Mike Campbell

My wife, Inga and I were fortunate to do a road trip from Austin, Texas to NYC back in June/July 2009. We capped off the trip with nine beautiful, sunny summer days in the Big Apple.

This time round, five and a half years on, we decided to experience New York City in winter and with our four-year-old daughter, Andy.

Oh, and I fractured my left heel three weeks before we left Australia so I was wearing a moon boot and had crutches for the entire holiday.

Mike and his family at the NYC airport


Like most people, when we thought of New York City during winter we pictured snow-covered streets, people in long winter coats running from yellow cabs through the warm doors of a restaurant or shop. But that wasn’t the case for us.

We experienced an unseasonably warm winter.

Temperatures got up to 25 degrees during the day. It was unbelievable, on one day I was even walking around in a t-shirt.

When we travel, Inga would usually write lists of cool bars, restaurants, art galleries that we would need to visit, but as it is with most things once you have children, it is all about them, and our winter New York City adventure was no different. This time round it was all about what would blow Andy’s mind (and my big kid mind too).

Toy shops are (nearly) free entertainment

We walked into the four-storey Toys R Us store in Times Square and we were all immediately taken aback by the full-sized, 60 foot, Ferris wheel. Andy couldn’t believe that a place like this even existed. After we walked around the shop for a few hours, passing the life-sized T-Rex and flying Superman holding a truck, we had a ride on the Ferris wheel. Tickets were only $5 per person, which I thought was very reasonable.

Ferris Wheel in New York City


Just around the corner was the Disney shop. It only has two floors and it doesn’t have a Ferris wheel in it. However, it does have everything imaginable from the movie Frozen, and if you have a 2-6 year-old girl in your life, or even in the city you live in, you know about Frozen. Andy was beside herself.

There was also a lady at the front door whose job it was to welcome everyone as they enter the shop. She had the sweetest voice, like a character from a Disney movie, and she does just that, she makes you feel welcome. A small, maybe pointless detail I know, but she put a smile on my face and I still smile as I remember it.

Can we go on the swings?

We walked up to Central Park one morning and the first thing Andy noticed was the line of horse and carriages. It was like they were all waiting for their princess to arrive – and she did. They are all regulated now and charge the same price, $50 per 20 minutes. Expensive but an experience I know Andy won’t forget any time soon.

Central Park, New York City


While Yvonne (our horse) was pulling us around Central Park, eagle eye Andy noticed a playground off in the distance. “Can we go on the swings?” This is the most common question Andy asks me, so why would it be any different in New York?

Once our carriage ride was finished we slowly made our way around the paths, over the rocks, past the ponds, spotting squirrels in the gardens, until we arrived at one of the biggest and well-thought-out playgrounds I had ever seen.

Andy ran through the entrance tunnel, turned around and smiled, and then double-timed it to the swings. Apart from all the equipment, what made this park so special was that, being New York City during the holiday season, there were kids from all over the world, all wanting to do the exact same thing – PLAY! They didn’t need language, just a smile and another little human to chase.

Playground in New York City


A day at the museum

It was pouring with rain one day and we decided, like every other tourist, to visit the American Museum of Natural History. If you do one thing in NYC (even if you don’t have kids) visit the American Museum of Natural History.

It is a taxidermist’s paradise set over four levels and the exhibits include every animal imaginable, a 94-foot long Blue Whale, T-Rex skeleton, Woolly Mammoth and the history of the indigenous people of the world.

Take the animals out of the exhibits and the beautiful artworks of the sceneries are worth the ticket price, which was only $22. For an extra $5 we included the Butterfly Conservatory. A room you walk through that is thriving with butterflies, you can see them up close and they even land on you. A few weeks after our holiday we hired the movie “A Night At The Museum” and watched it together spotting all the things we saw on our visit.

Butterfly Conservatory in New York City


Our $320 lunch and our $25 dinner

We had made reservations for our Christmas lunch at the Rockefeller Café before departing Australia. The restaurant is at the bottom of the Rockefeller building and overlooks the ice-skating rink. The food was okay, a six or seven out of 10. The bill was $320, which included our tip.  It was nice, but just that.

We had spent a lot of this holiday up around 5th and 6th Avenues, 42nd Street, Times Square, the tourist areas, as they had the places we wanted to take Andy. The downside was that the eating options in those areas are typically more expensive and the pretty average quality. Maybe it was just because we went to whatever was close by as our choice of eatery was prefixed by “Daddy I need to go to the toilet now”.

Inga recalled reading that Chinatown was open on Christmas night and was a good option for people visiting the city. We jumped in a cab and headed downtown. It was so refreshing to not be around the crowds of people in Times Square.

Chinatown is what we remembered and loved about our original visit to New York City - little alleyways with small shops and restaurants, locals on the street, fresh food.

We passed a fishmonger who had baskets of live crabs out the front. Andy wanted to stop and we were there for over 30 minutes looking at the crabs. If you ask Andy what she loved about New York, the crabs are in her top tree.

We had dinner in a small family Vietnamese restaurant next door and had a very fresh and tasty pho soup. It was one of the best meals we had and the bill was $25, including tip.

Fishmonger in New York City with live crabs


An easy tip on tipping

Tipping is one of those things where I just don’t know what to do, but I appreciate that tips are a large proportion of wages in some occupations. I learnt these two rules and generally stuck to them:

  1. If you’re sitting you tip – at a restaurant, in a cab then yes. Ordering takeaway then no.
  2. Move the decimal point to the left and multiply that number by two and you’ll have 20% - If your lunch is $27, move the decimal point to the left $2.7 and multiply by two = $5.40 and that is what you tip. So you leave around $32 on the table.

We loved New York City and we’ll be back again. Yeah we missed out on seeing the city that never sleeps covered in white, but in hindsight it was so much better as a tourist, as a father on crutches with a four-year-old-daughter, to be seeing the sights comfortably.

For all those FitBit users out there, I still clocked up my 10,000+ daily steps each day while on crutches. I had bruises and calluses on both of my palms but the holiday was worth every step (hobble).

Things to remember:

  • Even if the weather isn’t how you imagined it before you left, just have fun. You’re on holidays.
  • You will need a full day at the American Museum of Natural History
  • Just do whatever your kids want to do. If they enjoy the holiday, so do you.

Mike Campbell and his wife Inga, along with their daughter Andy have packed, donated or sold everything they own and hit the road for a year, attempting to housesit their way through North America. You can connect with them and read about their adventures at www.liveimmediately.com

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The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and are meant as travel inspiration only. They do not reflect the opinions of Cover-More Insurance. You should always read the PDS available from your travel insurance provider to understand the limits, exclusions and conditions of your policy and to ensure any activities you undertake are covered by your policy.