Vacations are not what they used to be. I spent the July 4th weekend in New York City, my first trip there with kids in tow, and it really hit home for me: I’m a parent.
If I weren’t a parent traveling with my kids, I’d be in New York seeing back-to-back Broadway shows, zipping around town to catch sample sales, heading out to Brooklyn to eat at my favorite Filipino restaurant (Purple Yam in Ditmas Park), and mooning over the Vermeers at the Frick Collection.
Instead, I spent the long weekend dancing on the Big Piano at FAO Schwarz, going up and down escalators with a giggling toddler, and pushing swings at various playgrounds.
And yet, I had a blast! Maybe this is because New York is so jam-packed with life that even the mundane becomes marvelous. Maybe it’s partly because I let go of the hyper-scheduled itinerary I had planned and tried being in the moment, even if that meant just hanging out in the hotel room jumping up and down on the bed.
We splurged on a night at the historic yet family-friendly New York Palace Hotel in Midtown so we could easily walk to FAO Schwarz (though I think Hamley’s in London has a better variety of toys), Top of the Rock, and Central Park. My kids liked Heckscher Playground, but they loved the rock landscapes throughout the park even more. They ran from one outcropping to another, climbing up like mountain goats while I watched with partly concealed anxiety.
Then we moved downtown for two nights to the very southern tip of Manhattan. Lower Manhattan has been undergoing rapid change: New hotels and restaurants are sprouting, the East River Ferry has launched to provide breezy access to Brooklyn, and the 9/11 Memorial is nearing completion, due to open this year on the 10th anniversary of the tragedy.
Of course we didn’t experience any of that.
We did have a lovely sunset walk along the leafy Battery Park Esplanade, passing Asian fishermen casting lines into the Hudson River. We paused at public sculptures like Louise Bourgeois’s Eyes—until my toddler needed a diaper change and I realized I’d forgotten the diaper bag.
Our hotel, the Ritz-Carlton Battery Park, was just across the street from the terminal for the Statue of Liberty ferry cruises. On July 4th, we boarded one of the first boats of the morning and paid our respects to Lady Liberty.
The ferry also stops at Ellis Island. At the Ellis Island Immigration Museum my five-year-old said within a few minutes of landing, “This is boring.” I averted disaster by making a game of hunting for any mention of Hungary (where we have friends and family) in the exhibits. We found a trove of items–Hungary was a major source of immigrants to Ellis Island–including an oversize photo of a “Magyar immigrant” (last photo on right, above), an embroidered cloth, and an oral history recording. Being on Ellis Island on the 4th of July and learning some of the stories of the 12 million immigrants who passed through the building was an incredibly moving experience. As I blinked back a tear, my daughter declared, “I’m hungry. Can we get a hotdog?”
Amy Alipio is an associate editor for National Geographic Traveler.