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New York City - 3-Day Itinerary with a Toddler in Tow

Everyone deserves a good break once in a while but making a trip to a place far off can be a challenge if you have a kid at home. Taking a toddler for a vacation comes with its own set of considerations and preparations. However, if you plan in advance and finalize your itinerary well, it is easily possible to have fun while still not exerting the little one. We did a recent trip to New York City with our one and a half years old. We present our experiences from the trip for everyone. This can be considered as a recommended itinerary which is paced to ensure the little ones have time to relax and enjoy some of the attractions.

Let's start with video coverage of New York City from our eyes:

Day 0: Preparations - Getting logistics in place is the first thing to cover

Based in the Bay Area that we are, this was going to be the flight across one coast to the other and hence flight tickets were bound to be over the top. It is essential that you plan ahead and get your tickets in place at affordable rates. We wanted to leverage the maximum of our time in the city while staying within budget and hence the search started for night flights. One benefit of night flights is that if the kid can sleep, it is an easier flight to the destination. We were able to find good deals and wrapped up the tickets for the trip starting late on September 26, 2019, for a three-day sojourn. Next was the turn to look for accommodation. We looked at some of the options in New Jersey considering affordability. However, on reading some of the boards, we realized it could be a tough bet - and hence we decided to look for something more in the central part of the city. On a bit of research, we realized most of the tourist sites are within the central island of Manhattan and were spread across two clusters. We ended up picking a Sheraton property by Times Square - our Marriott Bonvoy status allowed us to book a two-night stay with reward points.

Generally, when we travel, we book rental cars to travel across the city as it provides a much easier way compared to others with the kid. However, this time we opted for using public transportation given the way New York City is set up. We realized it would be difficult driving across the city with traffic and traffic lights and finding parking across tourist sites. So, we spent time finding the best way to travel from the airport to the hotel and visiting some of the sites on our itinerary. We also did our researched and shortlisted some of the sites we planned to visit. As we neared the trip, we had a broad itinerary planned out. As always, we downloaded offline maps on Google Maps just for cases when data networks are not able to catch up to us. Also, we use Sygic's Map Software to document the itinerary and get offline versions on the phone.

For sightseeing, we booked the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island Cruise. We also bought the C3 city pass which allows access to 3 of the 10 most prominent sites across the city.

Day 1: Arrival and Getting Started - Trip from the Airport to the Hotel, Central Park and Rockefeller Plaza

The trip from the Airport to the Hotel

We landed at the Newark Airport in the early morning of September 26 and picked our luggage. There are multiple options to travel from the Newark Airport to various parts of New York City depending on where exactly you are staying. We had booked ourselves in the center of Manhattan and there were primarily three options that we had - taxi or cab, bus or train. Taxis or Uber/Lyft are the most convenient options but are pretty expensive too. Also if you arrive during rush hours, you may spend quite some time on the road. Next, there is a bus called Airport Express which runs from the AIrport to the Port Authority Bus Terminal, right across Times Square. The bus picks passengers from each terminal and takes them to the city. Again the concern is the traffic which could make the journey pretty long. Hence we opted for the last option - the train.

We took the Air Link Tram from the Airport to the Rail Link station which is where you transfer to the train. You have the option to take the tickets at the start from the Airport Terminal itself or at the Rail Link station. At the Rail Link station, you use the air bridge to reach the stations - after you swipe your tickets at the entrance. All stations and platforms are wheelchair or stroller friendly which is important when you are with a kid. Also, you have an option to pick an Amtrak or NJ Transit train - later is a bit more economical and was our choice. Soon the train arrived and we boarded. Again the train is stroller friendly and there is a place where you can have the kid in the stroller itself by folder the designated seats. We still recommend folding the stroller and taking the seats with the windows. It takes about 25-30 minutes to reach the New York Penn Station - the terminal station for the train. You disembark here and find your way upwards - out of the station. A short walk later we were checking in at our hotel.

Central Park and Rockefeller Plaza

After settling at the hotel for a few hours and freshening up we took to streets to peek into the city and explore surrounding areas. We took a stroll across Broadway and then took a subway to Central Park. By the time we came out of the subway station, it had started drizzling. We took shelter in one of the showrooms but it was only momentarily. We strolled across the lower part of Central Park which is very walker and stroller friendly. We noticed some of the activities making the park lively including horse riding, sports, picnics, and jogging.

Next, we took an Uber to the Rockefeller Plaza (which was almost equal to what the Subway tickets for two would have been). We walked into the check-in counter and used our first pass from the C3 Pass to access the observation deck. It was a pretty quick process and we were ushered into the elevator which took us to the deck in a jiffy. The observation deck is actually a set of three different levels where 2 of these are covered while the one on the 70th floor is an open sky deck with no protective glass panes to hinder the views and pictures. Again, it is pretty stroller friendly and there are hidden elevators to take you across levels and the staff guides you nicely. We absorbed the lovely views of the New York skyline from there and then descended to the ground. We took a stroll across the area and picked our dinner at one of the Indian joints which served decent meals.

Day 2: Heavy Sight Seeing Day - Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island, Wall Street, Brooklyn Bridge, Empire State Building and Times Square

The first half of the day was devoted to Downtown New York

This was going to be a heavy lifting day where we had planned to cover a lot of stuff across the city. We started early and had breakfast at the hotel before leaving for the day - or first half of the day. With the kid in tow, we generally plan half-day trips and return to the hotel in the day for a small break. We headed straight to the Battery Park via the subway and the trip was pretty smooth. We checked in with the security and proceeded to board Miss Ellis - our ride to the Statue of Liberty Island at about 10 AM. As the boat left the shore, the views of the receding skyline were breathtaking. A 25-minute ride later, the boat disembarks you at the Statu of Liberty Island where you are offered audio tours of the entire island - the price of the ticket includes the fees for the tour. In case you have the ticket for the pedestal or the crown, you are required to adhere to indicated timings. We did not have either, but we recommend taking the tickets to the pedestal just for the sheer ambiance. Obviously, views of the statue are best captured from below given you van get the best angles. We spend about an hour on the island before heading back to the docks to take the return ferry. We had brought our meal with us from the mainland and it was fun enjoying a picnic in the lawns. We took the return ferry which dropped us at Ellis Island for a quick tour. The Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration is located in the Main Building of the former immigration station complex and tells the moving tales of the 12 million immigrants who entered America through the golden door of Ellis Island. Today, the descendants of those immigrants account for almost half of the American people. The island also houses the hospital and the morgue which were a critical infrastructure for the immigrants which often took long journeys in inhospitable conditions. We finally were back at the Battery Park by around noon. Again, most of the places at both the islands and the boats are stroller friendly - of course, if you want the best views, you need to carry the kid to the upper decks. Battery Park itself is nothing less than a tourist spot with all activities visible - tourist buses soliciting you, sketch makers offering services for 5 bucks and tourists happily taking pictures. We spent some time roaming around the Battery Park and then took off for the next spot.

We checked our itinerary and the next sight on our plan was to take a visit to the center of where money trades hands and lives are made - the New York Stock Exchange and the Wall Street. It was a short walk from Battery Park and mostly flat so pushing the stroller wouldn't be a pain. On the way to Wall Street, we passed through the famed Charging Bull - the bronze statue of the untamed animal which is associated with optimism in the money markets. We couldn't have passed by without pictures and so we did pose for a few. There is a line of sorts of those waiting to take a picture and some of them even consider rubbing the nose of the bull auspicious - to each his own. We then walked on to Wall Street and took pictures in front of the New York Stock Exchange. To celebrate women's empowerment, a girl's statue has been established overlooking the exchange building. The surroundings of the street are rich in historic buildings with nice architecture and small traditional shops. Next on the list was the Brooklyn Bridge.

Brooklyn Bridge connects the boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn across the East River. The bridge A brilliant feat of 19th-century engineering, the Brooklyn Bridge was the first bridge to use steel for cable wire, and during its construction explosives were used inside a pneumatic caisson for the first time. It has been designated as a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. National Park Service. The walk across the bridge is a bit long but pleasant - especially when you are not alone. You are joined by hundreds of tourists and locals who cross the bridge at any point in time making it a bustling location with paced activities. Having a fruit packet in hand from local hawkers while taking the walk is worth all the effort. There is a subway station right across the corner from where the bridge ends on the Brooklyn side and that is what we leveraged to board the subway back to our hotel.

The second half of the day spent in central Manhattan 

After refreshing ourselves over a quick power nap at the hotel and some snacks in the concierge lounge, we embarked on to conquer the remaining part of the day. Since the two spots planned were better captured in the night, we started at around 6:30 in the evening. It was about a 20-minute walk in nice weather which took us to the Empire State Building - standing tall and visible in all its glory from far. Our C3 pass again came to play and we did not have to wait for tickets - straight to the entry after scanning the bar code made for an easy way in. Soon we embarked on the elevator which took us to the 84th floor of the building and we stepped out on the observation deck. The staff is pretty accommodating and they guided us through the stroller-friendly paths and alternate routes. As we stepped outside on the deck, the view of the city below was mesmerizing. The twinkling lights across the city were a sight to behold. We spend about half an hour on the deck and then returned to the base.

Next, we took the Broadway to walk along towards probably one of the most talked-about tourist site in the world - Times Square. While it may be a fancy of tourists world over and a must-visit site on every itinerary, we frankly did not find the place to a be a whole lot fun. No doubt the glitter does provide some views but at the end of it - there isn't much apart from large digital billboards, sea of tourists and touts and agents. We did take pictures because we are supposed to and spend time trying to figure out the reason behind the madness. We then returned to the hotel to call it a day and picked our dinner on the way.

Day 3: Covering the ground and return - Central Park, Bryant Park, Central Station and Return to Airport

It was the third day of the trip and the day which had led to this trip. The trip to New York was to be a getaway to celebrate wifey's birthday and it was that day. We did our own celebration at midnight and then readied in the morning to catch on with whatever was left in the city.  We had spent some time at Central Park but one visit isn't enough for the vastness that it encompasses. So we used our time in the morning to spend some additional time exploring the park. We took the subway directly to the park and headed to Bethesda Fountains. Apparently, there was some event in the park because of which some of the entrances were closed but we still managed to find one that allowed public entry. The fountains ae a lively site with many tourists and locals enjoying the water streams over live music. We spent time there and enjoyed the greenery and calm at the park and then headed to the Central Train Station. This is housed in a historic building and is the center for most railroads in the region. We returned to the hotel by 2 PM for a 4 PM checkout.

The journey to the airport was uneventful and on similar lines as the journey from the airport. We reached the NY Penn station and took the tickets for the NJ Transit train to the airport. There are big screens which provide the detail of upcoming trains. The ones that stop at the airport station have a sign (looks like a plane) against them. Expect to wait up to 45 minutes for your train. The platform is announced 10 minutes prior to the train time and then you can move to the platform. The staff at the counter is pretty helpful and guides you well. We boarded the train and transferred to the Air Link tram at the airport. The ticket collector on NJ Transit trains generally collects the tickets however if you are to transfer to the Air Train, request them and retain your tickets as you would need them during the transfer. We reached the airport in time to enjoy a coffee before the long and direct Alaska Airline flight back to San Francisco. 

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