You may have noticed I’ve been AWOL for a couple of weeks. I have missed my little blog soooo much! Don’t you just find it so annoying when paid employment has to become your priority for a while and the things you want to do for fun have to take a back seat? How inconvenient! Still, I think we’re over the ‘hump’ now and coasting back down a (gradual) hill again!! It’s good to be back.
As promised (in yester-year), today I will be sharing the highlights of our family summer break. We booked a blow-out holiday this year as the result of a combination of events in our lives which both made us feel we needed to ‘seize the day’ and meant we had the financial opportunity to do something amazing with our children.
We talked for months before booking our trip about home improvements, new cars and investments in additional property but as a family, we felt that creating memories and experiencing new and different things together while the children are still young enough to want to was, for us, more important than anything else.
It didn’t take us long to agree that the US would be our preferred holiday destination and having been to New York ‘pre-children’ we always knew it was somewhere we would want to share with the kiddo’s if and when the opportunity arose. We booked 6 nights in New York and 8 nights in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina as we were 100% sure we would all need some serious recovery time! (I plan to talk about New York this time and will do a separate post another day on beautiful Hilton Head).
Our preparation for our time in New York began with an Amazon order. I read some guide-book reviews and eventually decided to order these two which were great. I was also given a ‘New York Pass’ book by someone who had recently visited which proved to be really useful as well. (The New York pass is a ticket you can buy which provides entry to most of the attractions in the city and some people find it a way to save money. We did our research and decided on which attractions we wanted to visit before making a decision about the pass. As it turned out, when we researched the entry prices for the places on our itinerary, we worked out that the pass would cost us more than each attraction individually so we decided to give it a miss. This was probably primarily because we were planning our time out to meet the needs of the children and didn’t want to over-do it. I know other people who have found it a great way to save some money).
I would definitely say that if you are planning to visit New York (or any other city!) with children, don’t plan to do too much. There were dozens of things we would have liked to do in the city but our youngest is still only 8 and New York is a biiiiig city for little legs! The itinerary we planned differed slightly to what we actually did so here is the run down of what we got up to (it’s busier than we planned!):
Day One – Empire State Building, Shopping at Macy’s, Horse and Carriage Ride in Central Park, Dinner in Ellen’s Stardust Diner, Evening in Times Square (incl Ferris Wheel in Toys’R’ Us!)
The Observation Deck of the Empire State Building was a ‘must-visit’ as far as we were concerned. It was a great place to go on the first morning because it gave us a chance to explain the layout of the city to the children before we started exploring it at ground level. We took our time to see the views from every side and pointed out the famous places all around us. The kids loved this experience and were able to get good views. I would say that for children younger than our 8 year old it may have been difficult to see over the wall without being lifted so I’m glad he was old (and tall) enough to make the most of it.
The Horse and Carriage ride in Central Park was something we all really wanted to do. It was definitely pricey so we chose to just tour the lower section of the park but we all really enjoyed it. It was such a beautiful day and our ‘driver’ was so friendly. The children fell in love with the horse whose name was ‘Puzzle’.
Ellen’s Stardust Diner is a hot tip for anyone visiting Manhattan with children. It’s an American diner where all the waiting staff are Broadway performers between jobs. While you eat, the waiters and waitresses take it in turns to perform numbers from all manner of Broadway shows and movie soundtracks. I have now been to Ellen’s Stardust diner 3 times and I have never heard anyone sing who wasn’t A-MA-ZING (in my best Simon Cowell voice). It’s definitely worth a visit. They don’t take bookings so you just show up and if necessary, queue. We didn’t have to queue the first time but there was about a half hour wait the second time as it was Friday evening. Totally worth the wait though.
Day Two – 2 hour river cruise around the lower half of Manhattan, Afternoon rest, Dinner at ‘Lombardi’s,’ (a famous pizza restaurant in Little Italy), Grand Central Station.
The theory was that we would intersperse our busier days with quieter, less demanding ones. This was supposed to be one of the quieter days but it was HOT so I think we all tired more quickly as a result. We could not have asked for a more beautiful day for our river cruise. The skies were blue and there was a slight breeze to keep us relatively cool.
Our guide was fantastic, she was extremely knowledgeable and funny and really made the trip special. I would say that this was a great thing to do with or without children because you learn so much about the city while seeing it at its best. The bonus for the kids was that they were able to sit and relax rather than being dragged around. We sailed with City Sightseeing Cruises.
Dinner at Lombardi’s was one of our favourite evenings. Lombardi’s claim to have ‘introduced pizza to America’ and they certainly seem to have the recipe right. The place was heaving but we still only had to wait around 10 minutes for a table. The pizza is sooooooo good. We all gave them the seal of approval.
Little Italy is a great place to spend the evening. The streets are lit up with lights like Christmas and all the restaurants spill out onto the pavement so that as you wander through you can hear the buzz of Italian music and happy chatting people all while smelling the delicious food! It is a fantastic atmosphere which really filled us with a happy holiday feeling.
On the way back to our hotel (which was ideally located in mid-town), we stopped at Grand Central Station and the children tried out a trick we had heard about where if you whisper into the corner in a certain spot, the shape and texture of the ceiling carries the sound over to the other corner. It worked! The children were fascinated by how this could be and I couldn’t really explain it!!
Day Three – Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island Immigration Centre, Financial district, Evening and Dinner in Times Square.
The Statue of Liberty is the other New York destination we would not have missed for anything. Since July 4th of this year, you can go all the way up to the torch but you need to book months in advance as there are only so many opportunities each day. I didn’t realise this fact far enough in advance to get tickets to the top but I’m not sure I would have booked it anyway. It was significantly more expensive and there are hundreds of steps. I’m not sure our youngest would have been too keen to make the extra effort and I wouldn’t have wanted to risk wasting the money. However, I’m sure it’s amazing if you have the chance.
We visited at ground level which is worthwhile for so many reasons. A close up look at the statue makes you realise how huge it is and in addition to seeing Lady Liberty up close, you also get amazing views looking back towards Manhattan. You have to catch a ferry across and we had booked Liberty and Ellis Island so we could go and see the immigration centre as well but you don’t have to do both.
Ellis Island is really interesting but I have to say, it makes you feel a bit sad to think about the desperation and suffering some of the immigrants endured. We watched a half hour film about the island, the immigration process and the people who came through it. It was very interesting and gave the children an idea of what went on there so that when we walked around they could picture what happened in each area and what the uses were for some of the items we saw.
Day Four – Central Park – the Zoo, the Carousel and a walk in the park. A visit to FAO Schwartz, Shopping and Dinner in Little Italy and Chinatown.
We spent a lot of time hanging around in Central Park while we were in New York. It is such a great place to just wander, people watch and see famous sights around every corner. The zoo is not big but it is fun. The children loved our morning there. We watched the sea-lion show and walked through the ‘tropical rainforest’ where you could get up close and personal with the birds. There is also a 4D cinema in which we watched a short film and got wet!
This was supposed to be another more ‘restful’ day but unfortunately, we finished up getting lost in the Park and walked much further than we were intending!!
We were treated to a pop-up ‘street show’ by some guys from The Bronx who whipped up the crowd and put on quite the acrobatic display. It was amazing! We also eventually managed to find the Carousel and the children had a ride.
We went back to Little Italy and Chinatown and did some shopping for souvenirs after another amazing Italian meal.
Day Five – American Museum of Natural History, the Upper end of Central Park, Souvenir and gift shopping, Dinner in Ellen’s Stardust Diner (again – we all loved it so much we had to go back!)
This was our last full day in the city (sad face). The American Museum was one of the children’s favourite places. We decided before we went which areas of the museum we would visit. Back in 2003, my husband and I got hopelessly lost and finished up walking for ages and ages trying to find a way out so we didn’t want to repeat that with the children in tow! (Though the hubby may argue he had a pretty childish companion on that occasion too!!) We limited ourselves to the ‘Dinosaur Halls,’ the ‘North American Mammals,’ the ‘Hall of Northwest Coast Indians,’ the ‘African Mammals,’ and the ‘Hall of Ocean Life’ where an incredible life-size model of a blue whale hangs overhead. The ‘Dinosaur Halls’ were incredible and our daughter really enjoyed the Hall of Northwest Coast Indians. I think my favourite were the ‘North American Mammals.’ It was a brilliant place to visit with children, they were fascinated and captivated by the displays.
We re-visited Ellen’s Stardust Diner for our last night at the kiddo’s request. It was possibly even better than the previous visit. We were seated on the ground level this time which meant we were closer to the performers and the atmosphere was fantastic.
In addition to all this, we also managed to squeeze in an afternoon of getting our bearings and taking in the ‘awesomeness’ of the place on the day we arrived and a visit to the New York Public Library on our last morning.
Our days were full and we started out early. The time difference between the UK and New York played in our favour in this regard as we all woke early due to the fact that our body clocks were set five hours ahead. This definitely helped us to make the most of every minute. We were up and out by 7am on the first day and by 8/8.30am thereafter. This meant we were able to make our way to our destination for the day before they even opened in most cases. It certainly helped to avoid long queues and also enabled us to allow time for a rest in the middle of the day (when it was hottest) as the children would have found it difficult to go all the way through to bed time. (The adults may have found that tough too!)
Some days we did more than we had planned and others we did less. If the children (or adults!) were tired or needed a break, we headed into a diner or back to the hotel to re-group, cool off and rest. The other slight restriction on our activities was budget. New York is VERY expensive. We would have liked to go to the ‘Top of the Rock’ as we had heard the view downtown towards the Empire State Building, was worth seeing but it was almost as expensive as going to the top of the Empire State (which we had already done) and we just couldn’t justify the expense of both. The other thing we didn’t splurge on was watching a show on Broadway. Partly because of the cost, partly because we were all so tired by the evening and partly because we have taken the children to see shows in London’s West End so we didn’t make it a priority on this trip. If we were going again I would probably do those things as well as a visit to the HMS Intrepid which was a Sea, Air and Space museum on board an aircraft carrier. It houses a large collection of airplanes as well as the space shuttle ‘Enterprise’. I think it would have been a great place to visit with children but we just didn’t have the time.
Having said that, I definitely feel like we could not possibly have enjoyed our time in New York more. The children were ‘awed’ by the city when we arrived (which was heart-warming to watch) but they quickly became completely at home and LOVED every minute we spent there. We did A LOT of walking which meant we saw more of the city but we also bought ‘metrocards’ and used the subway for all our other travel. We didn’t use a taxi once and we didn’t need to. We felt the subway was an extremely economical way to get around and it was so convenient – the trains were even air-conditioned! (Listen-up London underground!!) We all found the week exhausting and I would definitely recommend taking the time after a visit to New York to kick back and recover! Arriving at our beach-side resort in South Carolina after a week of serious sight-seeing was like stepping into Heaven! But more on that another day….
Sorry this post has been both long and a long-time-coming! I hope I haven’t bored anyone! Have any of my lovely readers ever visited New York? With or without children? Any tips or highlights? I would love to hear about it in the comments.
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