We don't throw our kids birthday parties — we take them on vacation instead. It's easier, and more special.
We've thrown our kids typical birthday parties every year, with tons of pizza and sugar.
We decided to take them to New York City instead, and while it would cost more, we'd make memories.
I would do it all over again, because pizza and cake were getting monotonous.
In the midst of planning my son's 8th birthday party, the monotony of securing a venue and investing in a two-hour celebration had me reconsidering our celebratory confines. Parties for children turning another year older, complete with a unique activity followed by pizza and an abundance of sugar, feels required.
Every year we give in to this demand as if our children's well-being depends on it.
This year we didn't.
We took our kids to New York City instead
Despite living only two hours away, my kids had never been to New York City, aside from one quick day trip they only half remember. I realized a family of four staying in the Big Apple would mean shelling out more money than the cost of parties for both kids. But I also knew it meant choosing memories and experiences over trampoline backflips and too much cake — a potentially messy combination parents know all too well. Going to New York seemed like it would be money better spent.
First, we booked tickets to "Lion King" on Broadway. The show, which happens to be one of the most popular musicals in the world, surpassed all our expectations. The performance blew my family away, with top-notch acting, dazzling costumes, and humor sprinkled throughout. The cast singing "Circle of Life" is enough to bring an entire audience to tears. My children's eyes were glued to the stage for the full 2 ½ hours, and they were already asking to return for another show.
The day before the show, we visited the National Museum of Mathematics for my math-loving kiddos. There was a plethora of exhibits where my children were fully immersed in the world of math. From concepts like symmetrical patterns to the relationship between position, velocity, and acceleration to the creation of tiling patterns called tessellations, there was something for every mathematician. The highlights for my kids were riding the square-wheeled trikes and spinning in a chair within a cylindrical chamber to create a curved surface made entirely of straight lines.
Time allowed for one more daytime activity, and we chose to climb the Empire State Building to the 86th floor. While the process of reaching the observatory deck was similar to trekking through an airport, chockful of winding lines and security checks, it was alluring to see the city from above. My kids located several landmarks and gained a sense of just how large and busy New York really is. They exited the skyscraper with a newfound love for New York and a souvenir.
For our overnight stay, we chose the Marriott Marquis in Times Square for its convenience to our Broadway show. The craziness of the location was exactly what my kids loved about our stay. We visited the M&M and Hershey's stores for all our chocolate needs and, of course, we couldn't leave without a quick stop at FAO Schwartz. Before bed, my kids admired the lights and the hustle and bustle of the city from our hotel window — they couldn't get enough.
It felt less like a chore
This year we traded in our usual birthday pizza and cake for hot dogs and soft pretzels from NYC street carts. We savored unique dinners from restaurants like Fish Cheeks and Eleni's, both offering heated outdoor-dining options for COVID-conscious guests. We topped off the kids' dinners off with Levain Bakery's delicious cookies, gooey on the inside, just as they should be.
Overall, our weekend getaway to New York was a huge success. We avoided the yearly party planning that has come to feel like a chore. We gave our kids cultural experiences that parties don't offer and formed memories that will last a lifetime.
I would choose an experience over a party all over again — and now my kids would, too, because pizza and cake are starting to feel antiquated when a whole world exists beyond the trampoline park.
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