Thursday, October 13, 2005

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

What I Did on My Summer Vacation
Julie Greenberg

New York City is an amazing place. Having lived in the city for a year in the 60s, it warms my heart to see how it has blossomed into a safe, family-oriented paradise for tourists. If you do one thing for your kids while they are growing up, take them to the Big Apple and open their eyes to the many wonders this world has to offer them.

I spent ten glorious days in NYC with my eight-year-old grandson this past summer. We were on the “go” constantly and barely touched the surface of what was possible. I’ve never had a better vacation (even though this trip was part-business for me). To watch this child discover the city was thrilling and I found myself rediscovering my love for NYC along with him. We had a fantastic time! Everything worked out so well. Branch was in love with New York from the get-go and he took to it like he was a native. He has big plans to become a famous athlete (if we can find a sport he can play), earn lots of money, and become a New Yorker.

The success of this trip didn’t come automatically. I spent a lot of prep time with guide books focusing on having children in the city and a wonderful new magazine called New York Kids. Also, I made up my mind that it was going to be expensive. This was not going to be the time to look for bargains (I love a good bargain). I also pre-planned our first two days from my computer so we would get off to a good start, buying some tickets so we had a few planned activities.

At night, as the week progressed, I would get the books out to plot the course of the next day and Branch would say, “Gigi, you don’t have to do all that planning, we can just get up and do some stuff.” In many ways he was right, no matter what, we would have had a great time just being in this amazing city. But I had an agenda, I wanted him to not only get the benefit of my past experiences in the city, but I wanted him to experience things that were right for his age – and that took research. And I wanted him to do as much as possible in the time allotted.

Here are the highlights of a trip that we’ll never forget and a trip that hopefully will inspire his life...

We started out on Saturday on the red double decker bus for an overview of the city. That was great fun – to be above the traffic, to see everything, and to have someone explaining it. The bus pass was a 24-hour thing, so we did half on Saturday and finished up on Sunday. We saw all of the different NY neighborhoods, famous buildings, oddities, etc.

Saturday night we saw our only play, "Little Shop of Horrors" with Joey Fatone (of 'NSync fame). It was terrific and Branch laughed a lot and seemed to like it. I picked this one because Branch was a fan of ‘Nsync and I thought that was a good tie-in.

Sunday we took our tour bus to Battery Park and walked across the Brooklyn Bridge with a ton of tourists. It was so beautiful and interesting. Apparently this is a top ten activity for tourists that I didn't know about until I read a zillion travel books trying to get ready for 10 days with an eight-year old.

Next we went to Central Park and the zoo, visited the Plaza Hotel and other famous spots from the Home Alone movies – favorites of B's. That night we went with all of the other New Yorkers to see the 4th of July fireworks and they were spectacular. That was quite an experience – to be in an orderly NY crowd. We bought a picnic lunch at Grand Central Station, walked to the river, and hung out until it got dark. We worried if we would be able to see anything, but were blown away by the display.

On the walk home, B was tired but I cajoled him into getting all the way back to our hotel on foot. We stopped at a NY deli and just keep going with the crowd on a beautiful night. It was magical.

Monday I started work (at the convention I was attending for business) and for three days a friend of a friend picked up Branch and took him to do stuff: The Empire State Building and the Skyride; Rockefeller Center and the Pokemon Center; Coney Island, the famous roller coaster, and Nathan’s hot dogs; Brighton Beach, swimming and a Russian restaurant where they spoke no English and had great cheesecake (Branch carried home a bite for me to try!); St. Patrick's Cathedral; The New York Public Library to see the original Declaration of Independence; The Wall Street Stock Exchange; Ground Zero; Washington Park to play chess with the men who hang out there; and last but not least, pizza in Greenwich Village. Sky (the babysitter) did a great job.

On Thursday, the tournament daycare kicked in and I was able to leave Branch there when I needed free work time. He loves the daycare program. There are a ton of kids and they play games, have Bridge lessons, and do art projects.

When I got off work, we fit in what we could. We went to two Yankee games; took a trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the best children's program I've ever seen (Branch cried when I said we were going to a museum, but he loved every minute of it.); visited the Empire State Building at night (you have to see it both ways); saw Spiderman 2 at an amazing four-story multiplex; got up early to catch the bus CBS sent for our company (another wonderful red double-decker) and saw ourselves in the crowd of the “Early Show” (“Gigi, I’m on national TV!”); walked over to Rockefeller Center to see the “Today Show” filming; went to a street fair that covered twenty blocks outside of our hotel and ended at beautiful Bryant Park where there was a Ben and Jerry's, a Starbucks and dancers performing (we intended to go to the outdoor free movie on Monday night too, but it was rained out); visited Grand Central Station and the Transit Museum; spent the afternoon at the Museum of Natural History (the Frog exhibit and the Exploratorium and the Hayden Planetarium); visited NBC where Branch made a "situation" video with Conan O'Brien (a really cute gimmick and a great souvenir to take home to show his parents); rode the full-size carousel inside the Toys 'R Us store at Times Square; rode NY taxi cabs and held on for dear life; visited my old stomping ground and showed Branch some of the places his PoPo used to love; and of course, ate ourselves silly.

It's hard to have a bad meal in NYC but to have a great meal you have to be willing to spend more money than I wanted to spend. We had some fantastic eating experiences, however: yummy steak in a beautiful street cafe; hot dogs on the street out of a cart; Chinese at the Yankees game(!); cheesecake at Lindy's Deli; an Italian restaurant in Little Italy, and lots of meals at the Hilton because they had a great kid menu. We also visited two theme restaurants that were outstanding: Mars 2112 where you had to take a space ride to arrive on the planet for dinner and Jekyl and Hyde that was very clever with constant performances taking place all over the restaurant.

We went everywhere on the subway where we did find a bargain – the weeklong subway pass. Branch and I were transit-pros by the time the trip ended. The NY subway system is amazing and safe. The weather was fantastic and believe it or not, some nights we actually needed jackets! It was quite an experience.

So, my advice is to forget Disney World and focus on the real-life experiences you can find in The Big Apple. Your children will love it!

Interview with Branch, Age 9
What did you like best about New York? All the big buildings and having a good time.
What would you like to do again? Go to the top of the Empire State Building and play chess in Washington Square
What would you NOT like to do again? I loved it all.
What would you want to do differently next time? I'd do everything just the same way.
How was New York different from Memphis? Loud, lots of big buildings, so many taxis.
What was the best thing you ate? Lindy's cheesecake.
If you took your sister, what would she like best? I don't know.

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