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New York with Kids – It's Way More Than Just New York City

We started planning our family New York trip only thinking about Manhattan.  Neither kid had yet traveled to the U.S. east coast.  Then we thought, well…since we’re going across the country from San Diego…it would be a shame to come so close to Niagara Falls and not take the kids there too.  As one of the natural wonders of the world, they would love it.  Dad had not been to the Falls since childhood and Mom had never seen it!  But, logistically, how could we make that work?  And, is there anything worthy of seeing between the far western area of New York (Buffalo/Niagara) and the far eastern part (NYC)?  We started digging and planning and ended up enjoying what became one of our favorite family trips ever.  Start spreading the news… 

Transportation to New York

We flew Delta (coach) from San Diego to Buffalo/Niagara Airport with one connection in Detroit.  Delta is our favorite airline at the moment as many of their domestic flights include personal entertainment screens and content (and the TVs usually work too).  We will pay a premium to have good functioning digital content, especially when traveling with children.  Flights were timely and landed us in Buffalo around Midnight with the three hour time change.  We rented a car from the Dollar (owned by Hertz) airport location and drove toward our hotel that is within walking distance of Niagara Falls. 

Day 1 (Wednesday)

1am – View Niagara Falls at night.  

By this time it was near 1am, but since our bodies were still functioning on Pacific Time, we still felt lively enough to get our first peek at Niagara Falls.  With hardly anyone outside, we parked about as close as you can and strolled down to the water.  What a sight!  At night the Falls are lit by colored lights and the view is incredible (better than during the day).  If you have a chance to see the Falls at night, do so.

11am – View Niagara Falls during day

The next morning we walked to the Maid of the Mist Ferry and arrived by 11am (Wednesday).  The lines of people had yet to lengthen and since we pre-purchased our tickets on-line, we breezed down to the boat.  (Note: The ferry lines on the Canadian side were much longer.)  After donning the plastic hoodie for water protection, we boarded the ferry and excitedly rode the boat toward the mouth of both the U.S. and Canada Falls.  (Tip…stand on the front left side for maximum soaking.)  Like a scene from a movie, the approach to the Canadian “Horsehoe” Falls is completely surreal and eye-popping.  The kids will never forget that twenty minutes of their lives.

12Noon – Walk to Canada

After the ferry docked, we walked up and across the automobile bridge to Canada (Note, the lines to Maid of the Mist were 4x longer at Noon vs. 11am when we arrived).  You’ll need a passport, birth certificate or Nexus card to enter Canada.  Only one customs official worked the counter, but we were the only folks in line.

The Canadian side is much more touristy and busy than the U.S. side.  The adults very much preferred the tranquility of the U.S. side to the tourist traps—funicular, zip lines, t-shirt shops, haunted houses, arcades etc. that awaited on the Canadian side.  We considered a zip line ride, but when learning that the cost was $50/person and the wait would be at least 90 minutes, we passed.  Our kids have never seen nor eaten at RainForest Café, so we relented and let them have that experience.  While Mom and Dad are never too thrilled to spend our money at such establishments, we were happy to let the kids enjoy it once.  Actually, the food was decent, and the “animals” entertaining.

3pm – Walk back to USA

We returned across the bridge back to the U.S.  Canada charges pedestrians $1 at their border to leave and there are dollar bill changers for coins.  How nice.  Getting back through US Customs was easy and we were returned to our rental car.  Next stop…Watkins Glen.

6pm – Arrive at the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel   

We followed Google Maps directions to Watkins Glen and it led us off the interstate after an hour or so.  We enjoyed driving through the wine country and small towns in the Finger Lakes region.  Beautiful two-lane highways, historic homes, and rolling hills filled the landscape.  After an approximate 2.5 hour drive, we arrived at the upscale Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel on the shore of Seneca Lake and in the heart of Watkins Glen.  Rooms were spacious and very appealing with comfortable beds, walk-in showers, and cheerful colors. And there was a well-equipped gym!

Hungry for dinner, we walked to Jerlando’s Italian Restaurant for a tasty meal of veal parmesan, pizza, salads, and pasta.  The tomato sauce was delicious and made most of the dishes a favorite for all.    

Day 2 (Thursday)

9am – Hike Watkins Glen State Park Gorge Trail 

We saw photos online of this park, but the length of the trail cannot be appreciated unless in person.  This park is a true gorge and most on the trail appreciate its tranquility and beauty.  Don’t worry about heat or sunshine as the trail is almost completely shaded before Noon.  We parked in the pay lot and climbed to the trail’s top in about 45 minutes (1.5 miles) with plenty of stops for photos. The path is well maintained and not too crowded before 10am.  No fee to hike.  We chose spending a night in Watkins Glen because of this hike and believe we made the right choice versus visiting other nearby points of interest like the Baseball Hall of Fame (Cooperstown), Ithaca (Cornell U.), and Binghampton.  The Watkins Glen hotel, town, lake and state park all make it a highly recommended 1-night destination for athletic-minded travelers, especially those with children.

12Noon – Drive to NYC

Thankfully, two-lane highways continued our journey out of Watkins Glen, so we were treated with more scenic towns and rolling hills.  We welcomed unplanned stops such as at a local husband/wife team barbecuing chicken on a large grill in one town, and about 45 minutes later we stumbled upon Ice Cream Works! in Owego for its homemade you know what—so many unique flavors, homemade ice cream sandwiches and more.  What a find!  I want to return now!

The rest of the drive was along the interstate without much to report.  We easily returned the rental car to Dollar/Hertz in Times Square (Avoid driving in NYC!) and checked into our hotel for the next three nights, EVEN Hotels Times Square South.

6pm – EVEN Hotels Times Square South 35th Street  

We were part of the original brand and design team for EVEN Hotels corporate (bias alert), so we knew the 35th Street location would serve us well.  The kids really enjoyed the ping-pong and foosball tables in the ground-level game room.  Rooms, in part thanks to yours truly, are an athletic-minded traveler’s dream—soft bed linens, quiet surroundings, rain shower heads, and large rooms for NYC standards.  This hotel still smells new.  Location is perfectly centered giving us a close launching point to both south and north tourist attractions (and a convenient walk to the Bryant Park neighborhood—one of our faves).

Dinner this first night was the mega sized Whole Foods and nearby Tender Greens, both across the street from Bryant Park.  We wanted quick and simple since much of the day had been spent in the car. Another plus about EVEN Hotels is the welcoming and open eating space. We ordered a nice pour of wine to accompany our Whole Foods salad!

Day 3 (Friday)

9am - Statue of Liberty 

Uber picked us up at 8am and had us down to Battery Park in thirty minutes.  We previously purchased Statue of Liberty tickets for the 9am ferry.  Since we didn’t have tickets into its crown (sold out), we smartly decided to remain on the ferry during its first stop and enjoy the views from the boat.  The views from the boat really are no different than from the island, so not getting off kept us well ahead of the morning crowd.  At the ferry’s second stop, Ellis Island, we got off the ferry and followed the audio tour (headphones not necessary).  We appreciated being able to go at our own pace, listening fully to some stations while fast-forwarding through others.  We spent about 1 hour at Ellis Island and ferried back to Battery Park.

1230pm – 9/11 Memorial Tour  

From Battery Park, we walked past the “Raging Bull” for the obligatory photograph, then continued walking past the NYSE, then over to the 9/11 Memorial.  With time to spare before our 12:30pm tour, we walked a block west of the memorial to Hudson Eats -- an upscale food court inside the Brookfield Place building (ground level)—and enjoyed lunch.  Plenty of options, but we went with the Mexican place and kids liked it better than Chipotle because “it’s more authentic Mexican”.

We booked the kids tour for the 9/11 Memorial because it’s only one hour instead of 90 or 120 minutes, but honestly I think our 8 and 13 year old would have been fine with the longer tour too.  There’s only one official tour company there, and they do a wonderful job educating and honoring the victims, families, events, and history.  Content is presented live by a tour guide who uses Bluetooth and headphones and each person on the tour is likewise issued their own headphone and receiver.  Works really well and is respectful to the memorial setting.

3pm – Tenement Tour  

A New Yorker friend recommended the Tenement Tour to us and it did not disappoint.  The Museum encompasses a few historic low rise buildings that have been maintained and decorated to look like apartments in the 1920’s-40’s.  About 8 tours are available to choose from.  We picked the most kid-friendly tour wherein we met and intermingled with a “14-year old girl who recently immigrated to the USA from Europe in the 1920s”.   We spoke to her in her apartment and asked questions.  Kids enjoyed it, and we give it high marks for uniqueness.

4pm – Prince Street Pizza 

Rated #1 by the slice, Prince Street is a must stop for pizza lovers.  Expect to wait in line outside.  After about 15 minutes, we devoured our pepperoni and cheese slices and agreed they were delicious--very unique pepperoni preparation and cooking style. We also liked that there are a number of unique shops in this area and often artists selling their wares (jewelry etc.).

5pm – Brooklyn Bridge

Our energy was running low by this time, so a complete walk across the Bridge did not happen.  We made it part way and then decided to turn around and taxi back to the hotel.  If we had more time and energy, we would have liked to walk completely across the bridge and stop at one of the pizza by the slice joints in Brooklyn. Pizza being a highly valued kid motivation tool!

7pm – Dinner at Main Noodle House (1011 6th Ave.)

With both kids speaking Mandarin, we always like to eat at new Chinese restaurants if rated well and convenient.  Main Noodle House checked the boxes for us and we were happy we gave it a try.  Delicious food, plentiful "healthy choices," quick and friendly service, and reasonable prices for New York City, made us consider going back the following day (but we didn’t).

Day 4 (Saturday)

After back to back packed days, we scheduled less for our last day in the city.  We wanted the kids to see some of the famous parts of Manhattan, so we strolled the sidewalks and stopped for photos at well-known spots:  5th Avenue, Rockefeller Center, Times Square, The Late Show Studio, etc.

We heard Joe’s Pizza was another local fave, so we bought slices and got lucky getting a table inside the small shop just south of Times Square on Broadway.  Half of our crew rated Joe’s slices better than Prince Street’s, the other two felt it was a close second.

A trip to NYC would not be complete without watching a Broadway show and spending some time in Central Park.  So, that’s what we did for the remainder of the day.  Come From Away’s Saturday Matinee was a good choice for kids due to a shorter run-time, no intermission, and an age-appropriate and historical storyline (9/11).  Moreover, it provided a needed rest from the morning’s walk and activity.

After the theater experience, we walked a few blocks and rented bikes from Bike Rent NYC, just south of the park.  Costs were reasonable and by the hour.  We rented decent quality mountain bikes for two hours (two kid-sized bikes and two adult-sized).  A sunny and warm day, the ride around the 10K park loop was a fantastic way to close the trip.  We stopped at one of the playgrounds and let the kids relive some of their early childhood.  Pedal counter-clockwise around the loop and keep an eye out for crossing walkers.

Day 5 (Sunday)

Flight home on JetBlue, non-stop from JFK Airport to San Diego got us home to San Diego on time and with smiles on our faces.

This was such a high quality family trip -- mixing Niagara Falls and hiking with all the intensity, energy and sites of Manhattan.

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