Saturday, April 16, 2011

New York: The Big Apple with Kids

Model Boat at Conservatory Waters
We have been to New York City four times with the kids and are always impressed by how much there is to do for families. I suppose that's one of the many reasons why we keep returning. We are also impressed by the friendliness of New Yorkers -- from returning a forgotten hat, to helping get strollers up and down stairs to being stopped a million times by concerned people who wanted me to know my baby had lost his sock (it was in the stroller). Don't be scared of bringing your kids to the Big Apple, they will love it as much as my kids do!

There are two major airlines that fly to New York City out of Toronto: Air Canada and Porter.

Air Canada flies out of Pearson to La Guardia and Newark. Of the two, La Guardia is closer to Manhattan, but it is a much busier airport. The advantage of flying out of Pearson also means that you pass through customs on the Canadian side.

Porter flies out of Billy Bishop Airport (on the Toronto Islands) to Newark. Billy Bishop is a much nicer airport to fly out of then Pearson, but you have to pass through customs once you land in Newark (which can sometimes be busy, and sometimes very empty). Newark is also the furthest from Manhattan.

When given the option, we choose to fly with Porter. The price is typically cheaper and both Billy Bishop and Newark are nicer airports than Pearson or La Guardia. Porter also has more perks than Air Canada.

With both US airports though, be prepared for flight delays due to heavy air traffic.

When travelling with the kids, we have often used a car service that provides car seats. Legends Limousine, is one reputable company that provides that service. Kid Car NY is a car service focused on transporting kids around New York City. They professional install their car seats and use vehicles that have room for packages and strollers.

Be aware that traffic, especially from Newark to Manhattan can be pretty "nightmarish" at times. On our most recent visit in September 2010 via Newark, we were stuck in traffic, mostly not moving, for two hours. So, depending on how much luggage you have, you might want to consider taking public transportation. This is something I am considering on doing on our next trip.

The Newark Airport to Manhattan AirTrain takes you to Penn Station in 25 minutes (compared to about 45 minutes in a cab, when there is no traffic).

We prefer to stay as close to Central Park as we can afford, preferably in the family friendly Upper East side

The Surrey
20 East 76th Street - Upper East Side
A fantastic hotel in a great location. It's about a 5 minute walk to Central Park and there is a great grocery store, D'Agostino, about a 5 minute walk away. We stayed here several times BEFORE they did the renovations, which involved closing the hotel down for at least a year. The new hotel looks beautiful, but I suspect the price has increased to reflect it. They have several one-bedroom suites.

Le Parker Meridien
119 West 56th Street - Midtown
Has a variety of one and two-bedroom suites to suit you family's needs. These suites also include full kitchens, and there is a pool. It's located within easy walking distance to Central Park.

Affinia Gardens
215 East 64th Street - Upper East Side/Lennox Hill
Has a variety of one and two-bedroom suites with full kitchens. The Affinia Gardens offers a "family fun chest" full of board games as well as family oriented activities to enhance your stay. Cribs, strollers and high chairs are also available, subject to availability. Affinia Gardens is also within walking distance to Central Park. Check out this recommendation from The Globe and Mail.

Vacation Rental Accommodation in the Upper East Side
This vacation rental, located in the Upper East Side, is actually a 3-unit brownstone apartment building. We stayed in the ground floor unit that the family personally lives in (they, obviously, were not there). This unit has three bedrooms, a play structure in the backyard, a magazine quality kitchen and many other beautiful amenities. The location was great as it was a short walk to both Central Park and Carl Schurz park, though much closer to Carl
Schurz than Central Park. It's in a quiet, more residential area of the city. 

There is so much for kids to do in New York City that you will have to narrow your "must-sees" down to a few select ones. I have to admit that we typically get as far as Central Park, and that's about it. We usually go for a long weekend, so will throw in an adult activity, like the MET or the MOMA. But I find that Central Park, coffee in hand, keeps both the kids and parents happy. We also find that once we go wandering down a street, particularly in the more residential neighbourhoods, we'll run into a fair, art display, busker show, etc. New York lives its life on the streets and it doesn't take much planning to breathe it in. These are the places that we have enjoyed on our trips with the kids:

Central Park
Central Park is a huge and wonderful park paradise for kids, singletons, couples, dogs, and squirrels. You can spend your whole day here, and as I have already admitted, you can spend several days here. Some of our favourite places in Central Park include:
Central Park Zoo - Lots to see and do. One of my older son's favourites was the Tisch Petting Zoo. Bonus, the zoo serves very healthy meals in their cafeterias.
Alice and Wonderland Sculpture - when my son was 22 months, we spent about an hour and half climbing over, through and around the Alice and Wonderland Sculpture. Strangely, we all had a blast.
Model Boat Sailing at Conservatory Waters - What kid would not want to sail their own large model boat? You may find that it's hard to keep yourself away from it too.
Buskers - There are buskers EVERYWHERE in Central Park -- musicians, magicians, etc. who will thrill and entertain your kids (make sure you bring change to tip them)
Playgrounds, playgrounds, playgrounds - There are LOTS of playgrounds for your children to roam and to make new friends. Many have splash pads, so be sure to bring a bathing suit or a change of clothes.

Carl Schurz Park
Carl Schurz Park is a 14 acre (about 6 hectare) green space located along the East River. It is not as busy as Central Park, so it's easier to find a quiet space to read a book or rub shoulders with actual New York residents (versus other tourists). The park also provides beautiful views of the East River. The playground at Carl Schurz is called the Catbird playground and it's an excellent place to bring your kids. It also has a splashpad, so make sure you bring bathing suits or a change of clothes.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art (or MET) is one of the world's premier art museums and probably at the top of our "must dos" when we are in New York City. It can be fun for kids too, just don't expect to spend 8 hours at the museum. One of the best ways to keep your kids engaged, and make it fun for the whole family, is to pick a section or two and make it a scavenger hunt. So, if your children are into monsters, see how many paintings or sculptures they can find with monsters, such as Andromeda and the Sea Monster. Bring crayons and a book and ask them to draw their favourite monster.

For more ideas on how to enjoy the musuem as a family, check out one of the MET's family guides, that covers topics from amour, to mythical creatures to dancers. There is also a great "kid map" of the MET available on this page, so they can also look at where they would like to explore.

Another great way to enjoy the museum is to sign up for a family program. There are a lot of programs offered from sketching for 3 to 7 year olds to storytime in the Nolan library to family audio guides. There is also a great interactive website developed by the MET. To learn more about these exciting activities, visit the MuseumKids section of the MET's website.

If looking for a quiet reprieve from the museum, check out the Roof Garden Cafe. It was a nice selection of sandwiches, but the best part are the views of Central Park and the New York City skyline. Your children will love running around the open space, while you take in the view. On another note, the Roof Garden becomes a martini bar at least until it closes at 8:30pm. A great way to start a date night out in New York City.

Strollers, with the exception of oversized or jogging strollers, are permitted in most galleries of the MET. Back carriers are available free of charge at the coat check. Most of the washrooms have diaper changing stations.

New York City Ballet
Full disclosure -- I have never taken my kids to the New York City Ballet. A friend of mine did, well more like an acquaintance whose daughter was in the same after school activity as my son.  The reason why I mention it is that you can book a 45 minute dance session with the performers for your children BEFORE a matinee show. How cool is that?!! My friend, uhm, acquaintance's daughter, LOVED her session. To read more about it, check out the New York City Ballet's Children's Workshops

There are lots of kid friendly restaurants in New York City. Here are a few:
Alice's Tea Cup
Several Locations
Is a lovely little teahouse that will sure to delight your children. I took my sons, and I thought it was a lovely place...unfortunately, they are more into playing knights then they are at playing tea. I hope one day to have a niece so I can take her here...or a granddaughter.

Chinatown Ice Cream Factory 
65 Bayard Street
Ice cream with a Chinese twist!


NYC Artist Babysitting Agency
Artsitters is a babysitting service with a twist -- they employ artists, such as Broadway performers, photographers, and other creative people to take care of your children. They have a no TV policy, so your children will be creatively engaged while with the artsitter. We had the pleasure of experiencing the wonderful artsitters at a private party, where the children were engaged making crafts so the parents could have some adult company time.

Metropolitan Sitters 
Another babysitting service.

Baby Equipment Rental
Granny's Rentals
We have used this company several times. Read my blog on Baby Equipment Rentals.

Baby's Away
Another baby equipment rental company.

New York Car Seat Laws
For more information about New York Car Seat laws, in both private vehicles and taxis, check out my car seat blog.

New York is a city full of writers and parents who are writers. Here are some great blogs from parents in New York City about life with kids in New York City.

Mommy Poppins
Provides the inside scoop on what's cool in New York for kids and their grown-up entourage.

Baby Meets City
Blogger writes about navigating the city with a baby in tow, NYC kid-related happenings, store/restaurant reviews & general musings on Motherhood.

Time Out New York Kids
A guide to what's happening in New York City...for kids

A list of neat books to prepare your children about your upcoming trip.

This is New York
By Miroslav Sasek
6-8 year olds

By Kay Thompson
Preschoolers 3 - 5 year olds

Larry Gets Lost in New York City
By John Skewes
4 - 8 year olds

Hello, New York City
By David Walker
2 - 5 year olds

*book photos are from the linked site.


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  3. This blog is so helpful. We now live driving distance (5 hours or so) to New York city so we will definitively go and visit. I love that you include children books as preparation for the trip. Wonderful idea!

    1. Thanks Isabelle! Books are my favourite way of introducing my children to where we will be visiting and learning about its sites and history. I hope your family enjoys New York City as much as we do.

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