Travelling with kids between the ages of about nine to fourteen is rumoured to be ideal as they are independent enough to survive long days and late nights but not yet capable of departing with the bar staff. A recent craving for a four-night vacation with lots to see and do led us to pack up our three kids, ages nine, twelve, and thirteen for a trip to New York City.
The Big Apple is one of my absolute favourite cities as you can see and experience so much simply by walking around. Most of the attractions are close together and the streets are organized in an easily-navigable grid pattern. Although our children would later tell us that they found the sights and sounds of the city to be delightfully terrifying, as their parents, we felt completely safe both day and night.
New York City is a surprisingly easy drive of about seven hours from Ottawa. Don’t forget your passport and lots of small bills for the tolls. My husband prepared for driving into the city by wearing a heart monitor and studying space shuttle landing procedures. Despite him actually asking me to “activate the landing gear” as we cruised through the Lincoln Tunnel, it went surprisingly better than expected.
Over-packing is not necessary when travelling to NYC as almost everything you might forget can be purchased within a three-block radius. In fact, I highly recommend intentionally leaving behind your coat, shoes, and purse. The city is stylish but casual and my chosen wardrobe of black, white, denim and ‘fancy’ sneakers appeared to be well suited to most situations. Comfortable shoes, sunglasses, portable chargers, and rain gear are also worth packing.
As a family of five, hotels can be our nemesis. We were able to find a very reasonable two-bedroom suite, with kitchen, at the Stewart Hotel which included parking. My in-house travel agent suggests narrowing hotel searches using Kayak, Expedia, Priceline and Trip Advisor before heading to hotel websites to uncover hidden fees, better rates, and negotiable inclusions.
With walking being our primary mode of transportation, our family received the benefits of exercise, fresh air and a helpful yet aggressive review of pedestrian traffic rules. Google Maps led the way, thanks to the purchase of a seven-dollar daily data plan, and the kids were able to find plenty of free Wi-Fi on the subway, in museums and stores. Mapping a route before heading out ensured that famous sights, like the Empire State and Chrysler Building, could be viewed along the way.
The NYC subway is another great way to get around town and avoid traffic jams. Straightforward machines make ticket purchases a cinch and most stations have staff available to respond to your whispered touristy questions using a megaphone, inches from your face.
Loading the kitchen in our hotel suite with groceries made for ideal quick breakfasts and late afternoon snacking. Dinner reservations are a must for any well-known restaurant but after one sleepy night out, we decided to focus our efforts on spontaneous lunches.
New York City is bursting with incredible renowned foods including pizza, hotdogs, soft pretzels, deli sandwiches, soup, egg creams and specialties from all over the world. If your child is having difficulty making a culinary decision, rushed New Yorkers will be available to assist, “Kid! Hurry up already!” Our top two lunch picks were Pearl Diner, open for over fifty years, and Melt Shop, a gourmet grilled cheese shop serving rosé in a can.
Food halls like The Pennsy Food Hall, located above Penn Station and next to Madison Square Garden and Grand Central’s Lower Dining Concourse are great places to grab a table, arm the kids with money and send them off to forage. While at Grand Central Terminal, don't forget to check out the Whispering Gallery and Main Concourse.
Dessert highlights included treats from Dylan’s Candy Bar, Sprinkles Cupcakes, M&M’s World and the Hershey Chocolate World’s made-to-order s’mores.
Take comfort in knowing that it is impossible to cover even a smidgen of what New York City has to offer in one trip. That is why it should be an annual trip - possibly without kids.
Surprisingly, individual backpacks are not a great idea for NYC tourist spots as many have airport level security or simply do not allow them. Lockers are usually available but once you’ve been nearly strangled by your audio lanyard while trying to jam in five bags, packing lightly seems like a safer option.
If museum bound, make sure to check if your local science museum membership package has reciprocal privileges at museums in New York City. Our Ottawa membership was honoured by both the extremely worthwhile National Museum of Math (MoMath) and Airforce Carrier Intrepid.
The American Museum of Natural History
This museum is gorgeous and huge with great cafes and shops. Make time and start fresh. To avoid line-ups purchase tickets online or ‘pay what you wish’ at the door.
9/11 Memorial and Museum
There is no avoiding the heavy sadness that comes when visiting this memorial, despite the hope and beauty woven throughout. So much of what is exhibited is familiar to adults who witnessed this tragic day but I quickly realized that our children knew very little about 9/11. Our visit led to many questions and meaningful discussions leaving me so glad that we went.
Nothing is as New York City as Broadway. Wicked was our inaugural Broadway pick as we had screened it before and the story and music were familiar to them from home. My warning about matinee performances - a dark theatre and soft seating can make for a really expensive nap.
Visiting the Statue of Liberty National Monument takes planning and booking in advance. Visit the Statue Cruises website to book ferry times from New York City or New Jersey. Your ferry ticket will get you onto the grounds of Ellis Island but you will need separate tickets to enter the Statue’s pedestal and crown levels. The crown is extremely small and onsite Keeper of the Flame, Louis Prosper, will proudly tell you that if you want to go up and see it, you will need to buy your ticket four months in advance!
To cap off our trip, we booked an unintentionally hilarious, memorable and really fun two-hour bike tour through Central Park via Central Park Bikes. Our guide Tony, an agile former member of the Bulgarian Sports Academy, was extremely patient as we dodged dogs, ponds and the elderly, trying to keep up. Helmets are available with bike rentals and make sure to request banana yellow for your teens.