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NYC with Kids – New York Family Vacation Guide

by Sandra Foyt
The 411 on NYC with kids

NEW YORK, NYC with Kids – Chances are that your kids have seen at least one, and probably many more, movies set in New York City. Times Square, long the symbol of the City That Never Sleeps, pops up in numerous action hero scenes while the long list of Disney productions set in New York City includes kid-faves such as: Bolt, Enchanted, Oliver & Company, and James and the Giant Peach.

Exploring all of the many Manhattan film settings would be a never-ending pursuit. Because you probably do want to get some shuteye, I’ve listed 4 activities at some of the most memorable NYC film scene locations as well as 1 great place to stay and 1 great place to eat, with tips for keeping the schlepping around to a minimum.

The 411 on NYC with kids


Activity 1: Cruise the Manhattan Shoreline and Hail Lady Liberty

Lady Liberty on your visit to NYC with kids.

If your short on time (and patience for lines), cruise by Lady Liberty on your visit to NYC with kids.

At some point in their education, most American children will learn about the Statue of Liberty. Some may even recognize the iconic statue from classic films such as Splash or Titanic, but nothing compares to the experience of peering up from her base and seeing the golden fire of the torch held up high in the sky. That’s when the symbol of “Liberty Enlightening the World” becomes real.

Short on time? The quickest and easiest way to see Lady Liberty is on the 1-hour Circle Line Liberty Cruise (infants 3 and under free.) But if you want to set foot on Ellis or Liberty Island, you’ll want to book roundtrip ferry transportation.

With older kids, it’s well worth committing the better part of a day, if not a full day, to exploring the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, especially since the Statue of Liberty is located at the southernmost tip of Manhattan and is only accessible by ferry. The most adventurous will want to climb all the way to the crown (must be at least 4 feet tall,) but you can get a bird’s eye view even from the pedestal. (Advance reservations recommended or required.)

The immigrant experience comes alive at Ellis Island exhibits, but do consider first checking out the 30-minute “Island of Hope, Island of Tears” film documentary. An optional audio tour enhances the displays, and for the youngsters, there’s even one narrated by “Marty the Muskrat.”

Tip: The National Park Service offers a fun Junior Ranger booklet, but since they may not be available onsite, it’s best to print your own and carry it in.


Activity 2: Time Travel at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

A greek goddess at the Met, NYC.

A greek goddess at the Met, NYC.

Meet the Greek gods and goddesses that inspired Rick Riordan’s Lightning Thief series, the blockbuster 2010 fantasy film, which is also now a Broadway musical, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Fans can follow in Percy’s footsteps with the downloadable Art Adventure booklet, but there are several Family Guides from which to choose.

Some of our favorites include the Sphinx and Mummies Family Guides, but it’s also a tossup between the Armament or Temple of Dendur guides as these exhibits top our list of can’t-miss stops. Perhaps most charming of all, the Family Guide for E.L. Konigsburg’s From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (the 1995 film starred Lauren Baccal) introduces readers to the palatial bedroom suite where the main characters, a pair of clever siblings, sleep in style when they run away to the museum.

Tips: Because the Met is located just outside Central Park on 5th Avenue at 82nd Street, it’s possible to walk through Central Park to the American Museum of Natural History (of Night at the Museum movie fame.) The museum is directly on the other side of the park at 81st & Central Park West, a 15-minute walk (if you can avoid tempting distractions). However, keep in mind that both museums are huge and best toured on separate days.


Activity 3: Pretend You’re in a Musical at Central Park

visiting Central Park Zoo on a visit to NYC with kids

Visiting Central Park Zoo on a visit to NYC with kids.

Disney’s Enchanted wouldn’t be the same without the Central Park backdrop for “That’s How You Know,” and there must be a rule somewhere that you can’t film a rom-com without a horse-drawn carriage ride through the green heart of Manhattan. The 843-acre Frederick Law Olmstead-designed urban park is decidedly romantic. But it’s also a great place for children to run around and play. You can find multiple fanciful playgrounds, including at least one well-placed one next to the Met.

Open year-round, the Central Park Zoo is small but perfectly sized for introducing kids to wild life. Try to time your visit to see the penguin or sea lion feedings. Other popular park attractions (weather permitting) include a historic carousel, rowboats at the Loeb Boathouse, and racing model sailboats at Conservatory Water (next to the Alice in Wonderland and Hans Christian Anderson statues).

best travel strollers

October to early April, Wollman Rink opens for outdoor skating; transforming into the site of the Victorian Gardens amusement park from June to September. But the best deal in town is The Public Theater’s Free Shakespeare in the Park every summer for nearly 60 years. Savvy New Yorkers line up early on the day of the performance to score a ticket, here’s what to know.

Tip: A classic New York pretzel or hot dog from vendors near park entrances makes a cheap and easy meal on the go.


Activity 4: Catch a Broadway Show

Times Square, the gateway to Broadway.

Times Square, the gateway to Broadway.

You can still see Times Square’s gritty side in classic films like Christopher Reeve’s Superman. But now the billboard lights shine down on a whole new Disneyesque world. The famous intersection between West 42nd to West 47th features a pedestrian walkway, stadium viewing platform to observe the bright displays. You’ll also find kid-friendly shops like M&M’s World, and an even bigger Hershey’s Chocolate World.

The top Broadway theaters are also located in the neighborhood. Your best bet for a cheap performance is same-day tickets available at the Times Square TKTs kiosk, but see this Broadway Show Tickets Guide for more options. Definitely plan ahead if you want to attend one of the musicals popular with kids. Musicals such as Anastasia, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the Lion King, Aladdin, or Wicked sell out quickly. Don’t miss Ten Things You Should Know Before Taking Your Kids to a Broadway Show.

Tip: You don’t need a lot of time to get the full impact of Times Square. Since the lights really do shine best at night, you might want to save it for a post-outing stop, especially if your family is benefiting from West Coast jet lag.


1 Great Place to Stay in NYC with Kids: The Plaza

Eloise at the Plaza--or at least her portrait.

Eloise at the Plaza–or at least her portrait.

No doubt it’s a splurge, but you can’t beat the convenience of The Plaza. It’s located on 5th Avenue at the entrance to Central Park, within blocks of Museum Mile or Times Square. Even if you don’t stay there, it’s worth dropping in for the decadent grazing at the lower level Food Hall. The Palm Court also offers a grand afternoon tea.

And those familiar with Eloise, the precocious little girl who lives in the hotel seen in the 1950s children’s book series, will adore Eloise at The Plaza—a whole experience encompassing a boutique, party space, fancy tea, and the outrageously pink Eloise Suite.

All accommodations are luxurious–beginning with classic rooms featuring 24-carat gold-plated fixtures and moving on up to one-of-a-kind suites fit for visiting royalty—but now under Fairmont management, the historic hotel offers a number of discounted promotions.

As for movies filmed at The Plaza, the list is long including the film versions of Eloise. But the “castle on Central Park South” appears in The Way We Were, Arthur, and Sleepless in Seattle.


1 Great Place to Eat in NYC with Kids: Serendipity 3

Serendipity 3's frozen hot chocolate

Serendipity 3’s frozen hot chocolate–worth the wait.

Not all things are worth the wait, but Serendipity 3’s Frozen Hot Chocolate isn’t one of them. Prepare to be amazed by the sheer size and deliciousness of the frozen treats.

Yes, this is the restaurant featured in the 2001 romantic comedy Serendipity. It’s not unusual to spot celebrities dining amidst glitter of golden cherubs, Tiffany windows, and over-the-top seasonal decorations.

The menu lists burgers, salads, and a full assortment of comfort food. But be warned there is at least one Guinness World Record-breaking item—the $1000.00 Golden Opulence Sundae (48-hour advance reservation required.)

Tip: Be aware that only a limited number of reservations are available for lunch or dinner, not dessert. Waits can be as long as 1-2 hours during peak times, but never fear. Bloomingdale’s and the fabulous flagship location of Dylan’s Candy Bar are on the corner to help pass the time.

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