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Trip Report Trip Report: Road Trip with kids – Boston, Mystic, Philly, NYC

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I did a lot of research on these boards before making our trip to Philly and back and wanted to post a recap of our adventure. We have an almost 4 year old, a 14 month old, a minivan and a potty in the back for emergencies, which we actually had to use on the NJ turnpike!

We left Boston and drove south on 95 to mystic, CT. We stopped at The Dinosaur Place in Oakdale, CT http://www.thedinosaurplace.com/ This place had mixed reviews online and I can see how someone might say it is cheesy and/or a ripoff, but my son loooved it. I think any 3 year old boy ( or 4 – 8 year old, for that matter ) would. There are 25 actual sized dinosaurs throughout the park. The trail is about a mile walk thru the woods and around a lake. There is a (kind of lame) volcano that erupts (read: spits) once an hour. There is a maze near the end of the walk that was fun. My son did it three times. There is a huge playground at the end which my son also loved. There is a water park there but it was not open when we went and I believe it costs extra to use. We went on June 17th so the admission was less expensive (11.99@). I would have had a hard time paying the summer rate of 18.99@ for this place. After the park we stopped at the diner across the street for lunch, which was so-so. Cheap and easy - hotdogs and grilled cheese.

We stayed two nites at the Hyatt Place in Mystic. The hotel was wonderful and I would highly recommend it. We were able to get the hotel stay free using points on my Chase credit card. This place is great for traveling with kids! All rooms are suites and have refrigerators. My husband was able to hang one of the bedspreads in between the bed area and the living space so we could actually stay up after the kids went to bed. There is a heated outdoor pool and a nice kitchen just off the lobby serving a very generous continental breakfast which is included with the room. We had a great experience here. Everyone seems to be there for the same reason, to stay over and go to the Mystic Aquarium. There were a LOT of families with kids here so it might not be the best romantic escape for adults.

We had dinner the first nite at Margaritas in Mystic Village which was good (great margaritas!) and kid friendly. We sat outside on the porch, which was nice. After dinner we walked around the village and had ice cream at the place right near the drawbridge. My son loved looking at the boats and we got to see the bridge go up and down twice. Mystic village is very cute and I would love to go sometime in the future w/o kids!

The second day we went to the Aquarium. We purchased discount tickets to the Mystic Aquarium at the hotel ( $3 or $4 off, I forget now which ). I looked high and low for free tickets online and even at the libraries in CT where my parents live but could not find anything. It seems $3 or 4 off is the best you can do. The aquarium is pricey, but nice. Most of the exhibits are outdoors so keep this in mind if you go when it’s sunny and hot. Bring sunscreen! The baby belugas were really fun to watch. We missed the sea lion show, but heard it is great. You can have your hand stamped to come back later in the day, which we did because is was SO hot when we went at 11am, or you can have your ticket validated to come back anytime in the next two days.

We drove around and just explored the area and just happened upon a small beach at the end of a road in mystic. I wish I could be more specific than that but we just drove and happened upon it. It was perfect for a hot day. Wish we had been more prepared with chairs/snacks/bathing suits, but oh well. My son loved sticking his feet in the water and playing in the sand. We had lunch at friendly’s back near the hyatt and then went back to the aquarium in the late afternoon. Dinner that night was pizza from Angie’s, which we picked up and ate in the hotel room. The hotel said this place was good and we thought it was decent and cheap. http://www.angiespizzapier27.com/ Overall we had a great time in mystic and would go back. I read so many reviews online that said mystic was boring and lame. I might not stay there for a whole week, but it was perfectly nice place to stay for a few days.

Day 3 was a big travel day. All the way to philly with no traffic was estimated at 4.5 hrs by my gps. It ended up taking us almost 6 hrs with traffic and we only stopped once for about 20 minutes for lunch. The kids did surprisingly well and took big naps in the car. We drove 95 to 287 to avoid driving thru NYC. This seemed to work well. The traffic we hit was not too terrible.

We spent two nites with friends outside Philly in Devon, PA. We wanted to stay out of the car as much as possible so mostly hung out at their house. The one activity we did do was the Morris Arboretum: http://www.business-services.upenn.edu/arboretum/index.shtml. This place was so awesome, it was the highlight of my son’s trip. There are the coolest nets that are perched high in the trees that kids (and adults) can climb on, as well as a huge “robin’s nest” with big blue eggs in it, that kids can play on. There is a picnic area so bring food and drink. The trails are easy to walk and we were able to bring our all-terrain stroller on them, too. There are gorgeous flower gardens and also a magical garden railway (only open in the summer months) that was just amazing to see. Highly recommend this place!

After two days in Philly it was on the road again to NYC. It only took us 2.5 hours to get back to the city. Our hotel said they could not guarantee us a room before 3pm so I was torn as to whether we should try our luck and drive right to the hotel or do an activity before trying to check in. We opted for the latter and in hindsight I really wish we had just driven to the hotel. We took the Holland Tunnel into the city which cost $8 plus the $8 we had just paid on the NJTP. I hadn’t done research on tolls and I’m sure there was a better way to come into the city but hindsight is 20/20. I will do better next time.

I read that parking near battery park was really difficult, so I decided that we should park the car higher up and take the subway down to do the Staten Island ferry ride to see the statue of liberty. I figured this would kill 2-3 hours and then we could check in to our hotel on the upper west side afterwards. I had researched rates on parking garages near where I thought we might want to park and found a great rate but did not reserve a spot online because I just wasn’t 100% sure where we were going to end up. I had my laptop with me in the car and when we got to the garage with the best rate ($14) the man would not agree to this rate w/o a printed confirmation. I showed him the rate on my laptop but he refused. Instead he charged $31. I was mad, mostly at myself, for not making a reservation, but there was nothing I could do. We did not want to drive around in circles with 2 kids trying to find a better deal so we just parked and paid through the nose. Lesson learned. Grr.

We have been to NYC in the past but never with two kids. Word to the wise: it’s not exactly stroller friendly. I must say that I have never encountered so many friendly and helpful people as in NYC, however. At every turn, people were offering to help us out with our strollers which was great considering all the stairs we had to descend and climb with two strollers. It was hot hot hot in NYC that day which made everything a little more… interesting. We took the 1 train down to the ferry and boarded almost immediately. We hardly waited at all, which was nice, but there were so many tourists that we could hardly get a good view of the SoL, I started thinking the trip down was hardly worth it. My son enjoyed the boat ride, but I wouldn’t do it again. You do have to disembark the boat and go around to get back on for the ride back. IMO, this ferry ride was not that great and I would probably not do it again, at least not with young children.

We made it back to the car and drove to our hotel On The Ave http://www.ontheave-nyc.com/. I had read so many reviews of this place online and was nervous about whether it would be good or not. It turned out to be wonderful and I’m so happy we splurged a little to stay here. We had a suite with 2 queen beds. I wouldn’t exactly call the room a suite because the room was not divided in any way but it was enormous, especially for NYC standards and had a sitting area near the TV. The bathroom was big and modern looking. The hotel was not impeccable, I saw some stains on the carpet, etc, but overall it was nice and I would stay here again. We did their valet parking package and I felt it was worth the cost. We paid $640 for two nites including all taxes fees and parking. I know we could have done priceline, but I just didn’t want to gamble on the location. This hotel is in an extremely family friend location. There are no refrigerators in the room, but when I asked at check in they said they would bring one right up, free of charge. This is a very nice amenity. We were in room 418 which faced the street. I had read about street noise which I did notice, but we had a sound machine with us for the kids. With that on, I had no trouble sleeping whatsoever. The beds were very comfortable and clean. I did think the hallway outside our room smelled funny, kind of like seafood. This may have been from the restaurant below. My husband said he didn’t notice it, but every time I walked out the door I smelled it and it was kind of yucky, but no big deal. Our room did not smell at all.

After we checked in, we picked up some fruit and milk for the kids at the West Street Market which is right outside the hotel. I also picked up two grilled cheeses to go at the diner across the street from the hotel. It is so handy to have everything right outside your door. After we refueled, we set out to explore. We headed into Central Park (only two blocks away) and had a great time walking around and people watching. We stopped at the playground on the way back which is only a block from the the hotel. We got a burger from Nick’s for dinner and brought it back to the room. My husband and I split one burger and it was plenty of food. The burger was delicious and moist, although I’m not a burger connoisseur. I would recommend getting dinner here.

After dinner we took the kids ( and some drinks!) up to the hotel’s terrace on the 16th floor. This is a great feature of the hotel. It was fun to sit up and watch the city below. The terrace faces the north so it’s not a view of the sunset directly but you can look to the left to see the sun going down.

The next morning we had breakfast at the diner across the street. This was reasonably priced and very fast. The food was so-so. We went to the Museum of Natural History, which opened at 10am. There was a huge line at the door but it moved very quickly and we were in within about 10 min. This museum is amazing and has so much more to offer than we could take in. My son was way less interested in the museum than I had hoped so we stayed about 2 hours. He started complaining after about 1 hours. The animals were fun for him to look at but he got bored and then scared by some of the exhibits. The museum is so cool and would love to go back sometime and be able to spend more time reading the information at the exhibits. We walked over to Alice’s Tea cup (which I read about online) for lunch but decided not to eat there after I looked at the place and the menu. The food seemed expensive and the place smelled funny, IMO. I just didn’t think it looked worth it. We ended up back at the West Street Market where we bought deli meat and bread and delicious mustard. We made our own sandwiches and sat up on the terrace at the hotel for lunch.

In the afternoon we wanted to go to the central park zoo. We were pretty sore and tired from all the walking we had already done so we wished we could take the subway, but there really is no direct train to get over to the zoo. We took the 1 train to Columbus circle and then walked the rest of the way. It was so hot out that the walk seemed forever but we finally made it to the zoo. The zoo was small and, in our opinion, boring. Maybe we just were too hot and tired to appreciate it, but I wouldn’t go back. We did the whole thing in less than an hour. Afterwards we walked the very short walk over to FAO Shwarz to get some relief from the heat. Both of our kids fell asleep on the walk over to the toy store and so we sat down in the book section of the store. This is a fairly quiet corner and we all took a much needed rest for an hour.

After nap time we played in the toy store for a while then headed back to the hotel. We rested for a while at the hotel and then headed out to Celeste’s for a pizza dinner. http://nymag.com/listings/restaurant/celeste/
The guide book was right that this place has been ‘discovered’ I think we got there about ten minutes before the crowds. As soon as we sat down, there was a line out the door. I think we got there around 630pm and this was a Tuesday nite. We split a spinach salad and a margherita pizza, which was just enough food for all four of us (my daughter doesn’t eat much). The pizza was very good and I would recommend this place. No strollers allowed in the restaurant, but this is no big deal really, they are parked right outside where you can see them. Cash only at this restaurant.

Our last morning we walked up to H&H bagel because I had read that it was the best bagel in NYC. I did not realize that it is really JUST a bagel place. No slicing and toasting here, just simply bagels to go. This is really not what we were looking for, so we went instead to Zabar’s, just next door, which I had also wanted to try anyway. I got the Breakfast special which included a ham & cheese croissant and fresh OJ and coffee for $5. I thought the sandwich and the OJ were both delicious.

After that we checked out and headed home to Boston. All in all a really fun road trip that we were sad to see end.

A note about NYC: my son never takes naps at home and also hardly uses a stroller anymore but NYC is just so big and there is just so much walking. I would advise bringing a stroller for any child 5 years and younger. It is just too much for little ones to handle w/o a stroller. My daughter rode in a stroller the first day in NYC but having two strollers is a royal pain so she rode/napped in the Ergo baby carrier the second day. Yes, the subway is a pain with even one stroller, but people are very willing to help with the stairs. There is also an ‘emergency exit’ at the train that you can open to get the stroller into the platform. One person can go through the turnstile and then open the door for the other one with the stroller. An alarm goes off but it seems that this is the way everyone does it so the alarm is no big deal.

I hope this trip report helps others the way I was helped when researching for this trip. Feel free to email me with questions or further details.

Cara

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