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Yes, You Can Have an Affordable, Family-Friendly Vacation in NYC

By Ellen Schmidt of Baby Meets City

While one might not initially think of New York City as a “family-friendly” vacation spot, the Big Apple is here to surprise you. From kid-approved offerings on Broadway and wide-open spaces in Central Park, to free outdoor concerts, food carts, and reliable mass transit (and everything in between), NYC is a veritable playground for both kids and parents.

Having two young daughters in Manhattan has made me an expert at taking the kids around the city, including getting the stroller on the subway! To determine where to go in New York as a family, I look for a place with enough space, enough bathrooms, entertainment for the whole family (really!), and affordability.


In a city of over 8 million people, space is at a premium, and a little elbow room to move around can sometimes feel like a luxury. Luckily, you have options as a visitor to this amazing (and very crowded) city. If you’re looking to stay indoors, our large world-renowned museums will be your best bet in terms of space.

Some of my family’s favorites include:.

Headed outdoors? Nothing beats Central Park in terms of wide-open spaces. Whether you’re taking in the view atop Belvedere Castle, relaxing on a blanket in Sheep Meadow, powering a sailboat around Conservatory Water, or taking a rowboat out on the lake, there’s so much to do in Central Park..

Other favorite outdoor spaces include:

  • The Highline
  • Brooklyn Bridge Park
  • Governor's Island
  • Hudson River Park
  • Bryant Park



Want to eat somewhere without feeling like you’re involved in the conversation at the table next to you? Here are some of my family’s favorite restaurants that meet all of our “family-friendly requirements,” including comfortable seating, changing tables in bathroom, high chair availability, and crayons/paper and kid-friendly menus. Oh, and the food is pretty tasty, too:

  • Wagamama
  • Playa Betty’s
  • Hill Country
  • Bubby’s
  • Chelsea Market (we like to grab & go and eat al fresco on The Highline!)

Now, will you be able to completely avoid being crammed up next to a complete stranger at some point during your visit to NYC? Probably not. But hey, that’s part of our charm.


There really is something for everyone in New York City, and there’s no reason you have to do exclusively “kid” activities while you’re here. Broadway, for example, has amazing shows that the whole family will love, like Aladdin or The Lion King. We saw Cirque du Soleil’s Paramour and loved the storyline and acrobatic routines.

New York City isn’t just Times Square, however, and every neighborhood has something amazing to offer. What about a walking tour of sweet shops in the West Village? Walking over the Brooklyn Bridge? Touring the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island or taking in the view from Top of the Rock? And if you find yourself here during the summer months, check local papers and websites for free concerts in the parks - they happen almost daily!.

Other family entertainment ideas:.

  • Empire State Building
  • Chamber Magic at The Waldorf Astoria
  • Coney Island
  • Guided tour bus ride
  • One World Observatory


Comfort and Affordability

True, it’s not inexpensive to live in the Big Apple. But you would be surprised at the amount of free or low-cost activities that you can take part in without breaking the bank. Here are a few things we love to do together as a family. They’re as laid back as they are cheap:

  • Take in a Brooklyn Cyclones game at Coney Island (a much cheaper alternative to a major league game). Plan your visit during one of their post-game fireworks shows!
  • Go for a rowboat ride in Central Park ($15/hour, and an hour is plenty of time to row a boat, believe me.)
  • At Schiller’s Liquor Bar, one of our favorite restaurants on the Lower East Side, kids under 10 eat free from 5-7pm on weeknights (with purchase of adult entree).
  • And, of course, CityPASS! See the best attractions in New York City for a fraction of the cost to do it on your own. We are home to so many iconic destinations, and this is the perfect way to see them. Have a great vacation with the kids!

Ellen Schmidt is a freelance writer & social media consultant. She blogs about life in NYC with children in tow at Baby Meets City, and has a new website about NYC family vacations in the works!

Go for a College Football Bowl Game, Stay to Explore the City

The college football bowl season is here. If you’re one of the passionate fans traveling to cheer on your team, there’s plenty to do both before and after rooting on your team to victory. We’ve rounded up a few great destinations hosting games this year and lined up things to do while you’re there. Bowl season kicks off December 17 and culminates with the National Championship January 9 in Tampa, Florida. After you’ve secured your game-day tickets, you might want to consider a CityPASS. You’ll see the best attractions the area has to offer, handpicked and packaged into an easy-to-use ticket booklet that saves time and money on admission.

Florida gators at home at the Florida Aquarium.

Tampa Bay / St. Petersburg

If you’re going to:
Miami (OH) vs. Mississippi State in the St. Petersburg Bowl
Florida vs. Iowa in the in the Outback Bowl
Or, the National Championship game matching up the winners from the Peach Bowl and Fiesta Bowl

Here’s what to do:
Get your heart racing at Busch Gardens with thrilling rides, live shows and animal encounters. The Florida Aquarium and Clearwater Marine Aquarium both work to help rescue marine life and offer up-close access to many sea creatures. See more than 1,200 animals at Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo, including elephants, primates, cats, giraffes and more. For a little educational entertainment, Museum of Science & Industry offers hands-on exhibits, or take in a little art culture at The Chihuly Collection, featuring large-scale glass art installations. See more details.

The lights at night are big and bright in the heart of Texas.


If you’re going to:
Louisiana Tech vs. Navy in the Armed Forces Bowl
Army vs. North Texas in the Heart of Dallas Bowl
Western Michigan vs. Wisconsin in the Cotton Bowl

Here’s what to do:
See the city from above with 360-degree views at Reunion Tower GeO-Deck. The Perot Museum of Nature and Science is fun for the family, while The Sixth Floor Museum and the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum offer a bit of history. Get into the spirit of the season at The Dallas Arboretum, where they go all out for the holidays with lights and special displays among the already breathtaking gardens. See more details.

The College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta is a touchdown for fans of the game.


If you’re going to:
Alabama vs. Washington in the Peach Bowl
Grambling St. vs. NC Central in the Celebration Bowl

Here’s what to do:
A no-brainer for bowl-game football fans is a stop at the College Football Hall of Fame. There’s an indoor playing field and skill zone as well as other interactive exhibits dedicated to traditions, mascots, bands, cheerleaders and fans. World of Coca-Cola and a CNN Studio Tour are visitor favorites, along with the impressive Georgia Aquarium. The Center for Civil and Human Rights shares inspiring stories of passion and courage. Meet the newest and most popular residents of Zoo Atlanta, the twin panda cubs born in the fall of 2016. Experience the wonder of nature in the heart of the city at Fernbank Museum of Natural History’s new out door exhibit. See more details.

Downtown Houston offers amusement, shopping and entertainment.


If you’re going to:
Kansas State vs. Texas A&M in the Texas Bowl

Here’s what to do:
Entertainment and education once again collide at top-notch spots like the Houston Museum of Natural Science, Space Center Houston and Children’s Museum of Houston. The Downtown Aquarium and Kemah Boardwalk both offer amusement rides, shopping, food and entertainment. See masterpieces at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston or visit wildlife residents at Houston Zoo. See more details.

Find your favorite team's mascot at the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park.

Southern California

If you’re going to:
Wyoming vs. BYU in the Poinsettia Bowl
Minnestoa vs. Washington State in the Holiday Bowl
Penn State vs. USC at the Rose Bowl

Here’s what to do:
Every year, in the days leading up to the Rose Bowl, both participating teams visit Disneyland. Just like the players, blow off a little steam at the happiest place on earth before gearing up for the game. Other nearby options includes LEGOLAND, SeaWorld or the San Diego Zoo, where you just might run into the real-life version of your team’s mascot. See more details.

Bowl season is also a festive time to visit New York City.

New York

If you’re going to:
Northwestern vs. Pittsburgh in the Pinstripe Bowl

Here’s what to do:
Being in New York City leading up to the New Year offers a chance to see some of the most iconic spots in their holiday finery. Don’t miss the views from the Empire State Building or Top of the Rock, where you can’t miss that famous tree. Some of the best museums include American Museum of Natural History, The Met, Guggenheim, 9/11 Memorial & Museum, and Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises and Hornblower Cuises offer the chance to sightsee from the water, while Statue Cruises will take you right to Lady Liberty and Ellis Island. See more details.






A CityPASS guide to the best holiday happenings

Christmas Around the World at Museum of Science and Indusry, Chicago features a Grand Tree surrounded by more than 50 trees decorated from volunteers from Chicago's ethnic communities. Photo credit: Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! If traveling this month, vacation memories can become great holiday traditions. Here’s a look at some signatures holiday happenings in great CityPASS destination cities.


For some, Coca-Cola comes to mind when getting into the holiday spirit. At World of Coca-Cola, guests can meet the friendly polar bear, taste holiday inspired beverages such as Gingerbread Coke or Chocolate Cherry Coke, and take a look at timeless artifacts and historic Santa artwork.

Christmas decorations outside World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta.

At Fernbank Museum of Natural History, the Winter Wonderland features trees and other displays decorated by local cultural partners recognizing celebrations including Christmas, Hanukkah and the Festival of Lights, as well as traditions and practices like origami, indigenous art and national symbols.

Photo credit: Fernbank Museum of Natural History


Have a holiday adventure in 4D on The Polar Express at the Museum of Science Boston. Based on the inspiring and beloved Caldecott Medal children's book by Chris Van Allsburg, it's featured in digital 3-D and brought to life with 4-D multisensory effects This is an immersive experience for the whole family to enjoy.

Photo credit: Museum of Science Boston


There’s a good chance for a white Christmas in Chicago, but even if the fluffy stuff doesn’t fly, step inside the World’s Largest Snow Globe at the Adler Planetarium Grainger Sky Theater. After enjoying an original Adler sky show, stick around to tour the city from inside a magical snow globe.

Photo credit: Adler Planetarium

A beloved decorating tradition continues at the Art Institute of Chicago, as the Thorne Mini Rooms are decked out in their holiday finery. Plus, don’t miss the iconic guardian lions wearing their traditional evergreen wreaths.

A miniature menorah is placed in Mrs. James Ward Thorne’s California Hallway, about 1940. Gift of Mrs. James Ward Thorne. Photo credit: Art Institute of Chicago.

Explore rich holiday traditions from around the globe at the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago. Beginning in 1942 with a single tree. Today, the Museum’s beloved annual celebration features a four-story, floor-to-dome Grand Tree, surrounded by a forest of more than 50 trees and displays decorated by volunteers to represent the holiday traditions from cultures around the world.


Celebrate the 12 Days of Christmas at Dallas Arboretum's outdoor exhibit with an elaborate collection of 25-foot Victorian style gazebos filled with the charming costumed characters, whimsical animals and music made famous by the beloved carol.

Photo credit: Dallas Arboretum.

The George w. Bush Presidential Library and Museum is bringing back to life “A Season of Merriment and Melody,” the theme First Lady Laura Bush selected as the White House holiday message in 2004. Visitors will enjoy classic holiday music, experience the original 2004 White House decorations, and have the opportunity to take a family photo in front of the Blue Room Christmas tree, an 18-foot recreation of the White House Christmas Tree.”

Photo credit: George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum


Get in the spirit of the holiday with carolers, Santa, a snowball play area, holiday treats, art-making activities, and--on eight nights--a live reindeer, all amidst Bayou Bend's 14 acres of gardens and art at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston .

Photo credit: Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

New York

What’s more brilliant in December than the Rockefeller Christmas Tree? 2016’s version could be the best one yet, so whether you’re stopping by for the ice-skating or heading to Top of the Rock to see more city lights from above, you’ll feel the magic of the season.

Rockefeller Center at Christmas.

Celebrate the turn of the year in style with a New Year’s Eve cruise around New York City with Circle Line Cruises. You’ll have the Manhattan skyline as a beautiful backdrop and a spectacular view of the fireworks display at the Statue of Liberty.

(The New Year's Eve cruise is a separate ticketed event not included with CityPASS.)

New Year's Eve in New York City. Photo credit: Circle Line Cruises


Just across the Delaware River in Camden, New Jersey, see Scuba Santa swim alongside sharks, sea turtles and stingrays at Adventure Aquarium.

Photo credit: Adventure Aquarium

San Francisco

‘Tis the season for science at California Academy of Sciences. The natural history museum/planetarium/rainforest/aquarium transforms into a floor-to-ceiling winter wonderland with indoor snow flurries, caroling and a visiting pair of reindeer.

Photo credit: California Academy of Sciences


Holiday traditions in the Northwest start on the water. Every year, the Argosy Cruises Christmas Ship sails to different Puget Sound waterfront communities, around 65 in total. Choirs on board give 20-minute performances to these communities. On shore, thousands of people gather around roaring bonfires anticipating the arrival of the Christmas Ship.

(The Christmas Ship is a separate ticketed event not included with CityPASS.)

Argosy Cruises Christmas Ship™ Festival Sponsored by The Seattle Times Fund for the Needy and Alaska Airlines. Photo credit: Argosy Cruises

At Woodland Park Zoo, animals will be treated to fish or fruit-trimmed wreathes, evergreens or wrapped boxes containing favorite treats during the Winter Celebration.

A lion at Woodland Park Zoo's Winter Celebration. Photo credit: Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo

Southern California

It’s the most wonderful time of the year at the happiest place on earth! New Celebrations this year include the new Festival of Holidays and new "World of Color—Season of Light," and Haunted Mansion Holiday. Glistening Christmas trees and seasonal decor adorn the entire Disneyland Resort, and "A Christmas Fantasy" parade is performed daily. Jingle Cruise will also return to Disneyland Park this holiday season.

Photo credit: Paul Hiffmeyer/Disneyland Resort

Tampa Bay

Over at Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo, they are staying open late on select nights for Christmas in the Wild. Twinkling lights illuminate the night, and there could be a surprise around every corner with carolers, dancers and tumblers. Experience an up-close encounter with an animal ambassador, or watch the animals get into the Christmas spirit with seasonal enrichments.

Christmas in the Wild at Lowry Park Zoo.


There’s magic at Casa Loma. On Wednesday nights from 5-9pm, the castle, gardens and grounds are lit up in a dazzling light display for Winterland Nights. New this year is a holiday-themed magic show by famed illusionist entertainers Professor Wick, as well as live performers Soli and Rob and Circus Jon.

Photo credit: Casa Loma

Raising Panda Twins

On September 3, Lun Lun, a giant panda at Zoo Atlanta, gave birth to her second set of twins. We wanted to know what it was like to help care for the animals, so we asked a keeper for a few details.

read more »

Where Should You Go On Vacation?

Where Should You Go On Vacation? Let’s face it; it’s time to finally take that summer vacation. Vacation hours are racking up, and you’re Googling travel destinations when you should be working. If you’re feeling the travel itch, it’s best to just give in and scratch it. The world is your playground, but planning that perfect final summer vacation can be overwhelming. The U.S. is a big place to explore and every region has its differences — different food, different landscapes, different personalities, and different attractions. Not sure what area of the country to explore next? Choose your own adventure and take the stress out of your search with the flowchart challenge. Tell us where you’re headed in the comments below! read more »

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