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Family Travel: New York City for the Holidays, Flickr: petercruise

Rockefeller Center!

Try as they may, I am not sure any US city can beat NYC for its festive holiday spirit.  Families looking to book a vacation during the “most wonderful time of the year” are in for an incredible treat.  Although there are plenty of hands-on activities, the real magic of Christmas in New York City is not in a particular activity, it is in that undefined sense of holiday magic that seems to fall on the city like a blanket of fresh, white, and surprisingly cozy snow.

The epicenter for Christmas in New York is Rockefeller Center.  You simply can’t say you’ve Christmased in NYC without a visit here.  30 Rock’s famous Christmas tree, which lit this past week for the 2012 season, is a Norway Spruce standing at 80 feet tall, strung with more than 30,000 lights!  If you are so inclined, and don’t mind the wait, ice skate with the family on what is arguably America’s most famous outdoor rink.  If you don’t want to wait, simply sit back and take it all in: enjoy the shops and eateries and marvel at the festive holiday décor and thousands upon thousands of twinkle lights.   If your kids are properly bundled and up for it, take the chilly walk down Fifth Avenue to check out the department store windows.  At Macy’s, visit Santa in his elaborate Santaland or watch a Christmas show at the Puppet Theater on the eighth floor.  You also must make a trip to toy heaven: FAO Shwartz, although you should arrive early to avoid the crowds.  

There are plenty of other places to ice skate in the city if you are fine with breaking tradition.  Locals will tell you to head to Citi Pond, where you can skate for free.  Central Park features two rinks, as well as the chance to take a carriage ride through a winter wonderland, a special treat for kids of any age.

Since New York is known for its theater scene, be sure to explore some of the city’s favorites.  Celebrating its 85th season, the classic Radio City Christmas Spectacular featuring the Rockettes is pretty much a must on everyone’s list.  Where else can you see a lineup of synchronized dancing Santas?  I admit that I wanted to audition for this as a small child –I still get excited just thinking about it.  If your kids are less dance-inclined, head to see “Elf, the Broadway Musical” running through January 6th.  

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photo: petercruise

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