Choosing the most kid-friendly portion of a New York itinerary can be challenging. Should you go fully educational at the Met, or cave and hit FAO Schwarz? Sometimes you just need focus... and a little sensitivity to the kids-eye view. From dinos to princesses, here's our guide to what kids REALLY want to see in New York.
These thunderous prehistoric creatures still roam Manhattan in force, much to the delight of dino fanatics. Check out the dinosaur fossils at the American Museum of Natural History. Unlike other museums that display casts, the fossils here are the real bones put together as real dinosaurs. In the Discovery Room kids can actually touch some of the fossils and artifacts from the museum's vast collection. The gift shop lets you take home your own personal fossil with toys from plush Triceratops to sparks-shooting T-Rex. If that's not enough, the labyrinthine FAO Schwarz stocks various dino-theme playthings and the Times Square Toys R Us immediately conjures up Jurassic Park with a giant animatronic T. rex. For a more intimate post-prehistoric toy experience head to the toy and clothes boutique Dinosaur Hill, named after these powerful creatures but selling so much more.
Growing up in the age of the Internet means many kids acknowledge the entertainment value of modern technology and are fascinated with the circuitry behind the screen. The Sony Wonder Technology Lab indulges future programmers with their chance to create their own video and musical fun. A special key pass to enter the exhibits projects their picture at every stop along with their own voiceprint. As an encore, the Museum of the Moving Image allows kids to peek into the process of making movies and television shows. Interactive exhibits let kids dub their voices into film clips, tweak sound effects, or dance around in front of a green screen loaded with different moving backgrounds. When they've grown weary of playing director or with the video games in the museum's arcade, they can succumb to a dose of commercial technomania and experiment with gadgets at the city's electronic palaces: Sony Style, the Apple Stores, or Nintendo World.
The Princess Treatment
For many little girls, New York City conjures up images of Eloise, the precocious Plaza-living little lady who received the royal treatment wherever she went. For more of the same, your own princess can do high tea at Alice's Tea Cup surrounded by ephemeral butterflies or have a date with her doll at the American Girl Café where precious and cute are the name of the game. Shopping at tween girl faves like Juicy, Miss Sixty, and Paul Frank add some haute couture and ensure a well-dressed presence at cool-girl evenings watching the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes, Mamma Mia, or The Little Mermaid musicals, or the dazzling arabesques of the Nutcracker at the New York City Ballet. Older princesses can get a dose of Gossip Girl by visiting the Palace Hotel, Serena's ersatz home.
A View from Above
Soaring over Manhattan in a helicopter may be too much for most kids to deal with (and also way too expensive) but there are lots of other bird's-eye views to be had. A free walk over the Brooklyn Bridge puts you smack above the center of the East River with dazzling views of both Manhattan and neighboring Brooklyn at both ends. The highest viewing point in Manhattan, the Empire State Building, gives a thrilling look downward onto the streets and "ants" below. Top of the Rock feeds on this by adding a dramatic view of the Empire State Building itself. A less intense but equally great view can be had from the top floors of the Time Warner Building or from the lobby level of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Columbus Circle. Climbing to the top of Belvedere Castle or to the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art shows off the enormity of Central Park. For the bravest of all, trying out the trapeze next to the Hudson River may yield the Big Apple's ultimate view as you fly through the air.
The Weird & the Kooky
Manhattan has its share of fun theme-y places for kids. Restaurants of this ilk aren't known for their food but the special effects at Jekyll & Hyde or Mars 2112 will knock their socks off (if they don't terrify them). Odditoriums like Ripley's Believe It or Not or Madame Tussauds will create conversation pieces to last throughout your visit. The Whispering Gallery at Grand Central Terminal, or the crazy assortment of little people sculptures in the 14th Street subway station at 8th Avenue proves that all things weird and wonderful can be spotted all over New York City.
Bright Lights & Action
New York is a force to reckon with when it comes to color and energy. The hub, of course, is Times Square. High-definition electronic billboards hawk everything from Coca-Cola to sexy underwear. Stock market results and news flashes slither around building facades, and much larger-than-life M&Ms and Cup Noodles add blasts of color and movement everywhere. Theater marquees, stores bedecked in lights, and buildings frosted on top with changing colors or inventive light towers seem to never switch off. It's definitely worth keeping the kids up late one night.