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Happy 10th Birthday in New York City!


We surprised Caitlin with a trip to New York City for her 10th birthday! She has been begging to go to NYC for the longest time and unbeknownst to her, I began planning this trip back in February.  She has proclaimed this birthday to be her "best birthday ever"!


We decided on a 2-night weekend trip, leaving on a Friday and returning Sunday.  I booked a few things ahead of time: hotel (, Statue of Liberty tickets (, and Broadway show tickets (Ticketmaster).  We live on the east coast only a few hours away, so planned to road-trip it into the city.

Our dog really wanted to join us.


We wanted to WOW! the kids by staying smack dab in the middle of Times Square and the Renaissance Hotel certainly provided this perfect WOW! factor.  I don't even know how Rob managed to drive into Times Square (in our monster-sized SUV) and pull right up front at the hotel, but he did.  Mad props!  He thinks it is easier to drive here than most other cities even though it is super crowded and appears to be super chaotic because "it just makes sense".

Crossing State Line in the Lincoln Tunnel

We came in during the day, but I was so excited that I didn't get a picture of our hotel until night.  It was a fantastic choice and if we were to stay in the CENTER of Times Square again, we would return.  Highly recommend!

We promptly ditched our car with the valet to park for the duration of our stay ($75/day, which is apparently a good rate according to a cab driver).  A little early for check-in, they took our bags and we walked back out the front door right into Times Square and just stood there with dropped jaws.   It was hot.  It was crowded.  It was chaotic.  And, we LOVED it!  I don't even know why we loved it.  There's this electrifying energy that just uplifts. 

I think we had only been standing around less than 2 minutes when we were approached by a ticket operator for a hop-on hop-off bus.  Guess what?  We bought the tickets.  There are several operators - we used Grayline - they are the bright red ones.  Turned out to be a fantastic decision.  We would be taking the night-time tour that evening, then would have 48 hours to use the bus for sight-seeing and getting around.  It was worth it for the night-time tour alone.  More on that later... 

Times Square is AMAZING!  Can you feel the energy?  To the right is where there is a painted green section for street performers/characters to stay within.  We saw the Naked Cowboy and Naked Cowgirls.  I was relieved to learn that they are not fully naked.  I pointed them out to my girls and they just couldn't understand "why?!", which I found very amusing.

There are these red steps right in the heart and you will spend a lot of time here just taking it all in.  The girls enjoyed watching the street performers and we spent over an hour on this corner alone watching a couple of acrobatic performers (I was less entertained and instead, managed to take the same pic of Times Square 75,846 times) before returning to the hotel for check-in.  I had reserved a high-floor view and they put us on the 25th floor of the 26-floor building.

The Red Steps as you face the Renaissance Hotel

Birthday Dinner:

The concierge recommended Ellen's Stardust Diner to us for dinner.  I hadn't done any research on any of the restaurants because since we were traveling with kids, I wanted to go with the flow and just do what made sense at the time.  We went to dinner fairly early, but there was still a line (which moved quickly).  All we knew about the place was that there would be entertainment.  Well, THAT is an understatement.  The entire waitstaff put on quite the singing show. In fact, most of them will move on to perform on Broadway.  We kept our signed receipt from Rusty!

NYC Night-time Tour:

After dinner, we walked back towards our hotel and got on the big red double-decker bus.  Of course, we sat in the upper deck!  They have ear buds so you can easily hear the tour guide as he/she points out all the sights.  We loved being able to stare straight up without worrying about getting bumped (or tripping anybody).  They say that only the tourists are looking up - well, color us the tourists then!

Stunning Views from the Bus!

New York Public Library

Flatiron Building
The 22-story Flatiron Building is "one of the world's most iconic skyscrapers and a quintessential symbol of New York City."  Fun fact: the bathrooms are divided (men's on even floors, women's on odd floors).  I would fancy myself a "point" office, wouldn't you?

Empire State Building

The best part of this night time tour was that even though this is a stay-on-the-bus tour, the bus PARKED in Brooklyn and we got to get off and catch the sunset on the NYC skyline!  This was so very special and we were absolutely giddy.

A little more "understanding" would do wonders for the world!  We came upon this sculpture at the end of Brooklyn Park's Pier 6 by British artist Martin Creed.  It's a rotating eye-catching neon red beauty.  There's a nicely written press release at, which states that the sculpture is on display only until October 23rd.

I never thought I would be wowed by a concrete-jungle sunset, but yes.  Oh, yes.  I am wowed.  In Brooklyn, seeing the sunset on the NYC skyline was enchanting.

1 WTC and Oculus

One World Trade Center and the breathtaking Oculus.  A significant 1,776 feet tall, 1 WTC is the main building of the rebuilt World Trade Center complex.  The Oculus, designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, is the above ground structure of the World Trade Center Transportation Hub.

Coming back into Times Square after sunset was also AMAZING! Even if we did nothing else for the rest of our stay, we would still leave fulfilled.  But, we did more.  And, more.  

Birthday Dessert:

During our conversation with the concierge regarding dinner, she gave us a coupon for a birthday dessert for Caitlin and told us to use it at the R Lounge.  We went straight here after our nighttime bus tour.  Yes, girls.  You are going to a bar!  GUESS WHAT?!  We got FRONT and CENTER seating at the window facing Times Square!  The lounge was rather empty, which of course makes my kids seem rather louder. 

After dessert, we called it a night and returned to the room.  We were going to have an early start in the morning.

Statue of Liberty:

This was such an anticipated experience, that we didn't want to leave anything to chance.  So, we decided to take a cab to Battery Park.  If I remember correctly, it was about $20 and the kids really enjoyed being in a NYC yellow cab.  We had Pedestal & Crown Access tickets for the 8am time slot.  If you are even thinking about doing this, reserve your tickets ASAP.  They can sell out months in advance.  I had purchased these tickets back in February (6 months in advance).

Upon arrival, you first go to Clinton Castle, which is a round brick building to pick up (or purchase) your tickets.  Then, you go through security for the ferry.  It's all very straightforward, organized, and a piece of cake.  There are facilities aboard the ferry, plenty of seating, and it's smooth ride to Liberty Island.  Approaching the Statue of Liberty is such a big moment.  My kids were hanging over the railing just staring up at Lady Liberty.

After disembarkation, we decided to head straight to the crown and then take our time afterwards to explore the surrounding grounds.

You are not allowed to bring anything with you if going up to the crown, except a wallet/camera/water so we checked our belongings into a locker (cash only, but the shop will give you change if needed).  Then, we began the 377 step climb to the pedestal.  The pedestal gives really cool base views and we felt so small looking up at Lady Liberty.  Back inside, the best is yet to come.  It was a smart decision to go outside and check out the pedestal views BEFORE doing the crown climb as the reverse would have been somewhat anticlimactic.

We discover that we are climbing to the crown via a super duper narrow, double-helix staircase (162 steps).  Molly barely reaches the minimum height requirement.  The park ranger points the way, and we enter.  Rob, Caitlin, Molly, then me.  As we get into the dark narrow spiral, Molly panics.  Truth be told, I too felt a little overwhelmed.  I encourage, coax, cajole, and up she goes.  All 162 tight steps.  No breaks.  As we emerge at the top...WOW!!!!!  We take in the moment.

Again, for the cheap seats - WE are INSIDE the CROWN of the Statue of Liberty!!!  We can go home now.

After we were done inside the Statue of Liberty, we checked out the museum and then meandered around the grounds taking pics and eating ice-cream to congratulate our adventure success!

Next, we headed over to the ferry to continue onward to Ellis Island.

We didn't spend a lot of time on Ellis Island.  I thought we would be able to explore the surrounding grounds and buildings, but much of the island is closed to the public.  You can go in the main building and tour the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration to learn about the 12 million immigrants who entered the United States through Ellis Island.  We did not do the 45-minute audio tour, which I think was a mistake.  Had we known that there is a special children's version, we would have gotten more out of our visit.  Nonetheless, the galleries of the Peopling of America and the Registry Room of the Great Hall are fascinating and worth a visit.

Oasis in the City:

Coming off the high of seeing the Statue of Liberty, we took a breather after disembarkation from the ferry at Battery Park.  The girls delighted to cool off at this oasis in the city and we sat watching with no worries at the time being spent as their joy was filling us.  And, it was too hot to move just yet without a game plan.  Molly eventually allowed us to leave.  This is why we mostly only wear quick-dry clothing when traveling.


Somehow, we ended up in Vietnam!  Just kidding.  Chinatown, NYC.  But, it's 105 degrees Vietnam HOT.  So, we got off the open deck of the tour bus to seek lunch and relief.  Stumbled into this absolute GEM!

Don't you love when you find a place that is totally your vibe?  Next year, we are family backpacking through Southeast Asia and with the intense summer heat of NYC, the chaotic traffic and crowds, we excitedly made comparisons!  We totes think we can handle SEA.  Mot, hai, ba, yooo!

So, it was so HOT, that we went back to the hotel after lunch to chill out before our evening out.


Birthday treat for Caitlin - we are going to see Aladdin on Broadway!

But first, Molly spotted her Mother Ship.  Got our kisses on!  Thankfully, it was too hot to leave the store with any chocolate, so we left with our wallets still intact.


We didn't want to worry about time, so we kept it simple for dinner. Also, we HAD to get pizza while in NYC.  A slice (or 2, ok, 7) of New York from Ray's Pizza was a big hit!

The girls were so excited to see Aladdin.  There are so many choices of shows and I'm sure they are all phenomenal.  I picked Aladdin because I wanted a smaller theater and the New Amsterdam looked like a special experience.  We LOVED it!  I'm usually not a fan of kids shows/movies, but Aladdin was fantastic!  The girls had full-on belly laughs throughout the show. 

It was a big splurge for us to sit Orchestra, 7 rows back from the stage and while, it was a fantastic experience, we would have enjoyed any seat in this sized theater.  For families with younger kids, there are booster seats (no charge), so make sure you grab them on the way to your seats.  Even Caitlin, who is an average-sized 10 year old used one.  Also, you are allowed food/drinks at your seats and there are adult-beverages available.

It seemed like every show on Broadway ended at the same time as millions of people, including us, poured out into the streets.  This was the only time that the crowds of the city bothered me.  It was an insane walk back to Times Square and our hotel.  But, it was mostly the smoke and the stress of protecting the kids from being bumped.  It was a late night out for us too, so we were definitely feeling done.  Back to the hotel and straight to bed, the kids were out before their heads even hit the pillow.

Goodnight NYC, tomorrow we go home.

Top of the Rock:

Good morning NYC!  View from the Top of the Rock, Rockefeller Center.  70 floors up at lightning speed to arrive at 360-degree views of this awesome city.  You must go here and explore the 3-tiered observation deck for the best views of NYC (in my opinion).

We woke and decided that we would check-out of the hotel before going out, so that we wouldn't have to worry about returning at a certain time.  Our car parking fee would not charge for the additional day until after 3:30, so we had plenty of time to do Top of the Rock and then just stroll.  We really enjoyed walking through the city in the morning calm.  The sidewalks sure did seem so much wider :)

We planned going to Top of the Rock in the morning at opening to avoid any crowds.  We walked to Rockefeller Center and then realized that it covers multiple streets with many entrances.  Not sure, we just went in and proceeded to wander the corridors.  The only people we saw were a couple of police officers.  Rob thinks it is rude to bother first responders with our silly tourist questions, but they were the only people present.  He said they might get annoyed.  Guess what?  They were super friendly and approachable.  NYC's finest guided us to exit back out and find the red carpeted entrance.  The doors were not yet open since we arrived before the 8am opening time, so we walked as the kids kept asking "What rock? This doesn't make sense."  Then, the worst happened.  A bus pulled up and let out a massive crowd.  Sure enough, as we walked up, a tour group was entering at the same time waving their pre-booked tickets.  We didn't even have our tickets yet.  If this happens to you too, rest easy.  No reason to fret.  This place has phenomenal staff and is operated top-notch!  It's also much larger than expected.  We were lucky though because even after purchasing our tickets, I'm not sure where the tour group went, but they pulled back to stay together and we didn't see them en masse again. 

It's an adventure all the way to the elevators!  Take your time and enjoy every moment getting there.  You are allowed to bring your coffee through to the elevator queue (past the security check), so don't toss it out in haste.

The glass top elevator ride is amazingly fast! Watching 70 floors go by with some music jams and the cool lights sure got the crowd excited. Each elevator holds 16 passengers at a time.  I looked it up and discovered that the ride was only 42 seconds.  There is so much space around the observation decks and each level has something special to offer for views.  We really enjoyed taking it all in from every side.  

Top of the Rock Elevator - Looking Straight Up!

Central Park:

After seeing it from the Top of the Rock, we really wanted to go to Central Park before leaving New York.  We decided to hop back on our double-decker big red tour bus and just get off where it made the most sense.  Initially, we thought about going to the Museum of Natural History, but upon seeing the lines to enter (and imagining the crowds within), we decided to make the most of our time and go straight to Central Park.  Without any plan, we just sort of meandered along.

We first came across this lake full of turtles.  It was pretty cool to view the city skyline from within this green oasis.

The girls loved climbing these huge rocks along the lake.  This is where we spent most of our time in Central Park.

It was getting very hot, so we what worked for us was to walk and explore, have an ice-cream treat, repeat.  The rule was that we couldn't stop for the next ice-cream if we could still see the vendor from our previous stop.  Luckily for the girls, the paths are curvy and full of trees!  I think it would be fun to rent bikes the next time we visit.  We were headed towards the zoo, but as we got closer to our exit point, everybody was on board with wrapping things up for this visit.  We finished with the carousel and then exited out of the green and into the concrete.

Rob thought for sure that we would be cabbing it back to the hotel.  But, nope.  These girls are rock stars!  Walked through Central Park AND all the way back to the hotel.  There were a few whines along the way, but they were wiped out with the go-ahead to pick up a NYC souvenir from one of the many shops along the way.  That, plus more ice-cream took care of "tired", "hungry", and "too hot".   


We thought we would eat lunch before leaving NYC, but we caught wind of a parade that was going to result in all the side streets being barricaded for the duration.  In a panic, we changed plans and went back to the hotel to begin our exit.  But first, we picked up a couple pizzas from Ray's for the road.  Our vehicle was brought out super fast, but the valet told us we could leave it parked in front of the hotel.  That was nice!  We were able to take our time loading and getting things all comfy for our road trip home.  Guess what though? We were so worried about not being able to drive out of the city, but it was all for nothing.  We didn't see a single road blocked in the direction we headed, which was straight through Times Square.  Hard to believe, but it was easy peasy driving out.  And yes, the energy was still amazing.  Wow, this city!  

An uneventful road trip delivered us safely home sweet home.  That's a wrap folks!  Hope you enjoyed our adventure as much as we enjoyed sharing it.  Safe travels!

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