Monday, August 7, 2017

Family Road Trip: New Jersey * New York City * Philadelphia

Another year, another road trip.  This year, we once again visited with family in New Jersey, which included days in New York City and Philadelphia. Anyone who knows me knows that I love planning the details of every vacation. But this time, I decided to go with the flow and just see where each day takes us. But before I get into the highlights of the trip, I’d like to talk about something.

My phone.
Smartphones are great, aren’t they? They keep you connected to the people you love, like, and only just tolerate for social media’s sake. They let you take pictures of yourself having a blast on vacation, and then, in an instant, you can share them with everyone you know!

For this year’s vacation, I opted out of all of that. I stayed away from social media, and most days, I did not even bring my phone with me (insert gasp here). I didn’t return texts or calls. I took a vacation, not just from my life in Florida, but also from my life with my phone.

It was freeing.

So much so that when I got back from vacay, I deleted my Instagram account. I know…I’m a blogger. I should be on every social media platform there is, whoring myself out to the masses. But this vacation made me realize that even though I love Twitter way too much to break up with it right now, maybe it’s time to cut back on other social media platforms. Just a little.

But I digress.

So, you ask, “Michele…if you didn’t use your phone on your vacation, how did you take pictures?”
Old school, baby. I used a regular camera. Yup. That’s right. I had its wrist strap dangling from my arm wherever I went, like back in the day when we all showed off our pink LeClic cameras, as if they were  accessories to our outfits.

While using the camera, I noticed an immediate difference in my pictures (and the quantity of them). Without the ability to instantly upload pictures to social media, I only took photos of what I wanted to keep as a memory…for me.  I took pictures that will be printed and then glued into a scrapbook. And if you want to see that scrapbook, you have to be physically present in my home. Even though last year’s Ireland pictures were amazing, I feel like this year’s pictures somehow meant more. While there were a lot less of them, the photos were more personal because I knew they weren’t going to be shared with the world.

Will I do this for every vacation? Probably not. But I honestly recommend it for all of you…at least once in your lifetime. Take a break from your phone while on vacation. Take pictures on a camera that you cannot instantly share with 500 of your closest friends on social media. Be in the moment and enjoy it…for you.

Now…here are the highlights of our trip.

Just to note, we wound up spending a lot of time with family, so I don’t have as much to share as I usually do. If you are looking for a New Jersey/New York City itinerary, check out the blog of my last road trip to the same place, where we visited every possible touristy place that could be crammed into 2 weeks of vacation.

New York
  1. Wicked – The last time we were in New York, my girls were younger, and in my opinion, not ready for Broadway. But at nine and twelve years old, this year, we took the plunge. Were tickets expensive? You bet! But it was worth every penny. Not only do you leave the theatre singing the amazing score, but Wicked sends its audience away with powerful messages on topics like friendship, loyalty, and the strength and courage of women. In my lifetime, I’ve seen more Broadway shows than I can count, but you always remember your first one. And I’m glad Wicked will be the show my girls remember.
        For more information on Wicked, click here.

View from our seats in Row Q (Seats 7-15)
  1. Central Park (Upper West Side) - I love the Upper West Side of New York City! It’s New York, without being too New York. We spent a leisurely morning climbing Central Park rocks and playing at the Tarr Family Playground on West 100th Street & Central Park West. This modern playground offers unique climbing structures, slides, swings and even a water feature.
        For more information on the Tarr Family Playground, click here.

Climbing rocks in Central Park

Tarr Family Playground
  1. American Museum of Natural History (or as my kids like to call it, “The Night at the Museum” museum) - I’m not sure I can add unique words of adoration to this already popular museum. My girls loved it, so much so that they wanted to return the following day, as there simply wasn’t enough time to digest every exhibit. Our favorites were The Arthur Ross Hall of Meteorites, The Irma and Paul Milstein Family Hall of Ocean Life, and the upstairs area in the Discovery Room.
For more museum information, click here.
W79th & Central Park West
open daily 10am-5:45pm
Admission: Adults-$22, Children (2-12)-$12.50


  1. Blondies-One word – wings. I absolutely love Blondies wings (which are served with a metal bucket to discard the bones) and the crispy waffle style French fries! Yes, it’s a sports bar. Yes, I took my children here, but the food was totally worth the judgmental stares.

For more information on Blondies, click here.
212 W79th Street
open daily 11:30am to at least 12am (sometimes later)

  1. Insomnia Cookies - I’m not usually one who enjoys spending an obscene amount of money on something I already do well all by myself. But after walking 20 city blocks with children in tow, we were in the mood for a snack. We came across a don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-it establishment called Insomnia Cookies on 405 Amsterdam Ave (at W79th). Upon entering, the aroma of freshly baked cookies hit us hard. The store is tightly spaced, with only 4 stools and an area for purchasing. But the smell…oh, the smell! We wanted to try everything! So we ordered a dozen chocolate chip and M&M cookies for later, and then some specialty cookies for immediate consumption. We opted for the Triple Chocolate Chunk, the S’mores, and the Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup deluxe cookies, and my youngest sampled the brownie. Let’s just say that no one was disappointed. Oh…they also serve every cookie warm from the oven! We loved this shop so much that we went back the day before our vacation ended just to have some for the road trip back to Florida!
For more information on Insomnia Cookies, click here.
405 Amsterdam Avenue (multiple locations across the US)
open M-F 9am-3am; Sat & Sun 11am-3am

New Jersey
  1. Saddle Brook County Park- Being a Jersey girl, this is a park I’ve visited frequently throughout my life. It’s just as serene as the pictures below portray. The trails are great, and it offers a nice sized children’s playground. We spent two of our vacation days with family at this park, just letting the kids play with their cousins, and taking walks around the pond.
For more information on Saddle Brook County Park, click here.

  1. Monster Mini Golf-This fun, indoor, glow-in-the-dark mini golf and arcade was perfect for a family day with the kids and their cousins. We all had a great time playing the afternoon away!
For more information on Monster Mini Golf, click here.
49 E Midland Ave, Paramus
open daily 12pm-8pm (sometimes later)

  1. Glaze Donuts-A friend of mine is obsessed with donuts, and recently shared a picture of Glaze’s Italian rainbow donut. Other than chocolate chip, Italian rainbow cookies are my favorite! But morphing my favorite cookie into a donut? Yes, please! Glaze donuts also has an array of specialty donuts, including maple bacon, cannoli and peanut butter and jelly, but the ultimate donut experience was tasting that Italian rainbow cookie donut. Words cannot describe how delicious it was, so take a look at the pictures below.
For more information on Glaze donuts, click here.
358 River Road, New Milford (multiple locations)
open M, Tues, Thurs, Fri-7am-9pm; Sat -8am-9pm,  Sun-8am-7pm

  1. Benny’s Luncheonette- This was our first stop when we arrived in New Jersey. We were tired and didn’t feel like fighting over what type of food to get, so naturally, we were in need of a diner. Benny’s offers typical Jersey diner food (which was really tasty). And if you bring a huge appetite with you, don’t forget to order one of their “crazy shakes” for dessert. The shakes were bigger than my kids’ heads (not exaggerating), piled with cake, cookies, ice cream and other goodies. I felt like we deserved a congratulatory t-shirt for finishing one, but to be fair, my husband and I split ours, and my girls couldn’t finish theirs, but had fun trying!
For more information on Benny’s, click here.
11-04 Saddle River Road, Fair Lawn
Open Mon-Wed-5:30am-3pm, Thurs- Sat-5:30am-9pm, Sun-8am-2pm

Bigger than my daughter's face

Philadelphia, PA
  1. Liberty Bell- Sometimes, kids get completely obsessed with random things. For my daughter, it was the Liberty Bell. I don’t think anyone else in our party shared her enthusiasm about this particular monument. But I love when you walk into a place expecting boredom, only to be surprised with educational tidbits that not only hold your interest, but feed your curiosity. The theories on how the bell really cracked or whether or not it ever rang were posted along different sections of the building, which was really intriguing. I’m glad my daughter was so committed to the bell, and I would definitely recommend it for anyone visiting Philadelphia.
For more information on the Liberty Bell, click here.
N6th St & Market St
open daily 9am-7pm
Free Admission

  1. Benjamin Franklin Museum- This museum displayed interactive exhibits featuring Benjamin Franklin’s famous and not so famous contributions to our country. Like the Liberty Bell, it was surprisingly nice to take a peek into the life of one of our Founding Fathers.
For more museum information, click here.
317 Chestnut Street
open daily 9am-5pm
Admission-$5-adults; $2-children 2-16

  1. Penn’s Landing- Sometimes, it’s nice to just stop and appreciate a spectacular view. The waterfront view along the Delaware River was a refreshing part of our day.
For more information on Penn’s Landing, click here.

  1. Philadelphia Museum of Art (and the Rocky Statue)-We had a long day in the heart of Philly, but with only two hours before closing, we made it to this museum! And lucky for us, it was the first Sunday of the month, so we got to name our own price of admission! Due to our late arrival and limited timeframe, we carefully chose the Contemporary wing, the Impressionist wing, and a temporary exhibit called Wild, which displayed the amazing photography between human and animal captured by Michael Nichols. The Wild exhibit was our favorite, and if you are currently in the Philly area, I would rush over to see it before it’s gone (September 17, 2017).

*Of course, the Philadelphia Museum of Art is also home to the famous Rocky steps and sculpture. And although I really wanted to run those steps, my cute sandal shoe choice deterred me. Maybe next time!  

For more museum information, click here.
2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway
open Tues-Sun 10am-5pm
Admission- $20 adults, 12 & under – free; (1st Sunday of each month=pay what you wish)
  1. Sonny’s Famous Steaks-You can’t visit Philly without eating a cheesesteak, right? ‘Nuff said.

For more information on Sonny’s, click here.
228 Market Street
open daily 11am-10pm (sometimes later)

Well…that’s a wrap, folks. I don’t know where our next vacation will lead us, but thanks for reading this year’s vacation highlights!  Enjoy your summer!