Please note this site has financial relationships with American Express and this post may contain affiliate links. Read my Advertiser Disclosure policy here to learn more about my partners.
Lots of families who collect miles and points like the idea of using them to visit NYC. There is lots of stuff to do there, you can get a “good bang for your point” since prices for things like hotels are typically very high, and it is a destination that doesn’t require an overseas flight. However, for families with young children, there can be a few logistical challenges to overcome to really enjoy the trip. For those used to just hopping in the car, driving to a destination, parking in a parking lot and then continuing on there is a huge culture shock just in the way you get around. I lived in NYC and visit frequently, but recently had my first opportunity to experience the city with a young child of my own. Here are a few things we experienced that might help other families when they are planning their trips. Also, here are the other reviews from our trip:
NYC Logistics with a Family (this post)
Get a car service from the airport:
In my experience, there are some things in Manhattan that are just going to cost more because you are a family. As a single traveler I have no problem doing the bus to subway or train to subway transfers from the three area airports of La Guardia, JFK, or Newark, but as a family there is no freaking way. When you take into account you will have just finished a flight with a young kid and you have all of your (often massive) gear, it just isn’t worth it to mess with public transportation to save a few bucks. It can be confusing at first for a new visit, the turnstiles aren’t really luggage friendly, and there is no guarantee there will really be room on the subway or bus for your family and all your stuff. Of course, if your family is the type that straps their kids on their back and backpacks through Europe, then you will probably do just fine with public transport. For the rest of us, just get a car service (or at least a cab) to save some stress and sanity.
Of the three airports, La Guardia will be the cheapest for a car or cab, followed by JFK, and then Newark. There are a million answers on which service to use – many use Dial 7, Uber has recently become pretty popular for car service, I have used Groundlink, and there are a bajillion other companies as well. We did install C’s car seat for our drive from Newark to Manhattan.
Teach your kids not to lick the handrail in the subway:
While I am not an advocate of using public transportation to get families to and from the airport, it is a great way to get around the five boroughs. That said, kids like mine have barely spent any time on anything resembling a subway. She did a great job, but it was a shocker when she licked the pole that everyone holds on to. The subway was too full for us to sit (and don’t expect anyone to give up their seat for you, even if you have a young kid), and I was teaching my then-two-year-old to hold on tightly to the pole when she turned and licked it because she was a “pretend kitty”. The whole subway car pretty much gasped at the same time I did. I don’t even want to know all the germs and other disgusting things that were probably on that pole. She lived, but I strongly recommend reviewing all rules ahead of time. I would also recommend coming up with a plan in case your family doesn’t all end up on the same subway train for some reason.
While we are on the topic, up to three children 44 inches tall and under ride for free on subways and local buses when accompanied by a fare-paying adult. Infants (under two years of age) ride express buses free if the child sits on the lap of the accompanying adult. You can pay per ride or get an unlimited ride ticket if you think you are going to have a bunch of subway trips. We didn’t do an unlimited pass on this trip as we typically only went to about one subway destination each day we were there.
Consider going to nicer restaurants during “off” times:
One of the things I used to love a ton about living in or visiting NYC was the amazing food. Of course, not all amazing food is in nicer restaurants, but don’t totally discount eating out at a nicer restaurant with your kiddos if that is something that your family enjoys. We went out to eat with our daughter for a late lunch at a nicer restaurant and the place was almost empty and we didn’t disturb anyone at all. Lunch is also often much more affordable, so your investment isn’t near as high anyway.
Truthfully, on most of our trip we didn’t really get to focus on where we were going to eat because our daughter was too tired to eat out well for most meals, and food was more of a fuel than a delicacy (which was a little sad since I love eating in NYC so much). It was just a trade-off we had to make for most of this trip – still I’m glad we ate out once or twice. For anyone who is curious, our meal shown above was at Morimoto NYC which is located right next to the Chelsea Market. It wasn’t the best sushi I have ever had, but it was pretty good and was perfect for us since they were open for lunch and had plenty of available seating for a last minute reservation.
Walking isn’t a spectator sport:
Walking in NYC is a full contact sport – or at least it will be if you don’t watch where you are going. We had to quickly teach our kid to watch directly in front of her. Do not window shop and walk, look straight ahead and walk quickly. She actually caught on really well after some near misses. We did not bring a stroller, and were glad that we didn’t as it would have been a pain on subways, in cabs, in stores, etc.. Of course if you have a younger child then a stroller may be a necessity (though I would prefer to wear my younger kid if at all possible). We did have to put her on our shoulders from time to time, but for the most part she did well.
Car seats in cabs?
Okay, I can’t tell you what to do with this one as it is a potential safety issue, and and I’m sure it is quite controversial. I will tell you this, car seats are not required by law in NYC cabs and for-hire vehicles. Cabs do have to allow the parent to install the car seat if they wish. Children seven years and under are allowed to sit in their parent’s lap in a cab. Essentially the laws and policies allow you to go either way.
If you do use a car seat, you are going to have to carry it to the cab, deal with it wherever your destination is, and lather, rinse repeat to get back to your origin if it’s a return venture, all of which may be quite cumbersome. My understanding is that most parents do not use car seats in NYC, but of course there are some that do. The Car Seat Lady lists some tips for using car seats in cabs.
We found NYC to be absolutely doable with an almost-three-year-old. There were things we gave up (like eating out as much as we would have liked), but overall if you do a little advance planning you can absolutely manage the logistical challenges that those of us who are used to suburban lifestyles may have.
What other tips do some NYC pros have to share?