Saturday, January 14, 2006

New York City trip report - yes we did it with the kids!

So here we are in 2006 - and now that I am 40, and officially a Stay at home mom (yikes!) - we managed to get to NYC at the beginning of the year to spend some of my hard earned great "parting gifts" as a result of the merger/ buyout package that I took when mat leave finished end of November. It's harder than a full time job - hardly any time to go to the washroom let alone have a coffee. Somehow I manage to do both and thus have to go to the washroom even more often, or hold it (didn't know I had camel in me).
Anyhow, here's the trip log - I posted on Tripadvisor as well, to help other beleaguered parents hoping to have some fun in the big apple. ..

NYC trip report.

Tuesday Jan 03/ 06.
Sat on the Toronto airport runway for an hour while weather problems in NYC delayed our take-off, but still got there around 1 PM. Airline lost one of our bags – wouldn’t think this would happen as it’s only a 1 hour flight. Anyway, they put a trace on it - the one bag we did have was the critical one with diapers and food for baby G - thank goodness. The cab ride was about half an hour and $30US from La Guardia. Were able to check in to the Affinia 50 early.

We were very pleasantly surprised with the Affinia 50. We had booked a deluxe 1 BR suite and it was HUGE!! We had a corner unit, #1902, with a balcony that would be quite nice in the summer. The kitchen was sufficient – cupboards & sink a bit institutional but the microwave, coffee maker & fridge were just what we needed. The bathroom was quite large despite what I was expecting from other TA reports (I guess it’s what we paid for the DELUXE), and the bedroom with 2 Queen beds, was down a small hall, was very nice. The suite was perfect for us, our 5 year old Jedi knight L and 1 year old crawler! I had requested a crib, and they sent one up with travel size soaps and creams for baby – a very nice touch. My husband went to check out the 2nd floor lounge and fitness center (wishful thinking!!). He noticed that the gym was small but the equipment looked brand new and he was eager to try it (we never did get there – maybe next time).

The weather was rainy, but not cold (especially compared to home), so after some hamburgers at Morningstar diner around the corner on 2nd ave (huge menu, great burgers, family atmosphere) we decided to check out the Sony Technology Wonderlab, which was a short walk over on Madison. A perfect time of year as there was absolutely no line-up --kids had returned to school but with it being the 1st week, no school trips were booked. Actually, this part is a bit of a funny story. We went to the door, there were 2 fellows working there, who told us to go in and buy tickets, and then come back out. So we did, and I guess the tickets are usually for particular times, so when we came out, the same fellow told us to line up and wait for someone to come for our tickets. There was no line, just some disorganized barricades, so we were confused and came back to him to ask where- he pointed in that general direction. So we just stood there again. About 30 seconds later (still no one except us) he came back to us and wished us a good afternoon and ”welcome to the Sony lab”, as if he had just seen us for the first time, and took our tickets. Too funny!!

We stayed at Sony for a couple of hours – some great interactive exhibits, my son particularly liked it, especially with the piece de resistance of the video games at the very end. We walked back to the hotel in the light rain, and managed to make it to the 6 PM wine and cheese on the 2nd floor lounge. Again, this was very nice – nothing especially for the kids, but I did get some water for L, and brought along some food for G. They had the fire going, it was quite well attended, it had a nice library atmosphere with a plasma TV over the fire. I noticed they had some puzzles & games, which would be great during snowy weather. We then asked the concierge for restaurant suggestions – we were in the mood for Italian and she suggested nearby San Martin on 48th. It was quite good – no high chairs but they were great with the kids & the booths made it easier. They do have boosters for older toddlers.

We headed back to the hotel, got the kids to bed, hadn’t received our lost baggage as yet so my husband went to the drugstore to get a toothbrush and paste for himself, along with some chips to go with the couple of beers we had before we called it a night. Then of course when he got back, the luggage arrived.

Wednesday Jan 04
We slept in a little and after feeding Giselle some of her toddler mush, went to Ess-A-Bagel on 3rd just around the corner from the hotel. It was pretty good – perhaps I was expecting a lot more since this has been highly recommended by all the guidebooks and also this website. The bagels are on the large side, so quite doughy. So while we were pleased with breakfast, we’re more accustomed to the slimmer Montreal style bagels.

As it was a nicer day, we headed over to the Rockefeller Center to check out the Christmas tree, skaters and Top of the Rock. I wish they would invent some “cool” strollers for older kids – L, as is usual with most his age, got tired very quickly and his legs “hurt”. This, of course, until my husband offered to give him a piggyback ride. My husband managed to carry him for a bit without his back giving out, then when we saw the tree and the skaters, my son’s legs recovered quite miraculously!

Thank you Sara for the e:mail which saved us one adult admission to the Top of the Rock – and it was fantastic! What a beautiful view, and no lineups. We did notice something quite unusual –it was quite a bit colder down on the ground than it was 70 floors up – we wondered if it were the wind-tunnel effect from the buildings below that made it so windy and cold at ground level. Anyway, strongly recommend this attraction before the crowds come as it was a very nice, well-organized experience.

After lunch in the food court of the Rockefeller Center (by this time I was noticing the great shopping in the viscinity), we decided to go up 5th avenue to FAO Schwartz. We had pumped my son up about this fantastic toy store, and when we got there they had a brief showing of two fellows “playing” the large keyboard on the floor (a la “Big” the movie). They were quite good. Then we went looking for action heroes and were a bit disappointed. They had some for older kids (eg. Expensive Star Wars and GI Joe figurines), and a lot of Thomas the Tank (which was “so 2 years ago Mom!”), but not much in between. I was more impressed with the little girls’ and baby/toddlers’ section on behalf of my sleeping daughter. So we promised to head back to the Disney Store, also on 5th, after a carriage ride through Central Park.

If you have little ones, even if you don’t, I would strongly recommend the horse drawn carriage ride. It wasn’t cheap ($40 including tax for 20 minutes) but it was a lot of fun. Central Park is just beautiful – we’re looking forward to going back when it’s warmer. Some nice commentary from our driver, who originally hailed from Ireland. NYC is such a cosmopolitan city.

We went to Disney as promised and there were great sales, but L still wasn’t too impressed, despite the Incredibles’ light up sword we picked up for him. Methinks we spoil him a bit…

We headed back to the hotel by taxi – it would have been faster on foot but by that time we were all quite exhausted. We had to get back to rest before our dinner reservation at Balthazar’s in Soho, which we had made about a week before.

A couple of quick notes about the hotel: 1) Dialing out on the telephone. Make sure you dial 9 then 1, before your 212 local call. Otherwise it won’t call out. 2) The internet games didn’t work, even though the hotel staff came by twice and tried to help.

Balthazar’s was a great dining experience. Even with the children, we managed to have some adult time, as the two passed out during dinner. This was made possible by the fantastic rounded booths they have in the restaurant. The din from the restaurant provided much needed white noise so the two were asleep while we had some appetizers and were able to enjoy our wine a bit. No children’s menu but the kitchen whipped up a small plate of pasta and butter for our little guy.

After dinner, we walked along a couple of streets in Soho. Most stores had already closed by then (usually about 8 PM). It looked like a great shopping area (it’s killing me!!). Stopped in at a very large Dean & Delucca to pick up a couple of croissants, water and juice for breakfast the next morning, and coffee beans to bring home. L saw some pork complete with heads that grossed him out somewhat – the pastry lady, a vegetarian, agreed with him completely. We took another cab back to the hotel, again tired after a busy day.

Thursday Jan. 05
Our last full day in NYC. This was supposed to be a rainy day. I woke up early to get myself and the kids ready – the Wolfgang puck coffee provided by the hotel was pretty good. I managed to check out the bebe store just across from the hotel on 3rd and I got to do ½ hour on my own while husband had coffee and read the paper for a bit. We managed to get out of the hotel by 11, grabbing a taxi to bring us to the American Museum of Natural history.

This is where I could have saved a bit of time by doing a bit more homework. We had to wait in line to decide which package we wanted – there is more than just general admission. They had the space show, butterfly exhibition, special dinosaur exhibit, etc…If we had known what we wanted, I probably could have saved about ½ hour in waiting time by buying the tickets at the automated kiosks. In any case, we purchased the package that included the space show “Search for Life” narrated by Harrison Ford – an awesome experience. Was much like a planetarium – again, this time of year the theatre was only about ½ full. The dinosaur exhibits on the 4th floor, and the dioramas (sp?) were quite the sight, as was the huge exhibit on ocean life. The building was huge – we really just scratched the surface, sort of like doing the Louvre in ½ day. For lunch, we just ate in the museum food court, where we were able to get hot food and it wasn’t overly expensive.

The sun came out for a bit, and we wanted to walk around a bit of the Upper West side, but it was a bit much for the little ones so we headed back to the hotel. By this time, I decided that I HAD to get some shopping done, so I left the kids with my husband and walked up Lexington to 59th to hit the one and only Bloomingdales. That stretch of Lexington had a bunch of sandwich shops, drug stores, not the greatest for shopping until you got closer to 59th. Once I got into the store, I headed straight for the shoes – having a great 40% off sale and promptly bought a pair of boots which I really don’t need but had to have. Then I went to the infant/ toddler section because I must always buy an outfit for my little princess – found 50% off Guess baby. I would have gone to the boys’, but lately L only wears Gap and Old Navy, and my husband can be picky, so I headed back down to the hotel via 3rd Avenue. On my way, I picked up some food at Azure’s – great fresh fruit, salads, dinner items. I managed to do all this in 1.5 hours.

When I got back to the hotel, found that my son was enjoying unlimited Nick junior on the TV and making a bit of a ruckus, and husband and daughter were still napping. I can be neurotic – was expecting hubby to choose a place for dinner and obviously nothing had been done. Husband managed to decide on Virgil’s BBQ in Times Square, as we wanted to bring the kids there to see all the lights. So he called at 7 PM for a 7:30 reservation – but the restaurant only takes reservations more than an hour in advance. I made him call back and book for 8 PM. Funny, when we got to the restaurant they were obviously not full – we probably could have walked in from the street and been seated. I guess protocol is protocol ?! The food was OK – the chicken was very good, but the ribs were not very flavourful considering all the hype this place receives in the guidebooks. The service was good, the ambiance was fun and the meals came very quickly, so major pluses on those points.

With Toys R Us next door, we HAD to bring the kids and this time there was NO disappointment! There was even a ferris wheel inside which I rode with L. A fantastic Jurassic park dinosaur who roared quite convincingly every couple of minutes. We were talked into buying another Ninja turtle toy to join the one just received for Christmas. L was in heaven – this experience restored his faith in NYC’s ability to provide the toy necessities of life. Hallelujah!! We headed back to the hotel for our last night. Kids passed right out, with adults joining shortly thereafter.

At this point we were having such a great time, we were seriously considering staying another night – if it weren’t for the fact that we could find a decent flight home on Saturday, we would have.

Friday Jan 06.

Had a 1:15 flight home so could take our time in the morning. Went to New York Luncheonette just up the street for our last breakfast. Great coffee, just what we wanted for breakfast, very fast and family-friendly. Took some last minute photos of the kids and the hotel room. Check out was fast and efficient. They had charged us for all of the attempts to call out as well as the games, but were very obliging to remove them when we told them of our troubles.

We had a great time in NYC - would definitely recommend Affinia 50 for the service, facilities and the location in Manhattan. My son didn’t want to leave – told him we would come back again and he asked “tomorrow?” I can’t wait to go back to get more shopping done and hopefully see more museums the next time.

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