Impaling a bright red strawberry on the end of a wooden shishkebab skewer, I held the fruit under a gushing fountain of milk chocolate, then popped it into my eager mouth. Asking a restaurant server to direct me to the men’s restroom, I anticipated a challenge when she pointed to the second floor, then added, “Good luck finding it.”

So went my recent visit to New York City with my wife, Fyllis, and two grandchildren, ages 13 and 14. For anyone with teenage children or grandchildren, a trip to The Big Apple or any major city is an experience to be cherished. It also can present logistical challenges on the level of Hannibal crossing the Alps with his army and elephants.

Our first task was researching things to do, places to go and kid-friendly hotels. We compiled a tentative list of activities, e-mailed it to Zack and Leah, and started an exchange of e-mails and negotiated compromises that finally produced an itinerary on which we all could agree.

Dylan’s Candy Bar, home of the gushing chocolate fountain, was our initial stop and, by popular demand, a later one as well. It offered the first of several sensory overkill experiences that youngsters seem to relish, and older family members to abhor. Loud music and multicolored lights welcomed us. Three floors of cupcakes and cookies, ice cream and candy provided a feeding frenzy that to Zack and Leah, but not their dentists, was heaven on Earth.

It’s no place for procrastinators. If Dr. Pepper jelly beans or chocolate poker chips don’t tempt you, there’s fudge in flavors I’ve never before encountered. Treats in wrappers with an A-to-Z choice of first names ($2 each) offer a budget-stretching alternative to a tree fashioned from candy bars ($700).

Some of the calories inhaled at Dylan’s may be worked off at Chelsea Piers, a multisports complex that occupies historic docks jutting into the Hudson River, where ocean liners once departed for transatlantic journeys and World War I and II warships tied up. While adults may find interesting the giant-size photo-murals recalling those past times, younger visitors are more likely to prefer the long menu of available sports. If the batting cage, golf driving range and climbing wall aren’t tempting, perhaps expending excess energy on a trampoline or bowling in a trendy setting that could pass for a nightclub will have appeal.

Things are more tranquil at the Strand Book Store, a mecca for anyone who enjoys reading. Leah, a world-class reader, was intrigued first by a sign that touts “18 miles of books,” then by the seemingly endless shelves that hold all of those tomes.

She and Zack disappeared for nearly an hour, providing a welcome opportunity for Fyllis and me to rest. When it came time to leave, we nearly had to physically separate Leah from the beautiful edition of “Grimm’s Fairy Tales” in which her head was buried. The judgment of Zack, an accomplished artist who scanned shelf after shelf holding works of that genre, was less positive. “Too many books,” he intoned.

Trading roles, he was much happier at the Museum of Comic & Cartoon Art, while Leah toyed with her iPod. Housed in two rooms hidden in a nondescript building, the collection ranges from humorous drawings and political cartoons to comic strips and animation presented on several screens.

Fyllis and I were drawn to original drawings by Charles Schulz for “Peanuts” and Ted Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss. Zack ended up watching the animations, as Leah finally stashed her iPod and showed some interest in what the museum describes as “the world’s most popular art form.”

A high point and major expense was splitting up to see two Broadway plays. Because our grandchildren couldn’t agree on one show, Fyllis and Leah went to “Billy Elliot” while Zack opted for “The Addams Family,” which I enjoyed as much as he did.

Most of the rest of our weekend was spent strolling the streets and neighborhoods of the city. That unplanned time turned out to some of the most rewarding.

Not surprisingly, Times Square was a big hit. What kid wouldn’t be delighted by attractions like the gigantic Toys ‘R’ Us store, Madame Tussaud’s wax museum, the Hard Rock Caf?nd a 24-hour McDonald’s that is said to be the busiest in the world. Zack and Leah were content to gawk at the scene, check out street vendors and watch a spray paint artist create colorful views of the city’s skyline.

When it was time to eat, we chose several theme restaurants that became part of The Big Apple experience. The Martian-landscaped dining room at Mars 2112, at 51st Street and Broadway, is accessed by a somewhat bumpy five-minute “spaceship” ride. Inside, diners munch on typical American fare as they’re visited by “Martians” who happily pose for photos and inquire about distant relatives back on Earth. Menu items include Galactic Mac and Cheese and Solar Flare Chicken Fingers; occasional announcements report factoids like the temperature on Mars (minus 85 degrees Fahrenheit); and space travelers returning to Earth are instructed what to do “if you have arrived in the wrong era or have additional body parts.”

The setting is different but no less entertaining at the Jekyll and Hyde Club (two locations). Almost continuous live entertainment and spooky special effects make the food of secondary importance. Claw the Gargoyle and Tobias the Werewolf are among characters that do their best to scare diners. As for the elusive men’s restroom, Zack and I finally discovered it behind a door that resembles shelves lined with books.

Where you stay also can be part of the fun. It was a challenge getting Zack and Leah to leave our suite at the Affinia Gardens because of the hotel’s array of kid-friendly amenities. day, the kids competed on Wii versions of golf, tennis and baseball, and at night they fell asleep to sounds of music on their iPods plugged into “sound pillows.”

We took advantage of a guidebook for kids, disposable camera, discounts on admission tickets and gift shop purchases, and other Affinia extras to persuade the kids that there was as much to enjoy outside the hotel as in it. For more information log onto or call (866) 233-4642. 

Victor Block is a freelance writer who lives in Washington, D.C., and spends summers in Rangeley.


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