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After turkey and potatoes, a trip to N.Y. is a piece of cake

Their holiday travel plans went against common sense -- and worked perfectly.

February 26, 2006|Mary McNamara | Times Staff Writer

EVERY person who walked through our front door on Christmas Day told me I was crazy. Several months before, we had decided to take a trip to New York, and the best fares turned out to be on Christmas and New Year's Day.

So we followed the mayhem that two small children bring to Christmas morning by hosting an afternoon dinner for our extended family and friends. Then my husband, Richard, and I, along with Danny, Fiona and their Aunt Kay, boarded a plane. Everyone around us thought this was just nuts. I took this as total assurance that my plan was perfect: If everyone else thought it was crazy to travel on Christmas and New Year's, no one else would. And for once in my life, I was right.

We had a 10 p.m. flight out of LAX, which allowed Danny and Fiona the full Christmas Day experience. We ate a leisurely dinner in the afternoon, everyone pitched in with the dishes, I handed each guest a plastic bag for leftovers and everyone was gone by 6, having had, I believe, a lovely time. (Richard and I had agreed to leave the house in a state of chaos. We simply cleaned up anything that would rot and left the rest.)

Santa, in his omniscience, had actually brought a few toys that would be perfect for travel, so the kids didn't feel they were abandoning their loot. There was no traffic on the freeways or at the airport; we arrived the suggested two hours beforehand and were at the gate in about 15 minutes.

The plane left on time, we all promptly fell asleep, and when we woke up we were in New York, where -- at 8 a.m. Dec. 26 -- there was little traffic, either at the airport or on the highways.

Manhattan, of course, is packed during the last week of the year, so I won't lie and say we sailed through. There were crowds and lines everywhere -- at all the museums, on the subways, in Grand Central Station and the library and especially on the sidewalks.

But being from L.A. has many benefits, travel-wise. For one thing, we don't mind weather so much. We got it all that week -- rain, snow, sleet and freezing sunshine -- but it was such a break from our norm that we had no problem walking through several storms with various amounts of precipitation.

The same was true for crowds. In L.A., the only proof that we live in a densely populated city comes when we jockey for space on the freeway. In New York, with no time commitments or deadlines, it was exciting to see people surging for a glimpse of the skaters in Rockefeller Center or to see the stars at Hayden Planetarium. In fact, the enormous swells of visitors at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on the rainy day we visited made our experience less stressful. With so many people murmuring and milling, we didn't have to spend time shushing the children or making sure they didn't somehow disrupt the tomb-like quiet of the place.

We sublet an apartment on the Upper West Side, which, frankly, was the only way we could afford to do New York for a week. Having found rentals fairly easily in a variety of European cities, I was surprised by how few were listed online for New York City -- and how pricey they were. So I called a few friends who live in the city and asked if they knew someone who was leaving town; the flat we got was in the same building as one of my good friends.

I lived in New York for a few years after college and left of my own choice, and I don't know if I could live there again -- it is so relentlessly urban -- but for a week or two it is a great city to visit, especially for kids. The street food and subways alone were worth the price of the airfare for the children (Fiona pretty much ate her weight in hot dogs) and the main, obvious attractions -- the museums, Central Park, the neighborhoods, the Staten Island ferry -- kept us out and busy.

Because of the crowds, we didn't get to visit the Statue of Liberty or the top of the Empire State Building. But frankly, those are things parents think will thrill kids. Mine were more taken with the rocks in Central Park, the yellow taxicabs, the lights of the city as dusk fell and the bagels and cannoli. And there's always next time.

Coming home on New Year's Day was just as easy as traveling on Christmas night. We had a noon flight, so when we hit La Guardia, most people were still sleeping off the night's festivities. We got home in the afternoon, and there was none of the usual post-trip depression because, of course, there was our beautiful Christmas tree, the last of the cookies and all those new toys to play with.

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