Destination: New York City
Surprisingly, New York can be a family friendly city if you know what to look for and where to go.
By Margot Black

New York is all hustle and bustle: crowded sidewalks, horn-happy traffic and impatient office workers vying for attention at deli counters. So how do you enjoy this vibrantly crazy city with a toddler in tow? Is it possible to find a truly family-friendly hotel and keep a 22-month-old amused when they’re forced to spend most of their time in a stroller avoiding potholes in the rain (and boy, did it rain!)? And what about us adults? We deserve to have some fun too!
As a travel enthusiast, I’ve clocked many air miles but I’ve never flown cross country with Virgin America before and it was a wonderful surprise. They’re now officially my favorite airline, and my advice to all the other airlines: keep up, people! The cabin crew, in their smart black uniforms, were all incredibly friendly, accommodating and delighted to be there. They were happy to shuffle people around the cabin and I watched two movies while my child slept. I wanted to kiss them all! Even the cab ride to the hotel was easy. All certified airport cabs now work on a flat rate system so no haggling needed and no need to have a panic attack when sitting in traffic. The only thing that demanded our attention was the TV in the back of the cab that kept turning itself on, even though we kept turning it off. No big deal except that Jett, our son, kept asking if we could switch it over to Elmo.

I realize I’m beginning to sound like I’m on happy pills, but the Hotel Beacon, located on the tree-lined Upper West Side, was without a doubt, one of the most wonderful family friendly hotels I’ve ever stayed at in New York City. It’s a gem of place. Their 260 rooms have been recently renovated and we reveled in a huge yet relaxing green-painted suite that boasts spacious marble bathrooms, a sturdy crib and super comfortable beds. Best of all, the Hotel Beacon has kitchenettes in all their rooms – the traveling mom’s dream! Why pay $40 for breakfast when you can rustle up some eggs in your jammies each morning?

Another joy was discovering the coin-operated laundry room located on another floor. With an inquisitive toddler around, it makes life so much easier to know that you can throw his dirty clothes into the wash without having to rack up ridiculous in-house laundry or dry cleaning bills, or pack three extra suitcases.

There’s also something inherently charming about this hotel with its old-fashioned elevators and personable feel. It really is one of the most comfortable city hotels I’ve ever stayed in and certainly one of the most centrally located. Any family traveling to New York City should consider this hotel as one of their best choices.

Another bonus is the historic Beacon Theatre, which is attached to the hotel (Chris Isaak, Steely Dan and Tom Jones are just some of the acts appearing this summer), while nearby is the Lincoln Center, the American Museum of Natural History, Broadway and of course, midtown shopping. Plus, there was a lovely coffee shop next door that delivered to the hotel, and across the street the Fairway Market, one of the most amazing supermarkets you could ever hope to lose yourself in.

As the hotel was a mere hop, skip and a jump away from Central Park, we planned most of our days around this vast open space. Strapped into a stroller all day isn’t my son’s idea of fun, so factoring in some running-off-steam-time was crucial to the trip’s success (and our well-being!). It’s well documented that Central Park has been regenerated in recent years so to wander around and enjoy the shaded walks, the lake, Strawberry Fields and the international melting pot of skaters, musicians, break-dancers, bikers, soccer players and tourists was truly fun. Central Park is full of surprises; snow leopards are the newest arrivals at the zoo, there are concerts throughout the year and on the East Side you can find Cleopatra’s Needle, the oldest public monument in North America. But topping my list of things to do was a romantic horse and carriage ride around the park. This is a must-do, even with a toddler, and my advice is that you splurge for the big ride but know that prices haven’t increased in 20 years, so please tip your driver well!

It’s not often that you get to pose with your husband in a Statue of Liberty hat but yes, the happy pills were clearly still working! Even the most jaded traveler has to be awed when the Statue of Liberty comes into focus. We took a two-hour Circle Line cruise, figuring that this was all our little son could handle but as it was, he fell asleep in the middle of the cruise and we enjoyed the entire ride on the deck watching the skyline slip past. If your kids are older, I’d try a three-hour cruise, as it is simply one of the most awesome views of Manhattan. There’s a snack bar and bathrooms on board qualifying it for sensational family fun. Prices range from $16 for a child, $23-27 for an adult and $20-23 for seniors.

Where would parents be without hot dogs? Our son almost burst with happiness every time we handed him his own dog and constantly asked for more throughout the trip. We probably ate more than is advisable by FDA standards but hey, it kept him happy and when belts are being tightened (and you’re certain that you can eat the frank without contracting some kind of unidentifiable bug), it’s an affordable way to eat in the city.

The best way to describe the Children’s Museum of Manhattan? One word: outstanding. The best of its kind that I have ever seen. This is my best tip: go on a sunny day as the world converges here when it’s raining. This place is genius though, the kids are allowed to run around, explore and get involved. Highlights include Alphie the talking dragon, a super fun science exhibit bought to life in the form of an arcade and the chance into city buses and fire trucks complete with costumes. There’s nowhere to eat in the museum itself but there are lots of cafes and diners nearby including the café where they filmed You’ve Got Mail(the first time Meg Ryan’s and Tom Hanks’ characters meet). We ate atArties, a short walk away, where a chalkboard special announced their: ‘My Son is Becoming a Doctor’ platter for ten while I delved into the sliced brisket, caramelized onions, horseradish sauce and melted munster on rye. It was delicious.

I had some of my fondest childhood memories of this place, Serendipity, but now that I’m a mom, I think it’s ick and probably one of the least family-friendly restaurants I’ve ever visited — unless of course, your family consists solely of eight-year-old girls. Our waiter seemed irked that our party contained children aged from toddler to ten, and there were no changing stations, no high chairs and I had to yell four times before someone would give me my son’s milk bottle. Other child-free diners looked at us with disgust every time our children made, um, children noises. Really, if they wanted to plan things better, they could easily separate families from everyone else as they have two floors. There was nowhere to store our strollers either and nearby, a huge glass vase balanced on a pillar: a heart-attack waiting to happen for every anxious parent. And if they don’t want to attract kids, why offer foot long hot dogs? Their Frozen Hot Chocolate was still delicious but frankly, we wished we’d gone to Mickey Mantle’s.

There are six different Serafinas in New York but we ate at the Serafina Grill, which is on 61st Street, between Park and Madison, a short distance from the hotel. I’m happy to report that after the horror of Serendipity, we really enjoyed our experience there. They attract a diverse clientele and we felt as at home in our surroundings as the businessmen and ladies who lunch. The staff were friendly and brought something for the children to chew on immediately; this is a small point but an important one — don’t keep hungry kids waiting, the consequences are simply not worth it! The Italian menu, which remains pretty standard across all six locations, was simply divine. We nibbled on many tasty dishes including a perfectly seasoned tomato garlic bread, calamari and Italian prosciutto followed by clam linguine and a marvelous goat cheese and eggplant pizza, washed down (for the adults) with a glass of perfectly chilled Pinot Grigio.

FAO Schwarz certainly has the ‘wow’ factor. This huge and incredible store was opened 145 years ago by Frederick August Otto Schwarz and his three brothers, all immigrants from Germany. It’s the oldest toy store in the States but it’s not just for children – adults can have fun too. You can peruse the aisles for hours, gazing upon all the fun stuff and my favorite part was the Muppet Whatnot Workshop, where you literally get to create your own Muppet toy. We actually managed to make it out of there without buying anything, which was a miracle in itself.

The trip was a huge success … yes, I’m still on the happy pills! A lot of that had to do with staying at the Hotel Beacon. It was such a pleasure to return there every day knowing we had all we needed close at hand to keep everyone happy. I was worried about bringing a toddler to New York City but the simplest things seem to please him – the train and bus rides were especially fun, probably because we live in Los Angeles and he only ever gets to ride in the car. My advice would be to plan your ‘toddler time’ each day — as long as Jett could run around somewhere for a couple of hours, he was happy. So what was the hardest part about traveling in New York City with a toddler? Having to explain to him every time we got into a cab that the TV in the backseat doesn’t play Elmo. Oh well. You can’t please ’em all the time!

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