Last summer I was able to take Jordan along on a work trip, which made me realize just how valuable one-on-one time is -- particularly with my babes about to fly the coop. If you haven't yet arrived at senior year, let me just warn you -- THEY ARE NEVER HOME. Between school, extracurriculars, friends, and the fact that they can drive, less and less time is spent eating after-school-chocolate-chip-cookies up to the kitchen island (although they do appreciate snatching up a handful as they head to the next activity). You have to corral those older kids. Entice them even. In this case -- I had Maddie's complete attention in a small studio in Brooklyn. I'm telling you -- we took on the city!
To do & see:
Okay, this is kind of a silly list because you probably already know what you want to see. Perhaps I should label it "What we did."
Wander through Washington Square Park, particularly if your daughter's very favorite movie is August Rush.
Check out the wonders of FAO Schwartz. Don't forget to dance on the BIG piano.
Join in on a scavenger hunt / secret mission / theater experience on the streets of NYC. I'd seen a couple reviews of Accomplice before our trip and thought it might be a fun way to see more of the city. The actors were incredible and kept us guessing (and moving). We walked through Chinatown and Little Italy and performed some pretty important tasks for a NYC crime boss. This is a GREAT activity for big kids (and adults).
Don't miss The Strand Bookstore. I have a penchant for seeking out historic bookstores, and I'm never disappointed. The Strand is a NYC institution and has an impressive stock of used books.
Visit Mood. Maddie is a big Project Runway fan. Plus, we both wanted to bring home a "Thank You Mood" t-shirt for Rebecca. Just a heads up: There is NO sign on the building. We must have walked up and down 37th street six times before we clued in that the store was on the third floor. You also have to be quite determined to find the (unmarked) stairs or wait for the elevator (run by an attendant). But we persevered!
Ride the Staten Island Ferry. If you plan far enough in advance, you can get tickets to go to the crown of The Statue of Liberty. Or, if you are allergic to crowded, touristy venues (like me), you can talk your kids into viewing the statue from the ferry. I found it lovely (and easy).
Shop. Even though I'm not a shopper by nature, Maddie does enjoy hunting for the perfect outfit. We wandered through streets of boutiques, but our favorite new-to-us store was Brooklyn Industries.
If it's raining (as it was for us one of the days), Grand Central Station is a fun destination. The building is gorgeous. And, more importantly for big kids, the food court is tasty (Shake Shack is coming and Magnolia Bakery is already there). And the Whispering Wall DOES work. I worked as tour guide for a few minutes for doubting folks. Just stand with your face to the corner and tilt your head up.
See a show. (I know. No need to list this one.) At Maddie's request, I booked tickets for Wicked a few weeks before we left. The show did not disappoint. We were tempted to stand in line at one of the TKTS booth to try for Matilda tickets, but there was just so much we wanted to do. If I was to stand in line, I'd try for the South Street Seaport booth. When we walked by in the afternoon, there were only about 6 people in line!
Go to a concert. We looked around at what was playing during our dates, and there was TONS. Maddie really, really, really wanted to see Justin Bieber, who just happened to be playing about a mile from where we were staying. I considered it cultural research. I mean, he's a good singer and all . . . but the frenzy? It was inexplicable. So, yeah. Went to see the Biebs.
Hobble to Central Park. We didn't make it to Central Park until the last day of our trip. By this point we had walked approximately 32 miles, and our legs were TIRED. So when a very nice and persistent student made me a deal on a pedicab tour, I immediately said YES. It was a pleasant hour-long ride through the park, and our guide pointed out all the important landmarks/film locations. He even stopped a number of times to let us wander around and take pictures. Well worth the money for our weary bones.
Don't miss out on the Brooklyn Flea!! I'd been before with a group of girlfriends and loved it. It was walking distance from our apartment, so we felt like real locals strolling down to the flea, eating a bit of breakfast, and pawing through the vintage treasures. If only I could have taken some of that Midcentury Modern furniture on the plane!
This list obviously does little justice to the culinary mecca that is NYC. But my big kid (Madison) was more interested in shopping and doing, rather than spending large amounts of time in restaurants. This was fine. I was perfectly happy sampling baked goods up and down the island.
Our favorite find was a tiny market/cafe a few blocks from our apartment: Choice Market in Brooklyn (318 Lafayette Ave.). They had incredible breakfasts and baked goods. We seriously ate breakfast there every day.
Shake Shack. Need I say more? I'm convinced Shake Shack is the best burger around. I pray regularly that a Shake Shack never opens within 100 miles of my house because I COULD. NOT. RESIST. If you've never been, try out the Madison Square Park location. It's the original, and you get to eat outside under a big tree.
Molly's Cupcakes. Several people recommended Molly's as better than Magnolia Bakery, and it's just around the corner from Washington Square Park. It was a tasty break for sure.
Doughnut Plant. I've drooled over Doughnut Plant on the Internet for a good long time now. I had the coconut lime. Maddie had some sort of chocolate cake monstrosity. WELL. WORTH. the CALORIES.
One night we ordered in -- it seemed the New York thing to do. We both really enjoyed the food (Thai) and the rest.
We stayed in Brooklyn (Fort Greene neighborhood) in a 800 square foot apartment I found on VRBO. I'd stayed in Manhattan before, but I thought it might be fun to check out the neighborhood vibe. It was a great home base -- spacious, and with all the comforts of home. We've done VRBO at least half a dozen times, and we've always had good experiences. (Plus, it's cheaper than a hotel.) Two really nice ladies sitting next to us at Justin Bieber made a convincing argument for Astoria, Queens. Maybe next time?
One of the great things about NYC is that you don't need a car. We took a cab from LaGuardia to the apartment, and a car service from the apartment back to the airport. Other than that it was the subway and our own two feet. (Bring good shoes!)
A few notes about the subway:
Google Maps gives great subway directions, but the walking directions TO and FROM each station were somewhat dicey. The problem is that a single station might have two or three entrances/exits, and you don't know which exit Google Maps assumes you take. We found it easiest to switch to the maps on the iPhone for any walking directions. [This also meant we were often looking for a plug to recharge our phones!]
For vacation purposes, I'd recommend buying the seven day unlimited subway pass (unless you will use the subway two days or less). It costs $30 for a seven day unlimited or $2.50 per ride. We were easily spending more than $10 a day, and with the unlimited pass you don't have to monitor your account.
This was only my second trip to NYC. I know some of you out there are bona fide experts. Feel free to add any suggestions in the comments.
Things I learned:
Starbucks allows the public to use their bathrooms. A million thanks to Starbucks.
When your big kid(s) start dragging, it might be time to stop by a cafe or coffee shop, order up a smoothie, and give everyone some rest. Recharging is super important.
Maddie and I both took up CandyCrush on the subway. It was a fun distraction and alleviated boredom during wait times. (Don't worry, there was plenty of time for conversation too.)
Double check your tickets before leaving home! Our only real hitch of the trip happened at the Justin Bieber concert. When we arrived at the stadium, I pulled the tickets (I'd printed at home) out of my purse. I handed Madison her ticket, and when I looked down at mine . . . it was a map of Manhattan!! I had to leave Maddie at the concert (didn't want her to miss the Bieb's entrance), walk back to the subway, ride two stops home, grab the right piece of paper, and then trek back. I was a sweaty mess by the time I made it back. Ugh.