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Four Days In New York – Family Style

Four Days In New York - Parents Canada

For many Canadians, New York City is a must-visit destination at least once in our lifetimes. No other city has been profiled more in TV and movies, and while most of us recognize the iconic Empire State Building, Times Square, and the Statue of Liberty, NYC has a ton to offer families, especially leading into the holiday season. A visit to the boroughs, walking the High Line in mid-Manhattan, or simply forest bathing (yes, that’s a thing) in Central Park are amazing experiences for all ages, any time of year.

NYC is definitely a city to be enjoyed all year ‘round, but now’s the perfect time to take advantage of NYC’s balmy fall weather and the winter activities that are just around the corner, as the 2022 holiday season events and NYC Winter Outing start to roll out.

We recently visited the city that never sleeps to investigate how Canadian families can experience this magical city without spending a fortune, especially considering the current exchange rate.

How to Pack

It’s so quick and easy to get to NYC that you only need a carry-on, making travel super convenient. The most important thing to wear is comfortable shoes for walking, and layers to accommodate the weather. Keep in mind that NYC’s weather is slightly balmier than most Canadian cities.

How to Get There

We flew Porter Airlines from Toronto to Newark Airport (in New Jersey). We’ve always loved Porter Airlines – they’re convenient and well-priced, and the prop plane experience is loved by all.

Newark is only about 19 miles to Manhattan (that’s only 30kms, Canadian friends), and it’s a breeze getting into the city. You can take a Newark Airport bus, the AirTrain, an airport shuttle or taxi, or hop into an Uber/Lyft.  Note that a cab can cost over $120 USD, so we highly recommend the bus or AirTrain options – both are cheap and cheerful, and super convenient. The airport bus costs around $18.50 USD per adult, and the AirTrain is about $12.50 USD. Pro tip: With Porter, you go through US customs in the US and not Canada, which is one less thing to navigate when you are already juggling stress just trying to get on the plane.

Where to Stay

We stayed at two different hotels over our four-day trip, two days in each. The first was a quiet, ultra-sophisticated hotel near Battery Park overlooking the Hudson River close to the ferries, and the other was a bustling, busy, crazy fun spot in mid-town near Times Square. Hotel hopping is not for everyone, especially those with young kids, but the opportunity to experience the wildly different vibes of varying neighbourhoods is a great opportunity. This option can be great fun if you pack light and can move on a dime.

Our first stay was at the opulent, modern Conrad New York Downtown. Most NYC hotels have snug lobbies and small rooms, but Conrad New York Downtown is massive with a grand lobby that you and the kids will love, and rooms that are more like small apartments. It’s a beautiful hotel, sleek and well-appointed, and ideal for families who need space to stretch out. Free WIFI, convenient room service, and in-room Nespresso machines make it an easy stay. We loved our view overlooking the Hudson and seeing New Jersey. For travelers planning to grab a ferry to Ellis Island/Statue of Liberty, Governor’s Island, and many other ferry destinations to the boroughs, it’s an ideal location, plus you are close to Greenwich Village and Tribeca.

Conrad New York Downtown: Lobby - Parents Canada
Conrad New York Downtown: Lobby
Conrad New York Downtown: Room - Parents canada
Conrad New York Downtown: Room

Their on-site restaurant, Atrio Restaurant & Wine Bar, features inspired dishes like a delectable Wagyu beef hotdog, and wood-fired pizzas (we loved), so there’s something for even the pickiest palette and with the accompanying bar off the lobby, we enjoyed a late night glass of vino to round out our long day of sightseeing.

Our second stay had us searchin’ for our lost shaker of salt at the Margaritaville Resort, in the heart of New York, near Times Square. This slice of Miami in the middle of Manhattan sets the mood for fun the moment guests step into the lobby, which features a cheeky floor-to-ceiling sandal. The vibe is casual and friendly, and the staff is welcoming and goes above and beyond to make everyone comfortable.

Margaritaville Resort Times Square – lobby
Margaritaville Resort Times Square – Poll and LandShark Bar & Grill

Rooms are modern, maintaining a Florida theme, and an outdoor rooftop pool (complete with a bar and grill!) is the absolute coolest. The noise of the city is part of the charm of this place, and we embraced the joyful madness of this New York experience.

What to Do in NYC With Families

Start by grabbing an NYC CityPASS (more on that below) for the family, and if you want to avoid the exorbitant cost of Ubers and cabs, get subway passes as well. The NYC subway system is easy to navigate, especially with its convenient app, and kids love the experience. There’s even an app to find public toilets called Sit or Squat (yep, it’s a keeper!).

Pro tip: Plan just one big event a day or you will run yourself ragged. Have each family member pick what they want prior to the trip and then use the art of compromise to figure out the best use of your time to navigate the family wish list.

Our priorities were visits to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, and visiting the American Museum of Natural History (The Night at The Museum movies make this one a must-do, along with their exciting new shark exhibit).

New York CityPass is absolutely the way to go for ease and budget-friendliness. The pass provides admission into:

Empire State Building

American Museum of Natural History

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Top of the Rock Observation Deck OR Guggenheim Museum

Ferry Access to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island OR Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises, 9/11 Memorial & Museum OR Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum

Keep in mind that reservations are required for some spots, like the Empire State Building, the American Museum of Natural History, the ferry to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises, the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, as well as the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.

NYC is also the perfect place to introduce kids to the wonderful world of museums, and on Fridays, many offer free admission!

Battery Park City Parks Conservancy

Battery Park City encompasses 36 acres of playgrounds, gardens, and plazas. Every day, people flock to the space for outdoor fun, and in winter, indoor activities. There are countless fitness programs, art exhibitions, and hundreds of other events each year. To get the most out of this cluster of green spaces, a free tour (or two!) is in order.

Typical offerings include organic gardening walks around Wagner Park, public art explanations at Teardrop Park, and bird-watching excursions around the area (binoculars included!). Tours change throughout the year and information generally isn’t available until April, so check bpcparks.org (the conservancy’s site) for the most up-to-date information.

Grand Central Partnership:

The neighborhood surrounding Grand Central Terminal is much more than a transportation hub. Every Friday at 12:30 pm, the Grand Central Partnership conducts a 90-minute guided walking tour led by an urban historian. Make stops at the station’s Whispering Gallery, discover the secrets of the passageways, gaze at the architectural splendor of the Chrysler Building and visit Pershing Square and the original Lincoln Memorial, among other notable Midtown locales.

For Thrill Seekers

If you and your family aren’t averse to heights, be sure to visit SUMMIT One Vanderbilt, a breathtaking blend of art, technology, and architecture. Once ushered into the world’s largest glass floor elevator, visitors are taken on a 10-second adrenaline rush trip up 91 floors, with a 360º view of Manhattan. I am not a huge fan of heights or elevators but loved every minute of this experience. Mirrors and strobe lights add to the thrill of a truly mind-blowing, 3-floor immersive experience atop the city.

The Summit – One Vanderbilt
The Summit – One Vanderbilt

Only thrill-seekers (that was us) would dare to step onto glass ledges suspended more than 1,000 feet above Madison Avenue. An ideal spot for a selfie. It felt more like a Disney ride in the middle of Manhattan.

Lyric Theatre  - Parents Canada

For Theatre Lovers

Gone are the days when the theatre was stuffy and formal, so you can be sure kids of all ages will be welcome! We saw Harry Potter and the Cursed Child at the Lyric Theatre as we are huge Harry Potter fans. It was an extended play (3.5 hours including the intermission) but an absolute must for fans and it went by very quickly. The special effects are incredible and will surely impress everyone.

For the Wanderers

Each of the five boroughs has something unique to offer visitors. We toured Brooklyn, DUMBO (not a Disney character but an acronym for a new area in Brooklyn – it stands for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass), and even managed a visit to the carousel and a Williamsburg Food Tour. The food tour was fantastic!

A pause about the food tour because it was new for us. We wandered through Williamsburg, Brooklyn, about a mile from DUMBO, visiting some of the most delicious restaurants, and learning about the fascinating culinary history of the area from our guide. You can’t visit NYC without sampling famous pizza and bagels, so that’s definitely on the tour (checking off all of our boxes). Friends who were in town joined us on the food tour. Learning whilst eating, that’s my idea of a good time.

We also found time to take a trip around NYC’s newest neighbourhood, Hudson Yards, and took in the rich art and culture that has been steeped there, and checked out The Vessel, a stunning interactive art piece that is almost alien with its 2,500 steps and 80 landings with gorgeous views.  It was closed at the time, but once open, the kids will burn off a ton of energy climbing the steps.

We walked the High Line, an ingenious use of an old freight rail line.

The High Line, Manhattan - Parents Canada
The High Line,, Manhattan

The High Line is a 2.3km elevated linear park, greenway, and rail tray that sits above the city. It is a wonder and definitely worth visiting.

As you walk the High Line, you will hit the Chelsea Market, in the center of NYC’s Meatpacking District. Inside the old factory is a food hall full of kiosks. Their website calls it The Carnival of Culinary Curiosities. It’s the perfect destination for families to grab a meal, as you will find something for every palette.

And of course, no trip to NYC is complete without a wander through Central Park, to take in some of the 843 acres of fields, lawns, forest, and parkland. Here it costs nothing to let the kids run wild. Older visitors will marvel at the park’s landscape architecture, and marvel at the history of the area.

Pro Tip: Download the Central Park Guide app to help plan your visit. Whether it’s a trip to the zoo, taking in the monuments, riding a horse-drawn carriage around the park, or skating at one of the iconic rinks, the app makes planning easy!

And for more free things to do visit www.nycgo.com/free.

I’m exhausted just writing this article. There is so much to do and see, so lace up your running shoes, layer up, and plan a spectacular NYC getaway this winter. Your family will love it.

Bon, voyage!

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