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A Manhattan island vacation

Lou Bendrick

My husband and I wanted to go to an island for vacation. We craved a place completely unlike our mountain town and so sought a languidly warm and playful destination, an easy place to mind our wiggly 2-year-old.But we also wanted some big-ticket culture: shows, music, museums, great food. The compromise for this summer’s vacation?Manhattan.No, we hadn’t gone off our anti-psychotic meds. The Big Apple, as it turned out, was everything we hoped for, and, as they say, much more!Think about it. Is there another place on earth where boredom is banished for both grownups and kids? Personally, I’d take the Museum of Natural History – where my child and I can ogle Komodo dragons – over Disneyland any day.Here is this reporter’s guide to New York’s wonderful – and kid-friendly – attractions. Even if you don’t have kids, these are great destinations.During our week we ranged between Greenwich Village and the Upper East Side. And just beyond the main island there are wonderful things to do in the outer boroughs: Coney Island and the New York Aquarium, the Bronx Zoo, and Staten Island Children’s Museum, just to name a few. We saved those for next time.Central ParkHighly recommended activities: – Central Park Wildlife Center (Fifth Avenue between 63rd and 66th streets). During a three-day heat wave we popped into the stroller-friendly and blissfully shaded Central Park Zoo. Among the zoo’s attractions are polar bears (“Like big doggies!” we explained to a slightly bewildered child) and the penguin exhibit, where my husband, who had taken to mopping his brow with a stuffed toy, insisted upon lingering long after our daughter’s attention had wandered. Unfortunately, we only had time to glimpse Central Park’s Conservatory Water, aka the Model Boat Pond (77th Street). Go there on weekends for model yacht races and you can teach your little one to yell “jibe-ho!” Central Park also has playgrounds, statues and marionette shows.Upper West SideHighly recommended activities: – Children’s Museum of Manhattan (212 W. 83rd St.). “Museum” is a bit of a misnomer here; it’s a big play area. Most popular activities, at least for my tot, included the dreamy sensation of finger painting on bubble wrap and the rewards of fishing for magnetic fish (always hungry, they are). – Artie’s Deli (2290 Broadway). This kosher-style New York deli is just around the corner from the Children’s Museum. Complimentary pickles and slaw. Doting wait staff. Reubens so large they will remind you of Red Mountain (get the pastrami-corned beef combo, and plan on taking some home for dinner).- Museum of Natural History (Central Park West at 79th Street). Take the metro to the door (81st Street stop). Stuffed charismatic megafauna – African and Asian mammals, blue whale, sharks, alligators – will delight children who are too young to ask, “Did all these animals die naturally?”Bonus: At the moment there’s an exhibit called Chocolate (June 14-Sept. 7), which includes chocolate sculptures and tastings. The cafeteria and cafe are also filled with chocolate yummies that give parents and children the energy to tackle the invertebrate exhibit. And you’ll look like a genius in your kids’ eyes, because every time you hear “What’s that?” you can refer discreetly to the identification placard.Upper MidtownNot recommended at all, really: – FAO Schwartz. (767 Fifth Ave.) Four floors of headache-inducing marketing jingles, a $4,800 stuffed buffalo and a somewhat jaded staff. Best amusement for a 2-year-old: the escalator.Lower MidtownHighly recommended activity: – Rooftop dining with Childhood Friend (C.F.). What could be better than Thai food, champagne and views of the Williamsburg Bridge while C.F.’s babysitter watches your toddler? Not much. You don’t have a Midtown C.F.? Get oudda here! Try the bar (Top of the Tower) atop the Art Deco Beekman Tower Hotel (3 Mitchell Place).Theater DistrictHighly recommended activities: – Le Carousel in Bryant Park. My merry-go-round-wary toddler was cheered on by the carousel operator here. After giving my child a free ride, this saintly woman supplied paper towels to mop up toddler tears when our newly-minted speed junkie had to be ripped away from the thing she had feared only moments before.- Bryant Park Grill (40th Street, behind the New York Public Library). A well-deserved treat for mummy and daddy. Lunch. Wine. Distant live jazz in the background. Toddler used Big Girl Manners until the sorbet arrived, then ritualistically painted her face with dessert. (Cultural Note: This is a well-dressed crowd. You, with your Colorado shoes, will feel like you’ve showed up in Hush Puppies at the Academy Awards. Fuhgeddaboudit.)Recommended with reservations: – New York Public Library (Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street). We got a special tour of this lovely place from the C.F. Despite one incident involving prostrate screaming in the marble halls of learning, our toddler did fairly well in a place marked by hard surfaces and silence. “Isn’t this fascinating?” said C.F. to the moody toddler, who found little amusement in the exhibit “Passion’s Discipline: The History of the Sonnet in the British Isles and America.” She wasn’t much impressed by the exhibit of 18th-century portraits on loan from the Boston Museum of Fine Art, either. Her parents were to blame.Upper East SideRecommended with reservations: – The Guggenheim Museum (1071 5th Ave.). The fun part, for children, is the ramps. Security personnel will let children run, if accompanied by an adult. (Cultural Note: In NYC the term “parent” is dclass. Children have “adult companions” or “guardians.”) Under no circumstance let your child view any part of the film of Matthew Barney’s recently removed Cremaster Cycle. Think David Lynch on acid and ecstasy.ChelseaHighly recommended: – Empire Diner (210 10th Ave.). We dined al fresco (always the kid-friendlier option – New York outside is loud enough that a howling child cannot be heard beyond a range of a few feet) at this Art Deco diner. The highlight here is the evening parade of dogs (and owners) on 10th Avenue Cultural Note: The hip breed this year is the sleek, houndy-looking Visla.Not recommended at all, really:- Barnes & Noble (everywhere). Yes, this big-box bookstore offers a clean well-lighted place with a kid-friendly book section to boot. But, along with Starbucks, B&N seems to be seeking world dominance. We got sucked into its vortex more than once – shame on us. Greenwich VillageHighly recommended activities: – Magnolia Bakery (401 Bleecker St.). Serves magnificent, if expensive ($1.75), cupcakes, and offers both an ice cream cart outside and much-needed iced coffees for adults. Situated catty-corner to a wonderful kiddie park at Bleecker and Hudson, near Abingdon Square, where we met a friendly dad in a Gilligan hat who recommended the next item. (Cultural note: New Yorkers are nice; don’t let anyone tell you differently. Geddoudahere. Really, it’s true.)- Jane Street Pier (west end of Jane Street). Too fabulous! This wonderland-on-the-Hudson has little manmade streams, fountains, playground equipment, shade tents, sandboxes, park wardens and a clean comfort station. A barefoot experience in the Big Apple! Who knew?- White Horse Tavern (567 Hudson St.). After the Jane Street Pier we ran again into Gilligan Hat Man (NYC is just a small town, really), who steered us to this historic landmark, which has a not-so-impressive claim to fame: Dylan Thomas drank here. According to our waitress, so did “a million other people.” Al fresco dining and West Village people (and dog) watching.- Annual Gay Pride Parade. Wonderfully festive and noisy. Child, who gleefully waved rainbow flag, especially enjoyed Brazilian drag queens. My husband and I drew more than a few quizzical looks, which caused me to occasionally – and embarrassingly – exclaim, “Breeders for Pride!” Also, I was wearing a rainbow lei, given to me gratis by the progressive Oscar Wilde bookstore that advertised itself as the place in the West Village to “get lei-ed.” (Barnes & Noble, take note.)- Public transportation, in general. Sure, cabs are convenient, but they’re pricey too. Instead, grab the new, European-feeling Metro swipe cards for the subway and city buses. This is a fabulous exercise for over-protective and germ-phobic parents because your child will be whipping around a big city largely unrestrained. Remember that all those germs – and the occasional puddle of pee – build a healthy immune system. – Banjara (97 First Ave.). The NYC 2003 Zagat Survey, bible of New York foodies, says this East Village Indian restaurant is a cut above the restaurants on the nearby 6th Street Curry Row, and it’s certainly true. I’m still swooning over the clay oven chicken. Note: Even the fussiest kid loves mango lahssi and naan, but try to eat outside if you can get a seat (see note about loud children).Recommended with reservations:- Washington Square. The famous arch is currently being renovated, but there’s a pleasing fountain in which children love to splash. Semi-seedy crowd. Occasional puddles of pee, but lots of cute squirrels. Not recommended at all, really:- Wearing flip-flops. Aside from the upper East side “Ladies who Lunch,” (think of a woman of a certain age with a Maltese dog tucked into a Chanel bag, and you get the picture), every NYC woman is wearing foot thongs these days. According to a June 29 article from the New York Times Style Desk, it looks as if “everybody has just stepped out of the shower.” I set an example for my child and resisted this fashion trend. Who wants to be in flippies when there are puddles of pee to navigate? Downside: Very hot feet.A perfect budget vacationIn sum, the occasional puddle of pee is a pretty minor gripe for a city of 8 million. If you haven’t visited New York since 9-11, hightail it to DIA, where a direct flight to La Guardia can be relatively cheap (approximately $250). New Yorkers don’t want your pity, just your tourist dollars.The Big Apple is the perfect island family vacation for those in search of world-class culture and a healthy immune system. Children love it, you can wear your flip-flops if you’re brave and, who knows, friendly natives might even give you a lei. Lou Bendrick lives in Telluride, but is planning a move to Boston, where she hopes to find an island with fewer pee puddles.


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