San Diego Christmas

Toes at the Hotel Del Coronado in Coronado, Calif.

Toes at the Hotel Del Coronado in Coronado, Calif.

 

 

 

 

 

Deck the Del

with Boughs of Holly

 

 

 

The thought of San Diego evokes images of sand castles, sailboats, surfboards, – and Christmas?  Absolutely.

While Southern Californians might not have snowmen and frosty sleigh rides, the holiday spirit is alive and well.  Palm trees twinkle with lights, poinsettias bloom throughout the city and familiar carols are in the air.  Multicultural and deeply rooted historic traditions lend richness to the holidays as they meld with contemporary celebrations into the quintessential San Diego Christmas season.

Although the Kumeyaay people existed in the area we know as Southern California for 9000 years, the first people to celebrate Christmas in the San Diego area were Spanish explorers who founded the Mission San Diego de Alcala in 1769.  This “Mother of Missions” changed the local customs and was the first of 21 missions that began the colonization of California.  The mission remains active and invites guests to join in long-established religious holiday celebrations.

By 1835, a village, El Pueblo de San Diego, had sprung up at the foot of the mission’s hill.  Its adobe walls and Mexican population were the seed from which the current shining metropolis sprang forth, and the area is now known as San Diego’s Old Town.  To enjoy the deeply traditional culture of San Diego, visit Christmas services at the original mission or have a lunch of tamales and margaritas on the patio of a Mexican restaurant where strolling mariachis sing in the season.

In 1904, the Hotel del Coronado boasted the first American electrically lighted outdoor Christmas tree that brought the city into a new era.  Now more than 60,000 lights sparkle on “The del’s” Winter Wonderland each night of the holidays, while “del elves” tuck in children after a day of cookie decorating, ice skating and holiday crafts.  In the lobby is a two-story tree whose annually changing decorations bring the hotel to life.

Light lunch on the terrace, a stroll on the beach and Victorian tea in the Palm Court mark a quintessential “SoCal” holiday experience and revive the glory days of the hotel.  Edward, Prince of Wales, abdicated his throne in 1936 after falling in love with Wallis Simpson, a Coronado housewife who frequented The Del.  Some say they met at a ball there in 1920, and their romance has brought glamour to the hotel.  Today you, too, can enjoy this holiday paradise where elegant surroundings, spa delights, and oceanfront dining make ice and snow melt into a distant memory.

Balboa Park comes brightly alive for the holidays with locally grown poinsettias.  The largest in the city, the park is the home of museums, theaters, lush gardens and the famed San Diego Zoo.  Many of the festively ornamented buildings owe their beauty and detail to the fact that they were built in the early 20th century for two expositions held in the park.  Balboa Park December Nights celebrates the season with free admission to participating museums and organizations along with music, live entertainment and food from around the world during the first weekend in December.

The Pacific Ocean has a cold-water upwelling off the California coast, so San Diego’s ocean temperature is chilly.  In December, water temperatures can be in the low 50s, making for cold toes.  Expert SCUBA divers can don dry suits and explore the kelp forests with the Diving Locker.  But to enjoy the largest ocean in the world from a dry seat, San Diego Harbor Excursions and Hornblower Cruises both offer tours to view the California gray whales as they begin their migration to Baja California just as the holidays unfold.

Mid-December will find San DiegoBay twinkling with lights as a merry flotilla of more than 100 boats sails by the city in the annual San Diego Bay Parade of Lights.  Sip cocoa and watch the procession on the bay with San Diego Harbor Excursions or Hornblower Cruises or join them another evening for a holiday dinner aboard one of their decorated bay cruisers.  But if you prefer day tripping on the bay, you can’t beat a San Diego SEALs harbor tour. You will learn more San Diego facts than most locals as you drive to the point where you splash into the 14-mile harbor, and the education will continue as you get close to marine life and wave to sailors heading out to sea.

Farther inland, away from the ocean breezes, The San Diego Wild Animal Park  provides vast enclosures that allow many species of animals to cohabitate with others as they would in the wild.  Between Dec. 8-23 and 26-30, visitors can see lions, elephants, zebras and hippos mingle and lounge in their natural settings – after dark.  The park celebrates shorter days with a Festival of Lights when more than 100,000 holiday lights illuminate the park, which stays open late for visits from Santa, holiday carolers, children’s craft activities and a snowy hill for sliding.

A hot-air balloon ride is the best way to enjoy the vastness of the Pacific, the desert beauty of wild canyons and the serenity of the air.  Like Santa’s reindeer, you can fly high over Del Mar to watch the sun sink into the Pacific Ocean and neighborhood decorations blink on from the basket of a colorful hot-air balloon.  Southern  California’s oldest and most experienced balloon company, Skysurfer offers rides that last about an hour and include in-flight champagne.  Budget plenty of time to also enjoy the preflight set-up and a post-flight celebration. It is the perfect holiday gift to yourself or someone special.

Join jolly crowds of people who head downtown for a more recent holiday tradition in San Diego.  The Port of San Diego Big Bay Balloon Parade boasts bands, floats and as many as 30 balloons that march down Harbor Drive to culminate in a family festival on Broadway Pier prior to the college Pacific Life Holiday Bowl game at Qualcomm Stadium.  This year the festivities begin at10 a.m. on Dec. 28.

San Diego is a multifaceted city with something to please everyone, and in the holiday season, one secret part of its loveliness is exposed for a month or so to anyone who cares to slip southwest for a while. All over San Diego, kids watch for Santa, shoppers smile and wish happy greetings to one another, carols fill the air, and warm ocean breezes promise another lovely Christmas Day.

WHEN YOU GO

San Diego is an inviting Southwestern city with a mild climate.  Because the temperature doesn’t fluctuate much, a light jacket is all you need to bring along.  For more information about the activities available during the holidays and all through the year, explore the following Web sites:

Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala www.missionsandiego.com

The Hotel Del Coronado www.hoteldel.com

Balboa Park  www.balboapark.org

The Diving Locker www.divinglocker.com

San Diego Harbor Excursions www.sdhe.com

Hornblower Cruises  www.hornblower.com

San Diego SEALs Harbor Tour www.sealtours.com

San Diego Wild Animal Park  www.sandiegozoo.org/wap/index.html

Skysurfer Balloon Company   www.sandiegohotairballoons.com

Pacific Life Holiday Bowl game and events  www.holidaybowl.com

San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau  www.sandiego.org/nav/Visitors

 

CUTLINES

Sand Castle Christmas Tree:  Sand castles to Santa Clause, San Diego knows how to
celebrate the season with style!  -Bill Robinson/San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau

Hotel del Coronado in lights:  Victorian-era Hotel del Coronado sparkles with 60,000 lights and Christmas cheer.  –Hotel del Coronado

Hotel del Coronado circa 1904:  The first electrically lit outdoor Christmas tree in America was at San Diego’s Hotel del Coronado in 1904 where Christmas decor and warm holiday wishes continue to be a priority. – Hotel del Coronado

Wild Animal Park Lights:  Twinkling lights, holiday crafts and exotic animals await the holiday traveler at the San Diego Wild Animal Park.  –Zoological Society/San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau

Poinsettia Star:  Native to Central America and brought to the Western world by Joel Roberts Poinsett in 1828, the poinsettia has become a symbol of the holidays.  Carlsbad Ranch/San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau

Lighted Boats:  Sip hot cocoa and watch San Diego’s parade of lights on the bay as fully festooned boats sail two nights in December.   –Bob Yarbrough/San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau

Balboa Park December Nights: Crowds gather to experience art, music, food and the warmth of the season at Balboa Park December Nights in San Diego’s largest park.  Joanne Dibona/San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau

Poinsettia Market:  The Paul Ecke Ranch in Encinitas, Calif., provides 80 percent of
all poinsettias to the world.  Michael Leonard/San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau

Nassau, Bahamas

 

Beach-bound toes in the Bahamas.

Beach-bound toes in the Bahamas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Icaro’s smooth, warm tail felt like slick, wet rubber, and his smile was contagious. I was living out a lifelong dream of swimming with a dolphin, but my 6-year-old daughter wasn’t quite convinced. When she balked at stroking Icaro’s smooth skin, trainer Dominic Rahming knelt to her height and coaxed her gently toward the creature.

“Can you see the tiny hole where his ear is?” he asked my cautious daughter. “Look for the follicles around Icaro’s nose where his baby hair grew.”

It took Rahming only a few seconds to draw her into the moment and ease her trepidation. Then he invited us behind the scenes to learn more about the dolphins’ home.

Trainer Dominic Rahming invites Atlantis dolphins to say good bye to two visitors who have been swimming with them in their safe lagoon.

Trainer Dominic Rahming invites Atlantis dolphins to say good bye to two visitors who have been swimming with them in their safe lagoon.

Sunset glowed warmly on the coral-colored walls of Atlantis as we walked with Rahming around Dolphin Cay, but soon we were shivering when he led us out of the tropical evening and into a refrigerated room where 600 pounds of fish are thawed daily to feed the dolphins.  He also taught us that they require additional drinks of water and demonstrated how an instrument that looks like a modified grease gun is used to quench each animal’s thirst. Back outside, he showed us canvas slings in custom crates that are used to transport the dolphins safely and protect them in case of future hurricanes.

Guests at Paradise Island’s Atlantis can also swim with sea lions and become trainers of either mammal for a day. Near the sea lion pools, we peeked into a cage to meet the resident mascot macaw, Foots. Not to be outdone, the sea lions waddled toward us and reached their noses forward with a hoarse bark as if to say hello.

Dolphin Cay is not the only place where Atlantis visitors can take a dip with the more than 250 species of sea creatures in the world’s largest open-air marine habitat. Guests can don wet suits and swim with giant manta rays and thousands of other tropical fish among ruins that recall Plato’s mythical lost city in the Ruins Lagoon.

 

Water is central to the mythical theme of Atlantis, where the world's largest open-air aquarium is home to more than 50,000 sea creatures visible from underwater windows, reef-spanning bridges and lagoon-view restaurants.

Water is central to the mythical theme of Atlantis, where the world's largest open-air aquarium is home to more than 50,000 sea creatures visible from underwater windows, reef-spanning bridges and lagoon-view restaurants.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This part of the resort’s aquarium is visible from its grand lobby, the Great Hall of Waters, through 5-inch-thick windows. Because glass can cause distortion in aquarium views and make fish seem larger than they really are, Atlantis’ creators decided to use acrylic, which provides an accurate view of the piranha, giant grouper, parrot fish, jelly fish and other resident sea creatures.

The story of the lost city continues in The Dig, a subterranean labyrinth that is home to abandoned Antlean underwater equipment and hieroglyphs from the mythical 11,000-year-old civilization. Here we splayed our hands against giant windows just inches from cruising sharks and imagined ourselves submerged in the bright blue water that reflected off the walls around us.

Oversized acrylic windows provide a glimpse into the world's largest open-air aquarium at Atlantis, where more than 250 species of fish mingle with statues and ruins of Plato's mythical lost city.

Oversized acrylic windows provide a glimpse into the world's largest open-air aquarium at Atlantis, where more than 250 species of fish mingle with statues and ruins of Plato's mythical lost city.

 

Christiane Chertilus guided us through the darkened maze and pointed out the yellow mucus that covers moray eels and makes them appear an eerie shade of green. She also taught us how to tell the difference between male and female spiny lobsters by the position of their tails as we peered up at them through a tunnel of acrylic.

My daughters were eager to dive into the 20 million gallons of fresh and saltwater that flow through and around the carefully landscaped ruins of Atlantis. With lifeguards assigned to every 6 feet of the 140-acre Aquaventure water park, I was comfortable curling up in the sun with my book and a tropical punch while they delighted in every slide, river and pool. The dripping girls returned to boast of  whooshing down a speedy slide and through a shark reef in a clear tube. They had also endured waterfalls and rapids on The Current, a river they had braved on a double inner tube.

Our underwater experience took a different twist when my daughters learned from enthusiastic culinary staff at the kids-only Atlantis Kids Adventures club how to make their own tropical reef. They poured dark and white chocolate over buckets of ice and sheets of bubble wrap to produce textured, coral-like pieces. A few sprays of bright color and tasty sparkles sprinkled on top completed the edible treats reminiscent of real Bahamian reefs. In other rooms, they had danced, played house and built extensive LEGO reefs. The best surprise, though, was the kid-perfect bathroom that had individually themed stalls and talking mirrors.

The Atlantis Kids Adventures kitchen encourages individuality, teaches technique and inspires creativity as children build tropical reefs out of chocolate while their parents enjoy adult acitvities at Atlantis.

The Atlantis Kids Adventures kitchen encourages individuality, teaches technique and inspires creativity as children build tropical reefs out of chocolate while their parents enjoy adult acitvities at Atlantis.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The restaurants we visited recalled the beauty of the tropics with patterned décor, vibrant fruit garnishes, and fresh produce and seafood options. Our cleverly designed dessert sushi was made entirely of chocolate, sweet rice, glazed strawberries and marzipan. Even the chopsticks and tiny plates were edible treats.

After full days of swimming and exploring, our evenings were spent in creative endeavors. At Atlantis Pals, we stuffed cuddly animals to take home, and at the resort’s speedway we built and raced remote controlled cars. One evening we donned smocks to paint pottery souvenirs. I dipped my paintbrush in the greens and browns of the local palm trees, but the many shades of blue that my daughter chose for the shells on her candleholder most vividly captured the undersea feel of our Atlantean adventure.

 

When the sun sets on Atlantis, age-appropriate night life is available for everyone in the family.

When the sun sets on Atlantis, age-appropriate night life is available for everyone in the family.

 

WHEN YOU GO:

To read before travel: “The Katrina Dolphins – One Way Ticket to Paradise” by Georgeanne Irvine, a book about the dolphins that survived hurricane Katrina in 2005 and found a new home at Atlantis

To book online: www.atlantis.com. Look for specials available throughout the year.

Getting there: JetBlue offers easy connections through New York.

On the Island:  The trip from Nassau International Airport to Atlantis is 21 miles and easily navigated by taxi.

To plan for Atlantis: Water park, library and movies are complimentary at Atlantis, but other activities, programs and dining come with an additional charge. Half-day, whole-day and evening AKA programs are available to fit the needs of young travelers.

Night life at Atlantis:  Carefully screened sitters are available for young children, and older kids can enjoy their own night club or an evening at AKA while parents visit
the casino or adult night clubs.

To slip away for a day in Nassau: Find a taxi driver to give you a tour of the island. They are proud of their country and happy to share the rich history of the islands with  the tourists who make up most of their national income. Locals recommend dining at The Fish Fry, www.fishfrynassau.com. Souvenirs are available at the world-famous Straw Market , www.bahamasgo.com/treasures/strawmarket.htm.

 

 

CUTLINES:

DSC00183 – Water is central to the mythical theme of
Atlantis, where the world’s largest open-air aquarium is home to more than
50,000 sea creatures visible from underwater windows, reef-spanning bridges and
lagoon-view restaurants. (Lesley Sauls)

DSC00236/DSC00238 – The Atlantis Kids Adventures kitchen
encourages individuality, teaches technique and inspires creativity as children
build tropical reefs out of chocolate while their parents enjoy adult
activities at Atlantis.  (Lesley Sauls)

DSC00320 – Oversized acrylic windows provide a glimpse
into the world’s largest open-air aquarium at Atlantis, where more than 250
species of fish mingle with statues and ruins of Plato’s mythical lost city.
(Lesley Sauls)

DSC000082 – When the sun sets on Atlantis,
age-appropriate night life is available for everyone in the family.
(Lesley Sauls)

 

 

 

Keystone and Vail Offer Winter Family Fun

Toes on Skis

Toes on Skis

 

 

 

 

 

The woman beside me had warned me that she did not “have much English,” so I was content to scale Keystone Mountain into the Rocky Mountain’s bluebird sky in silence. As we approached the top of the mountain, I turned around and saw white-frosted tree tops and glittering mountain peaks spread in every direction. My lift mate twisted in the chair, too, when she heard me whisper, “Wow,” and responded in a thick Russian accent, “Bee-yew-tee-fahl.”

I was in Colorado on a family vacation, but my children were in ski school and my husband was tackling deep powder in the back bowls, so I was on my own for a few runs. There was a kind of serenity to my day. Listening to my skis schuss down the mountain, I had time to appreciate the sounds around me and let my mind wander aimlessly.

 

Enthusiastic children board a bus to ski school at Keystone's River Run Village.

Enthusiastic children board a bus to ski school at Keystone's River Run Village.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Arapaho basin provided a variety of ways to put our bodies to the test while distracting us with immeasurable beauty. From our condo in River Run Village, my family began our day with breakfast burritos, pan au chocolat and the occasional mimosa at a local coffee shop that was only steps away from Keystone’s ski school, chairlifts and River Run gondola. The small-town feel of the village instilled a confidence in all of us that might be lost in a more daunting mega-sized resort.

It was easy for my husband to find his advanced challenge on high-mountain Sno-Cat rides to windy basins while I found my bliss in long intermediate runs. At Bob’s Run I found myself faced with enormous moguls. My burning legs halfway down the run made me appreciate my Keystone ski pin that read, “Got Oxygen?” At more than a mile above sea level, I paused for air several times – the benefit of which was stillness in which to appreciate the jagged mountains that jutted out in every direction around me.

A lone skier enjoys the slopes under a bluebird sky at Keystone, Colorado.

A lone skier enjoys the slopes under a bluebird sky at Keystone, Colorado.

After an exciting day of ski school that left my daughters bubbling over with stories of their mountain successes, my family went up the mountain to explore Kidtopia while I slipped away for mental and physical rejuvenation at the Keystone Spa. While they scrambled around a legendary snow castle and reigned over the mountain from thrones of ice, I gratefully received a fluffy robe and was told to relax.

“We realized you must be running late, so we moved your appointment back a half-hour so you could unwind before your treatment,” the welcoming spa attendant told me.

I snuggled into a fluffy robe and settled in a quiet meditation room where a copper cauldron filled with steaming water and rose petals was placed at my feet.  By the time my massage therapist came for me, I was well on my way to total bliss. She rubbed and pulled my sore thighs and calves in a warm, softly lit room and then poured me back into a fireside chair in the meditation room where cold grapes and hot tea waited.

The following day found my husband back on the mountain, but my daughters and I were excited to try out a five-acre, Zamboni-smoothed lake. We had skated on lakes in northern Wisconsin, but the threat of pits and ridges there kept us cautious. On Keystone’s smooth lake we confidently plowed through 4 inches of powdery snow that had fallen in the night. My daughters skated a big heart into the snow for me, and we plopped down in it to make angels on the rink. Surrounded by mountains filled with skiers, we lay flat on our backs and held hands. By then, the Zambonis were plowing away the snow, and we got up to zoom around the cleared areas, too.

Later that day we moved from Keystone to Vail where we caught a bus to the Eagle  Bahn gondola for dinner atop Vail Mountain. Vail Village’s cobblestone streets, upscale window displays and Alpine architecture felt like a movie set. I kept expecting a tuxedoed James Bond to careen through on a Ducati as we walked to the gondola. No such luck, but our gondola ride maintained the Bond-esque quality. We rose above the twinkling village into a cloud of snow that mimicked a trip through outer space.

An evening stroll in Vail Village.

An evening stroll in Vail Village.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After securing a dinner reservation we boarded a Sno-Cat to a cozy yurt, where a young New Zealander taught us the snow-tubing ropes and directed us to our tubes. We slowly scaled the mountain on a moving belt that staff members call a magic carpet ride and came out at the top of a very long snow chute. Linked together hand-to-foot, the four of us rocketed our tubes down the hill. Falling flakes combined with the snow kicked up by our tubes to swirl around us. One second we were rushing noise and wind, and then everything was utterly still. We sat in stunned silence until my older daughter piped up, “That must be what time travel feels like!”

Instead of ski school the following morning, we kept our daughters with us to see what they’d learned at Keystone. We coasted down the longest green run in Colorado and then met up with a free mountain tour that is provided daily for Vail guests.  The volunteer guide shared inside information about how to navigate the vast mountain and find the shortest lift lines, so we stuck with him for several runs. After deftly visiting all corners of the mountain in just under three hours, we stopped for a mountaintop lunch and then spent the rest of the afternoon gliding through fire roads, zipping across advanced runs and offering words of encouragement to our budding ski-bunnies.

A volunteer guide gives tips to Vail Mountain visitors.

A volunteer guide gives tips to Vail Mountain visitors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our après-ski cocoa and cookies were well deserved by the time we left the mountain. Slightly rejuvenated, we headed out to soak our aching limbs in a snow-ringed hot tub where delicious hints of wood-smoke drifted in the air. My squealing daughters ripped steamy toes through snow banks, grabbed giant icicles and leaped into the heated pool, where they anxiously watched to see which one would melt first.  I stayed relaxing in the hot bath and listened to their gleeful splashing outside my envelope of quiet steam.

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WHEN YOU GO:

Where to Stay – Red Hawk condos are a short walk from River Run Village and the River Run gondola to Keystone’s Adventure Point, but there are many other condos and townhomes available with equally expedient access to the mountain (www.keystoneresort.com).

The Lodge at Vail’s (www.lodgeatvail.com) close proximity to the Vista Bahn chairlift and Vail Village shops makes it an easy home base at Vail.

Breakfast Treat – Inxpot Coffee Shop (www.inxpot.com) in Keystone’s River Run Village fuels skiers up for a high-energy day.

Book Your Education – www.keystoneresort.com and www.vail.com both have links to ski schools in addition to private lessons and other
mountain information.

EpicMix – Lift tickets take on a whole new job at Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Heavenly mountains. The Epic Pass – what used to be just a lift ticket – automatically scans at each chairlift so that location, vertical information and special personal achievements can be followed and shared on the EpicMix web site via mobile phone or computer. Family and friends can locate each other easily on the
mountain, and evening brag sessions can be followed up with digital proof.  www.epicmix.com

Mountain Meals – Keystone and Vail boast “Lunch for Less” meals that cost less than $10.  Bistro Fourteen at the top of Vail Mountain (970-754-4530) has regional fare and a full bar for adults and a children’s menu that includes appetizer, entrée and
dessert for less than $10.

Where to Play – Keystone’s Kidtopia (www.keystonekidtopia.com) offers Disco Tubing, a colossal snow fort, and family activities for weekend visitors. Adventure Ridge (www.adventureridge.com) atop Vail Mountain’s Eagle Bahn gondola is the place to arrange snow biking, children’s snowmobiling and multi-chute snow tubing.

How to Unwind – The Keystone Lodge & Spa (www.keystoneresort.com) is a 10,000-foot spa that recognizes the importance of environmental awareness. All treatments are done with organic products, and an effort is made to use organic and recycled products elsewhere in the spa when available.

New York City

Packing up to take a bite out of the Big Apple.

Packing up to take a bite out of the Big Apple.

 

 

New York’s cosmopolitan and chic reputation make it an attractive destination for martini clinking businesspeople, but the Big Apple can be equally enticing for a family vacation. By laying a pre-trip groundwork with my daughters, I was able to kindle their enthusiasm for exploring Manhattan.

In “Journey Around New York From A to Z” by Martha and Heather Zschock, a cartoon pigeon alphabetically introduces Radio City Music Hall’s Rocketts and the Zodiac above Grand Central Station among other famous sights. “Miffy Loves New York,” “Action Jackson” and “Eloise” are also exciting to read and helpful in deciding what to see and do in the city. Art Memo, a matching game of famous paintings inspired my family to put the Met and MoMA on our list, and a few tunes by John Lennon got us in the mood to “Imagine” “Strawberry Fields” in Central Park.

Upon arrival at John F. Kennedy airport, my daughters were thrilled to hail a taxi like those about which they had read. As we motored to our hotel in Times Square, the city’s neon lights reflected in their bedazzled eyes.

“It didn’t look this huge in the book!” my older daughter exclaimed.

A view of Manhattan from the Top of the Rock was a good way to start our visit. We were able to get a feeling for the vastness of the city and a mental image of how it is situated. From the top of Rockefeller Center, we found the neighborhood of a new friend from our flight. His apartment life with public transportation to neighborhood parks was an exciting antithesis to my daughters’ rambling Midwestern neighborhood where quick hops in the family car lead to miles of wilderness hiking trails.

 

Central Park stretches out below Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center in New York City.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Across from Radio City Music Hall, we bought lunch from affable vendors whose carts were snuggled up against busy street curbs. Mustard dribbled from my daughter’s steamy hot dog onto the toe of my shoe – much to her delight. We finished off our lunch at one of many coffee shops where child-sized cocoa and hand-made cannoli lured us in from an icy winter wind.

Our books had lauded the cultural significance of Broadway shows but did not prepare us for the Lion King’s awe-inspiring sunset over Africa. From handy booster cushions, my daughters were captivated by elaborate animal costumes, flying silk birds, ethnic music and a particularly funny and flatulence-filled warthog.

The magic continued through that night, and in the morning, the cold city had been blanketed with snow. We walked through the winter wonderland to Battery Park where a ferry embarked to Liberty Island. The snow had turned to fog, and it was easy imagine being one of millions of immigrants who had approached Ellis Island after watching the Stature of Liberty emerge from the mist.

Children delight in poking their heads into the nostrils of a lif-sized Lady Liberty.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The sun came out while we explored Lady Liberty’s museum and poked our heads in the giant nostrils of her replicated face. We scaled the 354 steps to her crown for a memory we will not soon forget; in addition to the beautiful view of Manhattan and the harbor, my younger daughter lost a front tooth there.

The rest of that day we spent touring Ellis Island with an audio program geared for children. The voices, easy descriptions and background sounds made the visit more interesting for me, too. It was sobering to stand where so many immigrants had entered America. Fortunately, my children were able to grasp the gravity of the place more completely after having read “The Orphan of Ellis Island,” in which Dominic Cantori travels through time to experience the island first-hand.

A volunteer guide took us through the infrequently visited Ferry Building Exhibit. Chilly, dark passageways led us toward the hospitals where sick immigrants had been treated before being allowed to enter their new country. In the original ferry building, photos of happy-looking children playing with kind-hearted nursing staff were not among the images we had expected to see at this “Island of Tears.”

Other historically noteworthy areas of the Big Apple are intriguing for kids. George Washington took his oath of office at Federal Hall across the street from what is now the New York Stock Exchange. A giant statue of the first president marks the spot of his inaugural address. It’s only a few blocks from there to the site of the World Trade Center where reconstruction is underway.

For more creatively significant activities, we walked through Central Park, past John Lennon’s “Imagine” memorial in Strawberry Fields, and into the Metropolitan Museum of Art where we found familiar pieces on every floor. We quietly honored Egyptian mummies, wondered at the colorful modern paintings and sought out the Druer drawings that my daughter had read about in “Masterpiece” by Elise Broach. I explained the beauty of the human form in the sculpture room, and we envisioned ourselves hosting guests in the carefully replicated period rooms.

 

Children explore more than just paintings at the Metropolitain Museum of Art in New York City.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New York City's art collections intrigue all ages.

My daughters scampered around the Museum of Modern Art with an activity sheet that guided them through rooms of recognizable paintings by Van Gough, Matisse and Picasso. They excitedly pulled me past friendly docents to point out works of art from our books and games. A trip to the Plaza Hotel, too, was an opportunity to find familiar points of interest from “Eloise” books. The hotel’s concierge kindly guided us to their pastry shop where we delighted in cocoa piled high with real whipped cream and pastries smothered in chocolate, fruit and powdered sugar.

Throughout our visit, dining remained a family adventure. In SoHo, we wandered aimlessly until we found Il Corallo Trattoria, a tiny Italian restaurant with the warm welcome of a private villa. The owner introduced me to Cannonau wine, and the staff taught my daughters to twirl pasta efficiently. What a surprise to emerge on a cold, dark New York street after dinner instead of onto a golden Sardinian countryside.

During rush hour in Grand Central Station, a businessman and his partner offered us their table overlooking the main terminal so that we could enjoy our Shirley Temples and appetizers with a Grand view. In this metropolis reputed for being impersonal and brusque, we learned that the people are what make the city – and we found both to be welcoming, exciting and easy for a visiting family to enjoy.

WHEN YOU GO:

NYC BOOKS TO PREREAD-   “Miffy Loves New York City” by Dick Bruna, “Journey Around New York from A to Z” by Martha and Heather Zschock, “Eloise” by  Kay Thompson, “Action Jackson” by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan, “Masterpiece” by Elise Broach, “The Orphan of Ellis Island” by Elvira Woodruff

ART BOOKS/GAMES -  “Can You Find It? and Can You Find It, Too?” By Judith Cressy, Art Memo Game by Piatnik

YOU TUBE VISITS - Schoolhouse Rock’s “Great American Melting Pot” and “Walking on Wall St.”

WHERE TO STAY -  Times Square is centrally located and has several hotels, but to stay in the financial district of Manhattan, Andaz on Wall St. is the only option.  Its sleek appearance belies its capability to comfortably host children.

WHERE TO EAT-  Il Corallo Trattoria at  172-176 Prince Street offers cozy Italian. Try their Cannonau wine and ask about its history.  The lounge in The View at the top of the Marriott hotel in Times Square rotates once per hour and has an appetizer buffet that makes a nice après-theater meal.

WHERE TO SKATE-   Rockafeller center is the stuff of movies, but locals suggest skating at Wollman Rink where skates rent for $8-11 and lockers cost about $4. Battery Park has a new rink that costs $10 admission and rents skates for $3.

WHERE TO WARM-  In close proximity to everything in the Big Apple, you’ll find a Starbucks – where a familiar-tasting kid-sized cocoa can be counted on for a smile.

ART HUBS-  Adult admission is $20 at the Museum of Modern art (www.moma.org) and at the Metropolitan Museum of art (www.metmuseum.org).  Children are free.

VISIT THE CROWN-  Security is tight at the Statue of Liberty, and crowds are carefully regulated.  Make advance reservations at www.statuecruises.com.

GRAB A VIEW-  The unimpeded view from the top of Rockefeller Center, includes Central Park, the Empire State Building and all of the boroughs of New York City. Advance tickets and information about Top of The Rock can be found at www.topoftherocknyc.com.

 

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