When I was young, my dad hated flying. So when it came time to vacation, we packed up the car and hit the road. It scarred my siblings for life, who still hate road trips, but I inherited the obsession from my dad. My mom wanted to treat my nephew from Florida to a trip to New York City in June. His family flew up, but I wanted to complete the circle of life and take the family road tripping. Yes, with a 22-month old kid. It actually went great.
Unlike our last big cross-country road trip, I won’t do a play-by-play of the drive, and will instead focus on the highlights of our trip. Wanting to take it long and slow with Ashok, we planned some sightseeing on the way up and back. This included stops at a couple of National Parks, and a couple of points and miles hotels. And of course, trying to hit up as many states as possible. We want to give Ashok bragging rights on his first day of school in a few years, you know. I’m currently planning the following posts in this series:
- A Short Tour of Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park
- A Toddler Friendly New York City Itinerary
- Review: Westgate New York Resort
- Reflections on a Visit to the Flight 93 Memorial
- Review: Doubletree by Hilton Hotel Pittsburgh – Monroeville Convention Center
- Hidden Gems: Ohio’s Cuyahoga Valley National Park
The Trip Plan
When I road trip, I plan around two objectives. First, I try to make the route a complete circle. Second, I try to hit as many states as I can, within reason. On this trip, we wanted to visit friends and family in Atlanta and Raleigh. Also, in my quest to visit all 59 National Parks, I saw an easy way to knock two more off the list – Shenandoah and Cuyahoga Valley. The trip to Ohio from New York gave us the chance to visit the Flight 93 Memorial in Pennsylvania. And so, our full route took shape like this, clocking in at a little over 3,500 miles.
With a toddler in tow, we deliberately took it slow, taking 5 1/2 days to reach New York. After 3 1/2 days in the city itself, we then took 5 more to drive home. That made this trip a full two weeks from start to finish – June 3rd through the 16th.
The Hotel Plan
Originally, I booked four nights at the Hilton New York Midtown East. The hotel offered roomy junior suites for a decent ~$240/night, and I could get my fourth night free through the Citi Prestige card. A few weeks before our trip, though, I discovered something strange. My mom asked about moving one night to our hotel, but Hilton showed no availability. For months. I then discovered the hotel planned to re-flag literally the day before our arrival.
So…that left me with a dilemma. Keep the spacious room, but then forego a ton of Hilton points. Or move to keep the points, but risk ending up with a smaller room. Ultimately, though it pained me to forego so many points, I decided to keep my booking at the re-flagged hotel. The Westgate New York City turned out to be a fine hotel, and the extra space came in handy. Even with all of our toddler-related clutter, we still had plenty of space to stretch out.
Other than that, long road trips come in handy for racking up hotel points, especially with summer promotions. But let’s face it, roadside Hampton Inns in Meridian, Mississippi don’t make for much of a review. We did spend one night in Pittsburgh, though, a large market with many full-service hotels. We stayed at the Doubletree Pittsburgh – Monroeville Convention Center, a decent hotel, if a little far away from town.
In addition, we did stay at one notable historic hotel outside Shenandoah National Park. The Village Inn in Harrisonburg dates to 1936, and mimics Virginia colonial-style cottages. I may decide to add a review of this property for its uniqueness.
The Sightseeing Plan
Before reaching New York, we planned to spend part of two days exploring Skyline Drive. The northern extension of the Blue Ridge Parkway, the scenic byway hugs the ridgetops through Shenandoah. It’s one of America’s most popular drives, and it didn’t disappoint.
As for crowds, despite the parkway’s reputation, I found the road rather subdued. Perhaps that’s a benefit of visiting in early June, when the summer crush hasn’t quite hit yet.
Then it was on to New York City. We picked a variety of toddler-friendly activities for our 3 1/2 days, mostly usual NYC suspects. Saturday began with a visit to the Central Park Zoo. We chose it over the Bronx Zoo as it’s a little more “bite sized” for little ones. Plus they have a snow leopard, which is a way cool big cat.
Later that evening, we took a Circle Line “Sunset Harbor” cruise around Manhattan. While certainly touristy, it’s a good, easy activity, and the boat ride keeps the kids entertained. And if you’re a photographer, enjoy some fantastic shots of Manhattan throughout.
Most of Sunday involved a trek to see the Statue of Liberty. I must say – they make visiting Lady Liberty a total beating these days, especially to visit the pedestal. Getting barked at by TSA-style security while trying to get baby stuff put away in lockers – ugh. But after driving 1,500 miles to get here, we figured, might as well.
We probably enjoyed Monday the most, with a leisurely trip out to Coney Island. Though a little chilly, Ashok really enjoyed the boardwalk and the beach.
After leaving New York, our drive through Pennsylvania took us close to the Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville. That, of course, was the site where United Flight 93 crashed on September 11, 2001. We didn’t have the chance to visit Ground Zero in NYC, so my mother and I wanted to stop here. It’s perhaps the most difficult monument I’ve ever visited, but I’m glad we did.
Our final stop came in Ohio, at Cuyahoga Valley National Park. This rates as one of the oddest National Parks I’ve visited. It’s a disjointed mass of park lands through the Cuyahoga River valley interspersed with the Akron and Cleveland suburbs. Yet it also features some of the most bucolic natural beauty I’ve seen anywhere. Among the highlights – a covered bridge on the southern end of the park.
And the fabulous Brandywine Falls in the central portion of the park.
And of course, the beauty of road tripping are the random moments of magic along the way. Like grandma and grandson at a rest area at the North Carolina-South Carolina border.
Naturally, most of our food moments came in New York City. Besides the usual hot dogs, pizza, and bagels, I enjoyed a variety of goodies. Among the highlights: midnight shawarma, delicious pasta, chocolate soft serve, and a very tasty Reuben sandwich from a traditional deli. You can set a private group tour if you want to try these.
Meanwhile, in Akron, I stumbled upon Swenson’s Drive-In, home of the Galley Boy. It claims the title of “America’s Best Cheeseburger”. I don’t know about that, but it was a decent burger. (The drive back to the hotel harmed its appearance, but it was tasty. They also have a fantastic grape soda called “The California”.)
Look for the first installments of this series sometime next week. Thanks for following along!