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Monday, May 15, 2023

New York City - with Babies and Toddlers!


Taking Toddlers to NYC

Three months into having a new baby in the house, we were starting to go a bit stir crazy. The spring weather was giving us all the feels and we were ready to spend a weekend away with the kids, desperate for a change in our routine. We looked at AirBnbs in New Hampshire and Maine, toyed with the idea of Rhode Island, thought about heading back to the Berkshires, all until I had a great idea. New York City is a quick train ride away and the weather was perfect. Our train obsessed toddler would enjoy the ride and we could experience some of the best parts of the city on a springy weekend. Close enough for a single night away, far enough to feel like we truly "got away" and fun enough to entertain a toddler for the weekend. 

When I told a few people I was planning on taking the kids to New York City for the weekend, I got some looks and a few "you guys are crazy" comments. Let me start by saying one thing. Raising kids is hard no matter where you are, so you may as well change the scenery from time to time. Second, the city is far more toddler friendly than you may think if you plan it right. We were traveling with our 2 year old and 3 month old and while the night was rough as we expected, the trip was an overall success. Here are a few things that will make traveling with a toddler and a baby to the city a bit easier. 

Secrets to Success

Pack smart, pack light - Our first thought when planning this trip was to pack as light as possible. I fit all of our clothes into one backpack that we could easily wear off the train. We each got a cube for our clothes and I loaded the four cubes and toiletries into a pack. We then dropped the pack off at the hotel (you can leave luggage before check-in and after check-out) and stocked our stroller with the essentials for the day (more on that later). You are traveling in the city where everything is at your fingertips. You can purchase anything you may have forgotten while you are out so don't over pack. 

Only go where you can walk - this one sounds aggressive but it's smart and here's why. By only going where you can walk you make the trip logistically easier. You stay in one geographical area which by default, will force you to not over-schedule and follow the less is more approach. You also don't have to worry about getting strollers and small kids through subway stations or toddlers and infants into taxis. Taxi cabs are exempt from car seats but you have to use your judgement here. For us, we felt most comfortable traveling on foot and staying within a relatively small area. 

Stroller - To pack light and be able to walk everywhere, we needed a smart stroller (I would not advise taking toddlers into the city without one). The UppaBaby Vista was perfect to travel around with our two kids. Your typical double strollers are side by side and in my opinion, make getting through the city, stores, or crowded areas a bit harder. The UppaBaby Vista is like the bunk beds of strollers which stacks the kids all while offering a huge basket on the bottom of the stroller for everything we needed for the day. The only downside is having to find ramps or elevators everywhere you go, but worth it to have a space for tired kids to rest.

Second Day Expectations - Set your second day expectations low. Really low. You will likely have overtired kids who didn't sleep that well away from home. Pack your "must see items" on day 1 and prepare to leave early the second day if needed. We did and I was thankful for it. 

Essentials - Besides the stroller, there were a few essentials that made this trip easier on all of us. 
  • Snacks - You need a lot of snacks to get through any day any where with kids. Trust me
  • Carrier - We also brought an infant carrier for the times when Piper didn't want to be in a stroller. 
  • Soap - I brought a small container of dish soap to wash bottles and pump parts in bathrooms when on the go. 
  • Extra clothes/sun protection - We brought an extra outfit for the kids, sunscreen and hats for both 
  • Diapers/wipes - We obviously brought diapers for Piper but also decided to put our potty trained toddler in a pull up for the day. It can be tough to find bathrooms in time so the pull-up was just a security blanket for the day

Where we stayed - Hilton Garden Inn New York/Manhattan-Midtown East 
If you've stayed in the city before, you know that the rooms are tiny, often outdated, and expensive. I've fallen into the photo trap before to be sorely disappointed by the room upon our arrival. We didn't need anything fancy, but I wanted clean and needed enough room for our stroller, the pack and play. I also was amazed by how many NYC hotels add on a "daily resort fee" when the reality is, it's just a hotel with no resort style amenities. We opted for a Hilton Garden Inn and chose the Manhattan-Midtown East location for it's proximity to everything we needed. We were happy with the price, the room, check in/out, and the location. This is a great launching point if you are looking to explore the southern part of Central Park. 

Here is a scrollable link to the google map with all our destinations

Take the Train - Grand Central Station 

Taking the train into the city was half the adventure for our train obsessed toddler. It also allowed us to avoid traffic, the hassle of a car in the city, and forced us to travel light from the start. It was a fun experience seeing his excitement at the train station and taking our kids through the iconic Grand Central Station was a fun part of the trip. 

Walk through Central Park 

If you visit the city on a sunny weekend in the spring - you will quickly get it. The animals are enjoying the sunshine at the zoo. The carousel is spinning with happy screeching kids. The baseball fields are busy with backyard ball player enjoying the day. Bikers and runners are out in groups and even the carriage horses seem to be enjoying the launch into spring. It's truly the perfect place for kids as the park is home to amazing playgrounds, grab and go food everywhere, and open space where kids can run around and be kids.

Right off the train, we stopped at the hotel to drop a bag with the front desk as it was too early to check-in. From there, we headed right to Central Park where we planned to spend the day. It was fun to walk the various trails through the park, watching the carriage horses, bikers, runners, walkers, and just the general energy of the city. Central Park is an amazing place and the size of the park and amount of green space in the middle of the "concrete jungle" is almost hard to grasp. Spend some time walking through the park, taking in the famous viewpoints and the nature of the city.

Taking Toddlers to NYC

Stop at the Central Park Zoo

The Central Park Zoo is the perfect size for toddlers. It's on the smaller side which is perfect for the attention span of a two year old and had some great interactive exhibits at an affordable price compared to larger zoos and aquariums. We loved the grizzly bears and watching the sea lions splash around but the jungle exhibit was definitely our favorite. You walk inside and you are surrounded by free flying birds and critters all around. The zoo was perfect for the kids and the adults surely enjoyed it too. 

Central Park Zoo - Price ranges from $15 to $20 - Buy tickets ahead of time online - 10am to 5pm

Central Park Zoo

Central Park Zoo

Play at the Central Park Playgrounds

If you need a space where your kids can run off some energy in a fenced in area where you can also sit down and relax, check out some of the playgrounds in the park. There are 21 playgrounds in the park that cater to different ages. We stopped by the Adventure Playground and it was perfect for our adventure loving toddler while being geared towards older kids. The park had a sand box, slides, climbing towers, and great features for creative adventurous play. I sat in the shade and fed the baby while Whitney ran around the playground making friends. 

Adventure Playground Central Park

Ride the Central Park Carousel

The Central Park carousel is iconic and a great little adventure for kids of any age. At just $3.25 for ride, it was an inexpensive activity for Whitney which allowed one of us to take a break on the bench while the other took Whitney for a ride. He loved it and I'm pretty sure he would have gotten back on five more times if we let him. 

Central Park Carousel open daily, weather permitting 11 to 6:00 PM *Cash Only $3.25 per person per ride

Simple Dinner - Pizza by the Slice

Taking two kids (one being a toddler) to a sit down restaurant in the city sounded like a task I was not willing to tackle. We decided on easy food while visiting the city which mean food trucks in the park for lunch and pizza by the slice for dinner. Affordable, fast, iconic, delicious, what more could you ask for? We had pizza at Xeno's a short walk from the hotel and enjoyed an easy dinner after a long day exploring the city. 

Early Breakfast and Playgrounds

After a night of not-so-great sleep (as we expected), we decided on an early breakfast in the city to beat out the lines. Sunday morning in the city brings lines wrapped around the local bagel place. We found a simple breakfast spot where we didn't have to wait for a table and gobbled up breakfast before heading out to another playground. I opened up Google maps and found MacArthur Playground, not too far away. I was pleasantly surprised by how nice Manhattan playgrounds are. This one was clean with great playground features and even came with a set of trucks belonging to the park. 

MacArthur Playground

Visit FAO Schwarz

Our last stop before heading back home was FAO Schwarz to take our son to the iconic NYC toy store. We had a tough breakup with the park trucks at MacArthur park so this was a fun way to experience the city and heal the wound of the abandoned trucks. We went right as it opened and while a bit chaotic for my taste, it was a fun experience with all the demos and toys. This will certainly be a fun spot to take him to as he gets older. 

FAO Schwarz

Traveling with kids is often challenging, but also rewarding. You have to learn to scale back on your list, set different expectations, and pack a few more things than you normally would. We had some hard moments, and a tough night, but all in all, I would take the kids to the city again. There is something special about experiencing something through the lens of your children. Spring is a perfect time to visit the city and I already have plans to bring them back to enjoy more of what the city has to offer. If I went back, I would plan to stay uptown to visit the Natural History Museum and a few things on the northern side of the park. You can't do it all and one night away is certainly the sweet spot with kiddos. 

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