When planning family vacations, I prefer to visit destinations that are dynamic, stress-free and safe. And because I have one last requirement – no car, I want attractions that are within walking distance. It may come as a surprise that I consider New York City to be the ideal destination. Specifically Midtown Manhattan. We stay, and most importantly, remain in the area. Nestled comfortably opposite Central Park, we stay at the iconic Plaza Hotel, which my daughters quickly consider a home away from home. We explore, by foot, the local luxuries, museums and limitless shops — and feel like instant New Yorkers.
When we arrive at the airport, we have a car service scheduled to pick us up near baggage claims. Immediately, we can begin our journey into the city, instead of wasting hours hopping shuttles, taking taxis or dealing with the car rentals.
For my family, the Plaza Hotel is the ideal hub and urban oasis within New York City. We ooh and aah when walking into the stunning lobby as my daughters delight in the warm welcome that they receive. As the bell service team whisk our luggage up to our room, we relax and enjoy lunch at the Palm Court. The hors d’oeuvres are always a hit, especially the exceptional Eloise Tea.
While it is always a treat to dash around a new hotel room checking out the size of the shower and the grandness of the view, the Plaza Hotel always wins extra squeals with in-room treats, surprises and kid-sized robes. Take a moment to plan tomorrow’s breakfast with room service. You will be happy to wake up with breakfast for hungry kids on its way.
We rise early and enjoy a scrumptious breakfast delivered by room service or visit The Plaza’s Food Hall. Nourished and ready to go, we explore the local destinations. Remember to relax and don’t over-do it. Setting a time to return to the hotel is key for a stress-free day. Before my daughters wilt, we return to the hotel at 1pm for lunch and to relax with a book, movie or iPad. I recommend not packing too many attractions into a single day. Everyone will be frustrated, tired and miserable (especially mom and dad).
Here are my favorite New York recommendations of nearby attractions that the entire family will enjoy:
Dylan’s Candy Bar – A candy land cornucopia, brilliantly conceived by Ralph Lauren’s daughter Dylan. The New York City store is a real-world Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory, offering up every piece of candy under the sun. Try a freshly dipped chocolate covered strawberry or just fill your bag with scoops of retro treats and timeless favorites.
Metropolitan Museum of Art – The museum is an outstanding destination that we visit over the span of two days. There are endless programs for families, from audio tours to workshops. Discover the latest exhibit on the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Roof Garden – which is also the perfect spot for a quick snack. Prepare for your visit at home by reading Jacqueline Preiss Weitzman’s You Can’t Take a Balloon into the Metropolitan Museum of Art with your younger children or visiting the museum’s website to learn about the exhibits and play interactive games. Your kids will love to roam the galleries finding familiar faces as they discover new treasures.
Eloise Shop – Featuring all things Eloise, the spirit of Kay Thompson’s iconic hotel-dweller comes alive at this rawther amazing pink shop. The mirror-lined stage, complete with dress-up box was a huge hit with my little girls and no visit would be complete without a pretend party with Eloise in the vibrant Tea Room. The slouchy pink beanbag chairs and endlessly rolling Eloise cartoons in the Reading Room were also a welcome sight after a warm stroll through Central Park. Also, make reservations for Eloise Tea At The Palm Court.
Central Park – From the Central Park Zoo, riding the Carousel, to model boat sailing – there is endless fun to be found in the Park. Our daughters are still talking about their horse-drawn carriage ride. If you meet a carriage horse named Pickles, give him our best.
Lion King and/or Aladdin on Broadway – Okay, you may need to catch a taxi to travel to this destination, but the Broadway versions of these Disney classics are still a must-see. Brilliant costumes and puppetry and fantastically familiar music will enchant you and your children.
Rockefeller Center – The plaza is a fun place to hang out any time of year; in wintertime, go for a skate in the ice rink and behold the giant Christmas tree that towers above it. And be sure to visit the Top of the Rock Observation Deck, where you can see the entire City in all its skyscraping grandeur.
Serendipity 3 – A rambunctious and fun deli, with delicious desserts aplenty, towering sundaes, hotdogs and chili. This is a popular destination so make a reservation and leave the stroller at the hotel – they are not allowed in the narrow restaurant. Don’t forget to order the Frozen Hot Chocolate (with extra napkins).
American Museum of Natural History – At the American Museum of Natural History, kids of all ages will love visiting the dinosaur halls and seeing the many fossils and models. The museum’s Discovery Room, meanwhile, offers plenty of hands-on fun and learning geared toward the 5–12 age group.
Looking for other New York culinary recommendations? Our family has enjoyed Landmark and Bouchon Bakery at the Time Warner Center, and Le Pain Quotidien on 7th Avenue. Within the Plaza, the Food Hall offers numerous delicious snacks, treats and delights.
Take advantage of the hotel’s always-reliable babysitting services and remember to reserve an evening just for mom and dad. Make a reservation at the amazing restaurants in the area — we recommend Thomas Keller’s Per Se. Afterwards, enjoy a simple stroll — kid free — through Central Park.
Christopher Parr, is the Editor and Chief Content Creator for Pursuitist, and a contributing writer to USA Today, Business Insider — and the on-air host of Travel Tuesday on Live at 4 CBS. He is an award-winning luxury marketing veteran, writer, a frequent speaker at luxury and interactive marketing conferences and a pioneer in web publishing. Named a "Top 10 Luxury Travel Blogger” by USA Today, Parr has also been selected as the official winner in Luxury Lifestyle Awards’ 2023 list of the “Top 50 Best Luxury Influencers and Bloggers in the World.”