New York City is a dream destination for tourists. There are experiences of all shapes and sizes, for all ages, at all hours of the day. After years of debating a trip to the Big Apple, we finally decided our children were the right ages where we could successfully tackle the city and all it has to offer. We have survived the stroller stage, and the kids are all self-sufficient, so New York City seemed like the ideal fall getaway. However, New York City can seem overwhelming for someone unfamiliar to the city. When I realized my Mastercard World Elite card has a 24 hour Concierge that could help with our planning, I turned to them to help plan our perfect New York City weekend with kids.
*Disclosure: This trip was sponsored and paid for by Mastercard, but all opinions and photos are mine. Any mention of other companies should not be associated with Mastercard.
How to Have a Perfect New York City Weekend with Kids
Planning our trip
I am a planner. I always have been, but as it turned out, I didn’t need to bother as the Mastercard Concierge was very knowledgeable and helpful.
In New York City, there are not many hotel options when it comes to a family of five unless you want to book two rooms. We did not want to do this. When I called Mastercard’s Concierge I told them what I was looking for: a room in the city center that slept five people in one room. The agent immediately set to work and within a few minutes found a couple of acceptable choices. Both were near Times Square and could sleep five comfortably. I chose the Doubletree Suites in Times Square because we are Hilton members and they have rooms overlooking the square. The Mastercard Concierge booked the room, emailed me a confirmation, and we were all set.
Selecting a Priceless Experience
One of the other services our Mastercard World Elite card provides is access to Priceless Experiences. I immediately began perusing the Priceless.com website, searching for the perfect choice for our family. They offer many Priceless experiences across the US and around the world, and I thought one of these would be a fun surprise for our kids. I am a life long Yankees fan, and my kids love them too. The Priceless website offers several experiences with the team, but the timing just didn’t work out. There were also some intriguing one-of-a-kind dining experiences for couples.
One day, a new experience showed up on Priceless.com (the site constantly adds new ones), a fully catered picnic in a New York City park. As I researched more, I found it was only for two people, but what if we doubled it? My kids don’t eat much, and they love the park! I knew we had found our perfect Priceless experience and booked it through the website. Within an hour I received a confirmation email, and by the next day I was confirmed for a picnic in Central Park!
What to do on a NYC weekend with kids
When we arrived, we planned on heading straight to the hotel and then venturing out for some sightseeing. This is where we learned our first lesson about New York City: traffic is the worst! As the crow flies, it is less than 9 miles from La Guardia to Times Square. We arrived at noon on a Thursday and it took an hour and a half to get from the airport to our hotel! I don’t know how people do this on a regular basis.
Don’t miss our other posts: Where to eat in NYC with kids and How to Save Money in NYC!
The Doubletree Suites in Times Square
The Doubletree Suites in Times Square is right on the corner of 47th and 7th. Thankfully there was a room available early and we headed up to unpack our bags. The set up for the rooms is perfect. A large room with a king bed for the parents, and a sleeper couch for the kids in a separate room. There was a large bathroom with a sink, and a separate sink/kitchen area in the room with the couch. Basically, we had a two-bedroom suite (hence the name of the property), which was perfect for our family.
After we were settled, we headed out to explore. We grouped everything by location, which helped immensely with travel times. We used the subway as needed (but only if we had perfect directions), and other times relied on taxis and Uber.
Day 1: Grand Central Terminal, Empire State Building
We have traveled through many train stations with our kids, but nothing prepared us for the sheer enormity and beauty of Grand Central Terminal. Its vaulted celestial ceiling paired with massive columns and windows create a magical space despite the constant hum of activity. After admiring the main corridor, we headed downstairs to the massive food court, which was far superior to what we expected. Any type of food your stomach desires can be found here, as well as cocktails and high-end restaurants. Once we had our fill we walked to the Empire State Building.
I have always believed the best way to get an overview of a city is from above, so what better place to head to next but the Empire State Building. The line was long, but it moved fairly quickly, and in no time we were on the 86th floor, looking out at the city. From here we could see the major landmarks: The Chrysler Building, the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, the Brooklyn Bridge, etc. The boys loved using the high-powered binoculars for close up views. We ended up being there close to sunset and it was worth it, but the crowds were a bit crazy. We took a few pictures and then headed down before everyone else made their way to the elevators.
Day 2: Priceless New York Experience: Picnic in Central Park
We had fabulous fall weather for our second day in New York City. Our children had no idea we had booked a Priceless New York experience with Mastercard, so they thought we were simply headed to the park to explore. If you have never been to Central Park, let me tell you it is massive. Thankfully, our GPS gave us directions to our meeting spot for the picnic, Cherry Hill. Here, there is a beautiful fountain, and you will find many of the horse and carriages that offer rides through the park. Bow Bridge spans the lake nearby and many rowboats can be seen from this spot (they are available to rent at the Loeb Boathouse). It was the most picturesque spot in the park, and it was all ours.
We arrived a bit early and saw the gentlemen setting up our picnic. Our children were oblivious of course, because they were busy climbing rocks and running through the park. When everything was ready, we called them over to join us, one at a time. They all expressed an equal mixture of shock and delight. They couldn’t believe their luck. A stunning picnic, in the middle of Central Park, just for us!
Once I assured them it was real, they wanted to jump right in and try all the delightful food. The picnic included a salad, sandwiches, cheese platter, various hors d’oeuvres, drinks, and dessert. The children would smile and wave as people walked by and took pictures of us enjoying our feast. They thought it was fun to be in other people’s vacation photos! When we finished, I emailed the organizer and she said I could just leave everything and walk away. How’s that for service? We all agreed it was a “priceless” experience indeed.
The rest of the afternoon we explored Central Park. The boys ran off playing games on their phones (I think you know which one), we searched for various landmarks such as the Alice in Wonderland statue, Bethesda Fountain, Strawberry Fields, Conservatory Pond (where the model boats sail around). Sometimes it’s important to let kids just run around and have a day off from sightseeing.
Day 3: Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, World Trade Center
If there was one place my kids insisted on visiting, it was the Statue of Liberty. To reach it, we took a ferry from Battery Park that makes a loop that includes a stop at Ellis Island. Unfortunately, to go up in the Statue itself, you have to book tickets months in advance, so we only saw the Statue from the ferry, but it was still a spectacular view.
The next stop was Ellis Island, a destination high at the top of my list since my grandmother and her parents came through there when they immigrated from Puerto Rico. The museum does a wonderful job of sharing the stories of the people who journeyed from far away lands to this very spot. My kids loved the hands on activities and artifacts telling the stories about families from all over the world and how they came to be American citizens.
After getting off the ferry, we walked to One World Trade Center. Our children learn about 9/11 in school, but taking them to the reflecting pools was something tangible. The sheer enormity of not one, but two pools with cascading waterfalls, names inscribed in the bronze bordering the ledges, was emotional for all of us. The rain began falling as we were walking around, adding to the somber atmosphere.
To escape the rain, we went outside, where we were pleasantly surprised to find that our World Elite Mastercard allows us priority access to One World Observatory. If you buy a standard admission with your World, World Elite or Black Mastercard you are automatically upgraded to priority. They have a special access line to expedite admission and take the elevator to the top floor for a breathtaking view of the city. We didn’t take the tour to the top because it was raining (so we didn’t think we would see anything), but we thought this was a great Mastercard perk.
Day 4: Natural History Museum and the Top of the Rock
Unfortunately, the rain from the day before didn’t stop, so we were forced to head inside (along with the rest of the city). We went to the Natural History Museum since our kids are fans of dinosaurs, gems, animals, and science in general. We were not disappointed. We found some spots away from the crowds, and our boys continuously pointed out places they recognized from various movies. It was the perfect place to explore on a rainy day.
As a grand finale, we decided to head to the Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center. I wanted to compare the view to the Empire State Building and I knew this would give a better view of Central Park. I also liked that the Top of the Rock offered timed tickets so we didn’t have to wait in line, but could return when it was our time to go up. The view from the 70th floor was spectacular and I did love seeing the park. Unlike the Empire State where the top floor has metal grates around the top, this has plexiglass with gaps every six feet or so where you can stick a camera through for a picture. The photographer in me doesn’t love this, but we still loved the views.
New York City can be overwhelming with kids, but if you have a game plan, it is manageable. Thanks to Mastercard Concierge, we had a hotel with a fabulous location and a Priceless experience we will always remember. We are so grateful we had the opportunity to show our kids the city. Some parts were a blur because the city moves so fast, but when we slowed down, we made some amazing memories.