Early spring is the perfect time to take your family to Manhattan. Especially right now, with the pandemic restrictions eased, but tourism has yet to rebound, you can get great deals on hotels, and you may be able to quickly access popular attractions (I’m looking at you, harry potter store) without too much difficulty.
I brought my family – my husband and two teenagers – to New York for the February 2022 vacation. It had been almost two years to the day since our last trip to town, in February 2020, when we promised the girls that we would be back in a few months to see Wicked. We did, but not on the schedule we had planned.
Day one: We took Amtrak from Boston. The train was comfortable and on time, and the views along the coast are hard to beat. The Northeast Corridor line drops you at the Moynihan terminal, which is a short walk from our hotel, the NH Collection New York Avenue Madison at 22 East 38th Street between Madison and Park Avenues. The first NH Hotel Group property to open in North America, it’s one of the few hotels I’ve stayed in that offers twin rooms. I saved some of my sanity because my kids hate sharing a bed. My husband and I enjoyed a junior suite across the hall. If you have younger children or prefer to stay in one room, the junior suite has a sofa bed. All rooms have mini-fridges and Nespresso machines (my favorite), and it’s within walking distance of the landmarks that make New York one of the top ten destinations in the world, including Times Square , the Empire State Building, Grand Central Station and Bryant Park.
Our room was ready, so we unpacked and headed to the Stranger Things pop-up store in Times Square, for some Joyce Byer couch selfies, a few games of Pac Man at the Palace Arcade and a spin on the snowball dance floor. Unfortunately, the store has since closed – perhaps because the product was incredibly expensive ($30 for a Scoops Ahoy hat? Really?).
On the way back to NH, we stopped at the main branch of the New York Public Library (Fifth Ave. at 42nd Street), which is a delicious and free place to explore. Until August 13, the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building (it’s the landmark with the lions next to the towering steps) hosts INTERSECT — excerpts from the upcoming graphic novel by artist Peter Kuper. It’s inspired
by his experience researching the history of insects at the start of the pandemic, when he was granted access to the vast Beaux-Arts halls and hallways of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building when it was closed to the general public. The teenagers gave him two thumbs up. We have not booked timed ticket to visit the Polansky exhibit of the library’s world-renowned research collections, so we missed the exhibit of everything from Thomas Jefferson’s draft Declaration of Independence to the original Winnie-the-Pooh and Friends, but we will be back.
From there it was only a few blocks to the hotel, where we checked in with guest relations manager Dimitra Doupi for a dinner recommendation. She told us wokuni (327 Lexington Ave.) – a charming Japanese restaurant with happy hour (hello, $7 Suntory Toki Highball), stylish decor, and reasonable prices. Platters of sushi, Agedashi tofu and a hearty seafood noodle dish were all perfectly delicious.
day two, we got up early in the morning for an easy walk to the Harry Potter Shop (22nd Street between 5th Avenue and Broadway). If you want to go, check their social media first to see if the virtual queue is in effect. It wasn’t when we were there, but when things are busy the store uses it to manage capacity, for Covid and non-Covid purposes. For the fans, it’s worth it – the store has everything you’ve ever wanted, from Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans t-shirts to Prisoner of Azkaban t-shirts, not to mention chopsticks and some really cool artifacts from the filming of the movies. movies, like the London phone box Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I bought Luna Lovegood glasses. Book early for Virtual reality experiences ($34 per person). I’d have trouble with Dobby if I revealed any details, but suffice it to say they’re magical and seem very, very real. We particularly liked the “Wizards Take Flight”.
We continued downtown for lunch at Chinatown, followed by another Doupi recommendation – fish-shaped cones at Taiyaki NYC , filled with matcha and black sesame swirl ice cream. From there it was a break at our hotel before the main event – tickets to see Bad on Broadway. For dinner before the show, Doupi told us Toto Ramen (464 W. 51st, between 9th and 10th) …maybe you can tell that our family loves Japanese food. The service was efficient, the chicken ramen was delicious and filling – and they had some really cool t-shirts.
Well fortified, we were prepared for our short windy ride to the Gershwin Theater (222 W. 51st between 8th and Broadway), where Oz awaited us. Luck was on our side – it was the second week of performances featuring Brittney Johnson as Glinda the Good Witch. The joy at the first woman of color appearing in this role was absolutely electric in the theatre. We ended up walking back to the hotel via Times Square, soaking up the atmosphere and working on the urge to sing “Defying Gravity” loudly.
day threeWe were off to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island – early arrival means less crowds at attractions. To buy tickets in advance to skip the first line, but be prepared for airport-style security to board the ferry (although you can keep your shoes on). You should allow an extra 15-20 minutes before the scheduled departure time for this. Once on board, the ferry alone is a delight, even in the cool, drizzly weather we encountered, which also meant fewer people gawking at the statue. Plan ahead and book special tickets if you’re hoping to enter the base (we didn’t so it wasn’t planned) and take time to enjoy the interactive museum before heading to Ellis Island . The staff at the Ellis Island information desk offered helpful advice on getting the most out of our time there – another place we will return to.
On our return, a short walk from the Battery Park ferry terminal (and on the way to the subway), is one of my favorite secret places in New York – the sea glass carousel ($5). Climb inside one of these magical, iridescent fish and enjoy. ‘Nuff said.
From there we headed to the Ice Museum ($36 plus tax and fees) – literally the only thing the young kid wanted to experience in Manhattan, other than Wicked. Rather than an “ice cream museum”, I would call this an ice cream themed “Instagram museum”. Throughout the experience, decorated with flattering roses, there are several stops where you can get as much ice cream as you want. I would suggest going early in the day as the highlight was definitely the pool full of giant plastic nuggets – a bottleneck where lots of people spend a lot of time. So earlier in the day there will be fewer people. I was thrilled to find an “adults only” splash down pool, giving me the chance to ride away from the kids. Teens said they would rather come here than order $50 ice cream so it was a hit. We dined at Bryant Park Winter Village to watch the ice skaters. The rink is closed for the season, but now the park offers ping-pong and juggling, as well as food kiosks.
On our last morning, before returning home, we decided to contemplate the city from above. There are a lot of new observation decks, but it made sense to kick things old school. The Empire State Building offers a particularly unique way to observe Manhattan through its sunrise tour – something best experienced with teenagers in the winter months, before the sun comes up at an hour too early to pull them out of bed. We told them they could take a nap on the train.
Waiting for our train was a relaxing experience, above the ground floor of the Moynihan Train Hall in Amtrak’s premium Metropolitan Lounge. The kids feasted on pastries and lucky charms, while I enjoyed a delicious – and warm – fig and smoked provolone sandwich. The lounge now has a bar serving local beer, as well as wine and cocktails. It was a great place to wait for the train – although I would recommend if you are heading to Amtrak, tell the rideshare or taxi drivers to drop you off at 8th and 34th streets. Otherwise, you might end up on 7th Avenue with an obnoxious schlep at Moynihan Train Hall. I speak from experience.
We packed a lot in a few days, but it didn’t seem too busy. Maybe next time we’ll convince the teens to go to a real museum.