Playing Tourists in NYC with Kids in Tow
A weekend in NYC is always a fun way to get away from our daily routine and take a mini-vacation without going far at all. Even when we lived in Manhattan, staying in NYC hotels for a night or two was a fun activity for us, as it allowed to take in the city as tourists – something I recommend everyone to do every once in a while in order to better appreciate your city.
We stayed at the beautiful Benjamin Hotel on 50th street and Lexington Avenue, in a one-bedroom suite, that had a sofa bed in its living area as well as a kitchenette, an amenity included in all of their suites.
There are endless ways to spend 24 hours in NYC with kids in tow, and way more that you can do beyond what we did. But our strategy was really to take it easy and just enjoy our brief time in town, avoiding melt downs at all cost.
We chose public transportation all the way for our trip. We came into the city via the NJ Transit and then took the subway from Penn Station to the East Side.
The rest of the time we just walked. In this heat we made sure to have tons of water, and took our time. In staying in a hotel that was somewhat centrally located, we managed to eliminate the cost in paying for cabs or having to bring in our car and pay for parking.
Getting around NYC, even with little ones in tow, is so much easier when done by foot. Even walking from the East side of town to the West side was less stressful and much more manageable than navigating by car, getting into the hot subway tunnels, or hailing cabs.
Eating on A Budget
Because there are 5 of us, eating anywhere can easily be $60 to $100, for nothing all that special. We had already planned to have a fun dinner, so we wanted to make sure we didn’t blow our budget eating elsewhere. When we got hungry, we simply stopped into a drugstore (the 24 hour Walgreen’s in Times Square is really great) and picked up tons of fruit and water, then sat in the pedestrian area on Broadway and people watched. Low cost and easy to handle. Having a kitchenette in your hotel also helps in cutting down costs for food as it allows you to prep and store food that you can later take with you as you walk through the city.
The Benjamin is home to Geoffrey Zakarian’s The National, one of the top restaurant’s in NYC. They were wonderful in baking a treat for my son’s birthday. But as far as bringing my boys there to dine? I had to pass this time around, keeping budget in mind of course. However, it is on my list as a date night destination.
Near the hotel is a diner, NY Luncheonette, which is just that, your typical NYC diner albeit a bit pricier than most because of its location. But if you are looking for a quick bite or as we did, Sunday brunch at a lower cost, this is a good place to keep in mind. Just note that Sunday Brunch in NYC is no joke.
No matter where you go, lines can get long and/or reservations are needed. It is literally hustle or go hungry. We just like our brunch, what can I say?
A Whole Lotta Fun in Nothing
The beauty of the city is that you don’t have to do much to enjoy much. We walked and walked and did some sight-seeing and window shopping. When our feet started to ache and the kids needed a break, we went to Times Square, climbed the top of the Stairs to Broadway, right by the TKTS booth.
It has the best views of the area, and it is also a great place to spot all the action no matter what the time (I once witnessed the filming of a flash mob scene with Justine Timberlake for his “Friends with Benefits” movie. It was 2AM!).
Dinner and A Movie
Movies in NYC are expensive – especially 3D ones. But some of the movie theaters here are a sight to behold with their multi-level, high tech displaying, movie centers. They are pretty nice and I am not sure that most NYers really appreciate that. Having been to various movie theaters in different parts of the country, I think our movie theaters are pretty snazzy – even though it costs a ton to take my family there – refreshments not included!
And if you are going to be a tourist, then do go all out and stop at Chevy Tex Mex where they will not only sing you Happy Birthday (if that is in fact what you want them to do), but they will also give you a big ol’ sombrero which easily identifies you to everyone in Times Square as someone celebrating a special day.
Every kid should go through the fun embarrassment of being sung to at a Mexican eatery on their birthday. It’s a right of passage thing.
Oh, and for those who say New Yorkers are not nice? Almost every single person we walked past in the very busy and crowded 42nd street saw the sombrero on my son’s head and wished him a very happy birthday. Made him feel like a million bucks!
There are tons, and you have to choose wisely for they can get expensive. I always recommend going for the City Go Pass or New York CityPASS and purchase packages. The attractions tend to have longer lines towards the middle of the day, so early mornings are your best bet. Are they worth it? Yes. Especially with the little ones – if they can wait on line ok.
Our attraction of choice was Ripley’s Believe It or Not! The boys are just fascinated with the bizarre collections and exhibits in this museum. Really young ones might have moments when they would be scared, but overall it’s just a fun and unique place to visit.
No visit to NYC is complete without a stop into Toys R Us, with 110,000 square feet of awesomeness. Insanity? Well, it can be with weekend crowds, so make sure to find your zen before going in and your ability to not fall prey to the begging for every single toy. A ride on the ferris wheel, have some ice cream, play video games, and just allow yourself to be a kid again – it just never gets old.
We did other fun stuff like stop into Grand Central Terminal for the obligatory picture by the clock, and walk along the parks and museums.
Sleep is For The Weak (or The Pampered)
The lights and sounds of the city at night has a crazy affect on people. You get so pumped with the energy that it affects your ability to tell time and your body’s ability to react to it. Even my kids were alert and up and ready to go at 11:30 at night! All this to say, you can go for as long as you need to – just know, you will feel it the next day.
We did opt to sleep though, and because we were staying at The Benjamin, the kids got to enjoy the perks of their Winks Kidzzz Club and tuck into bed with their new Wink’s The Owl.
Tips for a Fun Weekend
Our weekend in NYC worked because we opted to focus in one spot, chose our activities before hand, and figured out a budget and stuck to it. In turn, our son had, what he called, a “super fun” birthday and no one melted down.
Expect your biggest costs to be hotel and attractions, but if you shop for attraction packages (as mentioned above), you should save on these. Also consider the time that will be spent on line and the toll this will take on the family. I often advise no more than one major attraction per day.
Invest on a hotel stay that offers the amenities of a kitchenette and an extra room. It’s just a weekend, but it can really help in the quality of your sleep and in your overall budget, especially when traveling with the family.
And remember, leave the car if you can. In NYC, public transportation is your best friend. Not familiar with the system? Grab a free map at any station and don’t be afraid to ask for directions.
Whether you decide to venture in the tourist mecca that is Times Square, or check out other parts of the city, a weekend with kids in tow is always a fun vacation.
Thank you to The Benjamin Hotel and Ripley’s Believe It or Not! for helping to make our weekend getaway, and my son’s birthday, a really special one!
This looks like a fantastic weekend! You guys certainly got the most out the time you spent there. Isn't it great to have NYC close enough to grab whenever we want it? Great post!
Happy Birthday to your son! Looks like you all had a fabulous time (the pictures really show this). When I lived in the city I use to be like a tourist and explore it. Might as well since I was in the middle of it all!
@ Kristin @kdwald:
I agree Kristin! It's the best of both worlds and we are very fortunate for it!
@ Bicultural Mama:
I agree! Bring in the thick of it really encouraged us to do a lot as well. I won't lie: it was nice getting back on that train home and going back to our house surrounded by trees and silence! LOL! Burbs have already spoiled me! But, when I need a NYC fix again, it's only 30 min train ride away : )
This post made me smile so much — I think your advice for having a plan (staying in one general neighborhood) and sticking to budget was great. Totally manageable, no one stressed out. Oh, and totally agree that a kitchenette in any lodging is so key.
LOVE all the pix of your family. So much! Specially the one in the subway where three of your "boys" are standing same way w/ their legs against wall.
@ Kara Williams:
Thanks Kara! I think the fact that no one stressed out was really the icing on the cake for us : ))