When you and your family travel to New York, guess who’ll be waiting to greet you? The Muppets! Yes, Miss Piggy, Kermit the Frog and Gonzo the Great have become ‘Family Ambassadors’ with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, to ensure that visitors to the city have a very kid-friendly holiday, with special deals and trips aimed at families.
New York is a great place for children, with its myriad attractions. I’ve lived in the city for decades, and I can vouch for the fact that there is something new to see almost every day. It’s one giant playground. A microcosm of the world where young minds can savour different activities, cultures and food, all in a fun way.
The best way for visitors to navigate the city is on a hop-on, hop-off tour bus, which takes you to the big landmarks in Manhattan. A visit to Lady Liberty on Liberty Island is a must. Even the ferry ride is fun, and families can stroll around the island, taking in the great views of NYC. While you’re in the area, visit South Street Seaport. Charming with its water views and cobbled streets, it’s also a great place to dine and shop. The Museums of the American Indian and Wall Street are both nearby – perfect places to capture the imagination of any future historians or bankers!
Tip: Save on admissions to New York City attractions with a range of passes, available at www.nycgo.com/attraction-passes.
Catch a bird’s-eye view of the city at another international icon, the Empire State Building, which has been featured in over 250 movies, from King Kong to Sleepless in Seattle. Close by is great, reasonable shopping on 34th Street, including Macy’s – billed as the world’s largest store.
Tip: There are long lines at the Empire State Building, so it’s best to go very early or late. The observatory is open from 8am-2am, every day.
Good times in Times Square
Once a rough, seedy area, Times Square is now revitalised. It’s a fun place to take children, with its many glittering stores and theatre attractions. The Toys “R” Us shop is a delight for kids, with its Ferris wheel, friendly comic characters, and two-storey Barbie doll’s house. There’s also M&M World, which showcases millions of candies in a three-floor store, with everything from M&M-themed golf balls to toys, and the all-pervading heady aroma of chocolate!
While in Times Square, the kids will definitely enjoy a visit to Dave and Buster’s, which is full of game arcades. Other close by attractions are Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, MTV Studios, and the ESPN Zone.
Tip: It’s nice to know that in frenetic Times Square, a whole avenue has been closed to traffic, so parents can sit down and kids can run around.
Bright lights of Broadway
Broadway shows are a great way to introduce children to the world of theatre, and the perennial favourites are Lion King, Mary Poppins, The Little Mermaid, Wicked, Billy Elliot and Shrek.
The hot favourite with older children is the action-packed show, Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark, which has music and lyrics by U2’s Bono. Asked what was the best part of this Broadway show, my kids excitedly said, “Flying and fighting in the air!” Spider-Man whizzes through the air in stunning aerials, right above the heads of the audience.
Tip: TKTS Discount Booths offer up to 50 per cent off tickets to Broadway and Off-Broadway musicals and plays. There are three booths, including one
in Times Square.
New York City makes the arts palatable for children with many kid-friendly activities. Right on Fifth Avenue is the Museum Mile – visit the dinosaurs at the American Museum of Natural History, or get creative at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which offers hands-on crafts projects and children’s activities, plus an amazing art collection. In summer, the Met’s roof-top showcases art installations and has great views. Other major museums include Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim.
Tip: If you have small children or elderly parents with you, don’t let the Met’s myriad stairs intimidate you. All museums are equipped for dealing with strollers and wheelchairs. There are several cafés and restaurants within
the museum, as well as gift shops, to keep everyone happy.
One of the delights of New York is its many parks. The city has been planned thoughtfully, with open spaces and green spots punctuating the congestion of city living. There are more than 1,700 parks and recreation facilities across the five boroughs, many with skating rinks, golf courses, ponds, sports fields, swimming pools and even beaches. The High Line Park has been created on abandoned rail road tracks some 9 metres above the city! This has 210 species of plants, giving cheer to the urban landscape.
The grand-daddy of all parks, however, is the 150-year-old Central Park on Fifth Avenue, which receives 35 million visitors annually. Horse carriages circle the park, parents push baby strollers and sweethearts hold hands and chatter on park benches.
Listen to free concerts at Summer Stage, or watch free Shakespeare in the park at Delacorte Theatre. The park also houses Strawberry Fields, the memorial to John Lennon, who was killed outside his home in the Dakota Apartments, just across from the park.
For children, there are over 21 playgrounds within the park, an ice-skating rink and the famous musical carousel. There is also the Central Park Zoo – it’s strange to see monkeys and sea lions lounging right in the middle of New York City! A nice place to eat a meal is the Boathouse, an elegant restaurant within the park, next to a pond where young children run their remote-controlled toy boats and yachts.
Tip: Wear comfortable clothing and shoes, carry a ball or frisbee for the kids and a sheet to have a picnic. Enjoy NY specialities from vendors in the park – hot dogs, ices, and pretzels.
New York’s slogan could be ‘Shop Till You Drop’ because there’s a wealth of marvellous department stores and boutiques across the city, from Fifth Avenue to Madison Avenue to Soho and the Bowery. Visits to Bloomingdale’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman and Macy’s are musts, and there is an endless list of other boutiques and designer ateliers to pamper mothers.
For teens and the tech geeks in the family there is the amazing Apple Store on Fifth Avenue.
For younger children, the big attraction is the famous toy store, FAO Schwarz, which features the very same gigantic piano that Tom Hanks danced on in the movie Big. This year the store celebrates an impressive 150 years in business, so there are lots of activities planned. Inside is the FAO Schweetz candy department, which is a fantasy come true for many kids.
Another great candy place is Dylan’s Candy Store, where even the stairs are paved with candy! It’s a dream scenario for children, where they can fill up their baskets with scores of different sweets. And what young girl can resist American Girl Place, which is full of dream dolls, outfits and furniture? You can also have brunch, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner at the café with your favourite girl and her doll.
Tip: Shopping can get tiring. Remember that NYC has lots of yellow cabs as well as a very reliable subway and bus system, which takes the Mass Transit card. Buses accept the card and change only – so no paper currency.
Eating out is a big dilemma – how do you choose out of 20,000 restaurants? The good thing is, NYC has eateries to fit every style and budget – from 5-star palaces to the humble vendor carts that dot the city and get you everything from falafels to hot dogs. Whether it’s Thai, French, Italian or Mexican, you have so many choices.
I asked my two kid reviewers and they loved Ninja New York. A branch of a Tokyo restaurant, it’s built like an ancient village, with real live Ninjas and Japanese cuisine. A little pricey, but lots of scary surprises for your little ninjas and an amazing magic show!
If your children want a round of mini golf or bowling in the city, that can be done at Chelsea Piers. There are also behind-the-scenes tours of Radio City Music Hall, Broadway shows, the UN and the stock market. If your older kids are looking to a career in fashion, a walk through the Garment District will give them great ideas and a visit to the Costume Institute at the Met will show them what top designers have done.
Tip: Discover things organically. Throughout summer there are free street fairs, festivals, concerts and sidewalk performances. There is drama in the city streets!
Just for Mum and Dad
After doing so much for the children, parents will deserve a night out on the town. Hire a babysitter for the evening and enjoy some top restaurants, including Daniel, Union Square Cafe, Masa, Le Bernardin, La Grenouille, 11 Madison Park and Yasuda Sushi. Noted Indian restaurants are Tamarind, Tulsi, Junoon and Benares. You should check out the night life too. After all, New York never sleeps!