Traveling with children is a whole different ball of wax than traveling as a pair of adults. I’ve written about traveling in London with children, but this trip to New York City was interesting because the Boy and I had just recently done a quick trip up ourselves in the not too distant past. I like to plan things out a little bit, or at least give whichever travel group I’m with options for activities, so planning travel isn’t that much different – it’s just collecting the possibilities of what your trip may contain. But with kids, you have the added wrinkle of them getting tired, them getting bored, the activity being too young or too advanced for them. It’s a tricky balance to strike. Anyways – these are my tips from our trip a few weeks ago.
- Amtrak has the possibility of being a VERY cheap ticket. If you can buy train tickets far enough in advance, it’s possible to score a very low adult fare. For under $200 round trip, we got seats for both myself and the girls. This is because kids ages 2-12 get half-price fares on coach tickets. Children under the age of 2 ride free, which is also terrific, but they aren’t entitled to a seat, so keep that in mind. More details on the Amtrak website. But seriously – if you have the option to ride the train with kids, do it. It’s much less cramped than a bus, and while the trains tend to be late, they also don’t break down the way a Megabus can do. And there’s also dining cars where they sell snacks if you didn’t pack any of your own for the trip. Note: getting seats together on the train home from NYC can be difficult. Consider breaking your group up into the smallest component adult-child groups, and trying to find seats together that way. The farther you get away from NYC, more seats together will open up, and you can move together at the end of the trip (with conductor knowledge). Another note: if you see a porter in a red cap at the station and you have kids, ask if there’s priority boarding for those with children. Sometimes that can help you all get on and get a seat together early.
- Central Park is the best. Why is Central Park the best? There’s so much to see and do, and for the most part, it’s free! There are dozens of playgrounds in addition to rocky areas which demand to be scrambled up. The views are gorgeous. There are many pieces of art and sculpture that are of interest to children – especially the Hans Christian Anderson statue, and the Alice and Wonderland statue. It’s also easy to stare at the remote-control sailboats for a long time. Sure there’s the zoo, and places where you too can rent a boat (of large or small size), but I like to think of Central Park as the perfect place for kids to run around and get out some excess energy.
- There are so many options for food, so focus. The main requests we had for food on this trip was really good bagels, and sushi. We didn’t end up getting sushi, but I did find a Japanese udon restaurant that was highly rated on Yelp, and so that was our dinner one evening, and it was so freaking delicious. Maybe not what sushi-crazy E was hoping for, but just different and adventurous enough, but who doesn’t love a noodle soup? As for bagels, our hotel happened to be 2 blocks or so from one of the best rated bagel shops in NYC. Unfortunately, that’s a well known fact, so we had the pleasure of that other NYC experience, which is waiting in line for popular food, and it was probably an hour+ that we stood there. This is not something I recommend if you have kiddos under the age of 6. But since the girls are a little older, and able to practice a little patience (though their patience and ours was tested regularly by cranky attitudes), we stood in line, and when the bagels came, they were really really good. As in, rated right up there with our neighborhood bagel guy by the girls, which is high praise indeed.
- The best way to get tickets to a Broadway show (if you’re not picky) is the TKTS stand. You can see the shows that are available on any given day on the TKTS website, but that’s not set in stone, and tickets for a particular show may sell out before you can get to the ticket window. It’s also possible that the show you want won’t have “cheap” tickets and your only choice for a certain performance will be expensive or nothing. So make sure you have a few different options in mind. As I wrote about earlier in the month, we saw “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812”, which I thought was wonderful, but perhaps was not the best choice for kids. Since it’s not a traditional musical, and it’s also based on one of the most notorious tomes in Russian literature, we should have known better. More traditional musicals with simpler plots are probably a better way to go with kids. Our other choices had been School of Rock and Anastasia, and as much as I enjoyed The Great Comet, I can’t help but wonder if our Broadway experiences might have been more fulfilling for everyone in our group if we hadn’t chosen such a challenging show? Something for everyone else to keep in mind in the future…
- Check for special events geared towards children. The Time Out NYC website has a great section devoted to things to do with children, and it lists dozens of special events for days in the coming weeks and months. The Boy had been interested in taking the girls over to see the Intrepid, which is an aircraft carrier that has been turned into a permanent museum. But I found out that there was a special Space and Science festival happening at the Intrepid pier while we were in town, and it was also free, which is a big selling point when you’re walking around with a group of four. The girls got to play with Legos, learn about drones, talk to high school robotics club students, try on VR goggles, and we even came away from it with some cool NASA posters that will soon be framed and hanging in their room. All in all, a good use of our time and (no) money!
- Don’t overplan. Children need to go to bed early. You may want to sleep in late. Chances are that little legs will not move as fast from point to point as you expected, and one activity may be entrancing enough to distract your kiddo for longer than you thought. Give yourself options, but don’t tie yourself down to a schedule. Better to over-prepare and not need every suggested activity than to find yourself floundering. New York is a city that while it changes constantly will probably still have all the old standbys. If you can’t fit in the Empire State Building AND the Statue of Liberty – they’ll be there in the future. But kids are unpredictable, and it’s better to accommodate their needs than to press on and make everyone in your group miserable.
And that’s all I’ve got. Has anyone else taken kids to New York before? Do you have any tips? BTW – we stayed at this Marriott, and while it may have been a little pricier than other options, the family/connecting two-room suite was an amazing way to stop kids who don’t like sharing a bed from fighting, and also give the parents the ability to have personal time after kids have gone to bed without fear of waking the kids.