Wednesday, February 15, 2006

What to do in NYC

If you are still taking requests, we are planning to be in NYC next summer, sometime during July, visiting my husband's sister and her family.

Do you have any suggestions as to what two families with four children, 10 and 7 year old girls, and 3 and 2 year old boys, might find to do? My older son watched the first two acts of the Nutcracker at Christmas this last year, and enjoyed it enough that he still talks about the battle betweeen the soldiers and mice. The younger one hasn't yet done that, but he can be fairly still and quiet during church. Not good enough for inside an auditorium, but perhaps there are some outdoor theaters or some good museums?

My, my, what a splendid mother you are! Pretty Lady only wishes her own dear mama had had the resources and foresight to plan a trip to NYC when she was small. She might have gotten a jump start on life.

First, some blanket advice: 1) Plan your day and 2) split up, taking a stroller for the small ones. There will be some places and activities which 7 and 10 year old girls will find enthralling, that will cause 2 and 3 year old boys to become restless. Also, you will want a break from managing. Be sure to take plenty of time to sit in one place and watch the city go by.

If you plan to use the subway, a free subway map can be obtained by asking the person behind the glass for one. They will not tell you this. Also, when entering a subway station, one must read the signs above ground to ascertain which direction a train is going. This is not Paris or London, where one can simply find a station, go down into it, and plan one's itinerary. Stations labelled "Downtown/Brooklyn" are going, generally, south; those labeled "Uptown/Queens" are going north. Metrocards can be obtained from machines, using a credit card. It is wise to get an unlimited pass if you do not plan to lose it.

Taxis can sometimes be a smart investment, and sometimes a time-consuming and expensive one. In general, during traffic jams, it is far preferable to take the subway.

Now. For families with small children, the American Museum of Natural History is a must. Planetarium, dinosaurs, whales, wolves and infinite delights abound. It is also one of the few places in NYC that is not only child-friendly, but child-centered. Plan to spend most of one whole day there.

My own dear mother has fond memories of being taken to the Central Park Zoo at the age of four; I believe there is both a playground and a petting zoo, also a duckpond with water lilies and turtles. Close by the zoo is the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which is probably the most fabulous museum in the world, in my opinion. Pretty Lady's first introduction to this wondrous place was through the classic children's book, "From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler," by E. L. Konigsburg; if your girls can be persuaded to read it before coming to the city, they will be well on their way to becoming truly cultured young ladies.

(Another little-known fact--admission at the Met is a voluntary donation. One can pay one penny, if one's family is financially strapped.)

One can obtain half-price tickets to Broadway shows, if one is willing to stand in line on the day of the show and take what comes. This may be an option for the girls, while the boys are having a nap. I think "The Lion King" is still playing.

During the summer, there are free art and music events happening downtown nearly every evening, at the River to River Festival. Pretty Lady is on their mailing list, and she highly recommends it. Some of the outdoor auditoriums are right on the waterfront, and a family can have a picnic on the grass while watching the boats go by and listening to live salsa, for example.

If your family is interested in getting to know more about the city than can possibly be imagined, a trip to the Museum of the City of New York is in order. For an overaweing churchgoing experience without having to fly all the way to Europe, one cannot do better than the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, although perhaps the cavernous vastness of the building would frighten a small child. You will have to use your discretion.

Some general financial tips--do not go out to dinner in Midtown. The prices are geared toward investment bankers on expense accounts. Try the Village or the Lower East Side; you can obtain an NFT (not for tourists) guide which will provide excellent maps and price guides, or get a Frommer's or a Lonely Planet. In fact, for wandering aimlessly, window-shopping, and finding frequent caf├ęs for sitting and relaxing with a cappucino and a pastry for an hour or three, you cannot beat the East Village. It's not dangerous anymore.

Do not miss the opportunity to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, and/or take the ferry to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. The walkway on the bridge is a boardwalk which runs above the traffic, affording a priceless view. The walkways on the Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges are miserable in comparison.

If you care to escape Manhattan for an afternoon, the Brooklyn Botanical Garden is quite extraordinary, and heals the soul. Tuesdays are free. You are likely to find Pretty Lady in the water lily garden, or lying on the grass watching the butterflies.

This is only a small preliminary list, but is likely to be enough to occupy at least a week. I have not bothered to mention the Guggenheim, the Whitney, the Frick, the MoMA, the aquarium and amusement park at Coney Island, Jones Beach, the Brooklyn Museum, the Noguchi Museum, Grace Church, St. Thomas' Fifth Avenue, the New York Public Library, Times Square, Chelsea, the WTC site (quite depressing, still) or any number of other things. It is best to pick a few things, enjoy them to the utmost, and rest when anyone shows signs of crankiness.

WEAR GOOD WALKING SHOES. Pretty Lady almost forgot to mention this, as it seems over-obvious, but she had one guest who brought nothing but three-inch heels. It boggles the mind.

Bon voyage!


BoysMom said...

Thank you very much. The girls are my neices, and as they live in the NYC suburbs, may have already been to some of these places.
Hopefully this will be the first trip of many for us, since we have the excuse of visiting family to justify it in our budget.

Pretty Lady said...

Having a free place to stay is, indeed, essential to a true understanding of our city.

The places I am recommending are large and complex enough that it takes many, many visits to take in the wonders therein--I hope your nieces will accompany you!