Last July I packed up my belongings, shed a few tears and moved back in with my parents.
It was not exactly ‘the dream’ to return to my childhood bedroom, but it seemed like the best thing to do. I didn’t have any firm plans of what I wanted to do after uni and was making vague murmurs featuring phrases like ‘gap year’ and ‘work experience’. Some friends had landed on amazing jobs straight out of university, or decided to desperately cling on to freedom by taking up a low paid job in retail or catering, anything to avoid going back home. But for me it made sense. I’m back in west London suburbia, temping in the City and feel relatively smug about the fact I’ve already managed to pay off my university overdraft.
That latter point means that my travel funds are quite low, so when my mum asked if I wanted to join my family on their trip to New York, I jumped at the chance. Whilst many people in my situation might decide that what they really need is a holiday from their family, I am lucky that I get on very well with my parents and teenage brother. Despite this, I was unsure how we would get on in New York. My mum’s not good with heights (not great in a city full of skyscrapers), my brother refuses to visit museums and my dad hates the 21st century.
Whilst we ended up in Times Square far too many times for my liking, we had a brilliant time during our week in NYC. If you’re planning a similar holiday, think about a destination that works for all of you. It’s no good heading to Alaska if your dad’s idea of a holiday involves crisping in the sun, and your teenage sister is unlikely thank you for dragging her on a National Trust working holiday. New York was the perfect place for our family, and while we didn’t all enjoy every aspect of trip (perhaps best exemplified by my dad refusing to eat at Shake Shack because it ‘wasn’t proper food’ – welcome to America!), we all agreed that we’d had a brilliant time and would love to go back.
Here are my top 5 things to do on a grown up family holiday in NYC (catchy, isn’t it?)
Find a good diner
The first thing to do when you get to New York is find yourself a good breakfast place. With so much to see and do, breakfast is not a meal to skimp on. Plus American portions are so enormous, you should be able to skip lunch if you want to. We didn’t come across Junior’s, home of the ‘best cheesecake in New York’ (they even named the street corner after them) and just down the road from our hotel, until our second day in the city, but once we’d found it, boy did we tuck in. Junior’s is open from 6.30am-12am (1am on Fridays and Saturdays) so you could rock up for an early breakfast and stay until after-dinner cocktails if you wanted to. Once we had the breakfast place nailed, we could head off and enjoy the rest of the city. Of course some may argue that by doing this, you miss the opportunity to try other places, but here’s a cautionary tale: one day we got desperate and ended up in Applebee’s. It was like eating breakfast in Pizza Hut. Just no.
Cycle around Central Park
If you’ve grown up watching films about New York, you might have this romantic idea of hiring a horse-drawn carriage to drive you around Central Park. Give up this dream now. The horses we saw around edge of the park looked underfed and poorly groomed, and the carriage rides were, predictably, extortionate. Clearly we were not alone in thinking this, as newly-elected mayor Bill de Blasio has plans to scrap the city’s 220 horse-drawn cabs, calling them ‘not humane. They’re not appropriate to the year 2014’.
Instead, rent a bicycle and explore the park on your own terms. The only snag with this plan for us was that my mum can’t cycle. She never learned. So while my dad, brother and I peddled off, Mum went off in search of theatre tickets.
I honestly think this the best thing we did whilst in New York. The weather was unseasonably good and the park looked fantastic, and freewheeling down one of the park’s many hills with Death Cab for Cutie’s Marching Bands of Manhattan stuck in my head felt enormously liberating.
We rented our bikes from the stand at Columbus Circus, just outside the park. Avoid the unsavoury types lurking nearby, trying to offload a crummy bike on you -the tyres were so bald, god knows what the brakes were like!
Catch a game
When you’re a grad holidaying at the expense of your parents, a nice way to contribute to the holiday is to treat everyone to a meal. Being the generous soul that I am, I bought a round of hot dogs for the fam to munch on whilst watching the New York Rangers smash the Carolina Hurricanes at Madison Square Gardens.
My brother and I had decided that we had to catch a game of something – anything – while we were in New York. We looked into baseball, basketball, American football, and finally settled on (/for) ice hockey. I don’t really make a habit of going to watch sport, I find it a bit odd how overweight men (usually) fork out a tonne of money to watch a group of total strangers run around a field, instead of just going for a kick about themselves. But if it works for Carrie Bradshaw, it works for me.
In the end it was a hoot. The whole experience was fantastically American, from the foam fingers to the shitty beer and everyone in the entire building yelling ‘LET’S GO RANGERS’. We got right behind it all, cheering on the Rangers, booing the Hurricanes. Essentially, it was an American pantomime. Fun for all the family.
One thing we had all agreed upon before we left London was that we wanted to go to the theatre. Although we live in London, we rarely visit the West End. I know, such a waste. We’d completely missed the much-raved-about Globe production of Twelfth Night starring Mark Rylance and Stephen Fry back at home, so we were determined to catch it on Broadway, particularly because my brother’s studying the play for his English A level. We tried booking tickets before we arrived, but had no luck, so headed for the dreaded Times Square and the TCKTS booth. This is not something I’d recommend. Mostly because it involves visiting Times Square and battling through scores of other tourists. But in the end the play was fantastic. When you’ve spent most of the week walking and are still battling with slight jetlag, I think it’s best to go with a comedy. Although it might seem like a great idea to go and see an earnest production of an Arthur Miller play, you won’t be thinking that after you’ve nodded off in your $80 seats. Save that for home.
Join the parade
When I found out we’d be in the US for Halloween, I was preeeeetty damn excited. Halloween in Britain is such a lacklustre, half-arsed affair that I’ve often just seen it as an embarrassing excuse to harass total strangers for sweets. But in America, they go for it. Hard. It’s extraordinary that on the other side of the pond it’s totally normal to see a woman dressed as a banana cycle past you whilst you’re eating breakfast, three Michael Jacksons in the same subway carriage, and a couple of zombies buying groceries. Meanwhile on this side of the Atlantic, we’re all sat in the dark in the back room, hoping the house doesn’t get egged.
I insisted that we went to see the Village Halloween Parade, which celebrated its 40th year in 2013, and looked to be particularly lively after it had been cancelled the year before due to Hurricane Sandy blowing through. The rest of my family were not so keen. They realised that it would involve crowds, standing around for hours and, having only experienced Halloween in the UK, just didn’t get the fuss. When we woke up on the 31st October, you could sense that something was in the air. The peppy breakfast TV hosts were interviewing a man dressed as a house, the hotel lobby was decorated with pumpkins and cobwebs and then the aforementioned banana woman cycled past us. By that evening, I had acquired a pumpkin-shaped water bottle from CVS, and walked past the entire population of the underworld and then some.
The parade itself was a blur of brilliance. My dad was bamboozled by the fact that people dressed up as anything ‘what’s a jellyfish got to do with Halloween?’ (clearly he’s never seen Mean Girls). Anyone could join the parade as long as they were in costume, so thousands of people passed by in their finery, from standard zombies and ghouls to superheroes, TV characters and, topically, NSA files. The whole thing was unlike anything I’d ever seen before.
The best thing is that even if you’re not visiting NYC in time for Halloween, there are parades on throughout the year, from St Patrick’s Day in just a couple of weeks to the world-famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in November.
We had such a brilliant time in New York, and still have a long list of things we’d like to do there if we return again. With talk of Ryanair introducing transatlantic flights for a tenner, perhaps I’ll splash out next time!
Have you got any suggestions of family holiday destinations for the boomerang generation? Are you ever too old to holiday with your parents?