“It’s up to you, New York, New York!” so sings Ole Blue Eyes (aka Frank Sinatra) in his famous song about this very famous city. But actually, it’s up to you and your family to get what you want out of any trip to the Big Apple, and it can be very easy to feel very overwhelmed about what to do, where to go, where to stay and with only a certain time to “do it all”, it’s best to have a clear plan of action before you arrive.
We arrived in New York having just spent 17 days in Walt Disney World Orlando, where everything had been organised, pre-planned, and the actual holiday had ran like a well oiled machine – with everything done for us in the way that only Disney knows how – by making sure that every day was a magical day with a friendly cast member there to help you if and when you needed it. With a 3 year old and older teenage children in our party, New York was certainly going to be a challenge when trying to please everyone, and looking back on hindsight (what a wonderful thing it is!) now we don’t feel as though we factored in enough pocket money or time planning actually what we were going to do when we got there. So, tip number one for families travelling to NYC, particularly if you have teens who sometimes have their own agenda’s, or little ones who naturally get tired after a busy day of being a tourist, plan your day around focusing on them and what they want to do. If you want to go on a shopping and fine dining expedition, leave the kiddiwinks at home!
So what is the best plan for you and your tribe when getting to grips with everything New York offers? Even for those who are frequent travellers to New York, we’ve been fortunate to visit a few times in recent years, it really is like no other city in that it certainly never sleeps! When you first arrive, you will probably feel quite overwhelmed by it’s size, the height of the skyscrapers, number of people on the sidewalks, the cacophony of noise, sights, smells and sheer intensity of the place, we were lucky enough to have arrived having become accustomed to the time difference, and after walking an average of 16-18,000 steps per day in the Disney parks, so we were well prepared to carry on “stepping it up” in Manhattan! Or so we thought anyway…..could we keep it going? So, here is how we started our trip –
Just get to your hotel! Depending on whether you have caught an internal flight, or coming in from outside of the UK, you will just want to get to your hotel, unpack and start breathing in the New York air and see the sights. There are lots of options you can take to get yourself and your family into Manhattan, from train to bus, or taxi. All of the options are signposted and described on signs and machines really clearly in the airports, so if do decide to go this way, you should be able to buy your ticket and navigate yourselves around relatively stress free. We think however that the easiest option is to grab a cab – hopefully it will be yellow! – and get yourselves into Manhattan as soon as you’ve collected your luggage. If you get one of the official cabs outside of the airports, you will probably have to pay a flat fee of around $75 (from Newark) to take you into the city. It may seem like a lot, but once you’ve bought x4 or x5 tickets for the bus, there isn’t really much difference in price, and a cab will get you there quicker. Plus, there isn’t a better way of seeing the Manhattan Skyline for the first time than driving into New York either by Big Yellow Taxi, or if you want to push the boat about a bit further – how about a full stretch limo!? If someone in your party if celebrating a special occasion, why not??
Book a hotel in the Midtown/Times Square area of Manhattan. From a location point of view, when you have family with you who don’t want to be walking too much (our teens were quite reluctant at times to walk too far without moaning about it, even having spent 2 weeks in Disney walking thousands of steps a day!) it’s a great part of New York to base yourselves for the few days you’ve got there, and it’s close to all of famous “touristy” bits – Empire State Building, Times Square, Rockefeller Centre, Madison Square Gardens etc etc. This time we stayed at the Sheraton Times Square, on West 53rd and 7th, which was the perfect location right in the middle of all of where the main action was – we just needed to look up to see it all! Magnifying glasses would have been a real help in this instance! The hotel itself was nicely decorated and clean, and had great views of the skyline in the morning when you opened the curtains (our teens loved this wow factor) and it had quite a corporate feel to it too, although service was very professional it didn’t quite match up to the family friendliness of Walt Disney World – but then, we didn’t expect to it either. The best thing about it was that when you walked out of the hotel, took a deep breath and tried to soak up all of the atmosphere around you, you could see the iconic Empire State Building in the distance which was a real bonus. Our children described it as feeling like “ants” – tiny creatures in a massive world! Being right in the thick of it also means you are never far from a bus stop or subway station, which can help tired legs at the end of the day to get back home. You just have to decide whether to go left, or right…..decisions, decisions!
Get a good breakfast down you before you start exploring! This may sound like an obvious point, but bearing in mind that hotels in New York generally only tend to book rooms on a room only basis, breakfast isn’t always included. You are going to use so much energy on a daily basis walking around New York that you and your family will need to get some energy on board so that your children don’t start to flag part way into the day. If your children are anything like ours, food is pretty high on the priority stakes, and constant topping up of food and water is necessary, but a good breakfast will certainly kick start your day off with a boost and get things going. Now the next question is “where to go for breakfast?”. There are of course so many eateries in New York which offer breakfast from the early hours of the morning, so you certainly won’t have a problem finding anything – it’s more about where you and your tribe want to eat. We had visions of finding some typically New York diner, where the seats are red leather and you get served unlimited coffee from your waitress (we had found a great diner with this sort of experience in 2003 when we’d visited – pre-children – near our hotel, which for the next few days became our regular breakfast haunt.) This time, being absolutely honest, we found it difficult to find proper little New York diners, even after we’d spend over an hour walking from our hotel on 53rd street up to Central Park – a fairly long walk to take just for breakfast! There seems to have been in the past few years a clear increase in the numbers of Costa’s , Starbucks, Pret a Manger and other, more famous coffee shop chains. It’s probably a good shout for you and your family to find somewhere relatively quickly for breakfast, one morning we went to McDonalds for a really quick breakfast – which our teenagers loved of course – and that kept us going for the majority of the day.
Get on the subway! To experience the more authentic New York way of life, get you and your teens on the subway, where a one-way ticket can be as little as $2.75 (November 2018) and you can avoid having to walk everywhere if you get tired – or confused – of the grid system, or just want to feel a bit more like a real “New Yorker.” Riding the subway is easy, similar to the London Underground, and trains are regular, so without buggies and loads of bags it is easy to navigate and plan out where you want to go. We did our prep the night beforehand, worked out our route and where our nearest subway station was, so already knew what we were doing and therefore didn’t look “typically touristy” which can be a good thing, particularly in a big city where there can be pickpockets around looking for more obvious sign of visitors. It’s quite easy to blend into the subway crowd, you’ll probably end up standing up for most part of your journey, it’s pretty quick anyway, but for that short time you will be reminded of all of those films and music videos you grew up, when you thought the subway was cool as!!! We thought it was cool, but we were also mindful of the fact to keep our party together at all times, even our teens stayed next to us, and we were completely inconspicuous whilst on the platform and on the train itself – as tourists you don’t want to attract attention to yourself at any point really, so if you do that the subway will be a breeze!
OK, so that’s more about the logistics and planning part of your trip, what happens when you go out exploring – where would we recommend? You’ll have to wait for Part 2 for that……watch this space……..