Grandson and I go to America – Graham McKenzie steps out!

Ice hockey game

I do not mind admitting that embarking on a journey to New York and Washington DC with my twelve-year-old grandson, Mason, was one that gave me a certain amount of trepidation. Yes, obviously, we have known each other all his life and yes, we share a mutual interest in almost anything historical, but we had not shared a room together before, we had not ventured into the big wide world for more than twenty-four hours without his Mum or Dad being there to curtail any excesses in behaviour and we had not encountered America together. What would it be like? And a trip to New York and DC is not like a day visit to the Natural History Museum. Would it be as transformative and enriching for him as I was hoping for? Would a trip with old Grandad create lasting memories and cement what, as he gets older, is becoming a unique bond between generations?

Arrival

We landed in New York bang on time thanks to the diligent efforts of our Virgin Atlantic team and we decided to get a traditional New York Cab – A Big Yellow Taxi into the city. Off through the mid-town tunnel we went into the heart of Manhattan and our home for the next three days. The oasis of the Kixby Hotel was very welcome and for both deep slumbers ensued.

Up with the lark

First morning after an East to West long-haul flight we were, of course, both awake before 5am but that gave me the opportunity to refine and discuss the Big Apple itinerary and for Mason, a chance to polish his online gaming skills. Needless to say, we were first in for breakfast, and ready to go well before 9am. Armed with our New York CityPASS, which for a trip of this nature is an essential, alongside a camera, phone and shod in comfy walking shoes (you can do some steps in NYC), off we set.

First up, so as to get a complete feel for the history and the geography of the city, was the reliable Circle Line Cruise from Pier 83. In two and half hours as you travel up and down the Hudson River you are educated and entertained on all the aspects of the city you could want to know, and it puts you on a firm footing for the rest of the visit. Right next to Pier 83 is the Intrepid Sea and Air Museum, which in many respects deserves an entire day on its own, as you go from a second war submarine through aircraft of many decades right up to space shuttle technology. On the way back we walked through the hugely impressive and emotive Ground Zero with the tributes to the victims of the 911 atrocity.

Dinner time

It had already been a long day and hunger pains tend to kick in at odd times after long haul travel, and we did not want anybody getting hangry now did we? Adjacent to our hotel was the ideal location for an early dinner, the Black Tap, which, on the face of it, was a standard American diner serving burgers, fries, and the like. Ideal for hungry Brits. What we found was indeed solid American fare but the welcome, the service, the atmosphere, and the towering milkshakes were all beyond my expectation and once finished we were a matter of feet from our beds.

I’m the King Kong of the world

Next day was icon day – the Empire State building and Ellis Island, both of which were included on our pass. The thrill of seeing, touching, visiting and experiencing things only previously seen on television was a sight to behold. Post-covid, the benefits of timed visits and tech are that, unlike the old days, you don’t have to queue up for hours to get access to these historic locations. It was all well worth it, and added to this was that breakfast was enjoyed at the NYC equivalent of a greasy spoon, which at the time of day we entered was full of people who live and work in the city. As they say when on holiday – live like a local and have breakfast in a diner.

Spiderman Pizza

Once evening came, we decided to continue with the live like a local theme and get in line for a pizza at Joe’s on Boadway. The wait was around thirty minutes, there are no tables, and you have to eat standing up but the combination of the crust, cheese, toppings, and sauce were scrumptious. Ideal for a fussy twelve-year-old. A small sidenote is that Peter Parker aka Spiderman worked there for a small time before getting the sack for tardiness (Spiderman 2).

Bye Bye NYC and Co

Our last day in New York beckoned and it was time to walk, some more. Up 5th Avenue, over to Central Park, past Trump Tower, where we met the man himself or at least it looked like him, eat a square burger at Wendys and then to our final stop the new SUMMIT One Vanderbilt. A sensation in the NYC must see attractions. Not only do you get the best views of Manhattan Island and all its iconic buildings such as the Chrysler, which appears to be in touching distance, but you also have an entertaining time. The installation ‘blends elements of art, technology, architecture and thrill to take the concept of a New York City “observation deck” to entirely new heights.’ In short, it’s genuine fun and every corner you turn and every level you go up you are confronted with something new and engaging to further enhance the overall thrill.  We were happy Englishmen in New York.

So, our Big Apple exploration was over, but the experience was about to continue in the Capital of the United States – DC Cool!

Train journeys: where stories are born, and memories are made

Taking the Amtrak from the new Moynihan Terminal, an extension of Penn Station, to Union Station in Washington DC is not only inexpensive but it is quick, clean, safe and for my grandson an enormous thrill as on the way we stopped at Philadelphia. We didn’t get off, but in the land of tick box tourism that’s another to bite the dust. Union Station is a magnificent building and even if you were blindfolded you would know as soon as soon as you arrived  that you are about to experience a completely different vibe. Open wide streets, less traffic, tree-lined avenues and huge white buildings that look important.

Once again, we were in the centre of things as we were staying at the new Washington Marriott Capitol Hill which is a stone’s throw from most of the main sites. The historical significance of Washington DC offers a rich educational experience. Visiting iconic landmarks like the White House, Capitol Hill, Arlington Cemetery, and the Smithsonian museums provide a firsthand understanding of American history and culture. In addition to this, it is excellent fun as DC has a lot more to offer and it was half term after all.

By George it’s Washington

Recently reopened, the Washington Monument is now fully restored and you can take the lift to the top and the journey is inside the structure. Interestingly as you ascend you can read the inscription on each stone from the state that dedicated it. The views from the top are spectacular and if you are lucky enough, as we were, to get one of those clear crisp autumnal days you can see for miles and miles.

From there it’s a short walk to view the White House. Having been many times before I was aware that something was about to happen: activity on the roof, low flying helicopters and an increased police presence. The President was about to arrive, and sure enough ten minutes later he did. Cue for Grandson to be at peak excitement as the cavalcade drove past right in front of us.

21st Century Boy

Next up was the Artechouse, the immersive art experience that will blow your mind. How they do it I am not really sure, but basically you stand in the middle of a small warehouse type room and let the images from all sides just wash over you with a backdrop of sci-fi type music. It’s magnificent and is created with a combination of NASA data, AI, and artistic licence. For adults it gets even better, as you can sip on a cocktail throughout the encounter. It struck me at the time that I had been on adults-only trip I might not have experienced this.

This was also true of the next two attractions we visited: the Spy Museum, which does what it says on the tin but in a very detailed and interactive manner, plus the Museum of Illusions. A must-visit installation for fun and laughs as nothing on display is quite what it seems as your eyes take over from your brain or is it the other way round? Either way you can spend a good hour or two laughing and gasping at the exhibits. 

Special mention must also be made of Planet Word, a museum all about words. It’s absolutely fascinating and very engaging for all ages. I was thinking we would be in there ten minutes before tedium set in, but not a sign of that after ninety minutes. We both recorded JFK’s acceptance speech to camera, created new ad campaigns for confectionery companies and discovered the origins of even the most basic of everyday words.

Flying Puck

Ice hockey game
Ice hockey game

Washington is not without its sporting assets either, and what better way to get into the US sports culture than a game of ice hockey. The Capitals were at home, and we got tickets! Slick, loud, bright, fast, patriotic, and entertaining sums up the pre-game show. Fast, aggressive, skilful, louder and solidly American describes the game itself.  

Food Glorious Food

Being hungry was never an issue in DC for the variety and quality of restaurants are outstanding. A far cry from the late 90’s when I used to visit the city frequently. Nowadays the influence of differing global cuisines can be felt, and in all of them the ability to adapt and modify for the taste buds of a fussy young man was not an issue. dLeNa, the modern Mexican restaurant was a prime example with lots of grilled meats over firewood or ‘lena’, fantastic cocktails (margaritas with a twist) and their own version of creme brulee. At the same time, they were happy to do a burger with fries.

Memories are made of this

The trip was over and back to Blighty we headed, but what a time we had. It was not just a holiday, but the diverse experiences, cultural exposure, and shared adventures was in many respects an investment in relationship and personal growth for both of us. Above all it was fantastic fun. Fun that will fuel a tapestry of memories for the rest of our lives.

Next steps

To plan a multi-generational trip to the States, call our Silver Travel Advisors on 0800 412 5678. They have loads of ideas and suggestions. There are endless possibilities.

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Graham McKenzie

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