only 45 minutes — half in the shade and half in an air conditioned tent. Our self-guided statue tour was enjoyed by all. We even discovered our Polish ancestors in the Ellis Island ship manifestos.
After bringing our body temps back down to healthy levels in our hotel room, we set out for some adult food with a kid twist. Fodor’s sent us to Woo Chon, a Korean restaurant specializing in Korean-style barbecue. You know you’ve been steered right when you’re the only Caucasians in the place! The owner was so intrigued by our presence that she kept stopping by our table to chat, finally coming right and asking how we found her restaurant. Bowl after bowl of unrecognizable appetizers were brought to our table – some delicious, some a tad disturbing [the price of authenticity]. The meat was marinated in a top secret Korean sauce and grilled right at our table. I love New York City.
DAY 4—A Melting Pot (Literally)
At least the kids’ excitement about today’s theme — “A Melting Pot” — outweighed their discomfort. Oh, the irony of today’s theme. We were indeed melting.
We began in China Town exploring the authentic markets filled with bizarre and aromatic foods (some living, many dead, several desiccated), strange herbs (including endless varieties of gnarled ginseng roots), and baked goods. Our only disappointment was never finding the infamous Egg Cake Lady I had read about. It appears she has retired. My consolation prize was a pound of Jasmine tea purchased in a tea shop whose walls were stacked high with golden containers full of loose teas.
TIP: Don’t miss the gooey Coconut Rice buns—this family’s favorite!
Today’s lunch was at Lombardi’s in Little Italy…reportedly becoming the nation’s first pizza parlor with the sale of its first slice in 1905. We awarded it with the BEST Pizza Ever award. The secret is definitely in the sauce…and the crust…and, I’m certain, being cooked in the original coal oven.
TIP: Ask to go back to the kitchen and see the coal oven — and busy cooks — in action. They are happy to do this!
Next we made our way to the Jewish Quarter to find a sweet treasure and a special museum.
Fodor’s was dead on with their claim that the candy selection at Economy Candy is “mind boggling.” Trust me, you’ll score BIG points with both little and big kids with this excursion. Even we parents were thrilled to find so many long forgotten sweets not seen since we scraped together coins for the weekly visit to our local candy shop or never before seen creations that piqued our curiosity.
TIP: Let the kids gather up their own bribery material that you can dole out as rewards for the remainder of the trip.
The Tenement Museum in the Lower East Side is a museum for the museum averse. (That’s us.) After meeting inside the museum’s fascinating bookstore, you’re led by a tour guide across the street into a former tenement set up as it once was. On the tour we chose, we learned about the lives of two struggling immigrant families — one from Poland and one from Lithuania — who actually lived in two of the apartments at one time. Six to 14 people crammed into three TINY rooms, no toilets, no running water, no heat in winter and, of course, no A/C in sweltering summers…you will experience firsthand how insane this was.
The Lower East Side was once the city’s garment district, where 70% of the nation’s women’s clothing and 60% of men’s clothing was made. Many of the families had sweat shops in their homes with three or four employees sewing and ironing, pushing indoor temps upward. All of us felt their pain as we melted in the stifling apartment in their honor. This is definitely one of the city’s coolest attractions.
Just as we arrived back at our hotel room for our afternoon rest, the skies opened up and dumped more humidity upon us. We opted for a dry dinner in our room…a mix of gourmet treats from the Grand Central Station Market. Have I mentioned how much I love New York City? Don’t miss this place.
DAY 5—Sports & Leisure
My original theme of our fifth day in New York City was “Sports & Leisure,” but it ended up being more about leisure…which was more than okay by me. I tried to get tickets to a Yankee’s game, but every single home games was sold out months ago. Pretty sure this wouldn’t be a surprise to any authentic sports fan, but it was to this wandering housewife.
TIP: If a Yankee’s game is going to be the highlight of your trip to New York City with kids, plan well in advance.
Our consolation prize was a fabulous Central Park bike tour. We pedaled past or through all of the park’s key areas, including the Model Boat Pond, Shakespeare’s Garden & Belvedere Castle, Strawberry Fields, The Lake, the Great Lawn, and the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir. The all around favorite was the lush Shakespeare’s Garden and castle with a stunning view over the turtle-filled pond and sunbather-filled Great Lawn.
The original plan was a visit to a popular baseball card store, but we all opted for a relaxing afternoon reading and napping in our room…and stayed put for the rest of the day.
DAY 6—Shop Until We Drop
Today was “Shop Until We Drop” day with each of us picking a store. (I did some online reconnaissance before we left and gave the kids several potential choices based on their interests du jour.) Our pre-teen boy waffled between the Pokemon Center and Midtown Comics deciding on the latter in the hopes of expanding his collection of baseball cards, our 9 year old girl chose Shoofly (a kids’ shoe store…it’s genetic), I chose Serendipity (I prefer chocolate over shopping any day and any place), and my husband chose Maxilla & Mandibles (now closed).
Even the best laid plans don’t always work out. Although housing a massive selection of comics, Midtown Comics’ baseball card selection was miniscule. Shoofly was long gone. Maxilla & Mandible’s, however, rocked our worlds…literally. This quirky store was packed full of dead bugs, shells, fossils, animal bones [even the rare red squirrel penis bone], rocks, and a plethora of other strange scientific wonders.
TIP: Check that each store is still in business and confirm business hours before you include it in your plans!
But, our greatest shopping success was my “store” where we sipped on Frozen Peanut Butter Hot Chocolate. Were I a poet, I could give proper credit to one of Oprah’s favorite desserts, but alas I am just a wanderer with a serious passion of all things sweet. Suffice it to say, if I had to choose between this and sex, well…my poor husband. Well worth the 45-minute wait. Thank you, Oprah. The icing on the chocolate was sitting two tables away from Abigail Breslin [Little Miss Sunshine] and her big bro, Spencer (Cat in the Hat, The Santa Clause, and Raising Helen) who were slurping as enthusiastically as we were.
DAY 7—Bizarre & Funny
Our Bizarre & Funny Day started on the long subway ride to Coney Island. It was here that the kids found some fleeting appreciation for their father and I while sitting next to the Brooklyn version. Whenever I’m feeling like a crappy parent, I’ll just go back to this moment and have a fleeting moment feeling like Parent of the Year.
Coney Island is a throw-back to the early 1900’s peppered with modern touches. As you walk down the weathered wooden boardwalk, your senses are bombarded. A beach filled with vibrant umbrellas…lines of game booths plastered with tacky signs…hard core carnies everywhere. The boys made a beeline for The Cyclone, which debuted in 1927 as the highest and fastest roller coaster. Our 9 year old is officially disgusted by height requirements. A few more rides and we were off to a good old-fashioned freak show.
The Coney Island Side Show began on the sidewalk with an announcer roping in potential audience members with freak previews…Danny Vomit the Human Blockhead, Chewy the Wolf Man, and Serpentina. An AWESOME deal at $4 per ticket! For the next 45 minutes, we were all freaked out as performers shoved nails and drills up their noses, swallowed fire, juggled chainsaws, and electrocuted themselves…all for our demented pleasure. After the show, we gorged on funnel cakes and Nathan’s hot dogs.
Dinner was back in Manhattan at the ghoulish and creepy Jekyll & Hyde restaurant (now closed). Four floors done up in late-Victorian horror decor…complete with chatting gargoyles and mutilated bodies who engage in real conversations with those “lucky” guests sitting nearest them. The food, which had the potential to be the most frightening thing in the place, was surprisingly decent.
Final stop was a just off Broadway improv comedy show that touted itself as highly interactive and kid-friendly. The four comedians at Chicago City Limits were hysterical and, other than one bong-related scene blocked from the kids’ view by one large comedic posterior, they lived up to the kid-friendly claim.
Today was everyone’s favorite day…what does that say about this family?
DAY 8—That’s Entertainment!
“That’s Entertainment!” is the theme of the day and it started at Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum. Shell shocked by the ticket prices ($29/adult), we almost didn’t go in…but, we’re glad we did. We were all shocked that we were allowed to walk amongst the “celebrities.” And, it was surreal to see their every freckle, mole, and nose hair.
As much as Lance and I would have enjoyed watching a few TV shows we watched as kids —like Land of the Lost and H.R. Puffinstuff—we nixed Paley Center (Museum of Television & Radio. Despite coming highly recommended, the two possible scenarios were both hard to fathom—paying more money for the kids to vegetate in front of a TV or being bored and begging us to leave. Instead, we decided to search for another Fodor’s recommendation for lunch. Island Burgers was a quaint little diner serving up some big hamburgers and milkshakes. Another walk worth taking.
The grand finale of our entertaining day was a creative odyssey out of this world and into a blue one. Our boy described The Blue Man Group show well. “Random!” I would add “Hysterical!” A huge part of the appeal of this show was not knowing what to expect, so I’ll leave it at “Just go.” It ranked in the top three activities of the trip.
DAY 9—A Bit of Culture
Today was a day for “A Bit of Culture.” Because it’s so massive, the entire day was to be dedicated to the American Museum of Natural History. Unfortunately, our emotional tanks were sputtering on empty and one parent left with one child. I was the lucky one who got to stay…but, it was an aimless endeavor. I was overwhelmed and under prepared. You could easily spend two hours in a single room and they were more rooms than I could count. My brain shut down and I could no longer choose what to read and what to pass by.
TIP: If you plan on going to AMNH on your trip to New York City with kids, invest some time researching the lay of the land and plot your course based on your personal interests to get the most out of a 3-4 hour visit.
On our last night in the city, we wanted a replay on amazing New York Pizza and followed the delicious rumors to Angelo’s Pizza. While very good, we pined for Lombardi’s. In our grief stricken state, we decided to return there one last time tomorrow before leaving New York.
DAY 10—Ground Zero
A trip to the city wouldn’t be complete without a stop to pay respects at Ground Zero. We postponed a guided tour until our 9 year old was a bit older. I think I’ll add it to my my Wanderlist.
TIP: If your kids are old enough, be sure and take the tour that is guided by someone directly impacted by the tragedy.
All my planning paid off! We took on New York City with kids and it did not disappoint. Although all of us were challenged by the heat and depleted patience levels, we are going home with happy memories, more life experience…and, a broken in Nintendo DS named “Prozak.”