Updated: Sep 13, 2019
Is ‘the Big Apple’ worth the mammoth flight time and jetlag with children? Louise Drake finds out.
When the opportunity arose to meet Daddy in New York for a long weekend I found myself in a bit of a dilemma: kids or no kids – read, ‘shopping or no shopping’. Being the good mum that I am, I decided it would be a great experience for the children, so a family holiday it was.
Ghostbusters, Night in the Museum, Home Alone 2, Miracle on 34th Street; a trip to New York was like visiting movie paradise as far as the kids were concerned, and I have to confess it felt a bit like that for me, too. I couldn’t wait to see the yellow taxis I’d seen in so many films, the steam escaping the manholes and all the iconic sights.
One of the most iconic attractions has to be the Statue of Liberty. There are a few companies offering trips to visit Lady Liberty, they involve a ferry to Liberty Island and access to the statue, along with a visit to Ellis Island, home to the Ellis Island Immigration Museum. When visiting the Statue of Liberty you can book tickets to allow a climb just to the pedestal or all the way up to the crown. Some tickets also allow you to skip the queues, which can be long and hot in the summer months. Security checks can take a while, too.
We opted to jump on the Staten Island ferry and take in the statue from the water. The Staten Island Ferry is what remains of an extensive ferry system that used to transport people around New York’s boroughs and suburbs before the bridges were built. Today the ferry transports 22 million people a year between St George on Staten Island and lower Manhattan, and at no cost. Yes, you read that correctly, it’s free. It runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at 15-20 minute intervals during the week and 30-minute intervals at the weekend.
The Staten Island Ferry is essentially a commuter ferry, but an iconic one. A trip on the bright-orange boat is not unlike a trip on the Star Ferry, although at approximately 25 minutes it’s a longer journey. It’s best to head to the right-hand side of the top deck when heading toward Staten Island, so as to get the best views of the Statue of Liberty, but the crowds will probably make it obvious. The ferry gets closer to the statue on the outbound leg of the journey, so has better photo opportunities then. You might not get up close and personal to the statue, but it’s more relaxed and a much cheaper way of seeing it; you also get great views of Governors Island and Manhattan Island. When you arrive at Staten Island, you can either explore, or hop straight back onto a return ferry, as we did.
Central Park was a big hit with the children and allowed them to run off some steam. Climb the Alice in Wonderland sculpture (when we were there it had added theatrical entertainment courtesy of a drama student in full costume reading from the book), take a football to kick around, join in a softball game, row a boat in the lake, see the turtles in turtle pond, jog around the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir or rent a bike to take it all in – the park, at 843 acres, is a huge oasis and the ‘lungs of the city’.
The Empire State Building is another must-see sight, but here you have the choice of climbing the building itself (and braving the hoards of people) or climbing to the top of another well-known tower that affords great views of the Empire State Building. We opted for the latter, heading to the 70th floor of the Rockefeller Centre, also known as ‘Top of the Rock’. Tickets cost US$30 and buying them online makes it faster. Sunset tends to be popular, for obvious reasons.
Dining in New York is another highlight, be it breakfast, lunch or dinner. Breakfasts are large; even the kids couldn’t eat all the pancakes (we liked The Smith). For lunch how can you resist a typical New York bagel, and the dinner options will leave you spoilt for choice. Some of our favourites were Locanda Verde in Tribeca. Part of Robert DeNiro’s restaurant empire, it serves delicious and comforting Italian food amidst a buzzing atmosphere. We went for Sunday dinner and ‘My Grandmother’s Ravioli’ was a big hit with the children.
The Grand Central Oyster Bar was more for our benefit than the children’s, but as my son likes train stations it wasn’t too hard a sell. It’s a fantastic restaurant located within the bustling, fabulous Grand Central Station and oozes charm of a bygone era. The seafood on offer will blow your mind. Oysters with perfectly paired wine; yes, please.
One of the children’s favourite restaurants came within the ‘novelty’ category: Ninja New York. Located in Tribeca, this Japanese restaurant serves fairly decent, if overpriced, food.
The poké was very good, but the main draw is the décor and the ninjas who serve the food. Essentially they make you jump, lots, and charge for the pleasure. The kids loved it though. (Did I mention that at this point Daddy was at the Foo Fighters concert in Madison Square Gardens? Apparently if there is a good concert on while you’re visiting New York you should definitely go, especially if it’s a legendary rock band!).
For a special meal sans kids, we went to Daniel. A French restaurant in the heart of Manhattan, this one definitely comes under the ‘extravagant’ category and has a dress code specifying that men wear a jacket. Tables are not easy to come by so it’s worth booking in advance. If you can stretch to a set menu with wine pairing you won’t be disappointed. We organised a childminder for the evening through Sitters Studio; “A unique arts-based agency that provides families with artistic caregivers and creative childcare solutions”. It was a shame the children were asleep for most of the time as it sounded fun. Full details of the sitter were sent in advance and it was a very professional service.
To work off some of that fantastic food we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, New York’s most iconic suspension bridge. It takes around 30 minutes and offers incredible downtown views en route, especially if you time it with sunset. Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass, or Dumbo, as the area is known, is the area between the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge, consisting of outdoor parks, bars and restaurants, and even an old-fashioned carousel. Be sure to visit the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory if it’s a hot day.
Museums are another attraction that New York excels at and it’s undoubtedly home to some of the best museums in the world. There’s the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim Museum, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and those are just some of the art-focussed ones. During our short stay we visited the American Museum of Natural History. You could spend hours here, days even. We prioritised the things the children wanted to see, like the dinosaurs, and made sure we visited the current exhibition on Our Senses, which was a very interactive experience. Some exhibits require an additional ticket. If you are considering a few museums, it’s worth getting the CityPass as it makes it cheaper and gives you priority at some locations. It also includes sites such as the Statue of Liberty.
No one could fail to be moved by a visit to Ground Zero and the 9/11 Memorial. I was very impressed by the monument. It has been designed very well with the names of all those who lost their lives placed around the side with water cascading from it. We didn’t visit the museum with the children, but used it as an opportunity to talk to them about what had happened there.
During our time in New York, we stayed at The Surrey in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. It is more suited to business travellers but welcomed our two children with open arms, and was perfectly located for Central Park and many of the museums. The service was good and it had a great rooftop bar. Another recommended hotel is Conrad New York, which is made up of all suites, so it works well for families. Getting around New York was pretty easy. Walk, hop on the subway, take a taxi or an Uber, all very manageable.
Our few days in New York were a huge success. There is so much to do there, so yes, it certainly is worth the mammoth flight. It’s even worth doing the flight again. There’s plenty on our ‘to do’ list still to do. And yes, Mummy would still like to do a spot of shopping.
Conrad New York
Ninja New York
Staten Island Ferry