Our family spent a few days in New York City this month. While we were there, we took a couple of very different but very memorable Manhattan tours.
Both were a blast, so I wanted to share them with you, together with one other attraction that is sure to appeal to movie lovers, as well. Scroll down to see them all (plus a slew of our vacation pics):
First, we took a walking tour of Central Park with On Location Tours, a company that offers several different tours of NYC for fans to choose from, based on their favorite movies and TV shows.
Central Park is the only walking tour this company offers. All the other options are bus tours based on shows we’ve never personally seen (despite their immense popularity otherwise).
Be forewarned, though. The walking tour does involve a lot of… walking.
As you can see in the photo below, our little one was soon begging for back rides, which her older brother graciously provided.
Our tour guide, Gary Mahmoud (in yellow), was a veritable fountain of knowledge. We took notes, learned a lot, and asked a bunch of questions — and he gave us a detailed answer for every one of them!
He didn’t just stick to movie trivia, either, but provided a lot of historical information about the park, as well: when and how it was built, how long construction took, who designed it, and how to keep from getting lost in it.
Hint: All the lampposts are numbered in a way that makes it easy to tell exactly where you are in relation to the rest of the city. That was one of the first tips he taught us.
Gary gave us frequent rest stops, mercifully allowing us to catch our breath in the more hilly parts of the park while he regaled us with fascinating stories about New York City and some of its most famous buildings and residents.
He also allowed plenty of time to snap family pictures and even volunteered to take a few photos himself, so Mom could be in them, too!
We had beautiful weather for the tour. The August heat may have been warmer than New Yorkers are accustomed to, but it was mild compared Texas summers and much preferable to the bitter cold of winter (our guide told us these tours run year round, in all kinds of weather).
We took another short break at Strawberry Fields, long enough to enjoy some live music. Local artists have been playing John Lennon songs there every day since the memorial was first dedicated on October 9, 1985.
We felt tired and a little dehydrated by the end of the tour — we’ll know to bring bottled water with us next time — but we also felt enriched by the experience.
And it has been a lot of fun rewatching some of our favorite movie scenes (like the one above) now that we’ve taken a long stroll through Central Park ourselves.
If you don’t care for walking, or you would like to see more of Manhattan than Central Park, then THE RIDE is the tour to take.
THE RIDE is like no other bus tour we’ve ever been on: Part tour. Part show. Total entertainment.
I can’t think of a more enjoyable way to spend 90 minutes stuck in traffic than listening to hosts Jackie and Scott exchange playful banter, sing Broadway show tunes, and share statistics, stories, and interesting trivia about New York City and the people who live there.
The tour bus was equipped with theater seating, floor to ceiling windows, flat screen TVs, and thousands of LED lights to make this a one-of-a-kind trip.
Seeing the city from that vantage point transformed the street into a stage, and every time we turned a corner, another entertaining scene would unfold before us.
Some of the most ordinary looking people would suddenly launch into a song and dance numbers before our eyes. Meanwhile, their fellow pedestrians remained totally nonplussed by their performances, as if they were used to business women skipping amongst the parking meters or deliverymen break dancing on the sidewalk.
Furthermore, the most outlandishly dressed people on the street whom I fully expected were part of the show, evidently weren’t. They were just “normal New Yorkers” out for a morning walk. In costume.
Except for this ballerina. She was definitely a plant. I think. And so was the man with the backpack behind her, who enthusiastically joined in the dance when she “accidentally” bumped into him and twirled and lifted and leapt with her all around Columbus circle as our bus made the roundabout.
Meanwhile, there was even more action going on inside the bus, as Jackie and Scott broke out the karaoke mics and encouraged the audience to join in singing a few familiar NYC-themed tunes: “Start spreading the news…”
They also staged their own version of cash cab — complete with prizes — where they quizzed us with New York trivia questions and awarded ride points in seemingly random amounts for the answers they liked best. For instance, I got 50,000 “better-luck-next-time” points for confidently blurting out the “EMPIRE STATE BUILDING!!” to the question, “What is the 3-word name of the famous Manhattan building…”
I should have waited for the end of the question: “… our bus is currently parked in front of?” The answer, clearly spelled out on the building’s facade, was GRAND CENTRAL TERMINAL. (Incidentally, it’s called it a “terminal” — not a “station” — because all rides either originate or terminate at that location; none pass through.)
You’ll learn all sorts of useful information like that aboard THE RIDE. It’s easy to understand why it’s such a popular attraction.
THE RIDE was completely sold out the first two days we were in town, so we actually had to catch this tour on our return trip through NYC the following week. After experiencing THE RIDE, we were glad we made the extra effort to get tickets.
By the way, THE RIDE’s box office is located just inside the front doors of Madame Tussaud’s, our final pick for movie lovers…
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Madame Tussaud’s in New York. The only wax museum I remember visiting as a child depicted scary scenes that totally creeped me out, but since this museum primarily showcases “celebrity wax figures,” I thought it would be a safe bet for a family outing.
Madame Tussaud’s far exceeded my expectations! It boasts five full floors of famous figures…
…and a unique, hands-on approach that allows guests to rub shoulders and pose for pictures with the celebrities of their choice.
Our kids loved that!
The figures looked so lifelike, we were half-expecting to blink or breathe or shift position, like Arnold Schwarzenegger did while pranking Madame Tussaud’s patrons last summer:
The museum didn’t just stick to Hollywood celebrities, but also included great thinkers…
… and world class athletes.
One floor of the museum was dedicated to religious leaders...
… and political leaders…
…past and present.
Another floor depicted characters and scenes from the new “Ghostbusters” remake.
Our crew had a lot of fun with that one, but their favorite floor…
…was the one dedicated to their favorite superheros: Captain America, Spiderman…
Thor, Iron Man, and the Incredible Hulk, to name just a few.
They even showed a fun, 4-D superhero movie (included in your admission price).
There were also a few gift shops, snack shacks, photo booths, and candy stores interspersed between floors, in case it takes you longer than anticipated to get through all the exhibits and you get hungry.
In the final exhibit, guests get to see how the wax figures are created, start to finish.
Our visit to Madame Tussaud’s made for a full, fun-filled morning — one that is sure to appeal to other movie buffs, as well.
Please note: All three of these attractions (Madame Tussaud’s, The Ride, and On Location Tours) gave us four to five complimentary passes in exchange for our honest review. The tickets for the remaining members of our group were purchased by us. Looking for less expensive things to do in NYC? Then check out this post: 11 Fun, FREE Things to Do in New York City