This is the second installment of photos & notes from our recent trip to New York City. Two adults and one 11-year-old boy spent 8 days in Manhattan, exploring places the adults had seen before, but seeing them with fresh eyes thanks to a travel-loving kid.
Manhattan by Sail offers affordable tall ship cruises on the Hudson and East Rivers that were a big hit with adults and kids alike. There are a number of companies offering sail experiences on large and small boats, and they’re well worth the cost, in my opinion. Shop around for the best deal, and pick a cruise that offers sunset views of the city and the Status of Liberty if you want a truly memorable experience.
The American Museum of Natural History, with the attached planetarium, is a “must-see” attraction in the city. However, like many public buildings in NYC, the museum is only minimally air-conditioned. On a hot summer day, with tens of thousands of people crowding in, it can be quite unpleasant. The planetarium and the undersea exhibits tend to be cool, while the rest of the museum broils. Think about stashing a light, foldable sweater or shirt in a hand-bag, and otherwise dressing light. It takes quite a long time to see the whole museum — we divided our trip over two days, and I think that’s best with kids.
Of course, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is also a “must-see” item for families visiting New York. Like the Natural History Museum, it can be crowded and miserably hot, and it definitely takes more than a few hours to see anything like most of the museum. Families with kids will find themselves gravitating to the Temple of Dendur (Egyptian artifacts in a real temple relocated piece by piece), the Hall of Arms and Armor (knights in shining armor), the musical instruments, and the photography collection.
But don’t miss out on the rest of the museum. I’d recommend “doing” the Met in three installments — with breaks to visit Central Park or other attractions in between. Budget for shopping at both of the museums — there are amazing items for sale in the gift shops at both, and every single major exhibit has a gift shop of its very own.
Like the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building has airport-style security and lines that can stretch into more than 2 hours. Unlike the outdoor lines at the ferry terminal, those at the Empire State Building are indoors — and designed with Disney-style queues that entertain and educate visitors while they wait. And there are multiple places in the line for green-screen photos, available for purchase at the end of your visit. The night-time views from the observation decks are nothing short of spectacular.
I wouldn’t say that they were worth the 2 1/2 hour lines, however, especially as the building (despite the constant reminders as to its energy efficiency and powerful air conditioning systems, on displays throughout the waiting area) was miserably hot on the night we visited. There are no benches or chairs anywhere in the waiting area or the observation decks…but if you look as if you are about to pass out, the helpful security guards will offer you a folding chair or a wheelchair.
With an 11-year-old, the constant ads for Ripley’s Believe it or Not and Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum (side by side in Times Square) were sure to draw attention, and since both were included free with the New York Pass our travel agent gave us (instead of the City Pass we’d requested — fewer choices, but at a lower cost), we went to both. I was surprised at how well the exhibits at Ripley’s were done — and at how poor some of the wax figures at Madame Tussaud’s were. While some were excellent, others were so far from the “real thing” that I had to look at the signs to see who they were supposed to be (George Clooney and Johnny Depp fell into that category).
Ripley’s had several interactive exhibits, and it was definitely a highlight of the trip for a young boy. The “black hole” bridge, the hidden doorways, and (of course) the torture chamber were his favorites, but he also liked the hologram of Norbert Pearlroth, the singing, dancing “personal assistant” who describes Robert Ripley’s fascination with the strange and macabre, the fossils, and the interesting carved jade ships.
The Times Square Visitor Center is a good starting place for families who are new to New York. In addition to exhibits on the history of the area, it’s the place where families have to pick up many of the tickets they bought online (Grayline Tours, City Pass, New York Pass, etc.). I liked this free exhibit better than some of the paid ones we saw — and it was the rare public building with working, cool air conditioning, so it was especially welcome. The helpful woman at the information desk offered very useful tips on things like finding (safe, clean) public rest rooms, the best place to buy souvenirs (Chelsea, the Village, or Tribeca — not Times Square), and what parks (and areas of parks) are best for visiting children.
I’ll add a final installment of photos and comments about our recent trip later in the week. Hope our experiences are helpful to other families planning a trip to New York City.