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A Family Takes Manhattan

As we make our way into Times Square, my two kids take in the billboards and the action, the traffic and the street performers—including “The Naked Cowboy,” who has been strumming his guitar in his underwear and cowboy hat at least since my husband and I lived there 12 years ago. At 44th Street, we step into the world of Gulliver’s Gate, an intricate and interactive museum of miniature cities all over the world. “This is so cool!” my 11-year-old daughter, Madeleine, exclaims. I agree.

Think dragging your kids around Manhattan will be intimidating? It’s really not.

New York City has so many family-friendly offerings, no matter your interests, and it’s easier than ever to get around—subway, bus, taxi, horse-drawn carriage, bicycle, Lyft and, of course, your own two feet.

“I feel like we’ve been walking for hours!” my 5-year-old son, Finn, complains as we walk back to our hotel from Bryant Park, where we watched dancers, ate ice cream cones and played with toys set out on the lawn. “That’s what New York is all about!” I respond happily. “And anyway, we’re only a block away from the hotel.”

We’re staying at the J. W. Marriott Essex House, perfectly located on Central Park South. And we’ve timed it right to check out Family by JW, a new line of family-centric offerings that include wake-up exercises from the Joffrey Ballet, kids’ activity guides, artistic projects created in collaboration with the Guggenheim Museum and fun add-ons, like a play tent in your room and custom picnic basket that you can take to an area park.

With just one long weekend to spend in New York, our family of four is going to max it out. So by the time we get back to the hotel our first evening, we’re ready to relax. Room service—spaghetti, salad and strawberry shortcake, served family-style (with a bottle of wine for my husband and me)—and Beauty and the Beast on Netflix? Perfect. Dinner out with kids can be overrated.

The next day, we stop at the Guggenheim Museum before grabbing our picnic lunch and heading to Central Park, where my son conquers the huge boulder “mountains” and my daughter takes note of the various fashions being worn by passing New Yorkers.

After lunch, it’s on to the Staten Island Ferry. Yes, you can take a tour of the Statue of Liberty National Monument, followed by a stop at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum, which I highly recommend. But if your time is limited, the free ferry will take you right by the statue as you enjoy the breezes off of the river. It departs every half-hour. Afterward, explore The Battery, which now features the enchanting SeaGlass Carousel—instead of horses and other land creatures, you climb into a translucent fish that spins around as ethereal music plays in the background. It’s a brief but cool distraction from the surrounding city.

Next, if you’ve still got enough energy and your kids are old enough to experience it, walk up to the National September 11 Memorial or to One World Trade Center for a view rivaled only by the Top of the Rock. At the end of the day’s adventures, we take the subway back to the hotel and grab pizza before collapsing in our rooms. Mom is a relentless activities director!

With an evening flight out of LaGuardia, we have time for a little more action on Sunday. We walk through the park to the American Museum of Natural History to see dinosaurs, tiny ocean creatures and an exhibition about our senses. I want to explore the planetarium, but that will have to wait for our next visit.

Before we know it, we’re on our way back to the airport for our flight home. But after three days in New York—and experiencing just the tip of the NYC iceberg—my daughter is firm in her opinion of the city. “I wish we lived here!” she says. One day, Madeleine, you can.


Where to Climb

If your kids are active, the chance to scramble around big rocks or frolic at a playground is almost essential. In addition to the 21(!) playgrounds in Manhattan’s Central Park, Brooklyn has its own top spots for playing. Some say the best is the Main Street Playground in Brooklyn Bridge Park, with a fun nautical theme. Then there’s the cool Teardrop Park in Battery Park: 2 acres of sustainable, nature-inspired fun.


Where to Eat

The only kind of food that most kids care about is the sweet kind. Some of the best spots to get a scoop in New York City? The Big Gay Ice Cream shop started as a food truck and has a loyal following at its three NYC brick-and-mortar spots. Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream has delicious flavors (including vegan varieties) and locations all over the city. Finally, if you’re in the Lower East Side, you won’t regret a stop at Morgenstern’s Finest Ice Cream. 

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