There is no place like NYC and every time I go back, I miss it that much more. This year, we planned a family getaway to NYC to celebrate the little one’s 9th birthday with her and a friend. Since it was all about her birthday, the kids got to set the priority on what we were going to do. However, in addition to some of the typical sites, like Times Square, we also set out to explore a part of the city she hadn’t experienced before…Lower Manhattan.
Our initial plan was to start at the American Museum of Natural History and have lunch on the Upper West Side, but a last minute ticket sale had us switching things around to get to see Annie on Broadway. We probably could have gotten tickets at TKTS, but not wanting to waste time standing in line we bought them a day in advance since Ticketmaster was having a sale.
Of course, before the show we had to find a place to eat nearby. I usually avoid Times Square at all costs but with a late arrival into the city and only an hour and a half until show time we had no choice. Since we had the kids, we decided to go with a place that offered an “experience” and reserved a table using OpenTable at Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar (from Guy Fieri of Food Network fame.) Even though the restaurant got a scathing, although very entertaining, review in the New York Times, we decided to roll the dice.
The atmosphere was cool, the place was cavernous but broken into manageable areas so the noise level wasn’t too loud, and the service was very fast and quite pleasant. Everything on the menu was very expensive, but not that much more than the typical Times Square joint. I got the California egg rolls (no better than your average burger chain’s southwest egg rolls), my husband got the bacon chicken mac n cheese (large and yummy), and the girls split an order of BBQ ribs. Everything was good, but nothing that said Food Network chef quality. If you are really looking for something quick and casual in Times Square, you might want to just check out the food trucks and sit in the open air tables.
One other tip — if you are driving into NYC, figure out where you will need to park, whether at a hotel or an attraction. Check ahead to see what rate your hotel is offering and search for nearby options using Google Maps. You might also want to plan ahead and check Central Parking and Icon Parking for garages in the area and look up any coupons they might be offering.
Keep in mind that while they offer mobile apps for finding parking on-the-go, they do not accept mobile coupons so you need to plan ahead and print out coupons to bring with you. I found a deal right on 40th Street between 7th and Broadway for only $18 for up to 10 hours on the weekend.
If you plan on exploring the city by bus, be sure to check out these tips for using the New York Hop On Hop Off Bus.
After the show and some shopping in Times Square, we headed downtown to check in at the Millennium Hilton at 55 Church Street. We were able to find a great deal on Priceline.com and got a Junior Suite, featuring a king bed and a pullout for the kids for only $250!
The hotel offers a perfect location for exploring Lower Manhattan. It is ideally situated between multiple subway lines, plus it is directly across from the World Trade Center and 9/11 Memorial. We were thrilled by Room 1611. Not only was the pullout in a sitting area separated from the bedroom by a hall with the bathroom and closet, providing virtual privacy and making it easier to get to sleep, it featured two walls of windows. The first overlooked St. Paul’s Chapel, Manhattan’s oldest public building in continuous use and a place where George Washington worshiped and 9/11 recovery workers received round-the-clock care. The other window from the bedroom looked out over the WTC construction site with a direct view of the Freedom Tower. Technically One World Trade Center, this new skyscraper has been dubbed the Freedom Tower because it rises 1,776 feet above the city.
After a quick change, we headed out to an early dinner at Les Halles at 15 John Street (since the kids like to eat early and we had a 7pm entry to the 9/11 Memorial.) Les Halles is a French brasserie and homebase for Chef-at-Large Anthony Bourdain. We’ve been to Les Halles on Park Avenue South back when we lived in NYC so we knew what to expect. Not only was the restaurant an easy five minute walk from the hotel, but they also offered a kid’s menu. While my girl is pretty adventurous (and a fairly big eater), I wanted to make sure her friend had plenty of options. Of course, they completely surprised us by wanting to try the escargot (and yes, they liked it, more than we did!) I split a strip steak with the friend, while my girl got the grilled salmon and hubby got the charcuterie plate. The steak and salmon were good but the charcuterie plate wasn’t too appetizing looking. Since it was early we weren’t exactly starving so the portions were perfect and the service was fast and pleasant. We were in and out in just a little over an hour.
We then strolled over to the 9/11 Memorial, taking in the sites along the way (including a bizarre protest of sorts consisting of mostly naked men on bikes.) I had a lot of hesitation before taking 9-year-olds to the 9/11 Memorial, but after talking to a 5th-grade teacher who takes her class every year, I was reassured that the experience would not be too graphic or overwhelming for kids their age. She reminded me that since they were not alive during the events of 9/11, they don’t have the same memories or perspective we do that is linked to deep emotions. Also, while we have told our child a bit more each year about the attacks on that day, she still can’t conceive of the true horror or the scale of devastation.
What I wasn’t prepared for was my emotional response just walking into the memorial. Since my husband and I lived in NYC at the time of the attacks, our ties to the WTC are very personal. A close family member survived only because he had the foresight to keep heading downstairs when they made the announcement that the first plane was an isolated incident. If he had headed back upstairs with the rest of his staff, he would not be here today.
I really have a hard time putting into words the beauty, simplicity, and reverence of the memorial. The main features are the twin pools, set within the footprints of the original twin towers and framed by inscriptions of names of those lost. The names are grouped by flight, first responders, Pentagon victims, and those in the North and South towers. The water cascades down into the pool and then drops again into an inner square. My husband said it best, “The pools. As I see them, a million tears falling in, and falling into a bottomless pit…So powerful.” Exactly. And so haunting.
It was hard to control the tears and emotion but it also brought up good opportunities to talk with the kids about how it felt on that day and the days following the attacks, as well as the amazing bravery shown by so many on that dreadful day. Whew, it is hard to pull myself out of that moment even now.
After taking time to reflect at the memorial, we decided to perk things up a bit and went in search of dessert by walking over to the Battery Park area. The kids were thrilled to glimpse the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island from the marina. We also got to watch an amazing sunset over Jersey City. This is a great area to hang out with kids. Since plenty of families live in the area, you will find parks, wide spaces for running around, outdoor cafes and restaurants, and no overwhelming crowds.
As fun as that was, we still were hunting for dessert. We ended up at Shake Shack at 215 Murray Street in Battery Park City. The girls enjoyed enjoyed caramel shakes, my husband a chocolate malted and I nibbled on a “Concrete” with chocolate frozen custard mixed with chocolate truffle cookie dough. Bellies full, it was time to head back to the hotel after a busy day and get some rest for another jam packed day ahead.
Note: Timed entrance passes to the 9/11 Memorial can be reserved online at http://www.911memorial.org/ for a $2 fee. However, if you haven’t planned in advance, passes for same-day visits are also available on a first-come, first-served basis. These passes are not subject to a service fee, and must be obtained in person at the 9/11 Memorial Preview Site at 20 Vesey St. If you aren’t sure you are ready to go to the Memorial, you may want to wait another year until the Museum opens in 2014. Also, while there isn’t anything expressly disturbing for kids at the Memorial, if you stop in at the Visitor Center, you will see images from the attacks, as well as video from survivors and responders that you might want to moderate.
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