This upcoming New Year's Eve promises to be a memorable one – the four of us (my wife, two children and yours truly) have planned an epic trip to New York City to celebrate New Year. But shhh, the children don't know yet (as we've organised it with Santa)!
NYC is magic. With its bigger-is-better attitude and film-set scenery, the sense of heightened reality makes it the perfect escape. I've opened up my itinerary to show how you can enjoy the child-friendly delights of this amazing city.
Where to welcome the new year?
This might surprise a few readers, but one official event we'll definitely be avoiding is the Times Square ball drop. We've not visited at this time of year before, but we've heard it's a nightmare. You need to get there early in the afternoon to be herded into a designated area. That means no access to food, drinks or toilets until literally the following year. It's maybe great for couples (with particularly strong bladders!), but certainly one to dodge with the children.
Instead, we'll probably spend New Year' Eve in Central Park if the weather allows, where there'll be fireworks courtesy of the New York Road Runners' Emerald Midnight Run. At the time of writing, Central Park itself doesn't have an official NYE display of its own on its calendar. Prospect Park in Brooklyn does, however; although it's a trip out of the borough it's useful to have that option in the pocket.
Keep it simple and central
We're booked in at the 4-star New York Palace hotel, on Madison Avenue, in the Midtown area. It's really something special, with elegant rooms throughout, and marble bathrooms with bathrobes and slippers as standard. Not only that, it's just been named as being one of the top five New York hotels for Christmas displays, so is bound to leave the children wide-eyed.
The Palace is in a great location: opposite the stunning 135 year-old St Patrick's Cathedral, two minutes' walk from the Rockefeller Center, and five minutes' walk from all the Fifth Avenue shops and the nearby subway stop.
Oh, and it's less than 15 minutes away from Times Square and Central Park, and near the Theater District. Did I mention that it was a great location?
Since we're here for a good time and not a long time, instead of branching out into the outer boroughs like Brooklyn and beyond, we're sticking to Manhattan for the duration of our stay.
In fairness, being in the centre of the city is that bit more pricey, but most of the attractions are right on the doorstep. The added hassle of getting the metro into the centre of town can be an adventure in itself before you've even started a day's activities.
A flying visit
As orientation exercises go, few are better than the helicopter ride. We'll definitely be doing that on our first morning there, and it will give the children another chance to get a feel for the scale of the place. You need that, if you've never been to New York before. I'm not saying you'll be able to memorise everything on an 18-20-minute flight above the sights, but it is surprisingly helpful once your feet are on the floor again.
The rule is that anything called 'Street' runs east to west, 'Avenues' from north to south. Navigating Manhattan's ruthlessly neat grid layout is a little tricky for visitors, but don't worry – even native New Yorkers have been known to get lost there (like they'd admit it!).
Our must-do list
- We'll be going up to 'The Rock', or the observation deck at the top of the iconic Rockefeller Center, to take in more panoramic views of NYC from high (hello, Empire State and Chrysler buildings) and to see its legendary Christmas tree. While many visitors head up the Empire State Building, The Rock offers the chance to actually get the Empire State Building in the background of your photograph.
- Strolling through Central Park on a winter's day to soak up some relative peace and quiet in the buzz of the city, maybe getting in a walking tour. We'll all get our skates on for the ice skating (in the southern end of the Park at Wollman Rink and in the northern end at Lasker Rink).
- Stopping off at FAO Schwarz, the iconic toy store on Fifth Avenue. So, I may be disguising this as a treat for the children, but it's also where they filmed Big, one of my favourite films when I was growing up. We might just browse and lose ourselves for a few hours, or book a special, pre-opening hours 'breakfast with a Toy Soldier' guided tour. I can't promise there won't be selfies with one of the costumed Toy Soldier staff members.
- Visiting the 9/11 Memorial Museum at Ground Zero, and possibly taking a trip on the Staten Island ferry to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. Sobering, and essential.
- Starting the day with a wander through one of the many local cultural institutions, like the child-friendly Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Musuem of Natural History. We might even get to Central Park Zoo as well.
- A trip to Broadway absolutely has to be done. We can't wait to have our pre-show dinner at Ellen's Stardust Diner, a classic retro 1950s-style diner where the waiting staff sing to you – but we're not sure what to see. It's currently a toss-up between Matilda, Wicked, The Lion King and Cinderella. Which would you choose?
Keys to the city
If you're also thinking of doing an attraction-heavy trip, I'd recommend getting some passes. They seem costly upfront, but given how costly New York can be in general, they'll save you a few dollars if you've got kids (not to mention partners and friends) who want to see and do it all.
We'll be getting ours from NYC and Company. They offer a choice of a 'New York Pass' (USD 60-184 per child; USD 80-249 for an adult), which gives you free entry to loads of attractions for 1-7 days, or an 'Explorer Pass' (USD 62.99-122.99 per child, USD 79.99-177.99 per adult) which gives you 45% off 3, 5, 7 or 10 attractions. Buy online and in advance and you can save a bit extra.
The countdown begins...
Christmas is round the corner, and will be here and gone in a flash. Stay tuned for when we're back in the New Year; I'll give you the full rundown of what we did, what we saw on Broadway, and – most importantly – how we celebrated New Year's Eve.