When my grandkids go over the river and through the woods to Grandmom’s house, that river is the Hudson, the woods are Central Park and the house is a one-bedroom apartment. I live in New York City and, as a result, I’ve learned a few things about planning a kid-friendly itinerary in the city that never sleeps. Here are my tips for keeping kids entertained, happy and safe when they tackle the Big Apple.
Take Advantage of New York City’s Green Spaces
New York has nearly 30,000 acres of green space across the five boroughs making an afternoon in the park an ideal way to spend time with the kids. From climbing trees, to running around playgrounds or climbing rocks, kids can run off that excess energy while you soak up the ambiance of the cityscape. Rent a row boat in Central Park and paddle your way into an iconic New York scenario. Be sure to find the Alice in Wonderland statue on the park’s east side (between 72nd and 79th). This charming bronze sculpture of Alice and her zany friends is meant to be climbed on. And while you’re in Central Park, head to the 1870s Swedish Cottage for a puppet show.
In Brooklyn’s Prospect Park you’ll find everything from drum circles to fishing and biking. And you’ll find the Donald and Barbara Zucker Natural Exploration Area. This all natural jungle gym’s equipment was carved by Mother Nature. Little ones can play hide-and-seek in hollowed-out tree stumps while older kids use long logs as balance beams. All of the structures are from trees that fell during Hurricane Sandy. Also, both Prospect Park and Central Park have zoos where the kids can interact with a bounty of creatures.
Skip the Long Lines
One thing most kids don’t do well is wait—actually, neither do I. Standing in line for some of New York’s top attractions and museums can result in bouts of intense whining. You can minimize wait times (and headaches) by visiting top museums early in the morning. Most kids are early risers and New York is more of a late morning and late night city. Take advantage of that by arriving at the museums when they open at 10am. Alternatively, save your museum visits for dinner time between 6pm and 8pm when everyone else is crowding into restaurants.
You can also save time by purchasing tickets in advance for museums and attractions. And for big attractions like the Empire State Building, pay the extra cash for a VIP/Express ticket. The Empire State Building VIP Express Experience allows you to skip all the eternally long lines to and from the 86th floor observatory.
Indulge Them with Treats
Like most kids, my grandkids LOVE chocolate and it’s my duty as a grandparent to indulge them, right? Instead of buying them lots of chocolate candy or cookies that will just result in sugar overload, I prefer to give them chocolate experiences. One of their favorites is having dessert at Max Brenner’s Chocolate Restaurant where the kids’ menu includes a chocolate syringe. This mega-shot of chocolate lets them pump the creamy goodness right into their little mouths. And, if you don’t want to wait for a table, you can pick up a chocolate shot to go and enjoy dessert in a park where they can run off the sugar rush.
Another fun experience for kids is making chocolate at Voilà Chocolat on the Upper West Side. While many chocolate making classes and workshops focus on the history and science of chocolate, Voilà Chocolat focuses on fun. The experiential concept allows you to walk in off the street and make your very own high-end chocolate such as enrobing truffles, creating bars and bark and more in 30 minute to 1-hour sessions. The process is simple enough for children, yet engaging enough for adults.
The best way to get around New York is by subway—it’s fast, somewhat efficient, and it can be very entertaining with its ever changing cast of characters. But if something goes wrong and you end up separated from the kids, it can be terrifying. Always have an emergency plan. Point out transit employees and police officers so the kids will know who to go to in an emergency. Write down your phone number and put it in their pockets so the authorities can contact you. And if the kids end up on the train with the doors closing before you can get onboard, instruct them to get off at the next stop and wait for you to find them.
Flexibility is Key
Sure, you want your kids and grandkids to see all the things New York has to offer and it’s tempting to pack in as many sights as you can in a day. But dragging them all over the city until they are so exhausted they start to whine isn’t fun for anyone. Paying attention to what they’re telling you (my feet hurt, can’t we just play?) and cutting back the “to do” list a bit will make everyone happier. On my grandkids’ most recent visit I had big plans for our first afternoon. But after a flight delay and three train rides to get to my apartment, all they wanted to do was play. So we walked across the street to Riverside Park, found a few trees, and they spent the afternoon climbing trees at the edge of the Hudson River. Now that’s a kid-friendly itinerary!
Have you explored New York with your kids or grandkids? What were their favorite experiences?
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