Our summer road trip gave us four days to spend in New York City. With a 2-year old in tow, I had to rethink my usual big city routine. As in, walking around nonstop all day probably wasn’t the best idea. We ultimately planned out a low-impact itinerary that both Ashok and the adults enjoyed. This post follows along on our activities in chronological order.
Note: this post is part of my trip report series about our summer road trip to New York. Click here for the introductory post and trip report index.
Dates of Visit: June 8-11, 2018
A “Circle Line” Cruise Around Manhattan
Circle Line Cruises has offered tourists river cruises around Manhattan since 1945. Sightseeing tours range from one to three hours, and range in price from $18-43. Children under 2 ride at no extra charge. As the name implies, longer tours “circle” Manhattan, beginning at either Midtown or Downtown. The captain describes major points of interest, and provides a history of New York at various points on the cruise. We selected an evening “Harbor Lights” cruise departing from Pier 83 Midtown. The pier’s actually really easy to find; just head to the west end of 42nd Street.
Our cruise began at 7 pm, and the views immediately mesmerized Ashok.
Perhaps he’s an avgeek in training, and staring at the British Airways Concorde at the Intrepid Air & Space Museum?
This particular cruise doesn’t complete a full circle of Manhattan. Instead, the boat heads down the Hudson River to Battery Park, then up the East River to the Queensboro Bridge. The evening departure provides plenty of stunning views of both Lower Manhattan and Jersey City.
After rounding the corner at Battery Park, guests enjoy views of Brooklyn, and several of New York’s iconic bridges. I found the view of Lower Manhattan behind the Brooklyn Bridge particularly nice.
The tour saves the best for last, though. The boat pulls a U-turn at the Queensboro Bridge, and then returns south. During early June, this brings you back to Battery Park right as the sun sets. The result is a fantastic view of the setting sun behind the Jersey City skyline.
Finally, the boat makes a close pass to the Statue of Liberty. Lady Liberty on a summer evening sure is great.
But the view of Lower Manhattan just starting to light up for the night is perhaps even better.
You then return to Pier 83 about 9 pm. We took a city bus (the M42) back to the hotel, returning about 9:30. Just in time for bedtime.
Circle Line does not offer assigned seats on its two-level boats. You might think you need to arrive super early to grab a seat up top. While the outdoor seats do provide better views, fear not if you’re a photography nut and show up late. Just in front of the lower deck seating area is an open viewing area at the forward end of the ship. Once the boat leaves the pier, you can stand out there to take photos as long as you want.
Overall, while a bit touristy, a Circle Line cruise is an “easy button” tour with a small child. They’ll have plenty to look at, and plenty of room to move around. And the grown ups can enjoy some of the best views of Manhattan anywhere.
The Central Park Zoo
The larger Bronx Zoo gets more press, but there’s actually a smaller zoo right in the middle of Central Park. Think of Central Park Zoo as a “bite-sized” zoo version of its big brother. Ideal, in other words, for those short on time or attention spans. Plus, its location (64th and 5th) means a much shorter bus or Subway ride than getting to the Bronx. We took the 6 train from Grand Central to 68th Avenue and walked the rest of the way. The total trip took about 25 minutes from our hotel.
The zoo has a small collection of animals, including exotic birds, snow monkeys, and sea lions (not pictured).
The zoo’s most extensive exhibit is the “Tropic Zone”, a large collection of tropical birds and snakes. Something made Ashok uncomfortable, though, so we didn’t spend much time there. I’d say the best exhibit, though, is the snow leopard enclosure. Because snow leopards are seriously cool cats.
Just down from the main zoo is the Tisch Children’s Zoo, which includes a petting zoo. Ashok enjoyed some quality time with the goats there (the picture didn’t come out, unfortunately). Including the petting zoo, you can easily complete the zoo in 1-2 hours. And what youngster isn’t happy with 1-2 hours with the animals?
The Statue of Liberty
I’ll start off with the bad. The Park Service actively makes visiting Lady Liberty as much of a beating as possible. First, you need reservations just to visit the Statue’s pedestal or crown. And during peak season, tickets can sell out weeks in advance. Sometimes MONTHS for crown tickets. Second, to board both the ferries and to enter the pedestal, visitors must go through TSA-style security. Security at the pedestal was quite unpleasant, in a congested area with disorganized lines and park rangers barking orders at those not moving fast enough.
I should also mention that strollers are NOT allowed inside the monument or pedestal. So, make sure small children are up to walking a little bit. You can either climb the stairs (126 steps) or take an elevator to the pedestal. Expect a decent wait for the elevators, though.
That being said, once you get past the unpleasant process, the Statue is an iconic American treasure to visit. At the monument entrance is a historical museum and the original Statue’s torch.
The historical museum features a history of the Statue’s construction, as well as several artifacts. One of the more interesting pieces? A replica of Lady Liberty’s giant foot.
The pedestal itself is simply an observation tower at the Statue’s feet. From this level, you can take in great views of both Jersey City and Manhattan. Given the elevation, you can see both the Lower and Midtown Manhattan skylines.
Unfortunately, the pedestal observation deck is both narrow and very crowded (at peak times). It feels a little claustrophobic, and it’s a challenge to find a spot to take a photo.
A word about booking tickets – ferries to the Statue depart from both Battery Park and Liberty State Park in Jersey City. You’ll find MUCH better availability, and shorter lines, out of Jersey City. Battery Park pedestal tickets were sold out through late June. Departing Jersey City, though, I found plenty of availability just a week in advance. Also, while you might read stories of hour long security lines for the Battery Park ferry, we just walked on at Jersey City. You can take the ferry back to Battery Park, even if you depart from New Jersey. We took a Lyft to Jersey City (about $60), then returned to Battery Park and took the Subway back. Don’t forget about the Statue of Liberty views on the ride back!
So while the whole Statue experience perhaps lacks “toddler friendliness”, he made it through just fine. He seemed to enjoy the giant statue and the stuff in the museum. Just know what to expect ahead of time. Visit on a weekday or a slower time of year if you can.
A Trip to Coney Island
On our final day in the city, we decided to hop on the Subway and spend the afternoon on Coney Island. Ashok loves the beach, so we thought he might enjoy some sun and sand. The D, F, N, and Q lines all serve Coney Island from Manhattan. The trip takes roughly one hour from Grand Central, including train changes. If your return trip coincides with afternoon rush hour, consider switching trains in Brooklyn instead. Northbound trains become a zoo beginning around Wall Street; good luck getting out with a stroller.
Anyway, we ended up with a brilliant, if cool, Monday afternoon for some beachgoing. This was my first visit to Coney Island and its historic boardwalk. Peak season only starts in late June, so it was actually fairly quiet. The chilly weather probably didn’t help, either.
There’s plenty of amusement park rides, though Ashok made his choice early – he wanted to play in the sand.
So we just let him play on the beach and chase seagulls for a while. Fun, free entertainment!
Once he had his fill of the beach, we strolled up and down the boardwalk for a little bit. We enjoyed some traditional New York soft serve ice cream as we walked around.
And of course, no trip to Coney Island is complete without a stop at the original Nathan’s Famous for a hot dog.
We thought about hitting up the New York Aquarium, but by then, Ashok started getting restless. So we just headed back to the Subway to head back to the hotel. All in all, not bad keeping the kid entertained for half a day for just the price of a couple of Subway tickets!
Just Walking Around
And of course, we enjoyed just walking around the East Side. Ashok really enjoyed seeing all the tall buildings and the big buses, limos, and trucks moving down the streets. Somehow, he even managed a couple of long afternoon naps while we explored the streets.
We didn’t squeeze in as many activities as I might otherwise, but I think we ended up with a good itinerary to keep everyone amused. The big challenge was working around Ashok’s schedule, since a) he’s a late riser, and b) we have meals and naptime to work around. But keeping things in 3-4 hour chunks seemed to work out well.