The kids were screaming to stay, begging not to go, mouths agape at the human-like figures surrounding them, and that was before performing on the American Idol stage! What they did not know: they were learning while having fun in New York City museums.
New York City is a wealth of historical and cultural sites mixed with a fast-paced, high energy, always entertaining style. Sure, there are must-sees, like the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, Times Square, Central Park and Rockefeller Center. With a double-decker sightseeing bus tour you can check most of those off your list quickly before getting into the real value of a New York City family vacation: learning while having fun.
New York City Museums
American Museum of Natural History
“The kids didn’t want to leave. In fact my son wants to move to NYC. Why, I asked him … because the museum is there!”
The American Museum of Natural History, that is. The quote, from a Harrisburg PA family who toured the museum recently, is indicative of what Museum staff hears frequently. Why not, since the Museum was rated the top attraction in New York City by Zagat Survey US Family Travel Guide.
Well-known for its 94-foot long blue whale, Hayden Planetarium space shows and the world’s tallest freestanding dinosaur mount, the Museum has opened an intriguing exhibition entitled Traveling the Silk Road that brings to life one of the greatest trading routes in human history, from Xi’an and Turfan China through Uzbekistan to Baghdad. Children will become world travelers, collecting special stamps in Silk Road “passports” issued to them at the exhibition entrance, smelling real spices in the spice market, meeting a life-sized camel model, observing live silkworms and enjoying live musical performances. Hands-on activities and interactives will bring to life the golden age of the Silk Road.
Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum
History isn’t all dinosaurs and ancients, though, at Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum. Kids can stand alongside President and Mrs. Obama – or at least their wax likenesses – in a replica Oval Office. Other public figures on display include President Clinton, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Princess Diana, Malcolm X and President Abraham Lincoln. What makes Madame Tussaud’s particularly interesting for families is that all the figures are free standing and accessible, so kids can pose with the lifelike statues. It’s not just history, either, as pop culture abounds. There’s Miley Cyrus, Sean "Diddy" Combs, Beyonce and Serena Williams. Kids can even sing and record their very own performance on the American Idol® stage – where Simon Cowell will judge them.
Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum’s mission is to inspire youth by exploring the “humanity behind the hardware.” The “hardware” includes a genuine aircraft carrier, a submarine, 30 aircraft including the super-secret A-12 Blackbird spy plane and the supersonic Concorde. On weekends there are free demonstrations that incorporate hands-on activities geared towards families. During recent weekends families explored the use of robotics in space, tested how to land a vehicle on Mars without crashing, and learned about rocketry as they participated in a hands-on demonstration of the four forces of flight and created their own parachute and space capsule.
Well, hotels might not be educational but unless you have friends or family with whom to stay, they are a necessity. No surprise that New York City has so many choices, so here are some family favorites to make the selection easier:
Doubletree Guest Suites Times Square
As the name suggests, the Doubletree Guest Suites Times Square is located in … Times Square. It might be a bit costlier than some other hotels but there are good reasons for that.
1) Did we mention it’s in Times Square?
2) Every room is a 2-room suite
Being in Times Square means that so much of what-to-do is within a short walk from the hotel. Broadway theaters, kid-friendly restaurants like Planet Hollywood, Toys R Us, Hershey’s Times Square, M & M’s World Store, Central Park, Rockefeller Center – and even the Empire State Building and Macy’s are only a little further of a walk. Times Square is also a safe location in a safe city (New York City is the safest major city in the US, according to the FBI’s Crime in the United States, the preliminary Uniform Crime Report for 2008.)
The Doubletree’s most important distinction is that it’s the only all-suite hotel in Times Square. Rather than trying to cram the family into one small hotel room, the Doubletree’s 2-room suite has a living room, private bedroom, kitchenette area and even a work desk with high speed internet access.
Sheraton Manhattan Times Square
Just a few short blocks from the heart of Times Square is the Sheraton Manhattan. Now completely non-smoking, the Sheraton Manhattan has an indoor swimming pool, a rarity for New York City hotels. It’s also in a great location in the Times Square/Theatre District area, close to Central Park and just half a block from Broadway. Rooms with two double beds can be requested. The hotel also provides rollaway beds in king-bedded rooms, at an additional cost.
Other Family-Friendly Hotels
The Marriott Marquis is an attraction itself. Its soaring atrium lobby is a must-see; its rooms are comfortable and spacious. The Crowne Plaza Manhattan is newly-remodeled and also features rooms a bit larger than standard New York City hotel rooms. Both the Marriott Marquis and the Crowne Plaza are located in Times Square. The Novotel New York has recently remodeled as well, and several of its rooms have views overlooking Broadway down to Times Square.
So Much More
In addition to the ubiquitous double-decker bus sightseeing tours there are specialized tours focusing on the City’s many TV and movie sites, cruises around Manhattan island, walking tours of popular neighborhoods, Harlem gospel music excursions and even a bus tour of Brooklyn highlighted by visits to arguably two of the best pizza restaurants in New York.
There’s Discovery Times Square Exposition, a huge exhibit space in the former New York Times building that will be home to the first display of King Tut artifacts to visit New York City in over 30 years. The world champion New York Yankees play 81 games at the new Yankee Stadium from April through September. And of course there’s Broadway, with Wicked, The Lion King and Mary Poppins still going strong.
Trying to plan an entire New York City family vacation can be difficult and time-consuming, particularly if you are not familiar with the City. Consulting a travel agent is wise advice. You or your travel agent should contact a tour company like New York City Vacation Packages (www.nyctrip.com or 877-NYC-TRiP) that specializes in leisure travel to the City. They can arrange accommodations, transportation, sightseeing, Broadway shows, museum admissions and even meals, coordinated with your planned activities, and often at a price lower than purchasing everything separately. They include free admissions to many of the popular sites and attractions in New York City.