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A Family Vacation in New York

By Lisa McElroy

If you've done New York City with the kids, I'm betting that you've hit all of the old favorites: the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, the Lion King show on Broadway. But there's so much more to do on a family vacation in New York – lots of it known mostly to insiders.

Need some tips for your next trip? We hit the New York pavement with school-aged kids to find all of the Big Apple's hidden treasures.

Where to Stay

New York is full of hotels – you could stay at a different one every night for a year and still not hit them all. But when you're staying with kids, you want something fun, something special, something tailored to kids. Get a great night's sleep at some of these fun hotel options:

  • At the Strand, kids will love the comfy beds, plus the proximity to the Empire State Building (face it, you have to do it at least once) and Bryant Park (where they'll definitely want to skate). The lobby restaurant has lots of kid-friendly options and a terrific breakfast buffet.
  • The Benjamin Hotel welcomes the whole family – even your four-legged friends! The luxury boutique hotel offers rooms with two double beds as well as large, comfortable suites; the "Good Night, Sleep Tight" package includes a plush owl, bedtime stories, and milk and cookies at turn down.
  • Want to accrue hotel points? The New York Hilton is centrally located and offers all the amenities that Hilton prides itself upon. It's especially convenient to Times Square and the theater district, and Central Park is just a few blocks away.
  • If you need extra space, the Homewood Suites just across the river in Edgewater, New Jersey, is a great bet. The kids will love the eight-minute ferry ride as much as they do the huge, free breakfast!

Where to Eat

If your kids are like mine, you're not only looking for sit-down restaurants, but you're also looking for snacks on the go – and what better way to explore New York than through hopping from cupcake bakery to popsicle shop? After all, you're on vacation . . . fill your kids up with New York's best kid cuisine.

  • On a hot summer day, head to PopBar , (5 Carmine St. at Sixth Ave.), which offers handcrafted Italian gelato on a stick - delicious and fun for both kids and parents. And since they only use natural ingredients and no additives, it's a wholesome treat. Popbars are made fresh daily by hand, in the store – but what's most fun is that your child can "make her own popsicle," because the pops are available "naked" (just pure flavor) or with dippings and poppings like melted chocolate, nuts, coconut, and so on.
  • Need a hot cup of coffee? Grab one at CupcakeStop's flagship store (70 Greenwich Ave. off of 7th Ave.) – and let the kids chow down on cupcakes to die for (The Food Network named CupcakeStop best cupcake on "Food Feuds.") The café features a menu every kid dreams about from brownies and cupcakes, to cakes and chocolate-covered pretzels.
  • New York is all about brunch . . . and we found the best kids' brunch in the city. Delight in the playfulness of jazz with your little ones as you stomp, shuffle, swing and brunch together! Smoke Jazz and Supper Club has a Swingin' Saturday Sandbox series with none other than jazz vocalist and Broadway star Lea Delaria. Lea showcases the art of jazz singing in an interactive and unique performance every Saturday at 11:00 and 1:00, while kids and parents sing along and partake from the kid-friendly brunch menu.

Where to Play - Indoors

Sometimes, you just can't drag the kids outside – face it, New York gets super-cold in winter, unbearably hot in summer. Still, even on days when the weather just won't cooperate, there's tons to do with your little ones. Keep them running at some of these hot spots:

  • Since Lucky Strike Lanes arrived in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood in 2008 (don't be scared by the neighborhood's name – it's a fun part of town), it has remained the most popular New York City bowling experience. Lucky Strike blends the traditional bowling alley with a fun restaurant vibe, keeping local families and celebrities coming back again and again. Don't miss the served-at-your-lane appetizers like beef teriyaki skewers and fried mac and cheese. (Note well: Parents can gain cool points when telling their kids they are taking them to the place where singing sensation Justin Bieber had an impromptu dance off with fellow teen heartthrob Jaden Smith during the US leg of his tour.)
  • For kids who are more into arts and crafts, Make Meaning looks exactly like nothing you've ever seen before. It's an indoor find-your-creative-side storefront where kids and adults alike make amazing creative products; the projects (which use glass, candles, soap, ceramics, paper, and jewelry) are both fun and easy to produce, even for tiny hands. NYC moms tell us that Make Meaning elevated creativity from a scrappy workshop environment into a hip, modern, hands-on experience. And all of this is happening on the Upper West Side, in 6,000 square feet including private party rooms and a café featuring yummy cupcakes.
  • You might be surprised at how much there is for kids on Broadway. If your little ones can sit through a movie, they'll probably enjoy a Broadway show – especially if it's something like Mary Poppins (full of magical fun) or Billy Elliott (where young kids sing and dance their way through the whole show. A tip – head to Times Square on the day you'd like to see a show and stand in line for discount tickets; many family shows are half-price on the day of the performance.

Where to Play - Outdoors

If you wanted to, you could spend your whole New York family vacation outdoors – Central Park, Rockefeller Center, and the Bronx Zoo are all old favorites. For some new and different outdoor activities, try these:

  • If your kids can't stand up on ice – or if you think they'll get cold and tired after just a few minutes making their way around the rink, check out Citi Pond at Bryant Park (between W. 40th Street and W. 42nd Streets and 5th and 6th Avenues), Manhattan's first and only free-admission ice skating rink. If you're especially into a quintessential New York experience, go at night, and offer cold hands a warm cup of hot chocolate after a snowy skating experience.
  • Love a fast-paced sightseeing experience? The Amazing New York Race brings families on a fast-paced and fun tour around the city. It's part scavenger hunt, part obstacle course, and all the best of New York. A series of clues leads teams around the city, with stops at little-known landmarks, photo scavenger hunts, and a set of challenges for the team to perform. There are two to four events a month, with occasional themed races that feature TV trivia or favorite NYC restaurants.

How to Do It All in One Weekend

  • Want to explore the city but don't want to buy individual passes to everything?
    The Explorer Pass is a multi-attraction pass; families decide on the number of attractions they want to visit (3, 5, 7 or 10), then pick what they want to do from a list of close to 100 attractions. The Explorer Pass saves visitors up to 55% compared to buying tickets individually, plus lets passholders skip the lines at some hot spots.
  • Want to get the inside scoop with a tour made just for kids? Don't miss NYC Kids Tours, the only tour company in NYC created just for kids (and their parents.) The tours (recommended for ages six to eleven) are full of fun-filled games, lessons and activities created by a team of teachers.

Lisa Tucker McElroy is an attorney, writer, law professor, and mom. Lisa is the author of nine children's books, and she regularly publishes articles and essays about travel, marriage, parenting and family in national magazines such as Parenting, Mary Engelbreit's Home Companion, FamilyFun, Cooking with Paula Deen, and Golf Vacations. She lives in the Philadelphia area with her husband and two travel-loving daughters.


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