Family Friendly New York City

Posted 12/13/2009

When you think about New York City, family attractions are probably not quite the first thing you think of, right? Well, I was thinking the same thing, because while I have always had a total blast dining, drinking, and enjoying the theater and shopping here, I have never hit the Big Apple with kids in tow. This is one of a handful of American cities that I can visit over and over, but never get bored. With all the amazing attractions for adults, I figured there had to be lots to enjoy for me and the boys also. I hit New York city on a Friday afternoon in the company of my nephews: 6 year old Landon, and 12 year old Tyler.

Of absolute primary importance if you are visiting the city with kids: location, location, and, well, location. I wanted to be close enough to the center of things that we didn't have to drag ourselves in and out of the subway constantly, and I got the perfect place in the Doubletree Times Square Guest Suites. I loved this place because it is walking distance to a lot of major attractions, they really cater to the kids here, and even have a supervised children's program available for parents who want to get out and catch a musical or have a "grown up" dinner out. The hotel was really lovely, and was very spacious. The kids had a great time looking down at the great views and lounging around in the sitting area of the two room suite. I got the suite for just over $200 a night, which is a major bargain for a room and a Manhattan location this good.

We were within walking distance of many of our top picks, but we had to do the most important thing first: Being little boys, my nephews were irresistibly drawn to Madame Tussauds wax museum. I think the kids were expecting something a bit more creepy, but they really enjoyed the startling realism of these wax figures. A lot of the political figures were lost on the kids but they knew every celebrity and sports figure on sight. The kids absolutely had to see the Ripley's Believe It Or Not museum right next door as well, and we ended up liking that even more. They got their quota of creepiness here. There were lots of fun interactive exhibits that we really loved, especially the tunnel illusion- we did that one three times! Exhibits ranged from the fascinating to the just plain weird (two words here: headless chicken). Kids who are younger might be a little freaked out with some of these stranger exhibits, so I would not take a child too young in here.

We did the Empire State Building early on day two. I am firmly convinced of two things in regards to this attraction: It is best seen early in the morning (the views are beyond amazing!), and booking your tickets in advance is a requirement. I booked our tickets online a few days prior to our visit, and had I not done so we would have easily spent a couple of hours in line. (Hours in line + bored kids = bad combo.) The helicopter ride, a simulation that felt pretty realistic, was a big hit with the kids. The observation deck at the 86th floor offers some great views, but even at this early hour there was quite a crowd. I thought it was well worth an extra 15 dollars to get the ride all the way to the top, the 102nd floor. Conditions were a little cramped up there but it really was an incredible thrill to be up that high in the air.

Also on our second day, we headed over to Central Park in the afternoon. The children's zoo was a big hit, and we especially enjoyed the petting zoo that featured alpacas, a cow, and even a pot bellied pig that thrilled the boys to no end. I declined to get friendly with the pigs, but they were quite cute (from a distance of course). We took some time to wander, and enjoyed the lake views, then finished the afternoon up with a carousel ride. We ate an early dinner at the Boat House restaurant, where I was happy with the excellent food, and the kids were happy with the fact that ducks were constantly approaching us for handouts.

On Sunday morning we slept in a bit, as I was preparing for "kid's choice day". I told them they could each pick one activity for our last afternoon here. When they piped up with "FAO Schwartz" in unison, I was pretty happy to agree, having a few fond childhood memories here myself. Put simply, this place is so famous because it has the most amazing toys in the world. Shoppers love this place because it really does let the kids get hands on with the toys. Both boys were impressed with the giant, practically life sized, stuffed animals. We had some fun with the musical instruments and train sets as well. I did finally convince them that we don't need to take a ten foot tall stuffed giraffe home with us, and we departed after a couple of really fun hours.

When we started the weekend I was not entirely convinced I would be able to find enough fun things to do here for kids. By the time it was over I was just thinking about how much more that we still could have done if time permitted. What I learned this weekend: You can do the Big Apple with kids and have a total blast. Exhaustion may be a factor, but boredom never will!

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