Family Travel Review – New York City, Part 1 of 2

With summer around the corner, Another category is being added to the blog that I’m excited about…Family Travel Review.  Here, I’d like to offer our family’s two cents advice on what has worked, and not worked, while traveling as a family.  It’s a compilation of our trips and others who have shared their experiences.  Feel free to add posts with what works and what to avoid.  Everything below is family-friendly!!

Let’s start with a favorite – New York City!  This is a city that we just love to visit.  We’ve been going there for years and have some favorites to share.  Maybe they’ll become favorites to you, too!  As we continue to go back to the city that truly never sleeps, we’ll update the blog.  There’s a lifetime of things to do here.

New York City with the family:

Yes, it is possible to take children to NYC and have a ton of fun.  Some tips on how to make the most of your time there…

1. How old should children be to go to NYC?  We waited until our children could carry their own small backpacks and have good walking legs.  We didn’t want to bother with strollers or carry anyone, no way!  The more people in a group, the more water bottles, snacks, wallets, etc., which makes for a back-breaking experience.  When every can carry their own stuff, it’s so much easier on the parent.  We bought “travel backpacks” that are used every trip.  They are simple, inexpensive school-like backpacks.

2. Plan ahead.  There is so much to do there, make a wish list – then cut it in half.  Hey, it’ll give you an excuse to go back!  In an ideal world with no lines, no traffic, no oversleeping, and no crowds one could attempt to check everything off on his or her list.  But, that’s just not the case.  Realizing an activity really takes 1.5 – 2 times as long as it ideally should, helps a family go into a busy trip to NYC with more realistic expectations and cooler attitudes.  It’s vacation, after all, and should be enjoyed. J

Keep in mind the group with whom you are traveling.  I remember our most recent trip last fall, we wanted to check out the Guggenheim.  We took a subway as close to it as possible, with the idea of walking to the Gugg, then walking to our favorite ice skating rink (I’ll share that later).  Once we finally got to the Gugg, the majority of the crowd (children) were less than impressed.  We wound up touring the gift store and leaving.  Ug.  Then we walked a LONG way to ice skating. By the time we got there, the adults were too tired to skate.  The walk was gorgeous, and made for great chat time, but to do it over again, we would’ve skipped the Gugg with the kids and saved that for a later date.  So keep in mind what and where you want to spend your time.  View online maps and arm yourself with hours of operation, reservations, if needed, and subway strategies.  Your homework will pay off.

3. Restaurants:  There are a bagillion places to eat in NYC, and many are very kid-friendly.  We are pizza connoisseurs – okay, pizza snobs.   Our family’s favorite?  Lombardi’s.  Oh man.  It’s a small joint that serves up big pies.  Pizzas are coal-fired with a sweet sauce and real mozzarella slices melted on top.  There is no other pizza anywhere like Lombardi’s.  The waits are never bad (we beat the normal dinner crowd and get there before 6pm) and there is seating on the roof for spillover.  People there say NYC pizza is the best because of the water that is used in making the dough.  Whatever it is, it’s so good!  John’s Pizza is good too, and one location is a renovated church with stained glass ceilings – which is really cool.  If you’re looking for a traditional pie, this is a great place.

* Junior’s.  The serve a rockin’ breakfast!  Actually, all of their food is really great.  If you like cheesecake, you have to try Junior’s.  They have indoor/outdoor seating, very cool atmosphere, casual, and it’s right down the street from Broadway so often people watch a show then head to Junior’s.  My children’s favorite memory of this incredible restaurant is when we went to just have dessert.  For a family of five, it was less expensive to order an entire cheesecake than by the slice.  So we did.  But, we had leftovers, obviously.  We took the other half back to our hotel room and stuck it in the mini fridge.  We were checking out the next morning, so yes, we had cheesecake for breakfast.  The kids still remember – the day Dad & Mom let us have cheesecake for breakfast!

* Street vendors.  Some of our best meals have been on the street.  It’s hard to walk by and not be taken in by the smell of hot dogs, curry chicken, peppers & onions, pretzels, etc.  It’s mouth-watering.  It’s also affordable.  We like to grab a meal, take a break and people watch.  It’s almost better than sitting inside a restaurant because we can see all the action outside.

* Smith & Wolensky.  You gotta get the seafood tower (big enough for the whole table).  It’s out of control and the rib eye is one of the best steaks you’ll ever have.  Career wait staff – excellent service!  Pricey.  A total NYC experience. (Submitted by my husband who went their while on business.)

* Ferrara Café.  This jewel of a find is in Little Italy.  The atmosphere is busy and the ambiance very NYC Italian.  The desserts are mouth-watering.  They offer just about anything Italian you can imagine.  Pricey.  But, it’s worth the splurge.  We usually go there once while there.

* Peanut Butter & Co.  We haven’t visited this establishment yet, but we buy their products in our local grocery store.  VERY delicious!  White chocolate, dark chocolate, maple, cinnamon swirl – all varieties of peanut butter.  Next time in NYC, we will definitely go there and check it out.

4.  Things to do:

* Carriage ride through Central Park.  You gotta do this once.  It’s pricey, but my family really enjoyed this.  The clip-clop of horses meandering through Central Park, breathing the familiar NYC air, it’s part of the experience.  Afterward, we chatted with the SPCA division of the police force giving an impromptu check on the horses.  The horses are clean and well-cared for, but it made me feel even better to hear that from the police force.

* Empire State building.  Another must!  Buy tickets early or be prepared to stand in line half a block long (at least).  The main tickets get you to the main viewing floor (think Sleepless in Seattle).  An additional ticket takes you to the very peak on a separate elevator.  We did both.  We found that the additional money to the tip top wasn’t worth it.  It’s small, cramped, and the windows are fogged up.  It felt just like being on a boat in the cabin underneath.  And, there is only one elevator, so once you’re ready to leave, be prepared to wait a very long time.  But the main floor viewing was awesome.  Great photo op, windy, and even King Kong makes an appearance for a photo op.

* Statue of Liberty.  Yes, you must.  It’s patriotic! We took the ferry from the Jersey side, which is less-traveled.  Very good idea.  What we didn’t realize was the never-ending security process.  It took us about 3 hours to get through it (albeit it was July), then we could actually begin enjoying Lady Liberty.  People are no longer allowed to climb up it like they used to, but there is a museum experience inside it that’s cool.  Bags are not permitted, so what we didn’t realize when we skipped lunch to catch the ferry, was that we’d have to wait hours and hours to eat – not good with smaller children.  All in all, glad we did this!

* Broadway show.  We splurged once and saw The Little Mermaid.  Unbelievable!  The props, acting, the whole shebang.  Such a great experience.  I was surprised at how casually everyone dressed.  Everything from jeans to dresses.  Catch a show if time permits.  Tickets, sometimes reduced, are on sale in Times Square for same-day shows if you feel the mood.

* Metropolitan Museum of Art spectacular.  No way to see it all in one visit.  Better for older children.

* American Museum of Natural History  – so worth it!  Great for kids of all ages.

* Enjoy the go! by Charmin.  Nicest bathrooms in all of NYC.  Big-screened tv’s, music, lots of wait staff standing around.  This sounds ridiculous, but bathrooms can be really hard to come by.  Most times there is a line down the street to get in Charmin’s.  If you pop into a restaurant, be prepared to purchase something for the privilege of using their facilities.

* Toys R Us versus  FAO Schwartz.  Definitely Toys R Us.  FAO is small, over-priced, and not as conveniently located as Toys R Us (in Times Square).  Skip the huge piano keyboard at FAO (which has very long wait lines and kids don’t know what to do on them after 5 seconds anyway).  Toys R Us is 4 stories, complete with indoor Ferris wheel.  They have live demos of the latest toys, bathrooms, and every toy imaginable.  I never thought we’d take time to visit a toy store in NYC, but this is more of an attraction.

<<Check back tomorrow for part 2 with more attractions, accommodations, etc.!!>>

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