Tackling New York City with kids can be a challenge. There’s so much to see and do and it’s tempting to load up the itinerary until everyone’s feet hurt and the little ones start to whine. Our Globetrotting Grandmom lives in New York City and loves it when her grandkids come to visit. She’s learned how to make each New York City visit special and whine free. She’s sharing her tips for tackling New York City with kids.
Things are different when Grandmom lives in New York City
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.
Safety always comes first
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. Before you head out, have an emergency plan.
Write down your phone number and put it in their pockets so the authorities can contact you. Point out transit employees and police officers so the kids will know who to go to in an emergency. 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.
Skipping the long lines means less whining—it’s a win-win
One things 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 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.
You can also 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 10 a.m. Alternatively, save your museum visits for dinner time between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. when everyone else is crowding into restaurants.
Indulge Them with Treats—Isn’t that what Grandmoms do best?
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, and creating bars, bark and more in 30 minute to 1 hour sessions. The process is simple enough for children, yet engaging enough for adults. The youngest patron so far was 14 months old—and he made chocolate.
Run off the sugar rush by taking advantage of New York City’s green space
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 excessive energy while you soak up the ambiance of the cityscape.
Rent a row boat in Central Park and paddle yourself and the kids 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. Both Prospect Park and Central Park have zoos where the kids can interact with a bounty of creatures.
You can’t see it all—flexibility is key
Sure, you want your kids and grandkids to see all the things New York has to offer. 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.
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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. It’s was the perfect start to a successful New York City visit—without one single whine!