THE BIG APPLE WITH LITTLE APPLES
We spent a week in New York City with our two kids: George (4) and Alice (21 months).
The excuse to go was partly George’s birthday (because, you know, every four-year old needs a birthday party in NYC) and partly because our friends were living there for a year with a fantastic apartment for guests to stay in.
The Engineer did his MBA in New York so we are already well-versed in the city and transit system.
I’m telling you this so you are fully aware that (a) we had good family accommodation and (b) we are not strangers to getting around the city.
AND IT STILL KICKED OUR ASS!!!!!
If you are planning a trip to New York with your kids be it the the first time or the twentieth, here is what I learned:
New York and its boroughs are full of fantastic family-friendly things to do and see.
Food is incredible and can be delivered anywhere and at all times.
There are so many carousels that even in a week we didn’t ride them all – and who doesn’t love carousels?!
Restaurants and stores are small which make manoeuvring with a stroller difficult.
Kids don’t seem to like walking aimlessly down streets for hours getting lost. Which is what I like to do in NYC.
The subway is NOT stroller friendly at all – very few stations are accessible.
No store or restaurant has those handy-dandy handicap buttons that automatically open doors and barely anyone will open a door for you.
WHERE TO STAY
I get asked this all the time and I answer the same thing every time: BROOKLYN.
Brooklyn, Brooklyn, Brooklyn.
I have made many Brooklyn converts so am quite confident that it really is the best choice – especially with kids.
You also can’t go wrong with Queens.
Accommodation in New York is expensive.
Beyond expensive. It’s prohibitively expensive for many.
Hotel rooms are small – so I can’t imagine stuffing a family of four in one for a week.
Manhattan hotels are in locations that are often busy and loud – another damper for a family.
Everyone always want to stay in Soho. Personally, I dislike Soho. It’s insanely busy. With tourists. Walking slow. Taking pictures of Dean & Deluca.
I would only use an Airbnb moving forward – I feel when travelling with kids you need laundry and space. Or you might go bananas.
Airbnb’s in Brooklyn are so much more affordable than those in Manhattan and are often close to green spaces – which is something I discovered we desperately needed on this trip.
I love (in no particular order) Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill, Park Slope, Fort Greene, Brooklyn Heights, Vinegar Hill and DUMBO.
This past trip was spent in DUMBO – an area that basically didn’t exist when we lived there but is now a very hip, busy neighbourhood full of restaurants, boutiques and the most fantastic playground and park. Warning: in the summer it gets VERY busy. Soho busy.
We loved it.
There is a lovely large park area just steps from where we stayed – every morning we walked with the kids and drank our iced coffees (from this place: FEED – which is a store but they have a café inside so don’t be confused) enjoying the view of the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridge.
Sidebar: FEED has the most insane cold nitro latte thing (and NO nitro has compared since) that is sooooo delicious. I may have racked up a small fortune drinking them everyday. But it goes to a fantastic cause!
Even when busy, we still had plenty of space down by the water to throw rocks and blow bubbles in the park.
There are a couple of playgrounds right by the water (and this fabulous playground about a ten minute walk away), lots of take-out food options (Shake Shack anyone?), a picnic area that is shaded, and, the best part of all . . .
Have I sold it to you yet?
My friend stayed further into Brooklyn in Park Slope just steps away from Prospect Park (by the same designer as Central Park, with a zoo and carousel but far less busy that it’s big brother in Manhattan) and really enjoyed it.
Although it was a bit of a trek to the city (20-30 minutes on the subway to midtown), she was able to afford a larger place.
I find that Manhattan’s energy is so frenetic and busy, staying out in areas like this with kids allows you to take those deep breaths you will need.
HOW TO GET AROUND
Taxi’s will be your friend. And taxi’s without carseats.
I was sure we would be taking the subway everywhere. I was very wrong.
The problem with DUMBO is that its only subway station is York.
York has about a billion steps.
Okay, just a long staircase but it may as well be a billion steps with a stroller.
My other Brooklyn stops are much the same – stairs only. Even in Manhattan, there are very few stops with an elevator.
And even when you do make it on the subway, it’s really difficult with a stroller. We took our big beast, the Uppababy Vista, to NYC. I was worried about this until I saw all the local moms and nannies with the same stroller.
The idea, however, of lugging that thing on the subway and getting dirty looks from commuters as we took up space had my anxiety levels on high.
So we walked most places.
And took taxi’s everywhere else.
George and Alice loved the taxis. And we had no problem fitting in them. There are tons on the road that are accessible and easily fit our stroller and all the crap we had to carry. The drivers were always lovely and helped us get in and out.
This method of transport is all dependant on your comfort level of riding in a car without a carseat. As we were not highway driving and mostly going 50KM/hr and less, we were okay with the idea.
Our new discovery this trip was the awesome FERRY.
Being in DUMBO, meant we were steps away to one of the ferry stops.
We took it everyday.
It took us to Battery Park downtown and then to East 34th Street. The trips might have been a bit long but the kids loved the ride, it gave us a chance to sit and look at the scenery, and they have bathrooms on board! And even a snack bar.
We actually used the ferry for nap times – the bobbing up and down lulled both kids into sleep.
**The ferry tickets are not included in your MTA passes**
If you are not comfortable with riding in a car sans car seats or if you need a ride to an airport (which obviously you will), I recommend Arecibo Car Service. They are fast, professional and have multiple car seats available for your multiple children. They are also the most reasonably priced. I used another service from Newark to Brooklyn that cost nearly $200 Canadian. I used Arecibo back to the airport and it was $110 Canadian.
HOW TO GET INTO AND OUT OF BUILDINGS
This one drove me batty on my last few days as I was there alone with the kids.
I am spoiled in Toronto where nearly every business has a handicap button that opens the door.
I don’t think I encountered even one in New York.
I was constantly doing that holding door with butt, pull in stroller, pivot, and close door dance.
Which was tough on two accounts: the stores/cafés are often so small that I had no room to pivot or (and the most frequent) NO ONE OFFERED TO HOLD THE DOOR OPEN!!!!!
I mean I know it’s my choice to have kids and lug a stroller around but one would think human decency would win out and people wouldn’t actively not help me.
But this seemed the case.
One guy ran ahead of me to get the door.
And then didn’t even try to push it open as he walked in for me to catch it!
Or the people that watched my friend and I struggle and then walked in as we held the door open with our butts and strollers for them (my friend very loudly said “I’m so sorry about your injured arms that prevent you from opening doors”).
So yeah, rudeness in NYC may not seem surprising but I have often found that New Yorkers are more polite than the world gives them credit for. Not in this case!
There were some lovely folks who did open doors and to be fair, in Toronto there are just as many rude people. There just also happen to be buttons to open the doors.
This wasn’t a big deal it just made it hard for me to go into places I wanted and I often gave up.
KIDS DON’T WANT TO WANDER
Kids don’t usually want to do what you want to do. Tiny jerks!
I had visions of us wandering Brooklyn or the Village and getting fun snacks here and there and popping into lovely boutiques.
As I write this, I realize how silly of me it was to even conceive of this idea. Lesson learned.
For a while the kids humoured me – but as stated above – it was so hard getting in and out of restaurants, cafes and boutiques I just gave up.
At least in Brooklyn (yes, I am obsessed) the sidewalks are wide and the streets are quiet – so it is a nice place for a family stroll. Both kids loved all the brownstones and stairs.
But I needed more kid-friendly things to do. NYC has no shortage.
NOW FOR THE GOOD
I was overwhelmed with the choice and had a list that we barely scratched off.
Both my kids loved New York. As I write this, in October, six months after the fact, my four year old still talks about New York City.
Sidebar: It’s now been a year. That’s how long these damn posts take. And my now FIVE year old still talks about New York.
Ready for my list? I thought so!
SARAH’S NYC LIST FOR KIDS
Click on links below to take you to the places I suggest!
As an adult, I’ve always loved this park.
There is something about sitting on the grass or at a table with the Chrysler Building on one side and the Empire State Building on the other.
And it’s a great place for kids.
Clean bathrooms (YES! Clean public bathrooms)
Lots of food options in and around the park.
A carousel, an outdoor library, lots of green grass for running, and fun programming for families.
We spent a good chunk of time here one afternoon.
The kids watched a juggling lesson (in the spring and summer this happens at noon everyday), listened to musicals with a piano and trumpet, rode on the carousel a few times, ate a picnic, chased pigeons and read a few books at the Reading Room.
On any given day, there are storytimes, dance lessons, musicians, games, chess, movies and Broadway musicals up on the screen.
Around Christmas it turns into a winter wonderland with an ice skating rink, holiday market, opera carolling, and Santa.
Great afternoon for the entire family!
Kids adore this museum with its dioramas and blue whale hanging from the ceiling. It’s pretty amazing for kids of all ages – I love the mammoth.
If our kids were older – I would definitely want to have a sleepover here. I’m sure it would be JUST like the movie right? Check out Night at the Museum
In the winter, they too have a fun ice rink out front complete with lit-up polar bears.
We also loved the Discovery Room made just for little people with a beautiful giant tree.
We came into the Bryant Park location to escape the rain and for me to charge my phone. It is quite old but they had the original Winnie the Pooh book on display and lots of great books to sit and read.
The building is stunning inside and both kids loved exploring.
They also loved the lions out front.
OH MY WORD.
I love this place.
LOVE LOVE LOVE this place.
We came for Elmo storytime. It was busy but my kids loved seeing Elmo. And it’s a book lovers dream. So many great books for kids and they always have fun and unique programming with visitors (ie staff members wearing slightly tired mascot costumes) like Elmo, the Gruffalo or Doc McStuffins.
Both kids loved going on the ferry and looking out for the Statue of Liberty.
Bonus: it’s free.
Double bonus: the terminal is next to the best carousel I have ever seen in my entire life. More on that later.
ALL THE ZOOS
New York has several zoos and all are fantastic! There is the Prospect Park zoo in Brooklyn – smaller and quiet with a sea lion area that my kids loves.
Central Park has a zoo near the Alice in Wonderland statue. It’s also small but with sea lions, a snow leapard and penguins.
And then, of course, the Bronx Zoo which is the zoo to end all zoos (save for San Diego). Although the latter is quite far and definitely requires a full day.
In DUMBO, we went on this everyday. It’s named after Jane Walentas (wife of the developer of the Empire Fulton Ferry State Park) who lovingly took 20 years to restore this carousel to its 1922 glory.
And glorious it is!
Seriously one of the loveliest carousels I’ve ever seen. It’s open all year long, rain or shine and costs $2 per ride!!! BARGAIN! Kids under 3 are free and must be accompanied by an adult (also free!).
I can’t tell you how often we went on this one. What a fantastic way to end the day and watch the sun set over the Manhattan skyline. It’s a magnet for weddings and quinceañeras so offers excellent people watching fun. Myself and the kids were especially facsinated with the elaborate and colourful quinceañera dresses.
OH. MY. WORD.
THIS CAROUSEL BLEW MY MIND.
I won’t lie. I full on had an emotional moment and cried on this carousel.
Located in Battery Park, right next to the <FREE> ferry to Staten Island where you can go check out the Statue of Liberty, this carousel opened just a few years ago and is meant to invoke the park’s early history of housing an aquarium.
It is on the pricey side ($5 – which doesn’t seem like much until someone in your party insists on going on 4 times. And no, it wasn’t either of my children) but completely worth it.
I can’t even fully describe the movement of these fibreglass fishies suffice to say it feels like you are on a ride in an underwater ballet.
What made me cry? Well we had the entire thing to ourselves and as the ride started, “Dream a Little Dream” sung by Ella Fitzgerald began to play. Even my husband who was watching us thought to himself “oh god, Sarah is going to lose it”. The dreamy song, the dreamy fish and the whole place to ourselves sent me in a tizzy of happiness.
So yeah, this is a ride you will definitely love.
How can you not love a carousel smack-dab in the middle of Manhattan with a view of the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building?
It’s $3 a ride or $20 for 10 rides, this charming, French-style carousel playing cabaret music.
This is a must for kids and adults.
As the name suggests, this carousel is in Central Park.
This is a beautiful, historical carousel that is one of the largest in the States. It’s very beautiful and also very fast. Therefore my children refused to ride on it!
It costs $3.25/ride and they are cash only.
You can definitely take your kids to a Broadway show. Or the myriad of theatre available for families.
When we were there, we went to see The Very Hungry Caterpillar which was MAGICAL. I cried.
And then it played in Toronto so I felt less special. Ha!
I also took the kids to see The Gruffalo at Tribeca Performing Arts Center which I thought was incredible.
Just like shows on Broadway, the choice changes all the time but here are some ideas for your family:
Frozen the Musical – this is on Broadway and I am assured is absolutely fantastic.
Gazillion Bubble Show – My friends just took their 4-year old there and said it was so much fun for the younger kids. Make sure to book a seat close to the stage for the full effect!
Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre – this is up in Central Park and they have a wonderful ongoing season. My kids love puppet shows – I wish we had more in Toronto.
Listings are always changing and one of the BEST sources I have found for New York theatre for kids (and basically ALL activities with kids) is here: MOMMY POPPINS
AAAAAAAHHHH! I seriously want to book a ticket right now back to NYC just to go here.
My kids would freak OUT! There is a Cupcake and Rainbows Cafe. A CUPCAKE AND RAINBOW CAFE!!!!!
This is sort of a given but if you have kids – you need to burn off their energy.
The playgrounds in Manhattan can be a bit . . . . cementy . . . . but there are a few that are fun. And there is, of course, my favourite ones in Brooklyn.
What if you and your partner want a date night? This is a city where you can find anything in a heartbeat and babysitters are no different. Except to pay a higher price than at home but you guys deserve a night out!
There are many more things I could add. New York seems to be one giant playground for kids and parents – it’s fantastic that way!
But like I said, it’s also exhausting.
We had a wonderful time. I admit I would look longingly at adults sipping wine on patios enjoying the spring air while we ate Shake Shack in the park.
BUT, there is only one time in your life to see NYC through the eyes of your excited child.
That’s what I keep telling myself.