Let’s face it, sitting in the house all day with your little one, doesn’t bring the best out in any of you. Boredom strikes, you’re tempted to put on the TV for him or her, stare at your phone, or you’re more focused on accomplishing tasks around the house than quality time with the fam.
So, here are three, easy afternoon activities to give your child and you some quality time together, while experiencing some amazing parts of New York City.
1. The Central Park Zoo
The Central Park Zoo is a gem, nestled inside the largest park in Manhattan. At the southeast corner of Central Park, you will find a zoo, large and diverse enough to hold your toddler’s attention, but small enough to make it a completely manageable, post-nap, pre-early-toddler-dinner, experience. The price is right–$12 for an adult general admission ticket, and free for under-twos, and if you live close by, you do not have the additional cost of transportation or dinner out. You can even take an online survey, following your visit, and earn free admission for a future date. Not a bad deal.
This kid-sized zoo isn’t going to tire out little legs, but will surely be enough to wow child and adults alike. The setting is beautiful–an exotic land of greenery, water and rocks, holding leopards, bears, sea lions, and monkeys against a dichotomy of skyscrapers and city sounds. It feels like you are in a little world within a great big world. Truly special.
In this little world, you can visit the Tisch Children’s Zoo (which is included in your purchase of a general admission ticket–and, you can even purchase a ticket at the Tisch entrance, which may have a shorter line than the main area). The Tisch Zoo is like a petting zoo, with goats and sheep that will come right up to you. I like to visit this area first, and build up to the main attraction.
A short walk down the hill is the main entrance for the Central Park Zoo. There you will find outdoor exhibits of some larger creatures, as well as some freestanding buildings that house an array of additional animals from assorted climates. You cannot bring strollers into the buildings, so be prepared to have to park in one of the designated areas. You can, however, walk around the outdoor property with them, and there are plenty of accessible ramps and paths so you don’t miss a thing. If you have a child that is sensitive to heat, also be aware that the Tropic Zone has a greenhouse effect, where it can become extremely hot and humid when outdoor temperatures are high. A child might not be able to rationalize the startling change and become rather uncomfortable. Other than that, it’s fantastic. Go tomorrow, go everyday. Your child will love it, and you will too!
2. The Statue of Liberty
Visiting the Statue of Liberty is probably one of the most “touristy” activities that comes to mind when thinking of New York City, which usually is something to avoid when minding a toddler. You think, “It will be too crowded, too expensive, too annoyinggggg.” Well, let me tell you, it’s really none of those things. My daughter loved the entire experience, and, with summer approaching, it’s a perfect summer activity to book today!
Yes, that’s right, book. Reservations are necessary, and can be made at Statue Cruises. This site is the official site for the Statue of Liberty National Monument. There are three types of tickets to choose from: Ground, Pedestal, and Crown. The Ground ticket is the only type available without a reservation, but to avoid long lines, especially with a child, do yourself a favor and book ahead. The Pedestal reservation is at no additional cost, so if you make a reservation, opt for this level, and you will get access to the pedestal level of the monument, as well as the lower level museum. The Pedestal tickets are easy to access, especially during the week, and do not need to be purchased too far in advance. The Crown tickets, however, book over six months out. But, young kids are not admitted up to the crown, anyway, so don’t worry about that for a toddler activity, just try to make yourself a Pedestal reservation.
So, what does a Pedestal reservation include, and why is it so great? Well, for $18.50 (kids under four are free), you can take the ferry from Battery Park (or NJ, see online for details), to Liberty Island, then to Ellis Island, then back to Battery Park. This reservation and ticket includes access to the beautiful island grounds, which include breathtaking views of NY and surrounding areas, access inside the Statue of Liberty (including the Pedestal view and museum) and access to the Ellis Island Immigration Museum. This seems like a lot to take in, more than a toddler can handle, but actually, the experience went smoothly and was very exciting.
The ferry ride is the first part of the journey that got my daughter very excited. The water, the boats, the 1000 people to wave too, she could not get enough of it at first. And, when the excitement started to wear, the trip was over! That’s right, the ride to each island is only 15 minutes! Just enough for any active, young child!
The first stop is Liberty Island. There, we grabbed food and coffee in the cafe (the worst Starbucks I have ever had and a very strange fruit cup, so maybe avoid the cafe) and had a lovely time chilling on the lawn, watching the ferries and sailboats, with Lady Liberty standing over us. The baby ran around, played with grass, and had her snacks. After, we visited inside the monument, taking in the pedestal view (which isn’t all that impressive, to be honest, but allows access to a pretty interesting museum) and wandered through the exhibition. Also, note, strollers are not allowed inside the actual monument. I brought my daughter in the Ergobaby carrier, which worked out fine, but if you want your stroller, make sure it’s collapsible, as you will be asked to stow it in one of the available storage lockers. There are also restrictions on large bags, and food/drinks within the monument. I did not have a problem with my daughter’s diaper bag and sippy cup, however. Just be mindful, as you will be going through multiple security screenings before the ferry, and again on the island, before the monument.
When you’re ready to head back, the ferries run every twenty minutes, so you’re never waiting around too long. The ferry makes a 15 minute journey to the next stop, Ellis Island, where you can disembark, or you can choose to stay on the boat to complete the journey and return to Battery Park.
We’re saving Ellis Island for our next visit, as we wanted to just have an afternoon experience. This way, my daughter was able to have both of her naps, and we could slowly visit one island before her dinner, instead of rushing through two. Next time, we will head straight to Ellis, so stay tuned for that review!
And, obviously, the weather has a huge hand in if you will have the same amazing summer experience I’m describing. With required reservations, it’s a gamble, but if you luck out and have a beautiful day, the ferry ride and visit to the Statue of Liberty can be a fun and memorable experience for the whole family!
3. Our Senses, Unseen Oceans, and Dark Universe–the current exhibitions at the American Museum of Natural History
I do not know how to pick a favorite at the American Museum of Natural History, when EVERYTHING they are exhibiting is so good. I’m sure my daughter and I could have just wandered around and looked at the (free+ at the “pay-what-you-wish-counter” or $23 general admission) general exhibits of beautiful mounted birds, mammals, and reptiles, and impressive fossils, and had an amazing time. But we opted to hit three current exhibitions ($33 for an adult, free under 2), and we were wowed with every one.
The first stop was Our Senses, which was made up of 11 funhouse-type rooms, designed to highten, amaze, and educate you on the science behind senses. I found it fascinating, my daughter thought she was in her own personal playroom. It was great.
I thought we started with what would be the most engaging of the exhibits for a toddler, but Unseen Oceans surpassed our expectations. The entrance to the exhibition was a realistic ocean wave, that had my child so confused as to why she wasn’t getting wet. It almost felt wrong to toy with her little brain like that! But, we then moved on to learn about ocean dwellers in a bright and interactive space of information, education, and spectacular displays. One room has an oversized video of sea creatures swimming along the walls, and (with that same confusion) my daughter tried to swim, touch, kiss, and play alongside them. It was hilarious and adorable. She had fun.
If I hadn’t already overstimulated my child enough, our grand finale was Dark Universe, the AMAZING new show being screened in the Hayden Planetarium. For adults, it’s a visually stunning way to learn about the universe, some of what is known, and even more fascinating, the unknown. For toddlers, it is at a whole different level. She was amazed and fascinated, and was able to cuddle on top of me and enjoy the entire half hour show. This attraction may not be for every child, FYI. If your child can sit for a longer period of time, and handle an occasional dark space, and loud noises, then he or she should be fine. Just be aware that this is not exactly aimed at young kids. It is very dark and you will not be able to allow your child to get up and walk around. It would also be difficult for you, yourself, to exit. But, if you can swing it, boy, is it worth it.
And, for the logistics. The stroller entrances are located in the side and back of the museum. Strollers are allowed throughout the main halls, but will need to be parked outside the attractions. I suggest asking someone at each exit how to get back to your stroller, because it is not very clear, and the building can be quite the maze, leading you out of a completely different part of the building than where your belongings are waiting for you. The signs at the Natural History Museum are really not that impressive, in general, so instead of trying to make sense of their little maps, it may be helpful to just ask! Once you have your bearings, I can assure you, a visit to the museum makes for a nice day!