Exploring New York City with kids

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So I made good on our promise to take lots of pictures during our three-day weekend in New York, returning home with over 300 of them, including about fifty taken by Tommy (don’t worry – you won’t be subjected to nearly that many – I’m just making my point). And although I said planned to, what I couldn’t seem to do was stay away from Central Park. On a gorgeous end-of-summer weekend it was just too hard to resist. And so resist it we did not!

We didn’t begin our first day in the park. After driving up from Delaware and then dropping off our car and bags at The Envoy Club in the Midtown neighborhood of Murray Hill, we walked up to Grand Central Terminal. My two suburban children were hungry and after we had walked about halfway there Tommy revealed that he needed a toilet and that he was tired of walking (this proved a theme of the weekend – for reasons that are difficult to comprehend, my child who will hike for miles in the woods poops out after four short city blocks. His brother, for whom we did not bring a stroller, was much more good natured about walking. But then he did get carried more than occasionally). So it was with cajoling and perseverance that we made it to our destination, about fifteen blocks from where we started.

Travel-With-Kids Tip: Instead of using the bathrooms in Grand Central Terminal, duck into the Grand Hyatt next door. The restrooms right behind the elevators in the lobby and are spacious and clean.

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I chose Grand Central for lunch because there are numerous options in the Dining Concourse; I thought it would be fun if everyone could choose for him- or herself what to eat. Tommy and I enjoyed sushi, while Matt had Indian food. Teddy, sensing that parental guard was down, had an apple turnover for his lunch. And earned a big smile and a thank you from the woman serving him when he peeped thanks at her (Little Chick is back in force these days). It was really fun to eat under the low arches, listening to the announcements of arriving and departing trains and watching the continuous parade of travelers. “This is certainly different than Delaware!” Tommy kept exclaiming and I knew that he was enjoying the feeling of being at the center of someplace important, even as it overwhelmed him a little.

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After we finished our lunch we took the boys up to the Main Concourse so that they could see the starry ceiling and the famous clock. I explained that when I was a girl the ceiling was dark with soot and how I love to visit now and see it in its pale-green glory, the signs of the Zodiac twinkling just as they should. Teddy was especially enchanted to see Pegasus, and I think Tommy loved the idea that people have been meeting under the clock for generations. And of course, since they are both huge fans of both Madagascar movies, they loved seeing the “real live” version of the train station where the animals were captured after they escaped from the zoo.

We had planned to take the subway uptown, but there were so many people waiting to buy tickets in the station that we hopped in a cab instead. I know that this may be considered a controversial move, but I will admit that when it really seems prudent, I will take my children into cabs without car seats, especially now that they are bigger. They both wore shoulder seat belts and enjoyed riding in the cab very much, and since it only took us about five minutes to reach Central Park South, I felt like it was a reasonable risk.

Travel-With-Kids Tip: Although I’m generally a huge proponent of mass transit, and that’s mostly what we used, it’s a fact that during light holiday-weekend traffic driving around Manhattan can be faster than public transportation. And if your destination is close but just outside walking distance it can be cheaper too – we paid the same amount to cab from Grand Central to Central Park as it would have cost to ride the subway.

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The park was crowded, which didn’t bother me as I had expected crowds since it was Labor Day weekend. The line for the Central Park Zoo stretched a good block and half and I dreaded the wait. But it took less than fifteen minutes to get through. The zoo is not one of the great ones for studying a wide variety of animal life but is pretty much just a small and lovely zoo in a fabulous location. There’s a children’s zoo with bunnies and peacocks and pot-bellied pigs and a giant spider’s web, which was of much greater interested to Teddy than Tommy. Inside the main zoo it is the penguin exhibit that is really worth the cost of admission. There are so many of them and they are so funny and close that even though the air smells of ammonia and fish it’s possible to spend a long time in the dim, cool space watching them waddle and swim. Tommy was especially delighted when one decided to hang out in the water right in front of us.

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After a long visit with the penguins, we admired the polar bear, the snow leopard (who was fast asleep), and the red panda before taking our leave. Then, with a number of wrong turns, we made our way over to the carousel where we had planned to meet up with Wendy Perrin and her family. Wendy is the consumer news editor for Condé Nast Traveler and a lovely person whose passion in life is travel and mission in life seems to be to make travel easier and more fun for others. If you haven’t checked out The Perrin Post, you should– it’s full of great tips and deals. In fact, it was thanks to Wendy that we were in New York in the first place – I rented the apartment we were staying in after she highlighted Labor Day deals.

Her two boys (who are five and seven) and Tommy and Teddy were old friends pretty much as soon as they met. After a quick carousel ride – you knew that there had to be a carousel ride right? – they insisted on an immediate play date, running ahead of us all the way to the playground (so I guess Tommy’s feet couldn’t have hurt him that badly after all).

Travel-With-Kids Tip: If you’re hanging out in Central Park, you might want to purchase a map of the park or print one off before you go. You can also buy one from numerous vendors in the park itself. It can be tricky to find even major landmarks – I couldn’t locate the carousel once we left the zoo and finally broke down and bought map myself. And if you’re there with kids on a hot sunny day, pack swim suits and water shoes (or have your kids wear them, which is what I did). Many of the playgrounds have water play areas.

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The eight of us were joined at the Heckscher Playground by some long-time friends with two small children of their own. Everyone got very sandy and wet and Tommy triumphantly acquainted himself with every crevice of the huge rock that dominates one side of the play area. Later he talked with casual bravado about how he was even able to climb even “the hardest part, ‘cuz I figured out how to hold on.” Once everyone had a chance to get completely filthy and to eat some frozen treats, we decided to make our way through the crowds of vendors selling caricatures, photos of John Lennon, bottles of water, and carriage rides to F.A.O. Schwarz.

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Now I know that lots of people think the indoor Ferris wheel at the Toys “R” Us in Times Square is much cooler. But I’ll never forsake the classic pleasure of this enormous toy store at the corner of 58th Street and Fifth Avenue; it has been one of my happy places for many years. Every time I return it surprises me how good I feel, since I’m generally not much of a shopper and it’s always packed to the gills with people. But there’s just something really magical about it, that even the children pick up on – there’s a distinct lack of whining or begging. Maybe it’s because the people who work there seem to like it. The “toy soldier” guarding the door knew just what to say to every child who entered, including my two. “You look just like Harry Potter!” he said to a beaming Teddy. To Tommy, who was finishing the messiest popsicle I’ve ever seen, he said, “It’s the Joker!” eliciting guffaws from the surrounding crowd.

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Like everyone else, once inside we wandered about with our mouths open staring at the acres of toys. From dolls to blocks to puppets to enormous stuffed animals, there is truly something to please every child. And of course, there’s the Big Piano, made famous by Tom Hanks in the movie Big. Teddy had his own five minutes of fame, hopping from one end to the other and peeping.

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Then we wandered and wondered for a good hour without buying anything although I was very tempted by the Whatnot Workshop where it is possible to design and make one’s very own Muppet. I wanted to make one to keep in my office. A blogging buddy if you will.

But I resisted temptation and then we said good-bye to all of our friends (and another big thanks to Wendy) and walked over to Dylan’s Candy Bar. I’ll talk more about this place in my post tomorrow (yes, we were there two days in a row). Suffice it to say that they have every candy you’ve ever eaten or dreamed of eating. And then some. Several pounds of the sweet stuff and forty dollars later, we staggered out into the street intent on finding some food that didn’t contain sugar. I had planned for us to eat dinner at the Landmarc Restaurant in the Time Warner Building overlooking Central Park, but I couldn’t see making the kids haul all the way over there. So we walked over to the perfectly adequate Pop Burger on 58th Street, had some sliders and fries, and made our way back downtown and to bed immediately thereafter, sated in every sense.

Like this post? You might also enjoy MOAT takes Manhattan: Day two which includes The Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty, to say nothing of clowns, sharks, and pirates and Day three in which we finally got a good meal as well as a good dose of dinosaur bones.

New York City Family Travel Tips

Reader Responses

8 fellow travelers had this to say

  1. Are the Travel-With-Kids Tips new? I really enjoyed them – as well as the rest of your post!
    .-= Lisa Fink´s last blog ..What Would You Do? =-.

  2. I love your post and love the tips you add in each section. Looks like it was a great weekend for you guys. Can’t wait to hear about the Candy story.. :)
    .-= Amy @ The Q Family (Dreaming of: Cruising)´s last blog ..National Museum of American History With Kids =-.

  3. Such fun! And how fabulous you met up w/ Wendy and her boys.
    .-= Kara Williams/MountainMama´s last blog ..Interview with iCarly Actor Jennette McCurdy =-.

  4. Great post, looking forward to my son’s first NYC trip this year, so all the tips will be much appreciated.
    .-= Carolina´s last blog ..Today’s Tip: Plan and Collaborate With Google Maps =-.

  5. Love the embedded tips in the post!
    .-= Linda´s last blog ..Best Western Ramkota Hotel in Bismarck, ND =-.

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