New York City: A Family Vacation

Visiting New York City with kids is easier than you think and there is a lot to see and do – for both adults and children. Of course, it is a different NYC experience with kids than with adults - but it is still a memorable one (if not more so).

New York City: A Family Vacation

How to get to New York City

We chose to fly out of Syracuse International Airport – it was significantly cheaper and very convenient. Border crossing was done via car and then we only had the security line to deal with as a family. The flight was a mere 45 minutes both ways and we had no issues other than a minor flight delay heading to New York thanks to thunderstorms. We flew into La Guardia, which as of July 2017 is under heavy construction, so I advise against booking a hotel shuttle - depending on what terminal you land in, it could be tricky to get to. NYC's infamous yellow cabs, however, are everywhere. And for approximately $40 USD you can get into the heart of downtown Manhattan.

Once the construction at La Guardia is complete it will be a beautiful airport and the subway will go right into the airport, making it even easier, and cheaper, to get anywhere in New York City.

Where to stay in New York City

There are a plethora of hotels in New York City and the good news is you don’t have to stay (and pay) to be in Times Square. We stayed three blocks away from Times Square in the Garment District, which is the equivalent of a five-minute walk to the heart of Times Square. We chose to stay at a name brand hotel with breakfast included to make it easy and convenient to get food first thing in the morning; however there are food vendors everywhere in Manhattan and it’s just as easy to get a bagel for $1 USD right outside your hotel door. Just remember, many of the hotels are smaller than you may be used to because of limited real estate; but how much time will you be in your room anyway?

How to get around New York City

 We travelled by foot, subway or yellow cab. If you want to motivate your kids to walk purchase a step counter and challenge them to reach a certain number of steps each day (we walked an average of 20,000 steps a day!). We also relied a lot on the NYC Subway system. There’s a free subway app you can download to your smartphone that makes travelling via subway easy to understand; and don’t be afraid to ask someone – every New Yorker we spoke with was more than willing to help us.

What to see and do in New York City

1) Top of the Rock

Forget the Empire State Building - located at the top of the Rockefeller Center, Top of the Rock offers incredible views of the entire city. We went first thing in the morning and there were no line-ups—apparently the lines can get quite long. So, go early, bring coins for the kids to use the viewfinders (it’s 50 cents each time) and make sure to grab a map from the visitor’s desk so you can play “I spy” with the numerous landmarks that can be seen from each of the three viewing decks.

Top of the Rock NYC

Top of the Rock NYC

2) Central Park

You can easily spend a day at Central Park. There are gorgeous trails, bridges, and playgrounds to keep the kids busy exploring and playing. If you have a stroller you can stay on the main paths of the Park, including the famous Central Park Mall where many movies have been shot (you may even see a celebrity or two jogging through the park). There is a historic carousel near the south end as well as ponds with turtles. The little guys must be used to being hand fed, because as soon as they saw us they came swimming up. If you plan on spending some time in Central Park, I highly recommend downloading the official Central Park app – it has interactive maps as well as interesting audio information about various statues, etc. throughout the park and it is narrated by celebrities, such as Jerry Seinfeld and Julia Louis Dreyfus.

Central Park | Feeding the turtles

Central Park | Feeding the turtles

3) American Museum of Natural History

A museum is a perfect place to spend a rainy afternoon, which is what we did. My husband and I have been to the MET before and knew it would be a little big (and perhaps boring) for our daughter, so we chose to go to the American Museum of Natural History. If your kids love learning about animals and nature then they will like this museum; it’s a lot like the Museum of Nature combined with the Museum of History here in Ottawa. It’s big and easy to get lost in, so make sure you grab a map. Tip: there is a spot to refill water bottles for free on the lower level where the cafeteria is.

4) Ellen’s Stardust Diner

This restaurant came recommended to us and we are glad we went! The food here is not only fantastic, but so are the singing wait staff that break out in tunes throughout your meal and sing everything from hit Broadway songs to top 100 pop songs. We did not want our meal to end because the singing was so good. We went to the restaurant just after the lunch rush (around 1:30 p.m.) and only had to wait about 10 minutes for a table, so like everything in New York City, make a plan to go during a quieter time (unless you want to wait.)

Ellen's Stardust Diner

Ellen's Stardust Diner

5)   Times Square

The bright lights, the tall buildings and the hustle and bustle of Times Square are entertainment in and of itself! We made a point to visit in the mornings and got a coffee (and juice for my daughter) and found a spot out of the sun in the middle of Times Square. There are always interesting people to watch and it’s a great place to rest while you plan what you want to do next.

Times Square NYC

Times Square NYC

M&M World NYC

M&M World NYC

M&M World New York is three stories of everything M&M. From stuffed animals, to aprons to personalized M&Ms. It’s fun for kids of all ages… and adults too. We got to try the new caramel M&Ms there and I would be lying if I didn’t admit to going back and buying more than one bag of them.

7)   Staten Island Ferry

The best part about the Staten Island Ferry is that it’s free and on a clear day there are great views of the Manhattan skyline as well as the Statue of Liberty. Just don’t get swindled or confused by the numerous sales people who will attempt to persuade you to purchase the Ellis Island Ferry and tour the Statue of Liberty (unless you really want to go directly to Lady Liberty). Just walk through the Staten Island Ferry front doors and wait in line. The ferry comes every half hour, so don’t worry if you miss one.

8)   Broadway

Depending on the age of your children, indulging in a Broadway show can be a lot of fun. We bought tickets (in advance) to Hello Dolly! because I really wanted to see Bette Midler on Broadway, but we were tempted to see another show as well. There is usually a Disney on Broadway production going on, which is perfect for kids. Regardless, look at the show reviews online and so long as you pick a production filled with uplifting music, dancing, and colourful costumes, kids of all ages are sure to have fun. You can buy tickets from TKTS, which is a discount Broadway ticket vendor located in Times Square, but from what I saw the ticket prices there did not differ that much from purchasing them either from the theatre box office or online.

Broadway

Broadway

9)   NYC Subway

While it is easy to take a yellow cab in NYC (note: from our experience there, Uber costs pretty much the same as a cab), the subway is fun for kids who have never been on one and it is easy to navigate. It’s also fast, inexpensive… and a great way to escape the weather on a rainy or extremely hot day.

10)    The High Line / Chelsea Market

The High Line is a public walking path / park built on a historic freight rail line elevated above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side. It makes for an interesting walk filled with great views of the Hudson River as well as modern and historic architecture. It runs from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street, between 10th and 12th Avenues. We got off the high line at Chelsea Market, which is the home to unique shops, bakeries and restaurants, such as the delicious Sarah’s Bakery.

The High Line through Chelsea

The High Line through Chelsea

Ripley's Believe it or Not

Ripley's Believe it or Not

So, these museums may not be all that unique to NYC, but when you have kids with you on any trip it’s always nice to do something that they will love. Madame Tussauds and Ripley’s Believe It or Not offer weird and wacky facts, wax sculptures and much more… so, if you find yourself in need of some way to fill an afternoon with kids while in New York City, these museums are right in Times Square and are guaranteed to bring out the giggles in your kids.

Tips

- If you know you will be seeing four attractions invest in the New York Explorers Pass from Costco. It gets emailed to you can save you a lot of money. If you plan on going to Ellis Island to see the Statue of Liberty as well as visit the MET and/or the Museum of Natural History look at investing in this or a CityPass.

- There are also hop on, hop off bus tours, such as Grayline and Big Bus. Depending on the time of year, these tours can be quite busy, but it is a great way to see many of New York’s landmarks without having to worry about transportation.

- If you’re visiting in the summer, bring your own water bottle. We were grateful to have water with us at all times. New York City can get quite warm in the summer!

- Eat the street meat! Buying lunch and dinner from local food vendors is economical and yummy! You can buy more than just hot dogs too! There is Pad Thai, Philly cheese steak sandwiches, fresh smoothies and so much more!

Ottawa's Top 10 Family-Friendly Neighbourhoods

A couple of years ago we had a contributor write about the top family-friendly neighbourhoods in Ottawa. It is one of our most popular posts ever (Google really loves it!) BUT we don’t feel it truly represents our beautiful city. 

Ottawa is so diverse - there are many small communities within communities where parents are raising kids and having a blast. So, with input from our readers, we decided to come up with our own list of top 10 family-friendly neighbourhoods. We realize this list is not complete – there are probably a number of neighbourhoods we missed. Maybe someday we’ll come up with the top 20!

Ottawa's top 10 family-friendly neighbourhoods

Barrhaven

Located south of the city, Barrhaven has grown rapidly in recent years for its family-friendly vibe (think lots of parks, brand new schools and amenities) and affordable housing.
“We moved to Barrhaven Chapman Mills last year to live in an area that is affordable and has the same access to resources as other neighbourhoods,” says reader Breena Hickman. “The only downside is that two of the arteries into Barrhaven are single lane (Prince of Wales and Greenbank) so it can make for a long commute in the afternoons.”

Chapman Mills Conservation Area

Chapman Mills Conservation Area

Orleans

A community that has been around a lot longer than people think, Orleans has always had a village vibe to it.

“Home prices are reasonable and there are a lot of nice semi- detached and townhome options for those not looking for a detached house,” says Chatelaine Village resident Julie St. Cyr. “We are walking distance to Place d'Orleans, Farm Boy and No Frills. My bus commute time to downtown is 30-40 minutes depending on traffic. Our proximity to the river, the River Pathway and Petrie Island are big draws.”

Innes Road is a problem in Orleans – the clustering of big box stores has made traffic gridlock. But if you want to escape the newer developments and stick to the older areas, you may avoid those problems and maintain some walkability. Phase II of light rail will bring the train out to Place d’Orleans and make commuting to the city a lot easier.

Kanata

To the west of downtown is Kanata, a large suburb with many smaller communities within its borders. As a hub for the various tech companies that have set down roots in the community, this suburb has grown and diversified in recent years. With a large expansion of the 417, the commuting burden has eased – however, it may be a long time before light rail is built out to the west end.

“Kanata is great for families, with lots of access to various community centre programs and activities as well as parks,” says Jenna Elward. Jenna does worry that the price of affordable houses is being driven up by the move of the Department of National Defense (DND) to the old Nortel building. 

Trans Canada Trail Stittsville

Stittsville

Stittsville Main Street gives this community a small-town feel – including a number of independent coffee shop (such as Quitters; owned and run by Kathleen Edwards). 

“I love that our neighbourhood has four parks within walking distance and the TransCanada Trail is just a short distance away - great for long bike rides, skiing, and so much more,” says Tracy Noble. “The Stittsville Village Association does a great job of engaging the community and providing many family-friendly activities year-round, including a spectacular Canada Day celebration and Santa Claus Parade.”

Downsides? Tracy wishes it were closer to Orleans (where the rest of the KIC team live), there’s not a lot of diversity, transit could be improved, and she feels there is not enough is being done to control high speed traffic through residential Stittsville.

Westboro

Moving away from the suburbs and closer to the city centre, Westboro and surrounding neighbourhoods are perfect for families with a higher income. Although you’ll now pay a pretty penny for a small house, the walkability and number of businesses in this area make it a super trendy spot.

“I love the neighbourhood and our close proximity to everything that we need by walking there,” says Cindy Wolfe. “I also love that within five minutes I can be running along the river or at Westboro Beach. The trails are fantastic and our neighbours are wonderful.”

Cindy points to a couple of disadvantages - there's a lot of development happening around light rail, and she feels it's not being done with a smart focus on infrastructure. Roads and traffic can be a big challenge in this neighbourhood.

Blackburn Hamlet

Two of our readers had glowing reports for this community just west of Orleans. Tucked into a small area bordered by the Innes bypass and St. Joseph, this hamlet is surrounded by greenspace, has an active community association, and many housing options. “What’s not to like?” says resident Amanda-Lyn Smith-Kennedy. “It’s a small town with the city.”

Marie Shinmoto agrees: “It is the kind of neighbourhood where people know who you are and who those kids belong to. Neighbours look out for each other here.”

Downsides? The bypass can get a bit snarly with traffic, but there’s always the option to scoot down to the 174 instead. The proximity to light rail will make this community highly desirable in the future.

The Glebe

Another area with a higher price tag for homes, those looking for an urban lifestyle will love the Glebe. Homes have much less property, but the proximity to trails, parks and the canal make up for the lack of backyard space. Many folks living in the Glebe don’t feel the need to own a vehicle, using services such as Virtucar or commuting by bike.

The Glebe Community Centre is a wonderful hub of activities for families, and there is no shortage of karate, dance and gymnastic studios. Those who have trouble with noise and traffic may want to avoid this area.

Vanier

Vanier is a vibrant diverse community with many great parks, playgrounds, splash pads and outdoor swimming pools.  The location is perfect – nestled right near downtown Ottawa it’s a quick bus or bike ride to get to the core of the city. “We have a beautiful little forest right in the middle of the neighborhood - La foret des Peres Blancs - which is also a sugarbush,” says resident Michelle Morra.  A community centre and local library is also located right next to the forest, and host to many activities throughout the year.

The key to Vanier's success are the people, and a true sense of community. “As a francophone, I appreciate the fact that I can go to my nearby grocery store, coffee shop, bank etc and address myself in French,” says Michelle.  

Michelle thinks that Vanier could benefit from more small businesses on Beechwood or Montreal Rd - a toy store, art store and kitchen store would be lovely additions to this amazing neighbourhood.

Riverside South

There is a strong community presence with an active community association, with a safe and rapidly growing neighbourhood. Residents love the newly opened farmer’s market, as well as great parks and trails throughout Riverside South and the surrounding areas.  There are a ton of stores and restaurants in this area, but if you are looking for a bit more variety for shopping or dining, the new Vimy Memorial Bridge has made travelling to Barrhaven an easy trek. 

Some of the negatives: many new townhouse driveways are not big enough to accommodate visitors so there are some issues with parking on streets. Transit is not the most accessible in the area, and there is no local library (although there is one within a short driving distance to Manotick).

Four seasons park family fun day, riverside south

Four seasons park family fun day, riverside south

Elmvale Acres

Elmvale Acres was built in the 1950's by Minto and has a variety of housing options. With small single family homes, doubles, town homes and apartment buildings, the neighbourhood has housing options for everyone.  

"Our family moved into the area 20 years ago driven by the schooling options," says resident Erin Shaheen. "All four school boards are represented in our little area, including a French immersion and gifted program. We have a fantastic community library, 20 minute bike or drive to downtown, community gardens and small walking paths along the NCC property." There is a strong sense of community that is fostered by the Canterbury community association with many seasonal festivals.  

Housing prices are slightly higher, and reflect those that are within the greenbelt but are less than those in the wider Alta vista area.   

Beacon Hill

Tucked in between the George-Etienne Cartier Parkway and the 174, Beacon Hill is a little known neighbourhood with affordable homes and plenty of parks, schools, and community activities. As the site for the new Costco and a growing number of businesses along Ogilvie, this neighbourhood has ample walkability. Located near the bike path, it’s an easy ride down to the river and Aviation Museum.

With business development growing, there may be issues of parking and traffic – however, light rail is set to open at Blair station in 2018, which will make public transit a quick and easy option.

Ottawa Park: Claudette Cain Park

Recently we asked readers to start sharing their favourite Ottawa parks using this handy form. We want to be everywhere in the city, but we are only three gals - we need your help to give us the inside scoop!

So straight from our fab reader Diane Dauphinais, here's the lowdown on Claudette Cain Park (660 River Road, Gloucester, Ontario):

Located on the banks of the Rideau River, Claudette Cain has a soccer field, walking trails, two play structures and a splash pad with lots of shaded areas on a hot day. There are picnic tables, plus benches along the paths.

Claudette-Cain-Park

What are your kids' three favourite things about the park?

The play structure, splash pad and meeting and having a picnic!

What is your favourite thing about the park?

The shade. I can stay cool, meet up with other friends and their children and spend a great amount of time visiting. My children never become bored or want to leave! There is enough to do to keep them busy and outside most of the day!

What kind of seating does the park have?

Lots - picnic tables, benches. Also lots of room to bring a blanket and sit on the grass anywhere.

Other details?

There's shade, and bathrooms. The park has two parking areas - one by the play structures and one near the splash pad. It's easy to get a spot at either one at any point during the day. The lots are not a far distance from each other.

My kids are 3 and 6, and this park is perfect for their age group!

Reader bio: Hi! I am Diane Dauphinais, happily married and mom of two young energetic children, Emily & Samuel. I am also a Professional Pediatric Sleep Consultant, devoted to helping families develop healthy, independent sleep for their children. Our website is www.soundofsleep.ca, and you can find us on Facebook.
 

Visiting the Toronto Zoo

by Misty Pratt

Over Canada Day weekend we left the city and went to stay with friends who live just outside of Toronto. I've been meaning to make a visit to the Toronto Zoo for years with my kids, but every time we've tried it hasn't worked out.

Finally the stars aligned and I purchased our tickets online to avoid the big crowds we would be seeing over the long weekend.

Growing up just down the road from the Toronto Zoo, our family spent time there in all kinds of weather. We would hit up the zoo on New Year's Day and check out the animals braving the cold. One summer I did Zoo Camp, and learned all about conservation and the rainforest.

Going back with my own kids was so incredible! Yes, a lot has changed, but so much has remained the same.

We started off in the new kids zone, where there's a lot of things for kids to crawl through and climb over. There's a giant sand pit there, and a splash pad nearby for those hot days.

We then moved on to see the pandas. The wait was quite long, but there is a lot to see and read while you're waiting. It was definitely cool to check that one off the list - the pandas were munching away on a snack and were definitely cute!!

When dark clouds and rain threatened, we moved into to the African Rainforest Pavilion - this is what I always LOVED about the Toronto Zoo. Even in bad weather, there are always places inside that offer so much for the kiddos.

Another new addition is the Gorilla Climb Ropes course - you can see my 7 year-old WAY up there!! She has no fear of heights! The cost was $8, and since there was no line-up, she was allowed to stay on the ropes for as long as she wanted.

We also got to see many outdoor animals, including all those in the African Savannah. Sadly we missed the Canadian Domain, but it requires a lot of walking and our kiddos were on their last legs at that point.

If you go:

  • The Toronto Zoo is about a 4 hour drive west of Ottawa (just off the 401.) If you're looking for other things to do in the area there is Rouge Park, which is a beautiful urban wilderness
  • Try to arrive as soon as they open so that you score a parking spot close to the entrance (we failed at that one, but everyone was tired after Canada Day fireworks the night before!)
  • Buy your tickets online - then you can go through a faster line
  • Don't forget you will have to pay for parking on top of the fee to get into the zoo.
  • The Toronto Zoo is a non-profit organization, and all the money they make is funneled back into animal care, upkeep, conservation programs and so much more!
  • We decided to bring a wagon, and it had both positives and negatives - it allowed us to lug all of our stuff (including a packed lunch) but meant that the kids were constantly asking to sit in the wagon - our kids are old enough to walk for quite a ways now!
  • On our next visit, we will definitely be purchasing a Zoomobile pass. I love walking, but there were times we just wanted to get from point A to point B quickly, and the zoo is HUGE!!
  • You can bring all your own drinks/food, but there are many different types of food services there - Tim Hortons, Subway, Dairy Queen and Pizza Pizza to name just a few.

Have you made the trip to the Toronto Zoo? Share your stories, tips and tricks in the comments!!

Disclaimer: I was provided with one Toronto Zoo adult pass in exchange for sharing my experience at the zoo. All opinions are my own.

Getting your kids to enjoy nature

On a hike with my kids there can be a lot of complaining; as well as tears, whining and maybe some moaning added in for good measure.

Sometimes I wonder why I bother; what kind of evil mother am I to make my kids trudge through the woods, despite the bugs and the hot sun and the….gasp, snakes!!!

Here’s why: North American children now spend an hour or less outside each day. Researchers have linked this so-called “nature deficit” to rising trends of obesity, mental health issues and attention deficit disorders. Children who lack time in nature tend to have difficulty paying attention, and often struggle to interact well with their peers. In contrast, kids who spend a lot of time outdoors score higher on academic tests and demonstrate better emotional regulation.

As I child I spent quite a bit of time in the outdoors. My parents enjoyed camping, and we had a rustic family cottage where we spent many weeks in the woods and on the lake. Although we lived in Suburbia, we were a short distance from a beautiful urban park and the Toronto Zoo was just down the road. I went to “Zoo Camp,” and learned all about conservation and sustainability.

Although I inherited my parents’ love of the outdoors, I wouldn’t say that I’ve ever found it easy to be in the wilderness. I’m terrified of bears, I don’t like all the bugs, and I’d much rather curl up on the couch with a good book. But once I brave it all and get outside, I can feel the tension releasing from my shoulders. As a child I felt stronger, more focused and less anxious after spending time outside and I still notice those benefits in my adult life.

And so I have persevered with my own children, making as much effort as possible to connect our daily lives to the rhythms of nature. We’re not out in the wilderness on a daily basis, but we’re connecting to the outdoors in so many simple ways. 

Gardening

As suburbanites, gardening can be a fabulous way to introduce your child to nature without ever leaving your backyard. We tend to focus on vegetable gardening, as I love teaching my children where our food comes from – there’s nothing more satisfying than eating something you have planted and tended to over the course of the summer. And to let you in on a little secret – kids will eat their vegetables if they get to pick them right off the bush or out of the ground. Serve them veggies on a plate for dinner? Forget about it!!

Neighbourhood walks

Nature is all around us! You don’t have to go far to find bugs, a birds nest, sticks or rocks. Kids LOVE “natural” toys, and they’ll find anything at the nearby park to play with (just maybe avoid the garbage!) We’re lucky to back onto a ravine, where we can find wild raspberries and apples, and observe busy beavers, foxes and bunny rabbits. 

If it feels impossible to get your kids out on a walk, try to entice them with games or songs. A scavenger hunt is great for the summer. In the winter we do “flashlight” walks – they bring their flashlights or glow sticks out and we explore the dark.

Camping

OK, OK, camping is not really easy. But it definitely doesn’t have to be super hard! If you want to ease into things, consider borrowing or renting a tent trailer so that you’re not directly on the ground in a tent. Another great option is a rustic cabin – I’ve always preferred having four walls and a roof (as well as a bathroom,) but I still want my kids to get away from electronics. We go to a cottage each summer where the Wifi totally sucks, but the lake is divine.

I found camping really easy when my kids were tiny. It feels a bit more difficult now that they’re at the complaining age (alright confession…it’s me complaining!! I’m older and less enamoured sleeping on a blow up mattress.) We have our girls participate in Girl Guides, where we both get the chance to go camping at least once a year. Some day we might find energy to take the whole family on a canoe portage trip – I’ll keep you posted on that one.

Nature Camp or Forest School

There are SO many great options out there for outdoor summer camps and even forest schools. Our daughter is currently in her first summer of nature camp, and she is in love – she spends her days climbing trees, whittling with knives, making fires, and rolling in dirt. The stories she comes home with are amazing for dinner table conversation.

Many families are choosing alternative schools, where there is a much greater focus on outdoor education. We aren’t at that stage yet, but it’s certainly a dream of mine to have my kids in forest school one day per week.

When looking to build up the time that your children spend in the outdoors, remember that every little bit counts – and children will always seek it out, wherever you go. If you take them to that new fancy splash pad, they’ll spend their time in the muddy part where the water drains over a rocky bed. Children are both fascinated and soothed by nature, and so are adults when we give ourselves the time! Because of this sense of relaxation, I’ve always find that parenting is way easier in the outdoors.

Except maybe when you’re hiking up that mountain – I can’t guarantee there won’t be a lot of whining along the way.

This post is part of The Whole Family Happiness Project, in partnership with Social Currents and the Low Carbon Economy Narrative Initiative. The Whole Family Happiness Project poses the question, “What is the connection between our individual purpose, our family happiness, and the happiness of the world around us?”

To learn more or get involved, visit Whole Family Happiness on Facebook. #wholefamilyhappiness