Taking it back to December on this cold and rainy, dreary day down South…
The week before Christmas, and the day after our church’s December preview service, we flew up to the Big Apple for a few days. This trip was a Christmas gift from my mom (Meme) and we had the best time.
Our family loves New York City and we have been several times at Christmas, which is our favorite time to go. The city is just magical, no other way to describe it. We love all the decorations and lights, the store windows, and all the seasonal activities.
The last time we went during the Christmas holidays was for my 30th birthday. Hannah was 15 months old and I was pregnant with Joseph. That trip was a blast, but this one was even better. The kids could really enjoy it and the memories we made would live on in all of us.
It had only been a year since we were last in New York. That was for the marathon, a goal of Joe’s and a really neat experience. On that trip, we did a lot of sightseeing, including going to the top of the Empire State Building, seeing a Broadway show, playing in Battery Park and getting a great view of Lady Liberty, touring the Museum of Natural History, and visiting the 9/11 Memorial. It was packed full of fun.
So, since the kids have done most of the NYC basics, we could completely focus on the Christmas stuff.
We left our little regional airport on a late-morning flight that Monday.
It was evening before we arrived at the hotel to meet Meme and my brother, his wife and their almost-2-yr-old daughter, Stella. Our flight landed as the sun was setting and that was a beautiful welcome. We promptly got bundled up and headed out into the cold streets and made our way to Rockefeller Center.
We walked along gazing into the decorated windows at Saks and then watched their fabulous light show. A few times actually. If you are standing in Rockefeller plaza by the angels to watch the show, you are surrounded in Christmas cheer. The big tree is right behind you. It is truly magical.
It was freezing!! We found a restaurant about a block away for dinner, then took the Subway back to the hotel. Riding the Subway is one of the kids’ favorite parts of New York. It was a late night and we slept hard.
Tuesday morning we ate breakfast downstairs in the hotel and then set off for Grand Central Station to catch a train to the New York Botanical Garden.
We’ve never been to the botanical gardens and it was a perfect time to visit. The holiday train show was going on. The exhibition is incredible! Trains weave around buildings and structures made entirely of bark, leaves and other natural materials. The Statue of Liberty, skyscrapers, bridges and other famous places are all recreated. The adults were just as amazed as the kids.
We went back to Grand Central for lunch. Below the main terminal, there is a big food court where you can find all kinds of dining options.
Instead of squeezing in something else or rushing back to the hotel to change, we decided to stay and linger over lunch, enjoying the warmth before going back out onto the cold streets. My mom got us tickets to the late afternoon Christmas Spectacular show at Radio City Music Hall.
The show is so much fun! We have been a few times now and it’s always great. Seeing the Rockettes in person is quite an experience. We love how it ends with the Nativity and a beautiful rendition of O Come All Ye Faithful.
Afterwards, we found a pub near Times Square, had dinner, and then took in the sights and sounds of the most lit-up block on earth.
We decided to duck into Hard Rock Cafe for dessert. That is a fun place, too.
Another late night and tired babies. But there’s not a lot of rest on our trips to NYC! There is too much to do and usually too little time. We knew it was going to be a packed trip, but we also had plenty of days to rest over the remainder of Christmas break.
It was up and at ’em on Wednesday morning with another breakfast at the hotel and a walk to Macy’s to see Santa at the 34th Street store.
The wait to see the jolly man includes a path through a “Santaland” full of decorations. The line moves pretty fast. It is actually fascinating how it all works. There are several Santas and the elf-staff are very good at directing and disguising the pathways that lead to the smaller rooms where Santa sits. There is one big long line and each party gets led separately down one of the pathways.
Hannah and Joseph were both excited to see him. While Hannah didn’t have anything in particular to ask for, Joseph was pretty specific: a drone and an “X-wing that shoots at the Death Star”. And he was elated when Santa started singing (to the tune of the Star Wars theme), “STAR WARS!! Santa loves STAR WARS!!!”
After grabbing Starbucks and browsing through several floors at Macy’s (there are 11 levels total), we walked over to Hannah’s mecca, the American Girl store. Three floors of fun! She picked out a couple of presents for Maddalena, her Truly Me doll.
We perused more store windows as we made our way down Fifth Avenue to Central Park. Saks’ theme this year was “Land of 1,000 Delights” and we loved all the scenes and colors.
We also stopped in both Saint Patrick’s and Saint Thomas, two gorgeous, very old churches we love to visit. The architecture, art, stained glass…is just stunning. On our previous Christmas trip to NYC, we attended the lessons and carols service at Saint Thomas, which was beautiful.
We made it to Central Park and ate a late lunch, via street vendors, on benches at the edge of the park. The fare? Street dogs and giant pretzels of course! This is without a doubt a must-do when we go to NYC. Hannah and Joseph climbed the big rocks as we made our way to the ice rink.
There are a couple famous ice skating options in New York – under the tree in Rockefeller Plaza and in Central Park. The rink at Rockefeller is always very crowded and smaller, so we prefer the park. There are two different rinks with skate rentals. We skated at Wollman Rink on the east side of the park.
The wait to pay for skate and locker rentals wasn’t too bad and soon we were on the ice. We stayed for a couple of sessions. Hannah has skated twice before and she was ready to roll! Glide?!
Joseph, on the other hand, wasn’t too sure. He’d never been on the ice and thought watching with Meme and Stella was more his speed…
…But then he changed his mind. Cute little guy had a ball. Daddy and Uncle Will Will helped him learn the basics and, in no time at all, he was confident and loving it.
It was such a fun experience, beneath the beautiful skyline, skating as a family for the first time. Despite the cold, we warmed up getting some exercise and worked up an appetite, too! So…we had to do something about that, obviously.
Joe had heard about a cookie place and, once he told us all about it, we weren’t going to miss the chance to go. We walked north through Central Park. The original Levain Bakery is located on the Upper West Side, nestled in a neighborhood. Unless it was your destination, you would probably never know it was there. (We didn’t know about it until this trip.) But once you get near, the line down the block gives away the secret: the cookies are to die for. It’s not really a secret; their chocolate chip walnut cookie is world famous.
By the time we got our cookies, it was 5:30 and we had plans to go to Little Italy for dinner. Still, we ate some “chocolatey goodness”, as we like to say, and made our way to one of our favorite places.
Dining in Little Italy is something we do every time we are in New York City. It’s hard to go wrong as far as picking a restaurant, the difficult decision is what to order! And, for me, if gnocchi is on the menu, that’s what I’m having. And calamari. And good wine. We have gone to the same place for years, but this time we mixed it up and tried a new place. Sofia’s was just as delicious.
And then, of course, we walked down Mulberry and around the corner to Ferrara’s to fill a box of delicious Italian desserts. Another must-do. I recommend the cannoli, eclair, Napoleon, berry torte…ok, all of it’s good.
At 10pm (yes, another late night but it was our last one and we were living it the the fullest), we were underground waiting on the Subway…and looking for rats. To Joseph’s pleasure we did finally see one. Gross, I know, but while in NYC…
These two are used to trips with full days and do well going with the flow. Late nights and early mornings did not allow for a lot of sleep and they kept up just fine, often exhibiting more energy than us old people.
Our last day was Thursday. It was also my 36th birthday! My brother and his family flew out early that morning, but our flight wasn’t until evening, so we had several more hours to play before we needed to pack up and head to the airport. My mom had to get back to work (she is actually working in Long Island right now which made it very convenient), but she spent most of the morning celebrating with us.
I was told to be dressed and ready to leave the hotel by 8:30. A birthday surprise was on the agenda! We took a taxi here…
The Plaza Hotel! My mom had made breakfast reservations at The Palm Court. I could not have been more excited. I have loved the Plaza since I saw the movie Big Business as a little girl. On my 30th birthday trip, we had afternoon tea there as a family. Breakfast did not disappoint either!
I must say, a lovely start to my day. We took our time and walked around the lobby before leaving, and posed for a family photo in front of the tree…
Just across the street, horse-drawn carriages line up across Central Park South. On that last NYC birthday trip, Joe and I took an evening carriage ride through the park. I really wanted to take the kids on one, knowing they would absolutely love it. It is positively a touristy thing to do but so charming at the same time. We talked Meme into joining us and climbed aboard a pretty red and white carriage with a guide from Ireland.
We splurged and opted for the longer ride. Our guide pointed out where scenes were filmed from various movies. We saw where Buddy the Elf threw snowballs and where Santa’s sleigh clipped the wing of the angel statue. We also “looked” for the pigeon lady from the second Home Alone. It was chilly, but we snuggled under the warm blanket provided as we meandered through Central Park.
Joseph fell asleep towards the end of the ride. Hard not to, with the gentle jostling of the carriage and the sound of the horse’s clip-clop…and when you’re as tired as that little guy was.
Back to the Plaza, a goodbye hug for Meme, and a final walk up 5th Avenue. We showed the kids the underground Apple store, and stopped in the Lindt chocolate store, before one last ride on the Subway back to the hotel. Despite all the fun sightseeing we did, the Subway was probably Joseph’s favorite part. It was his favorite part last time, too.
There was a little underestimation in how long it would take us to get back to our hotel, so packing was kind of a mad rush. I have to include this story…
Housekeeping was on our floor and had already cleaned out my mom’s room, which was just down the hall from ours. The kids took turns sleeping with her, so we tried to make sure that morning that nobody left anything in her room. Well. I happened to glance at the big trash bag in the hallway as we rushed to pack up and saw an animal print. Double take. Giraffe.
As in, Joseph’s lovey. I knew that exact print well.
The maid had found it (likely caught up in the bed sheets) and thrown it away. All I could think was, WHY would you do that?? It was obviously a loved possession and most housekeepers would take something like that to lost-and-found at the front desk. It’s a common thing, after all. Wide-eyed and a racing heartbeat, I fished it out and returned it to its owner.
Good grief. I can’t even imagine how devastated he (we) would’ve been had we never seen Raffie again. I mean, I’m telling you, that was somewhat of a miracle. And all the parents say AMEN.
We threw things in bags, hopped in a taxi, and drove to the airport. Arriving home late Thursday night, our bodies were tired, but our hearts completely full.
It was an incredible trip, and a birthday that will be pretty tough to beat. I am so thankful my mom wanted to do this for us. Memories to last a lifetime. Til next time, NYC…
PS: If you have any questions about planning a trip to New York, or taking kids for the first time, email me or leave a comment. I’m not an expert, but we’ve been with babies, toddlers, and now smallish children. As my mom has said, it is not Disney World. We’re not talking about a place that caters to families and young children, but it can be done and is so much fun!