We boarded Amtrak in Fredericksburg at 7 a.m. and arrived at Penn Station just after noon. With an early check-in at the Westin Times Square, we picked up our NY Passes nearby and by 1 p.m. were on our way to Rockefeller Center for the NBC Studio Tour. After realizing our son was never going to be a weatherman (tour guides pluck on-air “talent” from the group for a very amusing mock news broadcast), we took a high-speed elevator to the Top of the Rock to admire the spectacular view from the 70th floor observatory.
We polished off cheesecake and sundaes at Junior’s, then jumped on the subway toward the Empire State Building for a King Kong view of the city. Consensus? Everyone needs to visit this classic at least once, but maybe King Kong might’ve been less grumpy with the smaller crowds and the unobstructed views at Top of the Rock.
Sofia’s of Little Italy was our dinner destination where fragrant garlic and hot bread wafts down Mulberry Street. After dinner, we headed to Pier 17 at South Street Seaport where we boarded a tall Clipper Ship for a moonlight cruise past the Statue of Liberty and glittering Manhattan Skyline.
The next morning, we ventured uptown for a bike ride on the 6.1-mile loop through Central Park. We spotted familiar movie sites along the way including the snowball bridge in Elf and the motorized sailboat pond in Stuart Little. We passed the Central Park Zoo, Heckscher Ballfields, the Loeb Boathouse where couples set out for a romantic afternoon in rowboats and 21 boisterous playgrounds. On the north side, the Lasker public swimming pool (converted to the Lasker Ice Rink in winter), is one of several free park attractions. On the way back, we admired statues, fountains, several lakes and ponds and natural creeks with waterfalls hidden among the foliage. As we entered the clearing of the Sheep Meadow, statuesque skyscrapers, including architectural marvels designed decades ago, perfectly framed the clear blue sky.
There are several good eateries throughout the park, but we opted to grab a “slice” (pizza, as the locals call it) then made a quick detour to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met) which houses a collection so large it could take a week or more to see it all.
Later, in Times Square, we hammed it up for the Jumbotron camera and at Madame Tussaud’s we took pictures of ourselves with celebrities made of wax. We grabbed juicy burgers and delicious shakes at Shake Shack before calling it a night.
After a leisurely breakfast and a quick subway ride, we were back at Penn Station not so ready to catch our train back to Fredericksburg. This was not our first visit to Manhattan and it won’t be our last. It could take countless three-day weekends to enjoy everything Manhattan has to offer.
Getting There and Getting Around
7 a.m. arrives in NYC at 12:05 p.m., 5 hours, 5 mins
3:04 p.m. – 8:14 p.m., 5 hours, 10 min
Check website for complete schedule.
Fares vary, but children ages 2-15 are half price with paying adult. Children under 2 ride free.
Available Discounts: AAA, Student Advantage, Senior Advantage, NARP, ISIC, Veterans Advantage, Military Adult
We relaxed in spacious, comfortable seats for the five-hour trek north. With limited selection in the dining car, we brought our own lunches, snacks and drinks. Although Wi-Fi service is aggravatingly spotty and inadequate for video streaming, there are convenient AC outlets adjacent to each seat so we were prepared with pre-loaded movies and Kindles.
Subway - Metropolitan Transit Authority
App available for smartphones with map
$2.25 per ride with a Metrocard sold at vending machines — you will need a credit card — but you get a 7 percent bonus for cards valued at $10 or more — Buy a single card and use for up to 4 passengers — some include free bus transfers within two hours of your subway ride –— check for restrictions. Printed maps are available at most hotels and near fare card vending machines.
Relatively clean and safe, the subways can get crowded during rush hours and loading platforms can be stifling hot in the summer, but with city traffic, the subway is the most economical and efficient way to get around NYC. Note: strollers can be a challenge and are not permitted on escalators.
NYC taxi’s are metered and fares and tips may be paid by credit card on the convenient machine in each cab. Drivers range from brusque to jovial and many will make recommendations about good places to eat or visit. Notorious for their aggressive driving, be prepared to hang on. Save your receipt — it will be easier to locate items if you leave them behind.
Taxis are convenient and quick if traffic isn’t too heavy. Difficult if not impossible to find on a rainy day, try lining up at a hotel entrance where doormen will be glad to flag one down for you. They always appreciate a well-earned tip.
Where to Stay
There are literally hundreds of hotels in the immediate NYC vicinity. Although it’s convenient to stay in midtown, if you don’t mind walking a few blocks, consider locations further east and west of 8th Avenue or even in lower Manhattan where there are generally lower rates, especially on weekends. However, a slightly higher room rate may be worth it for a central location when you have only three days because you don’t want to spend all your time traveling to and from the hotel.
Many standard NYC hotel rooms are smaller than hotels in other places so be sure ask if you need space for a rollaway or crib. Book early for the best rates and call hotels directly to ask about specials. The following links connect to hotels popular with families:
Attractions and Activities
One of the best values in NYC, this pass provides free admission to over 70 attractions, generous discounts for others plus a free 200-page guidebook. You will be able to bypass ticket lines and reservations available or even required at some attractions.
Buy online for a discount and have them mailed to you or choose a pick up location near your hotel. Check for occasional promotion specials.
1-day pass adult $85 child 4-12 $60
2-day pass adult $130 child $110
A few of the included attractions: NBC Studio Tour, Empire State Building, Top of the Rock Observatory, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Harry Potter- The Exhibit at Discovery Times Square. For a complete list visit: http://www.newyorkpass.com/attractions/
This was a great deal for us since it covered every major attraction we visited, including our 3-hour bike rentals.
Clipper Ship Tall Sail Cruises
Pier 17, South Street Seaport, Fulton Street
The Clipper City is a 158’ long ship with masts rising 120’ off the deck. Close up views of the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty and the glittering Manhattan skyline are all part of this relaxing day evening cruise. The traditionally rigged Clipper City is a steel replica of the Clipper ships that dominated thecoastal trade in the U.S. during the 1800’s. A cash bar is available during every 90-minute cruise. Reservations are required.Sailing season is April 27th - October 14th.
Daytime and evening sails available.
We preferred the nighttime cruise to take advantage of the lights of the Manhattan skyline, Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty. Bring a sweater or jacket for the eveningcruise, as even in August, the breezes on the Hudson can feel chilly.
Central Park Bike Rental
At the corner of 7th Ave and 58th Street
Rentals are available year around.Guided Tours are led daily April 1 through October 31 at 9:00 a.m. No reservations required, first come — first served. No children under age 5.
Store hours: 9:30 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.
Closed Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.
Get there early as bikes go fast. Bikes are returned throughout the day, but you won’t want to wait, especially if you have several people in your party. There is a mechanic on site so be sure to check that your bike is fully functional and the seats and other parts are secure and adjusted properly before you head out. Biking in Central Park is not for small children because of the crowds and speed of some bicyclists, especially on weekends. We recommend only for children who ride well.
234 West 42nd Street, between 7th and 8th Avenues
This museum is filled with life-sized wax replicas of movie and TV stars, pop stars, political, historical and cultural figures and sports legends. Most are positioned to allow visitors to pose for pictures with their favorites. Discount admission tickets are available on the museum website.
We visited this Times Square attraction only because there was free admission included with our NY Pass. Some of the wax creations are realistic, but some are not. We had silly fun taking our pictures with the various “celebrities”, but at $36 per adult and $29 per child, we didn’t think it was worth that much of a separate admission fee, even with a 20 percent online discount.
42nd and Broadway
What is there to say about Times Square except that you must experience it to appreciate the hype? It’s an intoxicating — if not overwhelming — mix of blinking, flashing Madison Avenue creative genius. It’s the town square of one of the most influential cities in the world. Besides the famous New Year’s Eve celebration, Times Square hosts other events such as a Kiss In, where every five years, on the date celebrating the end of World War II, couples from all over the world come to re-enact the Life Magazine cover photo of the famous lip lock between a sailor and nurse. The next Kiss In? August 14, 2015.
It’s loud and it’s crowded, but we loved it! From the street performers to the tacky shops to the ticker tape announcements and colorful ads on every surface nothing screams NYC like Times Square.
691 8th Avenue
Don’t let the long lines scare you — they move fast and there is a “C” line — an express lane for those who are ordering only frozen custard or shakes. Juicy burgers, hot dogs, fries, beer and wine, they even have special treats for canine companions. Near Times Square and other locations around the city.
Great food, good service, urban and eco trendy — what one of us nicknamed, “the Chipotle of burgers and hot dogs.” Not your average fast food.
Juniors – Times Square
West 45th Street between Broadway and 8th Ave.
Colorfully retro, Juniors serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Famous for its cheesecake and original 1950s location on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, it’s a fun place to grab a bite.
The cheesecake was light, fluffy and flavorful. Ice cream sundaes were served in old-fashioned sundae glasses with all the classic toppings. We didn’t eat a meal here but the menu is extensive and what we did see looked and smelled delicious.
Sofia’s of Little Italy
143 Mulberry Street
Nestled in the heart of Little Italy, Sofia’s serves dinner in a romantic, white tablecloth setting but is comfortable for families. Serving fresh pasta, risotto, seafood and many Italian specialties, including an extensive wine list, this was a relaxing and delicious setting to unwind after a busy day.
We loved the warm, friendly atmosphere, great service and delicious food. We also enjoyed walking around the neighborhood before and after dinner to look at the trinket shops and enjoy the lights and festival-like atmosphere.
Links to Additional Central Park Attractions
East Side between 63rd and 66th Streets
Explore the Rainforest, the 4-D Theater or watch the daily penguin and sea lion feedings and much more.
Mid-Park at 64th Street
Carousels have provided enjoyment to young and old in Central Park since 1871. During the summer months, the carousel is open 7 days a week.
West Side at 79th Street
Home to one of the last marionette companies in the U.S. Whimsical productions of children’s classics such as Cinderella and Peter Pan are held Saturdays and Sundays at 1 p.m.
East Side from 72nd to 75th Street
Rent and navigate a miniature, motorized sailboat a la Stuart Little at the Conservatory Water (model boat pond).
Mid-Park between 106th and 108th Streets.
Admission is free. Bring all supplies and a lock. Strollers not allowed.
East 72nd Street and Park Drive North
Rowboat and bike rentals are available April - November. Gondola rides for up to six people are available, weather permitting. A restaurant, café and outdoor bar on site serve meals and light snacks and drinks.