Friday, 28 October 2016

Taking a toddler to New York

Last month Iz and I jetted off for a 5 day trip to NYC. Is a trip to the Big Apple doable with a toddler in tow? Yes. Is it still fun? Yes definitely!

There are hundreds of blogs written by NYC mommy bloggers so check out these if you want more detailed tips, but as a non-New Yorker non-American these are my top travel tips if you want to take your toddler there... (at the end I'll give a detailed itinerary of what we did every day).

Prepare for the plane

Travelling with a toddler is not the same as travelling on your own... Preparation is the key. A colouring book, sticker book and a preloaded Kindle Fire :) I also took some headphones so she didn't have to use the rubbish ones you get on flights and obviously a whole armful of muslins as she's addicted to those. Add some snacks (for when Virgin forgot to order her a kids meal - boo!) and a lolly to suck on take off and Iz was a happy toddler for the whole flight. And if you're lucky, you might even get invited into the cockpit :)

Good travel buggy

I got a Maclaren Triumph just before this trip and honestly I couldn't have done this trip without it! It was light enough I could sling it over my shoulder with a rucksack and carry Iz up/down stairs, across the beach etc. I could fold and unfold it with one hand. It was so worth investing in - am very glad I did as you couldn't do NYC without a stroller and this one reclined nicely for naps and has a massive sun hood when it was sunny. Ditto all this for our Disneyland trip.

Sshhhh I'm sleeping!
Snacks from home

One thing I was underwhelmed by was the availability of healthy food and snacks for toddlers. I took quite a lot of stuff with me (Organix cereal bars, crisps, fruit pouches etc) and was very glad I did. Most of the American equivalent stuff seems to have a million chemicals in - does it make a difference? Who knows but I was more comfortable with my UK stuff! 

First sampling of authentic mexican food

Occasional american treat allowed... :) this was in Chelsea Market


There are a plethora of playgrounds in Manhattan but the top 2 we went to were the Hecksher playground in Central Park and Pier 51. Hecksher has a lovely sandy area and was nearly deserted at 10am on a Sunday. Pier 51 has awesome views of the city skyline and loads of sightseeing helicopters fly overhead, which Iz loved watching. There was loads to do at Pier 51 playground - the only disadvantage was not very much shade. The other ones we really wanted to visit but never got round to were Pier 24 and the water lab in Brooklyn (Pier 6). Next time... :)


This was totally fab. Loads of hands on things for little kids to do, as well as older ones. Were disappointed they'd closed their ball pit (previously looked very cool) but we stayed here over 3 hours and Iz loved it! Also had a room where you can eat your own food and there was a great shop just round the corner that basically sold everything/anything (kept me entertained for 20 minutes of nap time!)

Central Park Zoo

The Central Park zoo is the perfect size for toddlers as you can walk round everywhere in 2 hours but there's a nice variety of animals and they can see them pretty close up. The attached petting zoo is nice if you view it as an extension to the zoo but it is *not* a petting zoo like we're used to in UK. Between certain hours you can stick your hand through a fence to feed some highly spirited goats but it's not like the petting enclosure at London Zoo when you can walk amongst the animals and properly stroke them etc.

Chelsea Waterside Park

I don't know why this isn't top of everyone's list of parks and why it wasn't jam-packed with people. It was awesome! Just off W23rd it was easy to get to an there were only a few other people there. Iz had the time of her life - loads of water features you can turn on/off, sandpit, slides, climbing frame etc. But really it was all about the water - jets, fountains, pools, sprinklers - perfect on a hot day. There is also the Pier next to it with a carousel and more gardens/soft play etc but we didn't have time to explore those. I'd put this very high on the list if we revisit :)

Children's museums

These are common in America and are nothing like what I imagined when I heard the name. They are basically a cross between soft play/science museum/playground/dressing up/hands on learning. Hard to explain but basically awesome! We visited two - one on upper west side in Manhattan and one on Staten Island. Both were great and well worth the visit - we spent a couple of hours in each.

Bryant Park

I nearly completely missed this place despite it only being a couple of blocks from our hotel. I'm so glad we didn't though. Although there's no playground there is a fountain (that Iz tried to climb in), a very cute carousel (where the parent gets to ride for free with the child unlike the rip off ones in London!) and my favourite - "the reading room". An outside "library" where you can go and sit, read any of their book selection and generally chill. There was even a special kids section with loads of books to choose from and brightly coloured tables and chairs. Love this idea!!

Early mornings

As it was just Iz and I it was very easy. I just embraced the early starts (we were usually out of our hotel room by 8am) and went to bed around the same time as her (actually pretty nice to get so much sleep!!). It worked for us and actually lots of areas were nicer to walk round at 8am (eg Times Square pretty much empty, straight in at Top of the Rock, no queue at Carlo's Bakery - if you've ever watched Cake Boss!).

Breakfast at Tiffany's :)

Staten Island

I've been to New York 3 times before in my life and never thought to visit Staten Island. I got the Staten Island ferry once before (completely free and great views of Manhattan skyline and Statue of Liberty) but just did the ferry and turned straight back round for a return trip. This time though I'm really glad we did a whole day trip there. There is a really nice stretch of beach (South Beach and Midland Beach) with a long boardwalk connecting the two and a large children's museum. I also totally meant to check out Fort Wadsworth but the day was so hot and so I thought pushing a buggy round an uneven trail might not be that fun... next time though we will definitely check it out. 

First ever steps in the ocean

Taxis with car seats

You can travel in a yellow cab without a car seat but traffic is busy and I wouldn't put Iz in our car at home without one... Uber has a "family" branch in NYC and those cars have car seats for toddlers in them (you can use your regular UK app, just select the "Uber with car seat" option). There are also several car companies that provide car seats for $10-20 extra. We used "Precision NY Chauffeur" company for getting to/from the airport. They were great, early to pick us up, had a long charge-free airport waiting time (essential with unpredictable US immigration queues!!) and I'd definitely recommend them. 

One of the dreaded vomit-inducing carseats!!!

Walk everywhere

Wear comfortable shoes. I lived in trainers. I walked miles every day - according to my iphone km-count I waled between 10-16km every day we were away (I'll try and upload some maps later with our routes). But I also got to explore lots of different areas and stumble across places I might otherwise have missed.

Hard to see on here but drawn on are all the different routes we took each day (some super-imposed on top of others)


This runs from W30th to around W13th between 8-10th avenues. It is an abandoned railway line which has been converted into a "park walkway". We actually went on it 3 times - once in the pouring rain (when it was pretty much deserted), once 2 days later (sunny but the water feature was closed) and then finally on our last day (when Iz fully embraced the water feature by lying down in it fully dressed - she loved it!!). They also have market stalls and places to buy snacks etc along the route. It is a lovely way to walk from the middle of Manhattan to Chelsea Market and Greenwich village which is why we used it every time we were going between those areas of town. Iz could run with no traffic, you didn't have to stop every block to wait for the green (white) man and there were lots of lookouts and extra features along the way. There are several lifts along the route - we generally used the W30th/10thAv one to get on and then the W14th to get off.

Hotel room with kitchen

This was so great! It meant I could have milk in the fridge and could cook meals as needed. So most evenings we got back to the hotel around 6 and I cooked pasta or rice and we ate together. It also meant I could keep ingredients for picnic lunches in the fridge and we ate breakfast in our room each morning (I baulked at the brightly coloured bundles of sugar they dressed up as "cereal" in the breakfast served by the hotel!!). We stayed at the Staybridge Suites Times Square (not actually on Times Square!) which was in a great location for going either north or south.

To get over jet lag

We took a daytime flight over there, leaving London at 2.30pm. Iz stayed awake the whole flight and went to sleep halfway through our cab ride to Manhattan (approx 6.30pm US time, 11.30pm UK time). She then slept through hotel checkin, me transferring her into the hotel bed and until 4am when she woke for some milk and then back to sleep til 7am. Job done - no jet lag at all and ready for day ahead. So my advice is get them into US body clock as soon as plane leaves :)

Flat out post flight!


So as for our actual itinerary - each day was planned for strategic nap times so I could do most of the walking whilst Iz was asleep. This worked for us as I didn't want to take taxis everywhere and I quite enjoy walking. 

Day 1 Sunday
  • Times Square
  • Central Park
  • Manhattan Children's Museum (had water play and Diego exhibition - Iz was in heaven!!)
  • Columbus street market
  • Central Park
  • Central Park zoo 
  • Petting zoo (attached to main zoo - totally rubbish compared to English petting zoos!!)

Day 2 Monday (poured with rain pretty much all day!)
  • Highline (empty in the rain!)
  • Chelsea Market
  • Walked to CMA during nap time (short nap around 11)
  • Children's Museum of Art
  • Washington Square Park

Day 3 Tuesday
  • Ferry to Staten Island (totally free and great views Manhattan and Statue of Liberty) 
  • Bus S51 to South Beach - Iz's first toe-dip into the ocean!
  • Walk along beach and Boardwalk
  • Bus S51 back to terminal
  • Walk to Snug Harbor during nap time (around 12)
  • Staten Island Children's Museum
  • Ferry back to Manhattan around 5pm
Aside - you have to fold your stroller down before getting on the bus and have the right fare in coins. So don't expect to be allowed on one with an open buggy even with a sleeping child. I did see one mum do it but the other 9 didn't - I think it's a pretty firm rule.

Day 4 Wednesday
  • Highline
  • Met old friend for brunch at Coppelia
  • Walked to Pier 51 (unscheduled nap occurred!)
  • Pier 51 playground
  • Walk up to Times Square in nap time (around 2pm)
  • Disney Store visit
  • Bryant Park

Day 5 Thursday - our last day :( 
  • Carlo's bakery
  • Tiffany's
  • Top of the Rocks
  • Another trip to Bryant Park and the carousel
  • Walk to Chelsea Waterside Park during nap time
  • Chelsea Waterside Park
  • Highline
  • Back to our hotel by 3 for cab to airport...

I'm definitely not an expert by any means but if you're wondering whether to take your kids to New York (or another big city) hopefully this has been helpful. I'm happy to answer any questions in the comments, or if you've got any other NYC recommendations for toddlers please add them below!

Taking in the sights

Loving sightseeing!