New York City is a place like no other. It was during a family vacation here when I was 11 that I knew deep in my heart I was destined to live here one day (isn’t it amazing how vacations can affect your life?) I’ve lived here now for 8 years and I love it more and more each day.
Once I had kids though, I felt like I was learning how to live in the city all over again. Trying to navigate through subway stations and in/out of taxicabs can be somewhat intimidating when you’re not used to it, so I understand why parents might be a little nervous about taking their kids on vacation to the Big Apple.
It’s true everything in New York moves at a fast pace, but it’s important to remember that you and your Little(s) CAN keep up and have a wonderful time here, as long as you do a little research ahead of time and travel with a game plan.
First things first - Getting around NYC is a snap. You can find a subway station or flag a taxicab within a couple blocks of wherever you find yourself in the city. At MTA.info you can easily find subway maps, bus stops and subway stations with elevators. Also, despite the myth, New Yorkers are generally always happy to answer questions or give directions.
Yellow cabs are great! For parents with car seat-aged kids, it is not legally required to use one if you are traveling within NYC in a taxicab; so, if you are comfortable with that, no car seat needed. Also, get the receipt. This way, you'll have the number of the exact cab you were in, so should you leave behind a favorite toy, you can try to get it back.
Now that you know how to get around, let’s talk about where to go…
There are SO many activities for kids in New York City. The Children’s Museum of Manhattan (CMOM) is set up to educate and entertain the entire family, housing five floors of interactive exhibits for kids aged infant-12+. A couple things to keep in mind though - strollers must be left at coat check and there’s no food allowed, but you can get a pass for re-entry if you need to leave for lunch.
Central Park is a must, but it is LARGE, so don't expect to see the entire thing in one trip. http://www.centralparknyc.org/ is a great resource for information and a detailed map, which I recommend studying before and during your experience. With young kids, it’s best to start at the Boat Basin – which is just about level with 75th Street – and head south from there. Great kid-friendly options along that route include Victorian Gardens Amusement Park and the Central Park Zoo. If you exit on 59th Street, you’ll land right in the heart of the city.
I also recommend taking a boat tour. You'll see more of the city in one swoop than with many other tours. The Circle Line, which leaves from Manhattan's west side at 42nd Street and is walking distance from Times Square, has a kids cruise option. Or you can try the tall ship called The Clipper City, which leaves from the South Street Seaport and offers a fun, modern-day pirate experience.
As any parent knows, kids are always hungry. While New York has no shortage of restaurants many of which offer amazing, totally mind-blowing cuisine, not all of them are kid-friendly. Using a New York website for locals, like NYMag.com, can help you find the most kid-friendly places to eat. Some of my girls’ personal favorites include P.J. Clarke’s, The BackYard at 160, Pier i Café and Rosa Mexicano. Don’t be afraid to call restaurants directly. Even some swankier places can be family friendly if you hit them at off peak hours. Plan restaurants at strategic spots along your day’s intended itinerary to keep everyone fed on time.
Last, but certainly not least, my guide to New York with kids would not be complete without a little potty talk.
You need to know two main things about bathrooms and kids in NYC: Bathrooms are NOT easy to come by and, for parents with diaper-wearing kids, MOST bathrooms in NYC will NOT have changing tables. Know this in advance and be ready. Learn how to change a diaper like a New Yorker on the go, here!
To find bathrooms in NYC: Check Starbucks, some hotel lobbies, major department stores or use an app dedicated to finding one nearby like iKidsNY (dedicated to changing tables), SitorSquat by Charmin and Have2P.
I get lots of calls from friends wanting vacation advice when their family heads this way. Hopefully, this will help when the time comes for your family to hit the Big Apple.
Diana Heather writes at ParentingsATrip.com. She is also the Chief Mom, both at home to her two girls and at Totsy.com. You can follow Diana on Twitter @ParentingsATrip.