Since we have been doing so little homeschooling lately, I decided to get back in the groove and assign grades to all the attractions we visited in New York City. Info on the RV park we stayed at is at the end of this 9 page post.
New York Pass –
David and I did something most uncharacteristic for us; we bought a pass for free admission into over 80 NYC attractions for 7 days. We did SO many things that we wouldn’t have ever considered without this pass. If you know me, you know that if I pay for something like this, I WILL get my money’s worth! We rented bikes in Central Park, went on walking tours, went on a sailing ship, even went to Madame Toussads’ Wax Museum. Why not? It was free at that point! I really feel like it was a great experience for us and a great way to “do” New York City with the kids.
David: I’m not sure it would be as great choice if you only had 3 or 5 days (unless you are up for packing in lots of events every day), but with 7 days I highly recommend it. Even just doing 2 or 3 things a day makes it a good deal.
Walking Tour of Brooklyn Bridge and the DUMBO neighborhood
Walking tours were some of the best parts of this NY Pass. Inside Out Tours got high reviews by everyone we talked to and this one more than delivered. We got lots of information while walking over the bridge and had an enjoyable stroll through the “Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass” area. My two pieces of advice if you are going to get a New York Pass is 1. Plan out your days ahead of time and 2. Take all the walking tours that are highly rated on Trip Advisor. They really are great.
David: One cute side note – our boys have a strong affinity to tour guides. They tend to stick right by them and enjoy talking to them while walking from place to place. I suspect they are not even aware Mom and Dad are on the same tour most of the time. We’re essentially irrelevant during tours.
Top of the Rock Observation Deck – 30 Rockefeller Plaza – Rated TOP CHOICE by Bennett
We did this on our first day as an orientation to the city. It was great to see the kids’ jaws drop at the view. It seems like it had been a while since we had gotten a good jaw dropping. There is a free app to download ahead of time that allows you to point toward buildings and the app will identify the more note worthy. Great views, great building.
Bennett: Go there on a clear day if you can. Here’s a tip: The telescope will show you where different buildings are without paying. Just use the numbers on the sign to figure out the direction.
Empire State Building at Night – Rated TOP CHOICE by Carter and David
It’s iconic. You have to do it. We choose to do Top of The Rock the first day as an orientation and save Empire State Building for a night later in the week. If I only had the time or money to do one of these, I might chose Top of The Rock because you can see more skyline from it. By the way, New York Pass provides a free audio tour. It’s a little dry although Carter and Bennett liked the Halloween lights section and some of the building sections.
Carter: The view is amazing on a clear night. You see lots of lights and the skyline. There are so many lights in New York.
Broadway show: Newsies and Mathilda Rated TOP CHOICE by Carter
We used the TKTS booth 3 times. We got ½ price tickets on Newsies for all of us, Mathilda for just David and Carter, and Avenue Q just for David. There is nothing like Times Square and Broadway. The theater quality level is unbelievable. The prices are high though, too. We looked at Lion King – $200+ per ticket??? Wowsa. Both of the kid-attended plays had positive messages, which was an added bonus to the singing and dancing.
Carter: The dancing and singing is amazing and they are really trained to do this. They were both better than anything I’ve seen in Portland. I liked in Mathilda how they interacted with the audience.
Central Park by bike – SBR Store – Rated TOP CHOICE by Bennett and David
What a fun treat! We rented bikes for 4 hours, walked them up to south end the park, and then rode around in the bike lanes all the way to the far north end of the park and back again. At first, this was quite hairy riding in the bike lanes right next to cars, but after about 6 blocks in the cars thinned (or were blocked off) and it was really fun. What I didn’t count on was that it was a bit hard to stop to look at the statues and such while on the road, but we did see The Carousel (I made the kids ride it), The Obelisk (Cleopatra’s Needle) – which is very, very important in one of Carter’s favorite book series and he was a little disappointed to find it scaffolded for cleaning and repair – and the Imagine tribute to John Lennon. The boys also looked at Belvedere Castle, which was prominent in the Smurfs movie. We enjoyed seeing New Yorkers use the park for running, biking, playing baseball, t-ball, softball, and a running club.
Bennett: It was a bonus after being in the city for a few days to see all the green and trees. Make sure to do it during the day and try to figure out when cars are allowed and not allowed and go then! Seeing the carousel was pretty fun, riding it was sort of lame.
David: I second Bennett’s comments. Only after being in NYC a few days can you truly appreciate Central Park and the space and peace it provides.
Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
There are so many iconic paintings here that everywhere you look you see something you know. We did the Family Audio tour and I can’t recommend the audio tours enough! (Plus they are free with admission.) After a little work with the device navigation, we figured out how the adults could listen to a detailed description of the same work while the kids listened to a kid friendly version (although their versions were also quite interesting). I can’t stress enough how great it was to focus in on only a few paintings and not try to study each of their thousand displayed works. MoMA’s suggested itineraries on the web or via the audio tours were really great. (My one complaint about the audio tours was that it was a little difficult to navigate around the galleries and figure out where we were supposed to go next – minor complaint.) Also a shout out to our elementary school’s Art Lit program – we got to talk about Miro and others and the kids knew quite a bit!
Rockefeller Center Tour – 30 Rockefeller Plaza
This tour was such a surprising success! Maybe we got lucky with an exceptional tour guide, but we spent 90 minutes on the “Art and Architecture of Rockefeller Center” and thoroughly enjoyed it. You’d have thought our kids would have run screaming, but they probably enjoyed about 80 minutes of it. We learned so much about Art Deco and the various pieces of public art around the center. The guide talked about various controversies of the time, pointed out cool little features, and was an outstanding teacher.
The BEAST – a boat in the Circle line River Cruises line
This is another example of something we would have NEVER done without the pass. A 30-minute speedboat ride out to Lady Liberty and back at a roller coaster speed of 45 mph. Look, this was a BLAST, but it really didn’t have much to do with New York City. Giving it a grade makes me question any rubrics I have. As long as you see the Statue of Liberty on some boat, this trip isn’t necessary, but the kids loved it. It was still massive fun though, so it gets an:
Grand Central Station
The New York Pass gives you an audio tour of this impressive building. We messed up the closing time, so didn’t get to do the audio tour, but we still had a great time looking around. The food court downstairs is a great place for a meal. It isn’t food chains, but actual unique eating establishments. Then we went up to the second floor balcony, after a good look at the ceiling we had a great time at people watching. I challenged the boys to find someone running, someone running in high heels, a kid (very difficult to find at rush hour), a tourist, a fancily dressed up person, and the game occupied us very nicely while David took fun pictures of this incredibly photogenic building.
People watching at a restaurant counter looking at the street
Don’t waste your dining time! Be sure to get a seat at the counter overlooking the street and watch the people go by. Challenge your kids to find interesting people.
Subway (MTA / Metropolitan Transit Authority)
We used the subway and our feet exclusively and the kids only got to experience 2 taxi rides. Don’t fear it. It’s easy. It’s way cheaper than taxi’s and it’s safe.
David: We got the 7-day all-you-can ride passes, which made subway decisions easy. Even if it was only a 15 min walk, if we were tired and the subway was easy, no problem. Otherwise it’s ~$2.25/ride per person. According to the one subway ticket person we talked to our kids both “looked” under 44” so they could just duck under the turnstile and that was fine. Since both boys are well over 48” and we’re naturally rule-followers, we did not take a chance on this.
Thomas Edison National Historic Park in West Orange, NJ
We wanted a day away from the city and this fit the educational bill for us. Edison’s home and research center was a geek’s paradise and it was a little tough to drag David out of there. We learned about ‘muckers.’ They were the folks that worked for Edison and helped him create all of his inventions. He basically created the concept of a Research and Development lab. Junior Ranger Badges were earned via a lot of ‘mucking’ (doing each other’s work.)
9/11 Memorial and Museum
This was a tricky one. The Memorial is free, but due to construction is currently behind horrible security checks and lines. This felt all wrong to me. This should be a place you can walk up to. We talked to a guard who informed us that it will only be like this for another few weeks – so that is good. Going through lines and airport security felt very, very wrong to get to a memorial that celebrates our resilience and freedom. There are also lots of people selling “memorial books” at every corner. It’s very overwhelming that people are making money on tourists visiting this memorial. Lastly the New York Pass provides free admission to a different 9/11 museum right near the memorial – I didn’t understand that this wasn’t the “official” National Museum (which to add to the confusion is moving in the next few weeks). The ‘Tribute Center’ we went to was created by the 9/11 Families Association. I haven’t done my research yet to figure out what the differences are. So, do your research.
David: The Tribute Center was a good introduction for the kids as a reminder of what an awful event 9/11 was. Considering neither was born when it happened, and it’s not exactly an event you spend time talking to 8 and 10 year-olds about until you have to,
the boys just didn’t have much context for the WTC and 9/11. I’m really glad we spent the time at this touching exhibit before going to the memorial.
Shearwater Classic Schooner – Manhattan by Sail
Another example of something we wouldn’t have even thought of without the pass, however, a sunny day and whoosh we are off for a 2-hour sail out to Lady Liberty and back on a beautiful wooden sailboat from the 1920’s. I think the best part of this was seeing how much boat traffic there is and the ballet choreography it takes to avoid everyone. An enjoyable day on the water and another chance to see Lady Liberty up close.
David: The sound of the wind and waves is so much different under sail power – so much more relaxing, even in the middle of all that is NYC (and Jersey). Also, since this was our 4th boat by the Statue of Liberty the boys were fairly ho-hum about seeing her up close again. The garbage barge going by at the same time as the Statue, however, was really quite interesting to them. I’m sure the other tourists were appalled.
Serendipity 3 (a restaurant near Bloomies)
First, there is no Serendipity 1 and 2 – it is named for 3 people who started it. Second, go hungry. Their portion sizes for desserts are out of this world (as are their prices for them). If we went again, I’d go for food, which seemed NYC reasonably priced and then share one or two desserts. They are famous for their Frozen Hot Chocolate. Minimum per person table charge of $8.50 (you can’t just go order one 9.50 Frozen Hot Chocolate and have the table share) and we had to wait 30 minutes for a table – so plan accordingly. Dylan’s is right down the street.
David: This might be heresy, but I believe you can skip the Frozen Hot Chocolate. Too syrupy sweet. The ice cream desserts were terrific, however. And huge. One ice cream dessert can cover 2 adults and 2 children easy.
Radio City Music Hall Stage Door Tour
We toured this massive auditorium with 6000 seats and learned a bit about the history of this iconic location. Some of the interesting facts we learned, the lifting, revolving stage was an engineering breakthrough when it was created and it has never broken. It has carried elephants and other live circus acts. We spoke with a Rockette (paid picture opportunity) and learned about their rigorous auditions and rehearsal schedule. It was an interesting tour.
American Museum of Natural History
It’s a landmark, however, the actual contents aren’t a huge WOW. The place is overwhelming and the limited tour we downloaded on the iPhone didn’t work that well. We liked the minerals, we liked the Big Bang Exhibit, and I liked the life size whale. It was pretty crowded with school groups and people. We will now have to watch Night at the Museum so that the kids have that perspective on the place.
David: This is an icon of New York and is a must-visit attraction, but don’t expect more than a good natural history museum. Lots and lots of exhibits, so pick and choose well and ignore the rest. The dinosaur exhibit (actually, the invertebrates exhibit, to be more precise) is truly outstanding, but long and if you’re not that into dinosaurs it will be overwhelming.
Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
First, the wow factor – this museum is ON an aircraft carrier right in NYC. That’s COOL! The planes they have are sitting on top of the carrier! The view is impressive. They also have one of the four surviving space shuttles. Our boys have seen 3 of those shuttles on this trip. (Udvar-Hazy in DC and Cape Canaveral, they haven’t seen the one in LA.) They vote that this one was the least impressive exhibit of the 3. This shuttle was basically a prototype used for studying gliding abilities – it never went into true orbit. The unusual parts of this museum were getting to see the ship’s quarters and some of the carrier’s history – it saw action in WWII, Korean, Viet Nam, recovered NASA space capsules, etc.). My kids are a bit too jaded on Air and Space Museums though (hello – Smithsonian AND Cape Canaveral) so those parts weren’t that impressive, but the Sea part gets a solid
The grandfather of toy stores is a consumer’s paradise. The kids enjoyed wandering around, but they aren’t great consumers of toys so this might have been a bit wasted on them. I did find it fascinating that they had a whole section on minerals. You could buy various gemstones, minerals, and even a piece of NY bedrock (sort of like buying moose poop earrings in Alaska, me thinks.) I like efforts to make geology cool! I think visiting ONE of the two huge toy stores would be enough – either Toys R Us on Times Square or FAO Schwarz on 5th. I’d probably vote FAO because of its history, iconic status in films, and huge $1000 stuffed animals, but dirty little secret – they are both owned by the same company.
Times Square – by day and then night
We arranged for the kids to “enter” NY by coming out of the subway into Times Square. It was during the day, but it was still pretty impressive. Carter really wanted to see it by night also, so we came back to made sure he got his fill of that also. Free and impressive!
David: I’d up this to an A-. This is another jaw dropping, must see place in NYC. Plus TKTS is there, too, so you’ll be there anyway.
NY Water Taxi
We used this to get back from Brooklyn after our walk over the bridge. They stopped off shore of the Statue of Liberty for a nice picture moment. Plus they had a friendly tour guide on board giving out good info. Efficient, easy and free for the New York Pass.
David: Nothing special. I’d give it a C for most people. It did the job for us, since we needed to get from the Brooklyn Pier (where our walking tour ended) to Midtown Manhattan, but I doubt it would be convenient for most people.
Madison Square Gardens Tour
Look through the newly redesigned building, locker rooms, see where the super rich watch games from, and sit in seats. See what’s being set up that day (a possibility to see a sound check for a concert, but it’s a random chance…). If you are a Knicks or Rangers fan, probably important. For the rest of us, it’s a concert/sports arena. It’s a big one with lots of history, but that’s still all it is. An OK arena tour.
Madame Tussauds New York
This is a PERFECT example of something we would never have done without the New York Passes. If you know David or me, you know that the idea that we would pay admission for something like this is knee slappingly funny. So it was a treat to see what other people see. The kids really weren’t that impressed because they didn’t know who most of the stars or celebrities were, but they still enjoyed the concept and the idea of the place. I enjoyed oohing at the pretty people.
Dylan’s Candy Store (near Bloomies)
This is an overwhelming tribute to sugar in all its forms, a museum of candy. Considering the incredible number of sweet treats the kids had been getting in NY – and our trip to Serendipity 3 just minutes away – we were not in a generous mood for the kids. End result, the kids refused to buy anything with their own money so we walked out with no candy, but they did give us a sample of Jelly Bellys. The kids seemed to enjoy drooling over stuff, but were just not willing to part with their cash. It’s probably a must see once, but I doubt we’d go back. Trivia – the store was started by Ralph Lauren’s daughter.
Statue of Liberty Island
So, I’m going to be a heretic and state, I don’t think you actually HAVE to visit the actual island that the statue is on. It is a MUST to get out on the water and get up close to Lady Liberty, but I’m not sure there is a huge value-add on getting onto the island. It’s cool, but I’m not sure it’s necessary. Keep in mind that we didn’t have either Pedestal level or Crown Level tickets. We had the easy-to-get “get off the boat and walk around” tickets (and free with our New York Pass). Pedestal tickets get you up a few stories off the ground and Crown tickets – yep, get you to the top. The Crown tickets are sold out months in advance and I think THAT would be worth a visit. Pedestal didn’t look worth it to us. They sell out a few days in advance, but you can sometimes pick them up early in the morning. The kids did Junior Ranger badges, but I’m not sure how much extra knowledge will stay with them from that.
David: I’d call this a B+ myself. I enjoyed being so close to the statue – far closer than you get by a boat ride. The National Park Service runs the island and they just do historical touring right. The free audio tour was educational (a given) and entertaining (a little slow for some, I’d bet, but if you take the time to listen it’s well done).
Discovery Center Times Square – the Art of The Brick (Legos)
This is the place that usually has the Bodyworks exhibit that has actual human remains displayed in amazing ways. Carter was going to have NOTHING to do with that (he was trying to block out the massive posters with his hands as blinders), but they also had an exhibit by an artist who works exclusively in Legos. It was an impressive exhibit. Who knew you could make so much art with a plastic toy? We covered this place in about an hour. It wasn’t New York specific, so it gets lowered to a C. If we had seen it in Portland, I might give it a B.
Turns out Ellis Island was hit pretty hard by Sandy– it knocked out their HVAC systems, so most of their artifacts and cool stuff has been taken out off the island for protection. It’s an impressive structure, but until it is restored, I’m not sure it is worth a special trip. Kids did another Jr. Ranger Badge here, but much of the impact is lost without the additional artifacts and displays.
No Final Grade due to circumstances beyond their control – check National Park Service website for updates.
Mid-term Grade C
David: Knowing our not-so-distant relatives likely walked through this building was moving to me. I imagine they have a very well-done museum and experience if you’re willing to give the island a few hours of your time. I would love to see this again after they fix the HVAC.
Toy’s R Us at Times Square
It’s so big it has a Ferris wheel inside the building. Fit our NYC theme of ‘go big or go home.’ Good for a wander or save yourself up for FAO Schwarz. We did this one first so FAO’s impact was a little muted. Nice easy bathrooms in Times Square!
New York Public Library (and Bryant Park)
We did a walk by of those larger-than-life lions Patience and Fortitude that guard the entrance. We didn’t really sit and enjoy the library due to unrelated time constraints, however. Bryant Park (beside the library) looked fabulous with a reading area (OUTSIDE!) with free newspapers and books, ping pong and lots of other activities geared towards locals. If we hadn’t been in a hurry this looks like a fabulous place to spend some New York down time. I also want to capture the memory of the older man playing excellent ping pong with a younger guy. The elder (age 70?) was moving around with 40 year old legs – I had the feeling if he hadn’t been playing ping pong his movements would have been much more deliberate. I think there was some muscle memory kicking in and it was fun to watch.
No Grade – We weren’t there long enough – It had the potential for an A
Liberty Harbor RV Park and PATH Train
An RV park 20 minutes from the middle of NYC by PATH train? How can you beat that? While 80 bucks a night is by far the most we will pay on this trip and the ‘RV Park’ is no more than a gravel parking lot with electricity and water hook-ups, it is still hard to beat. You just have to go in with that expectation – it’s a parking lot for RVs. David and I stayed at this same park 11 years ago and we were AMAZED by the changes in Jersey City. It has spiffed itself way up. There were nice, shiny apartment buildings, huge police presence (we felt very safe), cute restaurants. We both remember the walk from the RV Park to the PATH train station to be a little adrenaline inducing. Now your fear is tripping over a dog being walked! The PATH train (basically a subway train from NJ to Manhattan, but the same transit system as the NYC subways) is easy, clean, and has handy TV monitors to tell you when your next train is coming. You can get to the World Trade Center or all the way up to 33rd St using the PATH train.
David: We again bought the 7-day pass for the PATH train (a separate card from the NY subway unfortunately) and it also worked out well. We may not have saved money over just paying each time, since there was a one-time charge to get the card, and we only used it on 6 days, but the peace of mind of knowing we didn’t have to keep track of whether our cards had enough cash on them or not was worth it to me.
Lastly David and Carter made a fast, solo trip to both the Guggenheim and The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Bennett and I headed back to the RV for some quiet time. Carter gives them both B+’s and I will try to get him to write about them later.
Based on a handy website I found that compares prices and passes, we saved $990 on attractions! http://www.passcomparison.com
Pass cost: $670.00 (2 adult, 2 child)
Again, that’s sort of moot because we just wouldn’t have done much of this stuff without the pass. The pass gave us the opportunity to do things we would never have considered. We had fun and I feel like we truly took a bite out of the Big Apple.