Click here to read my latest article on Mommy Poppins about special needs music classes and lessons around NYC. Don’t worry, I didn’t forget dancers – they have their own post coming out soon
Special Note: DMF’s big spring concert is on May 19th this year – the theme is Motown (oh yeah). There are two performances, and since they are both awesome and FREE, seating is limited and fills up fast. You can visit http://www.danielsmusic.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. James will be performing again, so hope to see you there!
Sensory Gyms In Manhattan: Eight Spots for Physical, Occupational and Other Sensory Therapy for Kids
Click here to read my latest article on MommyPoppins.com on sensory gyms around Manhattan.
If you were not fortunate enough to attend the DMF Spring concert today, I have a special treat for you this evening. My husband has been out of town for the last few days and by the end of this third day I was in need of a little pick-me-up (and pregnant, stiff drinks are not an option). When this video arrived in my inbox it was like a little pat on the back directly from God, telling me, the weekend couldn’t have been as hard as you thought – look at this!
I know it was a gorgeous day today, and I hate spending days like this indoors as much as the next person. But there was a lot of beauty to behold inside The Dalton School too, and I don’t feel that a minute of my inside time was wasted (except for all of the minutes I spent wrestling my 19 month old in and out of the auditorium).
CLICK HERE to watch a short clip from today’s concert on youtube. James is in the back left in a striped shirt, jamming along with the best of them (3 years ago he was crying his way through these things, so watching him rock out is miracle alone). But equally uplifting and touching to me is the genuine enthusiasm and support pouring from the audience. I’ve said it before, but I can’t repeat enough how amazing and inspiring these events are. It’s hard not to leave them feeling like you were right next to the sun, no matter what the weather outside.
Congrats to the Trush family, DMF members, teachers and volunteers for another successful performance!
Top Ten: Things To Consider When Planning A Trip To Woodloch Resort With Small or Special Needs Children
We went to Woodloch for the first time a couple of months ago to find a little bit of Winter (since there had been pretty much none in NYC). We only stayed for a weekend but true to our style we managed to squeeze in everything humanly possible in a little over 48 hours. Though located only 2 hours away from the city (Northeast PA) this all-inclusive family resort makes it seem as though you have entered another world, and being set on over 1,000 acres it’s easy to see why.
Being the phenomenal (some would argue obsessive) planner that I am, and seeing how little vacation time we actually get in this family, you can rest assured that I looked at Woodloch long and hard before deciding where to spend a rare weekend away. So instead of telling you how much you will love it here or whether or not your special needs child or picky toddler is going to give you an unforgettable weekend (in the good way) I will share with you the Top Ten: Things To Consider When Planning A Trip To Woodloch Family Resort With Small or Special Needs Children and let you decide for yourself.
1. Food: Included with the price of our stay was dinner the first night, 3 meals the following day and 2 meals on Sunday. Additional food was available for purchase throughout the resort at a reasonable price. Once we were seated at dinner the first evening, we met our waitress, who would be with us for the entire weekend. She was incredibly friendly and accommodating and went to great lengths to please all kinds of appetites. We liked that the seating was private for the group you were traveling with – we had a table for 4 with a highchair but observed tables for 2, 3 and even 12 people around us. That being said, the formal seating for each meal was not ideal. We would have preferred a buffet option for breakfast and lunch so that we didn’t have to spend quite so much time each day devoted to eating (there were quicker options around the resort but they cost extra). This may have been more of an issue for us because dining with antsy toddlers is no vacation – during many meals, one or more children were trying to escape to the activities, lying on the floor exhausted or whining about being hungry before the food even arrived. Also, we would have enjoyed an earlier option for dinner, some kind of seating before 6, so that we had a little more time in between dinner and children’s bedtimes. The quality and quantity of the food was very good and dishes could be substituted to accommodate picky appetites or other dietary needs.
2. Activities: Plenty of variety and labeled by age group, which was uniquely helpful since we were traveling with a broad range of ages. Some of the activities we tried cost a little extra but were well worth it because of the “uniqueness” factor. At one point Ryan took James snowmobiling through the snowy woods – come on, who doesn’t think that’s worth a few extra bucks?
The pool area included a large pool, toddler pool and water play area filled with deliciously warm water, plus 2 jacuzzis within view of the pool. There were locker rooms to put our stuff (important if your room was not connected to the pool building), a bar and snack area, and a sauna. The pool was definitely one of the favorites, if not the favorite activity of everyone in the family. Other highlights of the weekend included snow tubing (our 2 yr old was able to go alone and our 1 yr old in our tube), the indoor toddler gym, the arcade and the go cart track.
Less successful activities for us were the bumper cars, which were small, noisy and had a long line all weekend (though the toddler-sized ones were neat) and the rifle range, which involved James sitting in the car sobbing after first listen. There seem to be a ton of amazing lake and outdoor activities available during the warmer months – we definitely plan to visit at some point in the future to try those out.
3. Lodging: We stayed in a room set kitty-corner to the main lodge (Classic Timberline), which was very convenient to food, the lake and snow tubing. Because the Timberline rooms were not in the main lodge they were also very quiet. There was a small refrigerator and a separate sink from the bathroom/shower. The room was quite large with two queen sized beds and two day beds – the 5 of us had plenty of space when inside the room (though we didn’t spend much time there aside from sleeping). Decor was rustic but upscale. There were needle disposals installed in the bathroom (as well as throughout the resort), which seemed a little odd but would have been very handy had one of us been diabetic. One concern: Our room had heating units along the baseboards, which during our cold stay were quite hot. We definitely kept an extra eye on the babies around them.
4. Entertainment: We did not attempt to see any of the nightly entertainment (though other guests seemed to enjoy it) because we decided to do other things during that time, but you could choose to attend or watch from your TV in your room, which I thought was a nice option to have since there was a minimum age for some of the shows.
5. Accessibility: The entire resort is wheelchair accessible though many of the activities are spaced some distance apart. I don’t know if you would want to push or wheel a chair to some of the farther away activities, especially during cold weather. There is a free shuttle that circles the resort, but I’m not sure if it’s accessible – definitely worth checking into before booking your trip.
6. Schedule: Summed up in a nutshell: 10, 2 or 4. There was quite a variety of activities available and the pool, arcade and indoor toddler gym were open during a wide range of hours. The main blocks of organized activities, games and events started each day at 10AM, 2 or 4PM. The activities were clearly labeled by recommended age which was very helpful. The problem was that if we went to one activity at 10:00 there was usually not another until 2, so if two kids (or adults) wanted to do an activity before 2PM we would all have to split up to find age-appropriate activities, which kind of defeated “taking a vacation for time together.” We would have enjoyed taking the younger kids to a 10:00AM activity and having an 11:00 or 11:30 choice for us or James so that we could have all stuck together a little bit more.
7. Value: We went on a very economical weekend and feel that we got a good value for our time there. I believe it was around $368 per person for the weekend stay, including all meals. Kids under 3 were free and 3-12 were around $180. However, for peak and holiday periods the price can be more than double that, per person, for a single weekend. My suggestion would be to shop the specials online for your first visit so that you can get a feel for what you would be willing to pay in the future.
8. Customer Service: Everyone we came into contact with was attentive and friendly, particularly our waitress. Relatives of the original resort founders were often seen wandering around chatting with guests which was a nice, personal touch. Private babysitting was offered for a fee – if we had been staying longer we may have tried this out in order to catch a show.
9. Layout: So I’ve already told you that Woodloch is a large, beautiful resort. Unless it’s 9PM, dark and freezing, and you need to get from the indoor pool to your Classic Timberline room. Then it involved a “longish,” frigid walk. There are shuttles every 15 minutes and there is some parking if you want to drive, but the resort is big enough to make for some uncomfortable walks depending on the age of your children and the weather.
10. Tips (My own, not the money kind – though we did tip our lovely waitress after her undying patience with our brood all weekend):
a) Go to the water activities after dinner when every one else is going to the shows – the pools and splash area will be deserted. And even more awesome.
b) Read the fine print after making your reservation – bring some dress clothes that are necessary for your Saturday evening meal so you’re not left scrambling, like we were.
c) If you don’t like to spend a long time on all of your meals, perhaps you might bring some yogurts, juices or breakfast foods with you? There was a fridge in the room and we may have done muffins and yogurts in the mornings had we known.
Though the whole weekend was enjoyable, the icing on the cake for us was waking up Saturday morning to 8 inches of fresh snow, which ended up being the only real snow we saw all season. Opening the curtains to a snow-covered forest wonderland was magical for all of us that first morning, and even though they make their own snow for tubing there is nothing quite like a fresh blanket of snow to bring out the kid in all of us (especially my husband).
Would we go back? You bet! The kids were all sad to leave and we are anxious to see the resort during the warm months when that gorgeous lake is open for water activities (and when the walk back from the pool isn’t quite so chilly). I encourage you to visit http://www.woodloch.com to find out more about vacation possibilities. They have some great Last Minute packages being offered online through May 13th, with even more deals to be found before June 29th (Mother’s and Father’s Day specials plus a Star Wars special next weekend!) and in the Fall.
I’m planning to devote the month of May to topics regarding mothers, so I am shaming myself into (finally) finishing the reviews I have saved in my Drafts folder by announcing them to you (there are actually more than ten, but i have to start somewhere!) We have thoroughly researched and experienced each of these places with James (and in many cases our toddlers, too). The reviews are all works already in progress, so if you see one that interests you more than others shoot me an email and I’ll move it to the top of the heap.
Top Ten: Upcoming Reviews
1. FDR Resort in Jamaica
2. James’s Middle School for 2012-2013 (we finally chose one, 13 tours later!)
3. The Million Dollar Quartet (look for coupon for this show to be posted soon)
4. Woodloch Family Resort
5. Rocking Horse Ranch
6. Holiday Inn Stroudsburg
7. Sesame Place
8. The Fulton Steamboat Inn (Amish Country PA)
9. White Post Farms
10. Cherry Crest Adventure Farm
Top Ten: Restaurants We’ve Gone Back To In NYC – Special Needs, Diaper Changes, Temper Tantrums And All
I could live here for 100 years and not visit all of the restaurants in NYC so I won’t pretend to know which are the best. What I do know is that if a place works for us with a special needs child and two toddlers, we go back to it.
The reasons I like each restaurant on this list are as different as the places themselves. They are located all over Manhattan, the food ranges from $1-$60 a plate, and some venues are loud, large and crowded while others don’t offer seating and are roughly the size of my foyer. So what are the common denominators? Reasonable wait times, clean bathrooms (many are wheelchair accessible), good food and service, and a general friendliness toward my children.
Because it’s like comparing apples and oranges, the restaurants on this Top Ten are in no particular order – we generally go to whatever is close by at the time.
1. Dallas BBQ, Times Square location. Solid BBQ food at a decent price (especially when compared to other Times Square eateries). Large and crowded without being overly noisy, service has been pleasant every time and the bathrooms are clean and accessible. There are two floors of seating with escalators (and I believe elevators as well). This restaurant recommendation is location specific though – we didn’t have nearly as good of an experience at their UWS location with regards to service, bathrooms or child-friendliness.
2. La Pergola, Midtown West. We have only been here during lunch hours – because this is a restaurant frequented by theater-goers it is usually empty during the day (except before the Wednesday matinee). This is probably our most visited restaurant since moving to the city. Though small and a little more upscale than we would usually bring the kids to, the restaurant owner, Christian, has been incredibly charming, personal, and accommodating to us during the slower daytime hours. He treats return customers well and has a soft spot for James in particular. He is probably also grateful that we have the sense not to come with our brood during the pre-show rushes, when I am sure things would be too tight to squeeze us all in without making a scene at one point or another. The food (French) is always fresh and has been fantastic every time, and the lunch special prices (that include a glass of wine) are phenomenal – around $15 or under. The bathroom is a single room but is always clean.
3. Kouzan, UWS. If this were James’s list Kouzan would be the easy #1 choice. As a sushi fanatic, we have taken him here for nearly every birthday since moving to the city. He also goes here for lunch with his grandmother 4-5 times per year, so I don’t think it is exaggerating to say that James is on a first name basis with many of the staff. When we come with all of our children, the hostess is gracious and seats us toward the back of the restaurant to help keep us from becoming the dinnertime “show.” There are great specials offered during lunch hours and reservations are usually available for dinner on short notice. The sushi is always fantastic and the other food we’ve tried has been delicious too. When they came out the first year to surprise James with their own birthday treat and song, James was terrified (remember, birthday song phobia). As he put his head down to cry, the staff looked horrified and dropped out of the song one by one. My husband and I were so touched by their gesture, and felt so bad for them that we jumped in and finished the song (sorry James)!
4. Johnny Rockets, Union Square location. I’m not a fan of every location, but the food has been decent and the service very pleasant at the Union Square location. Waitresses go above and beyond to talk to my children and did not act impatient (like I did) when James took 5 minutes to place his order. They go the extra mile for the kids and put ketchup and mustard smiley faces on their burgers and plates. The kids’ meal prices are very reasonable, around $5-7. Bathrooms were clean and accessible.
5. Whole Foods, 97th and Columbus Ave. I love this grocery store/ cafeteria (though I would never do my regular shopping here – too $$$). A huge variety of fresh foods (hot and cold) in a self serve venue with lots of seating, highchairs, accessible bathrooms and pleasant employees. If you have been scared off by the seating “issues” in Columbus Circle or Union Square, I wholeheartedly recommend trying this newest location in Manhattan. My kids all love the pizzas, except for James, who naturally prefers their sushi.
6. Brother Jimmy’s, UWS. We have come back here half a dozen times despite the tiny bathrooms and occasional balloons because of how easy it is to have a drink, take in a sports game and not worry if your kids are being kind of loud. We call ahead to make sure the game we want is on but never have trouble getting a table, and there is always a good food and drink special on the weekend. We really love their wings and fried green tomatoes, and the best part – kids under 12 eat free. Seriously, that puts a big dent in the bill when you have as many kids as we do! It even makes James looking over his shoulder for possible balloons every 5 minutes bearable.
7. Plataforma Churrascaria Rodizio (Brazilian BBQ, Midtown). So to be upfront, I’ve only been here a couple of times and not with all of the kids. And, it’s a little pricey – $60 prix fixe for the adult buffet and $4-17 for kids depending on their ages. But the buffet is no joke – “gourmet” does not do it justice. And with a buffet there is no wait to get your kids fed (worth more or less $$ depending on your kids). Each customer gets a disc, red on one side and green on the other. Flip it to green and waiters come by with delicious assorted roasts to your table. Flip it to red and they leave you alone. Fun for kids to play with? I think so (adults too, trust me). The ambience is large, loud and on the dark side, perfect for hiding those imperfections (like crying children), but the atmosphere is also perfect for having a special celebration or fancy night out with the family.
8. D’aiuto Bakery, Chelsea (31st and 8th Ave) I’m not even a doughnut fan but come here weekly for a plain glazed ring of heaven. Everyone has looked at me like I’m crazy or pregnant and therefore biased about this place, until they come with me and rave all the way home about how amazing their pastry is. I can only vouch for the glazed and boston cream-filled doughnuts, the apple fritters and the giant meringue cookies, but I hear that cheesecake is their specialty so I can’t even imagine how good it must be. Prices are right (I have yet to pay more than $1 for something) and service has been very pleasant, but there are no bathrooms or seating. Exceptions to my initial guidelines had to be made to accommodate the sheer tastiness of it all.
9. Five Guys, 110th and Bway. For all of you Shake Shack fans, I challenge you to try Five Guys. Unless you have peanut allergies (there are peanuts in barrels for a tasty snack while you wait) this is a fast food place you have to visit at least once. When Five Guys moved to Manhattan, my husband looked at me and said, “I just gained 10 pounds.” Fast food is almost a mean way to categorize their food – it certainly is fast but the burgers range from “better than McDonalds” to “gourmet meal in disguise” depending on what you put on your burger (I like mine All The Way). Even the grilled cheese can get dolled up. And the fries are the best (and plentiful – they always add extra to the bag). There are usually large single room bathrooms at these places, and unlike some of my other reviews, we have yet to enter a “bad” Five Guys.
10. Carmine’s, UWS. Another good place for special occasions or just a nice night out with the family, this “family style” Italian restaurant is large, dim and loud. Almost too loud sometimes, but hey, you’ll never have to worry about your kid being the kid everyone is glaring at (unless they are really, really bad). Each dish is made to feed a group, so though the prices can seem a bit steep, 2-3 dishes feed our family of 5 just fine, with leftovers. Service is always very pleasant, if sometimes a bit slow during the weekend rush. The eggplant parmesan looks like a layer cake but tastes much better (and I highly recommend it). Bathrooms are good enough, though not very large.
Did I miss something and you just can’t believe it? You’re welcome to leave your own favorites below – I’m certainly not going to get to all of the restaurants in NYC on my own!