A 3-day itinerary with more than enough Big Apple memories to last a lifetime
Let me say this upfront: I’m a girly girl. My daughter is a girly girl. We love high heels, ballet tutus, and party dresses, though hers is occasionally paired with high top sneakers. No apologies. So when I set out to plan a once-in-a-lifetime, mother-daughter getaway, I wanted to go someplace that would cater to my daughter’s dreams. Enter New York City.
Admittedly, New York likely could cater to anyone’s dreams, as the number of attractions is mind-boggling. But I was looking to entertain a 7-year-old, would-be ballerina who has a mature appreciation for fine arts and a fairy tale-inspired imagination.
While this itinerary was dreamed up as a mother-daughter trip, there’s no reason why little boys wouldn’t be equally delighted by an art-centered getaway to the Big Apple. And there’s no reason why Dad couldn’t tag along too!
Where to stay?
If you’re looking to be treated like royalty, let me suggest the historic and luxurious Lotte New York Palace (455 Madison Ave.). Built in 1882, the former mansion of prominent financier Henry Villard has been blended with a contemporary, 55-story tower that gives guests exceptional views of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and iconic skyscrapers such as the Chrysler Building and Empire State Building. The courtyard entrance is graced with motifs from several 15th century Italian cathedrals. Inside, you’ll find a grand, golden staircase and dramatic chandeliers. Despite its decadence, the Palace is welcoming to families, giving children the royal treatment.
In fact, the Palace offers two packages specifically designed for kids. The newly-revamped Little Royals package invites young guests to wear either the knight’s armor or princess’ gown that they’ll find in their room - a gift to take home after their stay. The package also includes royal-themed treats and beverages, like cookies or cupcakes and sparkling water, and a 25% discount on Mommy and Me manicure and pedicure treatments at the Palace Spa. Package rate starts at $360/night.
Or if your child is a bit older, consider the hugely popular American Girl package. My daughter was ecstatic to find a complimentary, take-home American Girl doll travel bed in the room, just for her; a sweet treat will also be waiting for your child. She was even more excited to be the first customer through the door the next morning at the American Girl store (609 5th Ave.), just a five-minute walk from the hotel. Package rate starts at $344/night.
KidTripster Tip: To complete the American Girl experience, dine at the American Girl Cafe, one of KidTripster’s Top 10 Eats in NYC. Click here for our tips on getting a hard-to-come-by table.
The hotel is divided into two separate spaces. The Towers are newly-remodeled. The rooms are spacious and luxurious and boast the best views of St. Patrick's Cathedral; the top floors are the most popular for those incredible views. We stayed on the 48th floor. My daughter loved sitting on the window ledge peering down on the street below. The Palace portion of the hotel also has undergone a recent renovation; the rooms are large and bright and represent the best value. Room rates starts at $340/night.
KidTripster Tip: You’ll save a few dollars by utilizing the hotel’s first come-first serve, complimentary car service. The Palace also offers free shuttle service to the theater district (Tuesday through Saturday) and Wall Street (Monday through Friday); check with the front desk for exact times.
What to do?
After getting settled at the Palace, my budding ballerina and I headed straight to Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts to watch a matinee performance of the American Ballet Theatre at the grand Metropolitan Opera House. If you have a favorite ballet dancer, make sure to check the online ABT cast list ahead of time to purchase tickets for the appropriate show. We were fortunate to see Misty Copeland in Giselle. Every time my daughter saw her favorite ballerina, she sat on the edge of her seat and whispered, 'there she is!' Cost: $30 to $235, depending on day and time of performance; if you want to save a little money, go to a weeknight or Saturday matinee.
KidTripster Tip: Arrive a half hour prior to the performance to grab refreshments and take in the majestic theater. My daughter and I peered over the orchestra pit to watch the musicians warm up and were awestruck by the massive, retractable chandeliers.
KidTripster Tip: Borrow a velvet booster seat from the coat room to help your child better see the stage; the theater seats really sink down. The cushions are free and come in different thicknesses, but you’ll need to leave an ID or credit card as a deposit. Also try to get an aisle seat for better line of sight to the stage.
Where to eat?
New York has thousands of dining options, but Cafe Fiorello (1900 Broadway) near Lincoln Center is a perfect pre- or post-performance dining experience. Dark and traditional on the inside, the cafe opens up to a vibrant, outdoor patio that stretches to the sidewalk for al fresco dining. Seriously, this restaurant serves some of the best Italian food that we’ve ever tasted! We started with prosciutto and buratta, which is fresh Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream. Oh, so good! The flavorful Italian wedding soup is a must, even on a warm evening; I promise, you won’t regret it. But the highlight of the meal was the non-traditional, open-faced lasagna with giant meatballs. Delizioso! While the restaurant doesn’t have a kids’ menu, it’s still kid-friendly with Shirley Temples and an assortment of pizzas. Wait! Don’t even think about leaving until you order the bucket of mousse. Yes, the waiter comes to your table with a literal bucket of chocolate mousse and another bucket of whipped cream to slap on your plate! The theatrics are entertaining, but the taste is heavenly. I thought the prices ($20-$42/entrée) were reasonable considering the food quality and the highly desirable location. After all, it’s NYC.
KidTripster Tip: Situated in the middle of Rockefeller Center, you can’t miss the 45-foot-tall inflatable nylon Seated Ballerina sculpture by renowned artist Jeff Koons. It's another great photo op!
Where to stay?
After a restful night’s sleep at the Lotte New York Palace, head down to breakfast. “This is a pretty fancy room for breakfast,” observed my daughter. Yes, yes it was. Situated in the mansion portion of the hotel, Villard is the ornate, signature restaurant at the Palace and only serves breakfast and weekend brunch. The menu is filled with morning indulgences, priced between $20 and $42. The $14 kids’ menu consists of pancakes, oatmeal, and cinnamon toast with Nutella.
For a less expensive option inside the hotel, try Pomme Palais. It’s a traditional cafe with a unique French twist. You can pick up a cup of fruit, croissant or breakfast sandwich for about $10 and order your favorite espresso drink, while your child stares wide-eyed at the colorful array of macaroons. My daughter’s favorites? The green ones.
What to do?
Today, you’ll work off that bucket of chocolate mousse for sure! Slip on a pair of comfortable shoes and start with a 15-minute walk to Times Square. With all the giant screens, my daughter didn’t know which way to look… until she zeroed in on massive M&M’s World (1600 Broadway), the largest candy store in NYC. The smell of chocolate was overwhelming, but we weren’t complaining!
From Times Square, it’s about a 20-minute walk to Central Park. The best way to experience this enormous green space and learn its history is to ride with New York City Horse Carriages. This is a first-class experience, and in fact, it was my daughter’s favorite of the entire getaway. We sat in a brilliant, purple-plushed carriage pulled by Robin, a horse adorned with a purple plume, and guided by Karl, who’s been introducing visitors to Central Park for 16 years. My daughter tells everyone that she meets about the sweet horse kiss (lick) that Robin gave her. She loved the personal attention. Cost: 20-minute ride $54; 45-minute ride $119.
KidTripster Tip: This attraction is a good place to splurge and take advantage of the full, 45-minute tour. You'll get the best view of the park and be able to rest your feet. If you book ahead, you can request a specific guide or carriage.
Once you complete your carriage ride, stroll across the street for the timeless tradition of Tea at the Plaza Hotel (768 5th Ave). Admittedly, this treat is pretty extravagant, but if you have an Eloise fan is the family, you may find it worth it. (You’ll remember that Eloise lived at the Plaza Hotel in a “room on the tippy-top floor.”) Of the three flavors of tea, my daughter loved the fruity tropical garden tea the most; alternatively, your child can choose pink lemonade or vanilla iced tea. But the highlight is the sandwiches, savories, and sweets with cotton candy on top. Cost: Youth (12 and under) $55; Adult $75 for The New Yorker or $105 for The Champagne Tea.
KidTripster Tip: Be sure to check out the all-things-Eloise store in the basement of the hotel.
Ok, if you’re not able to plop down that much dough for tea, consider Alice’s Tea Cup (102 W. 73rd), a whimsical tea house based on a literary classic not too far from the east side of Central Park. In addition to the excellent teas and scones, it serves a popular breakfast and brunch. Your child will love going down this rabbit hole.
What to do?
In the evening, take in a Broadway show. We’re big fans of musicals, so we splurged and got front row seats to see Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats Returns to Broadway at the Neil Simon Theatre (250 West 52nd St.). The cast of Cats dances through the aisle, and if the actors spot a child, they give them a little extra attention. Cost: $57-$179.
KidTripster Tip: If you’re flexible and looking to save money on a Broadway show, the best way to get cheap tickets is to wait in line at one of the city’s three TKTS booths on the day of the show. Check the website to see what shows are generally being sold. Also the most popular TKTS booth with the longest line is in Times Square. For a shorter line, try the one at South Street Seaport (corner of Front & John Streets) in Lower Manhattan.
What to do?
On this day, consider visiting the “women of NYC,” beginning with Lady Liberty herself. From the Palace, we took a 10-minute walk to Grand Central, which itself is a tremendous sight. Be sure to look up in the main terminal to see the magnificent celestial ceiling. It got a “wow!” from my daughter before we boarded a train to Downtown.
There are a few ways to approach seeing the State of Liberty. If you’re just looking for glimpse, you can see it off in the distance from Battery Park. You can take a guided tour with Statue Cruises. Cost: Youth (0-3) Free; Youth (3-12) $9-$12; Adult $18.50-$21.50. But instead, I’d recommend riding the free commuter ferry to Staten Island and back for views of Lady Liberty and the impressive World Trade Center. It only takes about 25 minutes; know that you won’t stop at the statue on Liberty Island or Ellis Island.
KidTripster Tip: For other things that kids will enjoy in Battery Park, read our Top 10 Plays for NYC.
Just a 5-minute walk from Battery Park, you’ll find yourself in front of the New York Stock Exchange and the famous Charging Bull sculpture. Becoming just as well-known, you’ll see Fearless Girl just a few feet away. Surprisingly, this tourist site turned out to be the most popular and crowded of our trip. I really had to angle to get a photo of Fearless Girl and my fearless girl, both the same size.
KidTripster Tip: Research online the story of Fearless Girl and the controversy between her and the Bull to share with your child. It’s pretty interesting!
Where to eat?
If you worked up an appetite fighting off fellow tourists for your picture-perfect moment with Fearless Girl, you’re in luck. You’re just a stone’s throw away from some of the best places to eat and drink in NYC. Built by Dutch Colonists in the 1600s, Stone Street was the New World’s first paved road. Today, it’s a pedestrians-only, cobble-stoned street that offers old-world charm and great indoor and outdoor dining. It’s also home to one of the city’s best pizza places, Adrienne’s Pizzabar (54 Stone St.). Order up one of the half-red, half-white, old fashioned pies with a couple of your favorite toppings.
We took the subway Uptown to the final stop of our mother-daughter adventure - the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the monarch of Museum Row on the west side of Central Park. Admittedly, as it’s one of the largest art museums in the world with two million pieces, it’s a bit overwhelming. My advice: do some advanced research and just focus on what’s likely to be your child’s greatest interest. Our favorites included the Degas paintings and sculptures along with many impressionist works. My little ballerina was anxious to see another little ballerina, so we made a beeline to view Degas’ famous Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer sculpture of a young student of the Paris Opera Ballet dance school. Also make sure to check out any special exhibitions. While we were there, we saw a very eye-catching installation focused on avant-garde fashion design.
Admission at the museum is a bit unusual. If you buy tickets at the on-site ticket counter, you name your price. The suggested donation: Youth (under 12) Free; Youth with ID (12-17) $12; Adult $25. If you decide to get your tickets in advance and skip the line, you’ll be charged the suggested full price. Your ticket is also good for same-day admission to The Met Fifth Avenue, The Met Breuer (closed Mondays), and The Met Cloisters, but admittedly, that’s a lot of art viewing for a kid… and an adult.
If you have more time, consider exploring the sort-of-secret museums of NYC. Read more here.
New York City is served by three major airports: LaGuardia and JFK in Queens and Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey. It's a flat fare of $52 (plus tolls and tip) from JFK airport to any point in Manhattan. It’s a metered fare from LaGuardia which can add up if traffic is bad or be quicker and cheaper if the stars align. From Newark, fares average around $55 (plus tip and tolls). Most people would agree that it's a worthwhile expense, especially if you are not well-oriented with the city.
There's an Airtrain and other combinations of buses and trains that will save you money, but they can add time and hassle (especially when traveling with little ones). It can also add unnecessary confusion, frustration, and stress for families just arriving.
Always check with your hotel to see what mode of transportation it recommends; the hotel may even provide a car service for a fee.
Deb Beard is a mother of two, living in Portland, Oregon. She loves finding great travel experiences for bargain prices. When she's not working as a full-time journalist, she spends her limited free time taking ballet classes.
New York-based writer and mother, Marcia Breen, also contributed to this story. She's an American writer who went to London, met an Irishman with a Russian name, and followed him to Bermuda. Nearly a decade later, they are married and living in New York City with their 3-year-old daughter.