Travel/parenting: New York For Families: The Big Apple Shines at Holiday Time

This article was published in The Dabbling Mum ezine in December 2008

New York For Families: The Big Apple Shines at Holiday Time
by Lori Hein

A frosty afternoon at Central Park’s Wollman Rink; time for the annual showdown. My kids lace up their rental skates and take off around the icy oval, Adam in front and determined to beat his sister, Dana, who’s threatening mightily from behind. My husband and I sip hot chocolate and take in the contest―and the Manhattan skyline rising beyond the park’s edges―from spectator benches.

We go to New York often, and some of our best visits have been in that crisp period between Thanksgiving and New Year when the city sparkles with holiday spirit. It’s a wonderful time to be in New York, as many families have discovered. Said Leslie Sullivan, a mom from Hingham, Massachusetts, “Being in New York around the holidays really gets us into the Christmas spirit. There’s an energy as well as a serenity. There are crowds, but somehow the place feels friendly and peaceful. We loved our first family holiday trip so much that we’ve made it into a tradition.”

Whether tradition or one-time event, enjoy these holiday sights and activities:

There’s Wollman, and there’s Rockefeller. The rink at Rockefeller Center is small, but skating around it, under the 1934 gilded Prometheus sculpture and the eyes of a thousand spectators, is a cool experience. Lasker Rink, in Central Park's far north, offers public skating without the crowds. Sky Rink at Chelsea Piers, a sport and entertainment complex on the Hudson River, has afternoon public skating. Or skate at Riverbank State Park, a 28-acre, multi-sport recreational facility, also on the Hudson. For budget skating that packs a full dose of the Manhattan experience, head to Bryant Park, tucked behind the New York Public Library. Ice time is free, and skate rentals are available. The rink is small, but the cross-section of locals and visitors, vendors selling interesting things and the midtown Manhattan skyline above your head make it big fun. For an uncrowded rink in a beautiful setting, head to Brooklyn’s Prospect Park.

Typically lit the week after Thanksgiving, Rockefeller Center’s holiday tree, a must-see, has some competition. Twinkling trees tower over Lincoln Center, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and South Street Seaport (from where you get an amazing view of the Brooklyn Bridge). The American Museum of Natural History's Origami Tree is adorned with a thousand folded decorations, each representing an object in the museum’s collection, and paper cranes grace the Peace Tree at the soaring Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

You’ll find brilliant decorations and window displays all over the city, but some of the best are at a half-dozen midtown department stores: Barney’s and Bloomingdales; Fifth Avenue’s Saks, Bergdorf Goodman and Lord & Taylor (my favorite); Macy’s, on 34th Street. If you visit them all, and on foot, you’ll earn the added fitness bonus of a roughly two-mile walk.

Holiday Fairs And Shows
Catch the Rockettes and their famous high kick line in the annual Radio City Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall, an art deco gem. Browse the vendor stalls at Grand Central Terminal's holiday fair, and take in the half-hourly laser light show projected onto the station’s magnificent, refurbished central ceiling. Head up to the Bronx, where you’ll find family activities at a light festival at the New York Botanical Gardens and a winter wonderland of lights, ice sculptures, music and reindeer at the Bronx Zoo.

Other Treats
For a special tour of Manhattan from the water, splurge on a lunch or dinner Spirit Cruise, departing from Chelsea Piers. Enjoy a kid’s-eye view of over-the-top Christmas gifts―think nearly life-sized stuffed horses and giraffes―at FAO Schwarz, the venerable Fifth Avenue toy store, or ride the Ferris wheel inside the Times Square Toys ‘R’ Us. Take the elevator to the Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center, and enjoy the mindblowing view including, if you go in the evening, the Empire State Building floodlit red and green for the holiday season.

One of the best ways to get around New York is by bus and subway, and a 1- or 7-day Metro Card, available at most subway stations, gives you unlimited rides on both. For New York hotel and visitor information, check out

So who won the Wollman Rink showdown? We all did. As the kids cruised down the home stretch, Adam in the lead, he got a touch of holiday spirit and slowed to let Dana catch up. The race ended in a tie.