Visiting New York with the grandkids

By Victor Block

Impaling a bright red strawberry on the end of a wooden shish kebab skewer, I held the fruit under a gushing fountain of milk chocolate, then popped it into my eager mouth. Asking a restaurant server to direct me to the men’s restroom, I anticipated a challenge when she pointed to the second floor, then added, “Good luck finding it.”

So went my recent visit to New York City with my wife Fyllis and two grandchildren, ages 13 and 14. A trip with grandchildren is an experience to be cherished. It also presents a host of logistical challenges.

We began by researching things to do and see, e-mailed the list to Zack and Leah, and came up with an itinerary about which we all could agree.

Dylan’s Candy Bar, home of the gushing chocolate fountain, was our initial stop. Three floors of cupcakes and cookies, ice cream and candy provided a feeding frenzy that to Zack and Leah, but not their dentists, was heaven on earth.

It’s no place for procrastinators. If Dr. Pepper jellybeans or chocolate poker chips don’t tempt you, there’s fudge in flavors I’ve never before encountered. Treats in wrappers adorned with an A-to-Z choice of first names ($2 each) offer a budget-stretching alternative to a tree fashioned from candy bars ($700).

Calories inhaled at Dylan’s may be worked off at Chelsea Piers, a multi-sports complex that occupies docks jutting into the Hudson River, where passengers once boarded ocean liners for transatlantic journeys. Today, youngsters come to engage in a long menu of available sports. If the batting cage, golf driving range and climbing wall aren’t tempting, perhaps expending excess energy on a trampoline or bowling in a trendy setting that could pass for a nightclub will have appeal.

Things are more tranquil at the Museum of Comic Art, where the collection ranges from humorous drawings and political cartoons to comic strips. Fyllis and I favored original sketches by Charles Schulz for Peanuts and Ted Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss. Zack, an accomplished artist, especially enjoyed what the museum describes as “the world’s most popular art form.”

A high point, and major expense, was splitting up to see two Broadway plays. Because our grandchildren couldn’t agree on one show, Fyllis and Leah went to Billy Elliot while Zack opted for The Addams Family, which I enjoyed as much as he did.

Most of the rest of our weekend was spent strolling the streets and neighborhoods of the city. That unplanned time turned out to some of the most rewarding.

Not surprisingly, Times Square was a big hit. Zack and Leah photographed the scene, checked out street vendors and watched in wonder as a spray paint artist created colorful views of the city’s skyline.

When it was time to eat, we chose several theme restaurants that became part of experience. The Martian-landscaped dining room at Mars 2112, at 51st Street and Broadway, is accessed by a somewhat bumpy five-minute “spaceship” ride. Inside, diners munch on typical American fare, as “Martians” who happily pose for photos and inquire about distant relatives back on Earth visit them. Occasional announcements report factoids like the temperature on Mars (minus 85 degrees Fahrenheit), and space travelers returning to Earth are instructed what to do “If you have arrived in the wrong era or have additional body parts.”

The setting is different but no less entertaining at the Jekyll and Hyde Club (two locations). Almost continuous live entertainment and spooky special effects make the food of secondary importance. Claw the Gargoyle and Tobias the Werewolf are among characters that do their best to scare diners. As for the elusive men’s restroom, Zack and I finally discovered it behind a door that resembles shelves lined with books.

Where you stay also can be part of the fun. It was a challenge getting Zack and Leah to leave our suite at the Affinia Gardens because of the hotel’s array of kid-friendly amenities. By day, they competed on Wii versions of golf, tennis and baseball, and at night fell asleep to sounds of music on their iPods plugged into “sound pillows.”

We took advantage of a guidebook for kids, disposable camera, discounts on admission tickets and gift shop purchases, and other Affinia extras to persuade them that there was as much to enjoy outside the hotel as in it. For more information log onto affinia.com or call (866) 233-4642.

If you go …

The secret to a successful multigenerational trip is advance planning. Here are tips based on our experience.

Offer choices. Include activities that the kids request, and others you believe they will enjoy. Remember, if they have fun, you’ll have fun.

Be flexible. If your young charges wish to wander through a street fair, let them. Extemporaneous activities can turn out to be highlights of a trip.

Leave time to chill. Some of our best time was spent chatting in our hotel room, sitting on a park bench and otherwise just being together.

Take money. This requires no explanation.

For more information about visiting New York with grandchildren, log onto nycgo.com or call 212-484-1222.

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