Day 1: Very early arrival, Big bus
The flight from Bogota is terrible, both in time (less than 6 hours) and timing (overnight, arriving 5:30 in the morning), which means we are shuffling in the immigration line at a horrible hour with bags under our eyes. The line is ridiculously long (more than 1 hour wait!), but we get through in the end with another 90 days on our ESTA clock. Then starts the journey into the city; First an uber to our RV to drop some bags and check its status (all good!), then another uber to the nearest subway station, and then from there more than 1 hour in the subway into the center of New York City – the Big Apple!
We are very tired, but sleeping is not an option anymore as by now it is already past 10am. Thankfully we have a great accommodation where we can drop our things and relax. A quick grocery run for lunch and coffee (!!) and then we decide to take the tourist trip we can still do with the little energy we have; A Big Bus tour through down town. It is a great introduction to the city of New York and the boys are amazed by what they see starting of course at Times Square. Bo does manage to doze off for a moment while we roll through the busy NY traffic, awakened by Luc screaming he sees the Statue of Liberty! Just enough to wet the appetite for this NYC part of our trip, so we head back home for a quick dinner and a VERY long sleep for all of us…
Day 2: Statue of Liberty & Ellis island
To get to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis island, we have to take the statue ferry from the tip of downtown, a park with the Castle Clinton NHS in it. As we have to wait in line for the next boat, we begin the Junior Ranger work for the Castle Clinton to kill time, but the line is actually faster than expected (low season thankfully). The trip is short with great views of the New York harbor, and as we arrive on Liberty Island we find there is a brand new museum erected there and a great audio tour included in your trip. This is a fantastic way to get to know the island, and learn about the making of the statue and the challenges of the sculptor to get it done. It really is a much better experience than what we remember from years ago, and adds an extra dimension to the visit that makes you spend more time there.
Then it is on to the next stop of the ferry; Ellis Island. With immigration being the only reason modern day USA exists, this is truly a must-visit and gives a thorough view on what it was like to come here with sometimes only the clothes on your back. The Junior Ranger work follows the journey of a small boy and girl coming from Europe, and guides kids through the exhibition that lays out all the steps an immigrant would have to go through on Ellis island before being let into the country – or not. The immigrant numbers per day are staggering with only a small percentage being declined it makes the current immigration discussion around the globe almost laughable.
A fun part of the museum let’s you check your ancestry (especially for those living in the US), and you can check if you would pass the citizens exam now. Another big screen shows the number of people from your country’s background now living in the US, today being roughly 2,5 million Dutch – most of course going to Holland, Michigan! With another short boat ride we make it back to Battery Park just in time to hand in the Castle Clinton JR work; 3 badges in one day, not a bad score! We then walk past the bull and Trinity Church towards the ground zero memorial grounds, now two big square holes with all the names of those who passed on that dreadful 9/11.
Right next to it is the One World tower, Manhattan’s highest skyscraper now, for which we get tickets to go all the way up to the observatory on the 102nd floor. The ride up the elevator is scarily fast, and while riding it you see the build of the building being projected on the wall. Then coming out of the elevator you stand in a narrow hall with a projection of everything typically New York, after which the screens lift and you are actually looking out over the city! Very cool way to be introduced to these skyline views, and we spend an hour after this just circling the 360 observatory floor waiting for the sun to set.
Day 3: 9/11 Workshop Museum & Central Park
After such a full day we take it a bit slower today, and take the subway north after a late breakfast. The plan today is to go to the 9/11 Workshop Museum, a museum about the dig after the 9/11 disaster and supposedly an experience that is more child friendly than the memorial museum. Of course we have told the boys about 9/11, but at 6 and 9 years old there is no use in immersing them in the cruel details of the day, which we so vividly remember ourselves. The museum we go to tells the story of the dig for remains after the disaster, through pictures taken by photographer Sutton on site for months on end. He was the only one allowed to go into ‘ground zero’ and through his pictures – and stories behind it you can hear through your audio guide – it gives an astounding amount of background information and personal stories.
There are no gruesome pictures with bodies on them, and the system of only listening to the stories you are interested in gives you great control over the narratives you want to hear about. The museum is tiny and to our surprise the actual photographer is the one opening the door for us and letting us in! We highly recommend anyone going to NY to go here, especially with children, it is a much more intimate way of introducing them to 9/11 and gives those that lived through that day a broader picture as well. After this we need to walk off the experience and do so towards Times Square. We have to get in line for theatre tickets, and today is also a day of a massive street/food festival on 5th avenue towards Central Park.
This means we slowly meander through the crowds to the park where the boys enjoy a castle-like water playground and climb the many rocks the park has to offer. A walk through Central Park is of course never complete without a dip into it’s zoo (Madagascar anyone?), a salute to the Sherman memorial (made by St Gaudens) and as a last stop of the day we climb up the stairs of Grand Central Station for a quick cameo before heading back home.
Day 4: Intrepid, Aladdin, Bowlmore, diner, Top of the Rock
With a full agenda we kick off the day with a subway ride towards the Hudson river, where we run into some very strange looking humans… turns out it is Comic Con in New York and we are heading in the same direction as all its visitors! We have a blast trying to figure out who they are supposed to portray, as we walk on to the river to our first stop; The Intrepid museum. With a submarine, an aircraft carrier, a Concorde and space shuttle on site the museum to check out all things military and space in New York.
We do a first round of it including the submarine, but as we had been waiting in line for quite a bit have to cut our visit short for now as we have matinee theatre tickets to use! The choice for the show was not very difficult; Aladdin has been long running and a great visual story of the genie in the lamp that would be great for all of us to enjoy. The show really does not disappoint, with a lot of quick whit for the adults and color and music for the kids. The genie is truly the star of the show, a role that must be really satisfying to play night after night.
After more than 2hrs the show is over, and the boys decide they would still like to go back to Intrepid for some more ship fun, so we walk back to have another hour or so until closing. There are many interactive exhibits to play around with and even an intrepid made entirely out of Lego! We get to go down and up on the aircraft elevator and take the pilots escalator on the side of the ship. In the captains quarters we get to look out even past the ship in a little cabin on the side and learn about the really big challenge of letting down the anchor on a ship this size!
When the time comes to really leave the museum, we walk again back towards Times Square, this time to find the Bowlero bowling alley for some friendly competition! Included in our Sightseeing pass is a round of bowling and 5 dollars each for the arcade on site, so we decide to have some fun and play time. Turns out mom is the worst of the bunch in terms of bowling, with hardly any points on the board at the end, but in the arcade she is the best of all scoring a whopping 90 points that gets us candy and slime… YUCK.
For dinner we decide it is time to find ourselves a proper American diner and have some burgers and Caesar salads. We have learned by now that 3 meals for 4 works out very well, and two refills shared are also more than enough… we have not lost any of our ‘Dutchnes’ over the past 15 months ;-). The food is very good, the bellies are filled, and we have a little bit of energy left for one more must-do: The city skyline by night! We have chosen the roof of Rockefeller Center – Top of the Rock – to have the view downtown towards the Empire State building and the rest of the city.
With another nice introduction into the building, the amazing story of the Rockefellers building in the depression and the well-known pictures of men sitting on beams high in the sky having their lunch, we get lifted up into the building to its highest floor ‘only’ 67 in total. The building and those working there are super well organized, and even though you have to switch elevators, walk around hallways and through the outdoors to the top of the roof, it is all guided very well and runs really smoothly. The views are spectacular, we love every minute of it and it truly is a great way to close off yet another amazing day in NYC.
Day 5: Coney Island’s Aquarium & Luna Park
Maybe not really the city of New York, but equally iconic is Coney Island, and more importantly its Luna Park. Before we go there (included in the Sightseeing pass), we first head to the NY Aquarium next door to see how that stacks up. Not a fan of shows in an aquarium we have to say we were pleasantly surprised by the shortness of it (10 minutes with only seals and sea lions) and the educational theme (both biology as well as tackling plastics in the sea) and so it did not feel bad to be there. The rest of the aquarium is really well done, with a new invertebrates section and of course an almost hidden walkway below ground to see animals from below the water.
Luc seems to connect to the seal instantly as he ‘trains’ him in front of the window, a very giddy site. The touch pool has some really funky animals including the horseshoe crab, by far the most dinosaur like animal still in existence today. The 4D theatre outside (weirdly not on the grounds but included in the ticket – no re-entry) has a really cool show on the octopus with some very nice effects that almost make you jump out of your chair. As we walk down to the Luna Park to ‘have a look’ we surprise the boys with a 4-hour wristband to the place for which they go nuts!
Conclusion after 4 hours: Luc is our biggest daredevil and has the best stamina (although truth be told he did get a little bit nauseous on the subway back), going on every single ride and taking the last rollercoaster 8 times in a row. Bo surprised us as he took it slow on the first part of the fun fair taking the kiddy rides and not being enticed by Luc to go on others, but then getting on the rollercoaster as well (multiple times!) AND into the slingshot he has only barely the height for (“I wanna go again!!!”).
These boys are ready for Disney at the end of this trip, where lines will be much longer so mom and dad can maybe join them in the mayhem without puking their guts. An afternoon in the Luna Park would not be complete without an ice cream at Coney Cones, so we enjoy a bit of the cold delight in the sunshine. With a long subway ride back ahead of us we call it quits at 6pm, completely satisfied with all the adrenaline that Coney Island had to offer to us today. We have been so lucky with the weather all week and this was just another icing on the very big cake!
Day 6: Madison Square garden & NHS sites Wall street
On our last day in the big city we go out to one of the most famous sports arena’s; The Madison Square Garden. Located in the city center it is a venue where sports are alternated with concerts and other big events almost every day. On this day we take the tour and it turns out to be the opening match of the ice hockey season for the New York Rangers! This means the arena is VERY cold, and as we tour the venue the opposing team from Tampa is actually having practice time. The tour is a great mix of history and highlights, while we get to see the practice from different angles across the venue, a very cool experience!
For the first game of the season the NY Rangers have really gone all out, with t-shirts for everybody and a wristband with light that is coordinated from a distance which will light up the stadium with the NY Ranger colors. The boys are especially impressed with the luxury suites high up and the enormous beer room with all the kegs that are connected to the MSG taps. However fun it is, it is also quite ok to get out of the cold and back to the sunny streets of New York!
The afternoon is spent by the boys lazing around in our accommodation, getting ready for our trip back to Jerry our RV. In the meantime mom strikes out to the downtown Wall Street area for some last history lessons. First stop; the Federal Hall, a place of great importance as it was here George Washington was inaugurated as the first president of the United States of America. It was also a place where a lot of money was gathered from all the trade coming into the harbor of New York, hence two very nice looking vaults to stash all that cash and gold.
Next is the African Burial Ground NHS, a remarkable piece of history that was only unearthed in the early 1990’s! The find of the burial ground at a moment of construction was a nuisance to those building, but resulted in a big outpour of the African-American community for the preservation of the site. Long story short; a compromise was struck where the remains were archeologically dug up and taken to Howard university for research, and then brought back to rest in a especially created memorial on the premises. The visitor center tells the story very well with a video and well put together exhibition on the hardships that fell on the African population in slavery, a stark contrast to the wealth in Federal Hall.
Then it is on for a hike through Chinatown, past the East Tenement Museum and the Essex Market where some fresh springrolls are taken back as a snack before dinner. We have an early dinner and leave our accommodation to catch the long subway ride back to Far Rockaway, the end of the subway line that gets closest to our RV storage in Long Island. We order an Uber and take the last jump to our beloved Jerry again where we quickly make the beds and put the boys to sleep. A half hour drive away we find a harbor where we can park the RV for the night, it was a long day!
Fire Island National Seashore
Before saying goodbye to the New York City area and Long Island, we decide to make the most of a sunny day and cross the bridge to Fire Island NS. Getting there is always a challenge with our 11’6″ RV, as the state seems packed with parkways with beautiful but very low bridges, but with a small detour we manage to get to our destination. Out of season the parking is free and the lighthouse still open, so we go there to feast on a plethora of ranger work (little ranger, junior ranger and junior ranger advanced) and go out to the beach for some compulsory beach combing.
The day is truly magnificent, what a gift to be in shorts almost mid-October! After scoring 3 patches and a badge we head back to the RV for lunch and spend some more time on the adjacent playground and beach. Then it really is time to say goodbye to the Atlantic Ocean for now, and NYC for much longer. We take an effort to avoid rush hour traffic, fill up on groceries at Costco and Walmart, and find a place for the night in a parking lot along the Hudson river north of the city. Time for a good night sleep and the start of our descent towards Florida!
Next week: From the big apple to cheese steaks