A family trip to New York
During half term week we took Ryland on an amazing adventure to New York, thanks to a prize I won in the Norwegian Airlines and Gatwick Airport ‘Americana in the UK’ photo competition. To my surprise, we even got an upgrade to Premium Economy on our outbound flights, with super comfortable seats and excellent service – I didn’t think airlines ever gave kids a free upgrade! The new Norwegian Dreamliners have big windows and loads of overhead space throughout the entire plane, so overall the flight was a much nicer experience than going on a stuffy older plane. Our overnight flight home only took 5 and a half hours (Ry slept the entire time!) so the journey was a doddle.
This was my third visit to New York. My first trip was backpacking around the US and Canada, a few days before 9/11. My last trip was ten years ago when I took my Mum courtesy of a win with Maybelline. I loved NY but wondered how much would have changed in the last decade!
As an adult, you can easily squeeze lots into a 2 or 3 night trip, but we decided to stay for 5 nights so we could see as much as possible without exhausting Ryland. The temperature was as low as -16º some mornings, so we definitely has to take that into consideration and limit our time outdoors. Luckily, I had my cosy hood (a prize from Viva Brighton and Merrimaking) to keep me warm!
Here are my top tips for making the best of a family break in the Big Apple…
Enjoying New York with a 5 year old
- Stay centrally. We used my Avios to book the Sheraton, which was walking distance from Times Square, Broadway, MoMA, Central Park and the Rockefeller Center. Our room was on the 41st floor and Ryland loved staring out of the window!
- Enjoy a huge breakfast. The seats in American diners are great for wriggly kids – you can sit next to them and trap them up against the wall so they can’t escape! Ryland loves bacon pancakes (I blame Adventure Time) and had them three mornings in a row. We dined at Pom Pom (cheap and cheerful), Ellen’s Stardust Diner (busy, loud and entertaining thanks to singing waitresses), Astro (classic) and Cafe LaLo (a range of strange European breakfasts and MASSIVE cakes). Watch out though – if you want an English cuppa in an American diner, you’ll pay $3.50 and get a mug of hot water and a teabag in a packet. Stick to what the Yanks do best – coffee!
- Go to the park. Although the temperature was way below zero, we still ventured to Central Park for playtime. Snowballs, hilarious sledging (with hay bales stacked at the bottom of the hill for safety!) and skating ensured it was a delight for small people as well as grown ups. I’m a huge Beastie Boys fan so we also went to pay our respects to MCA at Adam Yauch Park in Brooklyn, where we played basketball for an hour or two and then warmed up with a pint and and Hot Chocolate at ChipShop.
- Visit the Intrepid Museum. While researching for our trip, I printed off a 2 for 1 admission ticket for the Intrepid and I’m so glad we went. A museum in a huge ship, alongside a submarine, aeroplanes, helicopters AND the Space Shuttle Enterprise – it was simply amazing. Some of the volunteers who work there actually served on the Intrepid – one chap Jerry showed us photos of himself in the 1970s when he was a teenager being catapulted from the deck in his plane. We got involved in several of the #KidsWeek activities – Mad Science, a Curious George screening and more. My highlight was an inspiring talk by Amelia Rose Earhart, who copied her namesake and flew round the world last year – although my husband and son will probably say that ‘flying’ a helicopter was the best bit (with Rob doing his best Tom Cruise impression!).
- Go underground. You can get a week’s metro/bus pass for just $30 and kids go free. Sure, the NY Metro is shabby compared to London or Tokyo but there’s a lot less walking from street to train and Ryland loved it. The street naming system means it’s very hard to get lost in the city too!
- Walk the High Line. The High Line is a mile and a half of public park created along an old freight train line on the West Side of Manhattan. There’s lots to look at, with views of Manhattan and the Hudson River, and I bet in summer it’s glorious. The only problem is that it’s not close to a metro station!
- Spend hours in the American Museum of Natural History. Annoyingly, after queueing outside to get into the huge lobby, nobody tells you that you don’t actually have to join another massive queue for the ticket desk, but can buy full-price tickets at one of the many machines with a swipe of your credit card, and walk straight in! Surprisingly, Ry wasn’t too bothered by the excellent dinosaur room but found the Hall of Human Origins fascinating (so did I!). It’s worth taking a seat in the gem room – it’s dimly lit with lots of stairs and walls for kids to climb on and run round. And the gems themselves – especially the radioactive and phosphorescent ones – are gorgeous. You have to go and see Dum Dum from Night at the Museum of course – there was a queue of grown men waiting for a photo with him! And it’s worth paying extra for the planetarium show (don’t go up in the lift until the time of the show though, you’re left to wait around for ages with the kids getting twitchy) – the Dark Universe show was pretty mind-blowing in terms of science, but still kept Ry enthralled.
- Top of the Rock. Being a huge fan of Sleepless in Seattle, I’ve been up the Empire State Building twice. This time we wanted to avoid the painful queues, and opted for the top floor of the Rockefeller Center. This was a much better view, so you can actually get the classic shot of Manhattan featuring the Empire State itself! There’s also a pretty cool room at the top where lights on the walls and ceiling follow your movements – this kept Ryland entertained when it was too cold to go outside. I just wish they had a bar or restaurant up there – I love a pint with a view!
- Staten Island Ferry. Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty doesn’t offer much entertainment for small children, so we hopped onto the free Staten Island Ferry instead for a great view of Manhattan and a distant view of the Statue of Liberty – head for the right hand side of the boat when you board for the best photo opportunities.
- Eat burgers. We went to Burger Joint in the Parker Meridien Hotel, hidden away behind reception (look for the neon sign!). Great burgers, beer AND you’re encouraged to write on the walls, so a treat for a biro-wielding Ryland – I’ll take a Stabilo fineliner or Sharpie next time though!
- See a Broadway Show. Even with discounted tickets it costs an arm and a leg, but having only ever been to one big musical in my life I thought this would be a great way to spend a warm afternoon in a cold city! And Matilda was magnificent – laugh out loud funny, touching and beautifully choreographed. Take your own refreshments though – a bottle of water and bag of M&Ms cost me a whopping $10 in the theatre!
We also visited the Children’s Museum of Manhattan, and although Ry enjoyed it and the ‘Hello Japan’ part was amazing, he was soon ready to leave – it’s better suited to pre-schooolers! We didn’t get to MoMA this time but apparently they have excellent art and interactive family sessions at the weekends. We would have walked over Brooklyn Bridge to visit Brooklyn Bridge Park and Dumbo had it not been so cold! I’d also like to visit 911 Ground Zero, but that will be something for when Ryland is older.
My other tips for travelling with a 5 year old – Ryland loves Match Attax cards and Top Trumps and a bundle of these in my handbag was enough to entertain him for hours in a bar or restaurant whilst we relaxed.
If you’re out and about, look for your closest Starbucks – you can stand outside and access their free WiFi without logging in, which is a great help if you’re lost, or looking for a place to eat or drink locally.
Oh yes, as Ryan Adams once sang, I still love you New York… I’ll be back soon!