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Read all about the adventures of the Tsao Family during the summer of 2012

Sunday, May 07, 2006


Kids and cupcakes in Gotham

Originally uploaded by marytsao.
We're back home from our trip to New York City, the Big Apple, Manhattan. I miss it already. It was by far the best family vacation we've ever taken, and I want to recommend NYC to other families who are considering one of the more typical vacation destinations. You know. M.I.C...

I'm not sure what your image is of Manhattan, but before I went last year, I remembered it as a dirty, scary, "big" city. It's actually nothing like that, which I've heard from several people is due to former Mayor Giuliani. According to this online biography of Giuliani:

"Under Rudy Giuliani's leadership, New York City has become the best-known example of the resurgence of urban America. From his success at cleaning up Times Square and other public spaces around the City to closing the Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island, Mayor Giuliani has worked tirelessly to pass New York to the next generation better and more beautiful than it was before he entered office."

I'll vouch for that; NYC is clean, nice, and there are tons of things to do there with kids of all ages. My kids and I were busy every day going to parks, playgrounds, and museums--some free and some commercial--and I believe the kids had as much of a good time trolling the city as I did.

Admittedly, much of this trip's success was due to the excellent weather, which was warm and spring-like. Springtime lends an expectant and happy air to a city that suffers through cold and yucky winters. The people on the street were happy and helpful, and the stores were full of merchandise. I believe that cities have attitudes, and the attitude of NYC in the spring is very upbeat and positive.

So here's what I loved during this visit to Manhattan along with what I hated. As a bonus, I give you my review of two cupcake places where anybody who has a kid, is a kid, or is in touch with their inner kid, needs to go. Trust me on this one.

The good

Getting to/from the airport is easy. Cabs and car services are plentiful.

Getting around in town is easy. New York City is a wonderful place to navigate without a car. This works well if you are travelling with small kids. The subway system is great, the buses are plentiful, and the cabs are heaven-sent; to get one, just stand on any corner and wave your hand at any cab whose light is lit. You'll get the hang of it and be flagging down cabs in no time.

NYC also is particularly easy to travel by foot. Just stick the kids into a stroller and go. If you're travelling with kids too old for a stroller but too young to walk long distances, take the subway or the bus, or cab it.

Food and drink are easy to find. For instant gratification, there are street vendors selling food (pretzels, kebobs, nuts, fruit) and cold drinks on almost every corner. For almost instant gratification, every other storefront is a restaurant. There is so much food in this town, the hardest part will be deciding what kind you want to eat.

Playgrounds are plentiful. Even in the heart of Manhattan, there are playgrounds. The nicer ones are where the city has been most recently renovated, but even the older ones have nice structures and sand/water play areas. The city just finished renovating a large playground in Central Park, where the kids and I had a good time before taking a carriage ride.

Everything is for sale. Every street has a Duane Reade pharmacy or a mini market, so if you need diapers, sippy cups, apple juice, or teething gel, no problem; they sell it.

There are lots of things to do. Search the web before you go or pick up a free paper when you're there. goCityKids is a great site for finding things to do with kids. But sometimes the best way to have a great day is just to leave the hotel, pick a direction, and start walking.

Convenience is Queen. Laundromats have same day pick up and delivery. Restaurants deliver. Probably any store in NYC delivers. Take advantage of these things and you will be happy you did. I had our laundry picked up and done while the kids and I went to the Children's Museum of Manhattan. Now that's what I call a vacation!

Celebrities abound! Jon Stewart, David Blaine, Rosie O'Donnell... NYC is crawling with 'em.

The bad

It's expensive. Big city = big city prices. Hotel rooms aren't cheap here. Food can be very expensive to inexpensive. Same with drinks. Same with shopping. I think NYC is probably the most fun if the sky's the limit, but I also believe you can stick to a conservative budget and still have a good time.

Getting around with a double stroller is a pain. Lots of the buildings are old and not designed for the width of a double stroller. This time we used a cheap-o umbrella stroller for Thomas with a BuggyBoard attachment on back for Emily. This set-up wasn't as kind to my back because I had to hunch over the stroller to push it, but it allowed me to see much much more of the inside of NYC stores. I loved it. Repeat: loved it.

Summers are hot, muggy, and dirty. Last year we went in September and it was still summer. The city felt dirty and tired. Or maybe that was just me after pushing my kids around in a double stroller for hours unable to enter any store because of the dang thing.

The cupcakes

Magnolia Bakery. Located on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village, this place sells cupcakes and other cake-y items all day long. I think they're open until 11:30 PM, which I find amazing. Their cupcakes are the stuff of legend, and what can I say? They're great. They're crumbly and moist with a gigantic swirl of icing and some sprinkles. You know when you're eating one that it's pure sugar and yet it's not too sweet. A dangerous combination. I especially liked the fact that they are not refrigerated so you get room temperature cupcakes. Don't worry, they don't bother refrigerating them because they sell them so fast there's no need.

Unfortunately, you can expect to wait in line both to get your cupcakes (self serve) and then to pay. Self service anything as well as lines are difficult with impatient toddlers in tow, but those cupcakes are worth it. If you're lucky, they'll have the red velvet ones out. Yum. Pure red cake with white icing goodness. My friend served Magnolia Bakery cupcakes at his wedding. That's how good they are.

Cupcake Cafe. Recommended by Mother Goose Mouse, this place also has delicious cupcakes and cakes. They make a different kind of cupcake than Magnolia Bakery. Their cupcakes are denser with a thick layer of butter cream frosting. They do refrigerate their cupcakes and that was a teeny drawback to me over the Magnolia Bakery cupcakes. But it certainly didn't stop me from cramming one down my throat and wishing I had (or didn't have) the guts to get another one.

The Cupcake Cafe location I went to was on W. 18th Street in Chelsea and was located in a children's bookstore. Bonus! Especially if your child is older. I can't think of a more idyllic afternoon than one spent in a combination cupcake slash book store. Seriously. Unfortunately, my little rug rats don't eat neat and I was petrified they were going to run over to a rack of brand new books and smear icing all over them. We made a quick exit before checking out the bookstore, but we'll definitely go back.

I do hope you'll consider New York City for your next family vacation. And if the NYC tourism board reads this, yes, I am available for a blogging tour. I heart NYC.

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