It took 46 years for me to finally take my first footsteps in New York and I can safely say that it was well worth the wait. The first 36 hours were spent pinching myself – after all those years of having it on my bucket list, I was actually there! If you’ve been to New York, you might understand when I say that there was an odd familiarity about the place that made me feel immediately ‘at home’.
Planning a Long Weekend in New York with Teenagers
We had four whole days to explore New York and I was determined to make the most of every moment. Since booking our flights last December, I had done a lot of research – looking at street maps, reading blogs about planning a long weekend in New York with teenagers, scouring Trip Advisor and looking into the various deals available for tourist tickets. Of course anyone who is anyone seems to have already ‘done’ New York, so we also had oodles of advice to take into consideration.
There’s something about a holiday itinerary that makes me cringe but I knew that I would have to give my teenagers plenty of warning about early mornings, so I put my feeble knowledge of excel to good use. I am so glad that I did draw up an itinerary because it worked like a dream. For that reason, I thought it might be worth sharing with you; I’m also keen to keep these memories alive for as long as possible, so here goes…
Arriving in New York
We (that’s me, my sister and my two teenage daughters aged 18 and 16) arrived on Thursday evening, having caught the 16h30 plane from Heathrow. Timings actually worked out really well as it meant the famous New York yellow taxi cab delivered us to our hotel (well actually it delivered us to the wrong hotel but we were so excited we didn’t care!) near enough at bedtime – 2am in the UK.
Our actual hotel was conveniently located in the heart of the city centre – a 5 minute walk from the hustle and bustle of Times Square and a 10 minute walk from Central Park. For those of you who have been to New York and are therefore familiar with the grid system, it was on 54th Street between 7th and 8th Avenue.
Day 1 in New York
The reality of travelling to the US from the UK is that the time difference will have you up with the larks. This is a distinct advantage in New York as it means you get to wander the streets when it’s quiet; by 11am, everywhere is heaving.
We had been advised that the best view in New York is from the Top of the Rock (observation deck of the Rockefeller building) as you also get to see the Empire State building. We therefore decided to head straight for the Rockefeller building – just a 10 minute walk away from our hotel – to book our tickets.
IOB Tip: Go just before sun down and you get to see the view both night and day
With our tickets for Top of the Rock booked for 7.45pm, we took a stroll down a remarkably quiet 5th Avenue, which was actually one of my favourite moments of the whole weekend – soaking up the atmosphere and trying to get to grips with the New York street system.
It would have been rude not to dip in and out of a few shops on the way, wouldn’t it? Macy’s was our first stop but we were also lured into American Girl. Have you ever been? Did you know that you can purchase a (very expensive) outfit to match the one your doll is wearing? Quite an eye-opener.
The next activity on our itinerary was a guided bike tour around Central Park. You can just hire bikes and do your own thing but we decided that due to the vastness of CP, it would be advisable to get the full tour and we were so glad that we did.
IOB Tip: Purchase an Explorer Pass in advance of leaving the UK as it will save you about 30% on each activity
Although we had the Explorer Pass, we still had to queue up in order to book the specific activity and time of day that we wanted. As it was so hot, we decided to opt for a 3pm tour, giving us just enough time to head to the infamous Ellen’s Startdust Diner for lunch. We had to queue for about 30 minutes (in the evenings it is often a lot longer than this) for a table but once inside, the action started immediately.
I had heard great things about this place – performing waiters and waitresses serving food whilst entertaining you. What’s not to like? Whilst it was a great ‘all-american’ experience, I wouldn’t rush back. The place needed a good clean and the food was mediocre. The singing was amazing though!
Then it was time to grab our bikes and meet Debra, our tour guide for the afternoon. We were in a group of about 16 but it was surprisingly manageable and Debra really did a great job of pointing out all of the ‘must-sees’ in the park as well as giving us pointers for the rest of our weekend.
The bike tour was definitely one of the highlights of our whole weekend. It wasn’t too strenuous but enough exercise to justify a big bowl of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream later that evening 😉.
Central Park is beautiful and has a really relaxed atmosphere that provides a welcome break from the busyness of Times Square and the rest of the city. We made a mental note to come back at another convenient moment during our weekend.
With our hotel being so central, we had just enough time to pop back to shower away the sweat and grime of the day (New York is quite a dirty city and did I mention how hot it was in July?!) before heading to the Rockefeller building.
We timed Top of the Rock perfectly, queueing only for about 15 minutes before getting into the lift that took us 70 floors up to the observation deck. It was busy and we did have to navigate our way to the front in order to get the photographs we wanted but it was well worth it. The view really was incredible.
Day 2 in New York
Jet lag kicked in about 6am on day 2, slightly better than the previous day! We had a full itinerary planned so waking the teenage sleeping beauties was a necessity (why do children and teenagers never seem to suffer jet lag in the same way?).
First up was an initiation into the New York subway. Easier to navigate than we first thought and nowhere near as big as the London Underground, we made our way to Lower Manhattan to the Staten Island ferry terminal.
IOB Tip: Instead of using one of your Explorer Pass tickets, the Staten Island ferry is free and you see just as much of the Statue of Liberty as we did
We opted to use our Explorer Pass for this excursion, meaning that we could get off at Staten Island and Ellis Island. In reality, having queued for an hour beforehand in the scorching heat, we were too tired to get off the ferry! We did get some amazing views of the Statue of Liberty, although some of us seemed more interested in sun bathing 😉.
IOB Tip: If you like shopping there’s a huge shop near here called Century 21 which sells designer items at reduced prices.
There are quite a few things to do in this area (Battery Park), one of which is visiting the 911 memorial. The memorial itself is most impressive and the atmosphere outside the two monuments is so peaceful. We spent a good while wandering round, reading the names of all the victims (whenever it’s one of the victim’s birthdays, a rose is placed on their name in memory).
The 911 museum is an optional extra that you pay to enter; if you have the Explorer Pass however, you can use that to gain entry. We did have to queue but it was well worth it – everything has been done so respectfully and it was deeply moving. If the teenagers hadn’t been in tow then I think my sister and I would have spent longer there but we had a big evening planned so unfortunately didn’t really do it justice.
Before heading to New York, I had bought tickets for the girls and I to see Wicked. My sister had other plans on Saturday evening so it worked well for all of us. Lots of people have since asked me why I plumped for Wicked and also why I didn’t take the risk by buying tickets when I got there. Firstly, anyone who knows me will confirm that I’m not a last minute person and secondly, it’s a show that I knew that the girls would enjoy as we know many of the songs.
It certainly didn’t disappoint! I saw Wicked in London many years ago but didn’t remember very much of the storyline. It turned out that the evening we went, was the last night that the girl playing Elphaba (Jackie Burns) would be appearing – she really was outstanding. The show was packed out and the atmosphere was amazing!
Another full but incredible day. Look out for days 3 and 4 of our long weekend in New York with teenagers.