New York Guide | Traveling with kids
Being, you know, foreigners (well not sure for how much longer, we're set to get our British passports this year) we travel very often, mostly back to sunny Greece to visit our family. We want to of course but also, WE HAVE TOO. Have you ever seen My Big Fat Greek Wedding? Well, even though my mom looks nothing like Nia Vardalos' mom in the movie, she nags me. Just. As. Much. Mostly about not seeing them too often. 'Often' has a different definition in her dictionary than mine by the way. Here are some typical comments I get on the phone.
"I want to see my grandson."
Me: "I can accept that, but I only have 25 days of holidays, you are retired and not sick, so why not come over to London more often? I'll even pay your tickets."
"My grandson needs to see some sun. There's no sun in the UK."
Me: "Fair enough, cannot argue with that. However, when I send him to you (August) there's always plenty of sun in the UK too."
"You know how often your sister and I talk on the phone?"
Me: "I do. But you see each other EVERY DAY, why do you also have to talk over the phone?"
(*very dramatic here) "I could die and you wouldn't even notice."
Me: "I'm sure you'd come over and haunt me about it, trust me I will, but can we please not talk about anyone dying?"
"You've written us off completely."
Me: "No I have not, it's you threatening to write me off because I cannot visit you more often."
This could be me, listening to mom. Urghhhh.
It would have been a proper Greek tragedy if it was not so obviously hilarious.
But the thing (that she doesn't seem to get sometimes) is that:
1) The three of us traveling to Greece and staying in nice hotels is more expensive nowadays than what I paid for my honeymoon ; and
2) I have lived in Greece for 24 years and seen all of it (almost) and I now want to see something more than Greece too!
So it will be no surprise to you to find out that when we traveled to New York last month, we didn't tell a soul (well, apart from everyone on Twitter). Thankfully, my mom is not spending time on social media (because she's like, busy DIY-building s-a-u-n-a-s, yep, you heard me right...) and the only time she emails is to send me one of her long winded e-letters to threaten that "I can do whatever I want as long as I send her her grandson for a month in the summertime".
L O L. And whose fault is that? Mine, because I insisted on explaining how to use an iPad and Houzz, and from Houzz she went on Pinterest and now she can EMAIL too. * making shooting my head gesture*.
So we sneaked to New York. All three of us, during February's half term. It was a birthday gift and, as far as surprises go, it was a great one. The SIC husband planned everything (yes, even the Kennels) and off we were with Virgin Atlantic one afternoon. 3 movies, one dinner and one snack too many later we touched down, with a kid that was totally spaced out (4 movies for him and it was apparently 2am London time).
We spent 5 days there, so here is my little 5-day guide to New York when travelling with kids.
WHERE TO STAY
I would definitely recommend staying around Times Square, like we did, and the reason is simple: If you want to do a lot of sightseeing and shopping, being located midtown between Central Park and the Empire State Building, is very convenient and cheaper (because you can walk everywhere).
Your kid(s) will just love the neon signs around there. So much light, bright colours, it will feel like a funfair to them and makes for great photography too! If you're lucky you might even see some movie being shot there too. Or, you can actually go and see a movie in one of the movie theatres close by. Here are some great hotels to stay in around midtown.
Around Times Square. Photo: Seasons in Colour with Olympus OMD EM10
WHAT NOT TO MISS
Here's what you can do in 3-5 days. Remember, this itinerary is drafted with kids in mind, aged 7 or over. First you need to get a CITY PASS for everyone, because unlike London where pretty much all museums are free, in New York NOTHING is free, expect dreaming big.
We stayed at the Hilton Times Square and had our breakfast every day at Juniors next door. Juniors is well known for their cheesecake but they also do amazing breakfast. Tip: Try the Lumberjack which is basically a BIG breakfast that can feed two. It has sausages, eggs, potatoes and griddle cakes (=pancakes) and you can actually share it with one kid. I did. In the end both of us were full and it cost less.
Juniors is great before 9am, there's a slight queue after that but it's a big place and tables come up all the time. I am told it has a very cheap lunch but we didn't try it as we were always away.
If it's good enough for a former President of the United States. Source: NYpost.com
It's a good 10-15 minute walk from Times Square to the entrance of the Park. That's where all the horse-drawn carriages park as well, so you might have to spend a good 5' trying to make it past the sales people. Worth it if you are a couple, not so much as a family as you will want to stop and see things. There's a little information kiosk and you can get a free map and plenty of information. This is a runner's paradise.
Photo: Seasons in Colour with Olympus OMD EM10
The Zoo in Central Park
Plenty to see at Central Park Zoo (adults $18, children $13, attraction not included in City Pass) so do be sure to spend a couple of hours there, children will love it. Check online for their feeding times to make the most of it.
American Museum of Natural History
Cross to the west side of the park and towards Strawberry Fields (an area of the park dedicated to John Lennon who lived nearby) and make your way to the American Museum of Natural History (Central Park West & 79th St). A great place for kids and adults alike. This is where you can buy or start using your CITY PASS. Now it really feels like we're in a movie, "A night at the museum" to be precise, where exhibits come alive at night. Outside you'll see the statue of Theodore Roosevelt on the front steps. Inside the famous T-Rex from the movie is expecting you.
See world-renowned dioramas, the 94-foot-long blue whale, and the stunning Rose Center for Earth and Space, featuring an 87-foot-diameter sphere that appears to float inside a glass cube (that's the Planetarium). Don’t miss the Hayden Planetarium Space Show 'Dark Universe'.
The Seasons kid. Damn it, he's growing too fast. Photo: Seasons in Colour with Olympus OMD EM10
The American Museum of Natural History. Photo: Seasons in Colour with Olympus OMD EM10
Empire State Building
Now you can see New York from high up. Climb to the top of Empire State Building - it's windy and very cold. You can only stay on the balcony for a few minutes at a time before rushing indoors to warm up. Remember that once you join the queue inside the famous Art Deco building, it can take up to an hour to find yourself in the lifts that take you to the top. The attraction is included in your CITY PASS.
Keep looking. The Empire State Building. Photo: Seasons in Colour with Olympus OMD EM10
The Ice Rink at the Rockefeller Centre
Once you are back at street level, walk down 5th Avenue towards the Park and you will find Rockefeller Centre with its ice skating ring - a classic meeting spot, colourful too.
Rockefeller Centre was named after John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who leased the space from Columbia University in 1928 and developed it beginning in 1930. Rockefeller initially planned a syndicate to build an opera house for the Metropolitan Opera on the site, but changed plans after the stock market crash of 1929 and the Metropolitan's continual delays to hold out for a more favourable lease, causing Rockefeller to move forward without them (source: Wikipedia). It is actually a complex of buildings that have over the years some very famous tenants (like Time-Life).
In front of the Ice rick you will also find a LEGO store (hurray) so you can bribe children with good behaviour during the journey in return for Legos on the last day or reward them for putting up with walking and shopping with you so far!