Wednesday: Visit NYC with toddlers



There are two schools of thought about taking baby to the Big Apple. One comes from folks who fear the crowds, the noise, the crush of humanity, who consider taking a tiny, precious being to the Big City utterly insane. Then there's the view of veteran urban mom Mindy Levine, a Brooklynite who cherishes the memory of taking her infant daughter to museums, art galleries and the kind of restaurants one wouldn't go near with a toddler.

Tips: a broad view of NYC
On a beautiful day, the Circle Line takes three hours to snake around New York Harbor, from the company's Hudson River dock on 12th Avenue to the west end of 42nd Street. It leaves every hour starting at 11:45 a.m., with the last cruise departing the dock at 7:45 p.m. through mid-November. (Call 212-563-2000 for prices). The trip isn't for all babies; parents who fear three hours may be a bit much can try a 45-minute cruise from New York Waterways (1-800-533 3779). The lower Manhattan cruises take off from the South Street Seaport, just under the Brooklyn Bridge. A free alternative is the Staten Island ferry, (1-718-727-2508). A giant orange commuter boat that nearly kisses the Statue of Liberty and leaves from the newly restored Battery Park, which has a couple of terrific playgrounds with wonderful lower Manhattan views.

For city basics, like maps and other recommendations, visit the website of the New York Convention and Visitors Bureau (810 Seventh Avenue at 53rd Street, 1-212-484-1222) at http://www.nycvisit.com. And for hotel information -- be prepared to spend at least $250 a night, much more during the holiday season -- try Accommodations Express at (1-800-444-7666) or Quickbook (http://www.quickbook.com).

Meanwhile, here's a few tips for traversing the city, baby in tow, beginning with downtown, the bottom of Manhattan. A good start is the historic South Street Seaport (212-732-8257) filled with shops, restaurants and a giant, century-old sailing ship known as the Peking, a delight for older kids who love to turn the giant steering wheel and play pirate. From here, it's about a half-mile walk to Chinatown with its winding back alleys and its quasi-exotic allure.

Chinatown boasts dozens of restaurants with food most kids will actually eat; I remember bringing along a little food mill once and grinding up rice and vegetables for my then nine-month-old son. Don't forget the tiny shops of Mott and Pell Street that sell Chinese slippers, silk kimonos, paper dragons and all sorts of mysterious items. Only one caveat: not all the restaurants offer high-chairs; most only offer booster seats. I'll never forget wandering from one restaurant to another one Sunday morning in search of a suitable kiddie seat; we gave up and allowed baby to snooze in a stroller.

If you are visiting NYC anywhere near the Christmas season, you'll undoubtedly want to take in some of the time-honored clich├ęs: The imposing Rockefeller Center tree, Santa at Macy's, the legendary Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall. In midtown, you can also tour the television studios of NBC on 49th Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, take a trip to the top of the Empire State Building (lit up in green and red for the holidays) or simply stroll down Fifth Avenue and make your way to FAO Schwarz, a full block of toys, animals, puzzles and games you won't want to miss.

Day or night, you can't help but be impressed by the newly spruced up Times Square and its dazzling lights. The area also boasts some of the city's largest, kid-friendly restaurants; all equipped with high-chairs and boosters and lots of room in case of a food fight. Our favorites include John's Pizza, (babies love to teeth on the crust) or Virgil's (large, kid-friendly and some of the best barbecue around) and MARS 2112; with its spacecraft theme and green Martian drinks.

On the Upper West Side, you may opt for taking baby to Central Park. You'll want to at least take a look at the imposing Rose Center for Earth and Space, with its impressive display of educational but entertaining science. Baby may be too young to appreciate the cavernous dinosaur hall at the American Museum of Natural History at West 79th Street and Central Park West, but you may not want to miss it. The area also boasts a very baby-friendly Children's Museum of Manhattan at 212 West 83rd Street (212-721-1234).

The enormous Metropolitan Museum of Art is also on the park -- but on the East Side, at Fifth Avenue and 82nd Street; it takes up four city blocks. The museum does not allow strollers on Sundays, but you'll see lots of babies in backpacks (available to borrow at the 81st Street entrance) snoozing away, oblivious as their parents take in Renoir and Rembrandt, gaze at centuries of Chinese art and congratulate themselves for exposing baby to one of New York City's most amazing treasures at a very tender age.