Do you remember when you were 11 years old? For me it was a very special age. Still a kid, with all the kid’s perks, but also very aware of the world around. In a way it is the perfect age. No responsibilities, huge amounts of time and a long exciting road ahead. I have arrived at the point where my own kids have that same exciting age, time to make it equally special to them!
In an attempt to give my kids that same ever lasting memory of their 11th year, I promised to take them to a place in the world where they really wanted to go. Normally we travel as a family of 4, but this one trip would be a one-off special father-child thing. At age 11 kids are still young enough to travel as a kid and old enough to remember forever. An experience I would highly recommend to any parent! So when my daughter was 11, I let her pick her dream destination. Like many European girls would, she of course picked New York City.
I have been to New York many times for work, so I knew what to expect and could more or less predict what my daughter might like to see and do. All of you who know the city, understand that you can spend months in New York to see all the sights. All my daughter knew about New York was the Statue of Liberty and shopping on 5th Avenue. So our planning consisted of getting an airline ticket, getting a nice but not overly expensive hotel and booking a boat tour to the Statue of Liberty on day 1. We departed from Brussels Airport on the first day of the October school holiday in 2011. Please follow us virtually on our trip to New York City, through the eyes of an 11 year old:
The flight from Europe to New York is the first big adventure. We have a great deal on United Airlines from Brussels to Newark. There is plenty of entertainment and food on this 8 hour journey. The 6 hour time difference makes that we have a very long day. You better prepare for a very early morning the next day…
After our long trip we still have the entire afternoon to explore ‘our hood’. We walk around a few blocks to get our first taste of the city.
Typical New York street scenes… Anyone fancy a hot dog?
Our hotel is located in the Flatiron district, not too far from one of the world’s first skyscrapers and a famous New York landmark. There are a few nice coffee bars with terraces in this building, where we have a nice cup of coffee and tea to get over our jetlag.
The next morning we get up very early… We have booked the first boat to the Statue of Liberty, but we arrive to lower Manhattan much too early. We have plenty of time to discover the sights in the quiet streets of the old financial district. The New York Stock Exchange has not yet opened for trading at 7am…
Despite a very long queue at security before boarding the first boat to Liberty Island, we are the first visitors to the Statue of Liberty that morning. Plenty of time for some fun photography!
There are great photo opportunities at and around the famous statue. Don’t forget to aks others to take ‘group’ pictures!
The classic New York skyline from Liberty Island is a must-see!
The boat trip includes a trip to Ellis Island, the most classic point of entry to the United States in the old days and a well-kept memorial to the millions of immigrants to the New World. Can you find traces of your own family in the archives?
Back on the ‘main land’ we walk along the East River to Pier 17. Plenty of stalls here to get your obligatory NY memorabilia. Much cheaper here than around Times Square!
The pier itself is perhaps more San Francisco than New York, but the small stores and relaxed atmosphere here are a nice contrast to the big and crowded stores on 5th Avenue. The great views on Brooklyn Bridge and the East River are a nice free extra!
We finish the day at Beecher’s on Broadway, which has quickly become our favorite neighborhood food place, just around the corner of our hotel. Originally from Seattle, this place is highly recommended for breakfast, lunch and dinner, offering great organic, fresh food. We still use the cook book we bought here for great Pacific Coast recipes.
The next morning we head for Times Square, where we suddenly find ourselves on the stage of the ABC’s Good Morning America Halloween breakfast show, recorded live out on the street! Right after the show Emma gets a cupcake from famous Elmo puppeteer Kevin Clash!
Times Square is a feast for the eyes, where you can spend hours watching the chaos around you. It is also home to M&M’s World, selling M&M’s in colors that never make the supermarkets in our country.
Also on Times Square you can ride a ferris wheel inside a toy store! Just enter Toys ‘R Us and you can’t miss it. A great rainy or cold day attraction.
We head to 5th Avenue for some shopping. One of the highlights for kids all ages is the famous New York FAO Schwarz toy store. Inside you can play until you drop and store staff will skillfully demo all the great new toys you can ever want. This place is a must-see for any family trip to New York. Much more kid-friendly than Saks or Tiffany’s, both in the same street.
After playing at FAO Schwarz we get on a hop-on hop-off bus to explore some further away places. No matter how touristy or tacky, this is definitely one of the best ways to see a lot of city in limited time. We get on an uptown tour, getting us to Harlem, where we get off to explore this special neigborhood. Very different from downtown for sure.
There was one place that I got to pick on our itinerary. Altough an aircraft carrier is more a boys thing, Emma didn’t mind spending an hour or two on board the USS Intrepid Museum. A great place for Top Gun style pictures, although my spacegeek-self came here to see the space displays, like the Soyuz TMA-6 capsule that is on display on the middle deck. Unfortunately we just missed Space Shuttle Enterprise, that has been here since 2012!
In the evening we return to Times Square, now one of Emma’s favorite places. This place is best visited during sunset, when you see the busy square turn into a genuine light and sound show. This place remains bustling all night long!
We have dinner at one of the best kid-friendly places in the city: The Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. definitely has the best Times Square views! We had to wait for over half an hour for a window table, but it is totally worth it! The longer you have to wait for your food here, the better! But as anywhere in the US, service is impeccable.
After dinner we take the subway downtown to visit the 9/11 Memorial. Again a long queue for security, but again very much worth the wait. I remember being on the 108th floor of the Twin Towers back in 1999, when my wife was pregnant with my daughter that I am taking here now. This is a memorable and emotional place to visit during the day and even more so in the evening. Make sure you book your tickets online in advance!
It took two days of saying that it is not dangerous before she dared taking the elevator to the 86th floor. The last morning of our visit we get up the Empire State Building!
We are lucky, there is no queue at all this early in the morning. But when there is, there is plenty to see while in line!
Of course this is not scary at all. The views over the city are unbeatable, even for kids with vertigo. This is another classic must-do for kids all ages!
After our visit we go to Rockefeller Center, with its famous ice rink. It is a few days before the landmark New York Christmas Tree is erected here, but the ice rink is open for everyone. Emma puts on her rented ice skates to show why the Dutch are famous for ice skating!
The lower floors of Rockefeller Center are home to the NBC Studios. Prior to going ice skating we get a (timed) ticket for one of the studio tours, where we get behind the scenes of the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and get to see the MSNBC news desks. A good place to shop for your favorite TV show memorabilia too. At the studio cafeteria we have a nice chat with 4 old ladies that are totally excited about being in the audience of the Dr. Oz show. This is the first time ever we hear of Dr. Oz. The ladies don’t understand how we can live without him…
After seeing the NBC Studios we have to leave this great city. We hire a limo to get us to La Guardia Airport for our flight. Sounds posh, but it is actually a cost-effective way to get to the airports that are not served by train. Often cheaper than a yellow cab too. Ask your hotel concierge to book you one. Many hotels have good rate agreements with limo companies.
We had a fun-filled 4 days in the city that never sleeps. Our evening flight to Milwaukee gives us a great last panorama of the city. We’ll be back!
Practical information: What can I say here? There are thousands of practical tips to visit New York, with or without kids. Above all, it is a great city for children, especially for 11-year olds. New York is easy to get to, with good flight offers from Europe year-round (except in summer and around Christmas). Transport from the airports can be a bit cumbersome, reason why I prefer Newark Liberty Airport, that has a frequent, inexpensive, direct train connection from the airport to the city. New York has thousands of hotels, ranging from (too) simple to the best 5-stars in the world. It is often difficult to find budget options though. We stayed at the nice Hotel 17, in the Gramercy district on East 17th Street. This is a simple but clean hotel, with small but comfortable rooms. They don’t serve food, but there are great breakfast and dinner options in the area. Times Square is a pleasant 20-minute walk from here. Our favorite breakfast place nearby was Beecher’s, at 900 Broadway, a 5-minute walk from the hotel.