I was just a child when I fell head over heels for New York City.
During a spring break trip with my mom to visit my big sister, Gina, who was attending college there, I could immediately see what all the fuss was about.
The lights. The taxis. The buildings. The crowds.
It was even better than it had been in my imagination.
By the end of a week that had brought me a fan-girl appreciation for white pizza and my first brush with a famous person (Rosie O’Donnell, for what it’s worth), I was madly and hopelessly in love with the Big Apple.
Gina never left New York, so over the past 25 years, I’ve had a range of experiences there, from all-nighters in the East Village to somber post-9/11 walks past Ground Zero to loud, Babybjorn-clad trips to the American Museum of Natural History.
If you, too, have fallen in love with New York, then you already know — it’s magic.
Last month, I decided it was time to share that magic with my 8-year-old daughter, KoKo, so we set off on our own mother-daughter weekend in the city.
Shaking it up
Her eyes were as big as saucers. So were mine. The Cake Shake at Black Tap Craft Burgers & Beer may be the most incredible thing either of us has ever seen.
Picture it: A rich, creamy, cake-batter-flavored shake, so decadent that each sip tastes like you’re licking the spoon from mom’s mixing bowl, served in a glass with a rim of sprinkles so deep the entire glass is nearly transformed into a rainbow-colored mosaic. As a grand finale, it’s topped — get this — with a hulking slice of Funfetti cake, then garnished with whipped cream and a cherry.
We also sampled the Cotton Candy Shake, which stands nearly a foot tall and is served with a pink lollipop, rock candy and a heaping mound of, yes, cotton candy, and the Brooklyn Blackout Shake, a thick chocolate shake rimmed with mini chocolate chips and capped with a monstrous brownie, chocolate drizzle and whipped cream. At $15 a pop, the shakes are not cheap, but they were worth every delicious bite.
The real food at Black Tap is also excellent, including the crispy Brussels sprouts served with a bright sesame-tahini sauce and the perfectly cooked Californian burger — a natural turkey burger with avocado, Swiss cheese and truffle mayo. Lines do form at the various Black Tap locations, so you’ll want to go early.
Among our other favorite sweet stops in New York: Magnolia Bakery (get the banana pudding), Serendipity 3 and Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain. Our only regret was not finding time for Cookie DO NYC, an entire shop filled with exciting cookie dough flavors such as cinnamon roll and peanut butter snickerdoodle. You can even order it served in a cone, with toppings.
A whole new world
The crazy shakes had been a treat for our stomachs, but seeing “Aladdin” on Broadway was a treat for the senses.
From our seats in the orchestra section of the New Amsterdam Theatre, Gina, KoKo and I could practically smell the spices at the market in Agrabah and feel the wind brush our cheeks from atop the magic carpet as it soared through the clouds on stage.
The show exceeded every expectation we might have had for our first Broadway show, from the intricate beading on the costumes that we could see glimmering from our seats to the stunning dance routines that incorporated swirls of color.
Courtney Reed’s strong, forward-thinking portrayal of Jasmine would have made her cartoon counterpart proud, and Major Attaway’s take on the Genie was positively infectious. Fun fact: Jonathan Freeman, the original voice of Jafar in the animated movie, also plays him in the Broadway version. Tickets range from $60 to $200.
During intermission, we realized that KoKo’s seat had a plaque on it dedicating it to Broadway-enthusiast O’Donnell, the same celebrity I met during my first trip to New York. It was a fun full-circle moment (and, admittedly, the most I’ve thought about O’Donnell in decades).
If you’re traveling with kids, “The Lion King,” “School of Rock” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” are also excellent shows — you can seek out discounts at the TKTS Booths at various locations around the city. Another option for affordable Broadway and off-Broadway tickets is the Roundabout Theatre Company’s Hiptix program, which offers low-price tickets to theatergoers ages 18–35.
KoKo and I had a third traveler with us on our New York trip — KoKo’s American Girl doll, Isabelle — so it was only fitting that we arrange a visit to American Girl Place New York.
We started our morning with brunch in the American Girl Cafe, where Isabelle received her own seat and her own miniature plastic teacup and saucer. A three-course brunch at the cafe costs $20 — surprisingly affordable by New York standards — and includes a warm petite cinnamon roll, a drink, an entree (KoKo and Isabelle opted for heart-shaped pancakes; I had a fresh fruit plate) and a signature chocolate mousse flowerpot and vanilla cupcake for dessert. KoKo also received a cute pink hair tie to take home, and Isabelle got to keep her cup and saucer.
Perhaps the best part of breakfast, however, was a small box on the table filled with slips of paper with cute conversation prompts, such as, “If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you live?” and, “If you could take a class to learn anything, what type of class would you take?”
One of the prompts — “What is something you admire about one of your family members?” — even inspired KoKo to say some kind words about her 5-year-old sister, Mirielle, whom she deemed “really funny actually, and crazy, you know?”
During our visit, KoKo and I treated Isabelle to a hairstyling session (as in an actual person brushed and styled the doll’s hair) and a deluxe spa treatment that included a soft scrub on Isabelle’s rubbery face, arms and legs and a pampering kit to take home. American Girl is obviously not a place I would go during my adult trips to New York, but I’ll admit that visiting with KoKo (and Isabelle) was a lot of fun.
American Girl Place will be moving to a new New York location in November, and I’m told it will be better than ever.
After Isabelle’s makeover, we wandered through Times Square, where KoKo couldn’t help staring through the windows of places like M&M’S World, Hershey’s Chocolate World and the Disney Store, and I couldn’t resist snapping a photo with one of New York’s most famous street performers, the Naked Cowboy.
Despite it being a city with endless possibilities, New York’s charm is sometimes best showcased in the smaller moments inside its park spaces.
On the last day of our trip, we spent a lingering afternoon at Brooklyn Bridge Park, which spans 85 acres and runs 1.3 miles along the East River and offers everything from a roller-skating rink and soccer fields to a seasonal pop-up pool and beach. On the mild, beautiful Saturday we visited, the park was filled with families staking out picnic tables and barbecue grills for birthday parties and anniversary celebrations, the New York skyline stretched out behind them.
It was here that KoKo tried roller-skating for the first time — shaky in the beginning, like an overzealous puppy on freshly waxed linoleum, then gradually more steady as she got her sea legs. She would have stayed on that rink for hours.
When I reminded her that it was our last day in the city, I could see in her eyes that she wasn’t ready. She had fallen head over heels for New York, too.
Still, we were both grateful for the rare, unadulterated time we got together in a city we both now love. And we’re already making plans for what to do — and what shakes to try — the next time we go.