Students and teachers are working hard, trying to cram as much as they can into the last couple weeks before Yeshiva break. But thoughts keep drifting toward long-awaited vacation plans. For those who feel left behind during these days, rest assured: Many activities await that do not require flying, and the most packing that has to happen does not have any baggage fees, because it rarely involves more than lunch and snacks.
While parents may find it difficult to zero in on a single activity that caters to a range of ages, the trick is to find a location or event with a range of activities that has something for everyone.
North Jersey and Surrounding Areas
There are many tried and true fun activities in the immediate area. Bowling and ice skating are low key and fun activities for many different ages. (Though ice skating can get iffy depending on skill, it’s still always fun.) High Exposure unleashes the inner Spider Man in kids and adults as you scale walls or train for the next American Ninja on their course. Or visit the recently renovated FunTime Junction in Fairfield, which can entertain kids of all ages for a full day.
Trampoline parks have been “springing” up across the country, with Urban Air Hackensack, Rebounderz in Edison and Bounce in Nyack, as well as the SkyZone chain, popular excursions. Here’s a pro trip from seasoned staycationers—look for areas outside of the main “yeshiva week” spots, such as Wayne or Allendale. Sometimes it’s only an extra 10 or 20 minutes, but these off-the-beaten-path locations are often less crowded since most schools in those areas are in session.
For something unique, Ocean Ice Palace in Ocean County takes ice skating to a new level and offers bumper car rides on the ice. While walk-ins are available, they recommend making a reservation for this winter outing. Visit their website at www.oceanhockey.com for specific hours and pricing.
Just two hours away, Philadelphia boasts a range of interesting sites that can entertain a variety of ages, often an issue for families. Minyan and kosher food options exist there too, whether in Philadelphia and its suburbs, or a half hour closer to home in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Philadelphia can easily be a day trip, but with so many activities there, it can also serve as an overnight vacation.
Geared toward children ages 7 and younger, the Please Touch Museum is a multi-sensory, hands-on experience that incorporates science and imaginative play into its exhibits. Kids can shop in a supermarket—complete with mini shopping carts and scanners—learn about aqueducts (friendly warning—it’s a wet activity), build rockets to see which shapes are the most aerodynamic and follow Alice’s journey down the rabbit hole.
For a more cerebral activity with older kids, the Franklin Institute is a science and history museum. With live science shows, a memorial to Philadelphia’s famous citizen Benjamin Franklin, a planetarium and many traveling exhibits as well as permanent hands-on exhibits, learning becomes a fun and interactive activity for everyone. And just in case the family needs a break, the museum hosts fascinating documentaries, many included with admission, and an IMAX theater playing full-length films, though that is often a premium admission.
Animals lovers can check out the Camden Aquarium, located right outside of Pennsylvania, and if it happens to be a mild winter in the Northeast, visitors may also be interested in the Philadelphia Zoo.
A unique Philadelphia activity can also include the Eastern State Penitentiary. The ESP, as it is known, was once the most famous prison in the world, but today stands as a spot for visitors to take in its Gothic architecture and a tribute to some of its most infamous criminals, including the notorious Al Capone.
Closer than Philadelphia, parts of Connecticut offer unique activities as well. For a novelty day trip, families can visit The Pez Factory. Less than an hour and a half away from North Jersey, travelers can leave after morning rush hour traffic, spend a couple of hours there, and come home before the afternoon rush. Though there is a working factory on site, it is more of a museum and a tribute to the vast assortment of items turned into Pez dispensers. Grownups will enjoy the nostalgia as they find Pez dispensers from their youth, and kids will enjoy pop culture turned into candy dispensers. Every paid admission comes with a $2 credit to use in their store, and most dispensers cost $1.99, so everyone comes home with a souvenir. They also have games that involve looking around the museum for hidden dispensers, which allows anyone who plays to win another free Pez dispenser. They are completely accommodating to the kosher visitors. When asked, they will swap out the packaged Pez with candy from the kosher Paskesz run at a one-to-one exchange. What could be bad about candy and more candy?
Manhattan and the Boroughs
Sometimes, just traveling over the bridge can seem like an exciting trip. Manhattan’s bustling pace can seem light years away from New Jersey to children not used to its frenetic activity level.
If you missed the Candytopia visit this past fall, there’s another offbeat and fascinating exhibit in New York City. The Museum of Illusions brings mind-bending and visually confusing art and displays to Manhattan. While some illusions may be the classic visual tricks we are used to seeing, the museum promises new illusions to twist your brain.
In recent years two exciting new venues appeared on the Times Square scene. National Geographic Encounter: Ocean Odyssey is an “immersive entertainment experience” that makes visitors feel as though they are inside the ocean and coming face to face with its inhabitants.
Gulliver’s Travels is another stop for a NYC excursion. Like the character in Gulliver’s Travels, visitors feel like giants as they walk around miniature cities. Visit Israel, Russia, Latin America and Asia all in one day, while using the key given to you at entry to make exhibits come to life. The intricate details keep adults fascinated as they notice jokes, trivia and historical aspects of each exhibit.
Kids will love the American Girl Doll Store, also sometimes referred to as the American Girl Doll Museum, to prevent the expectation of buying everything. If they own their own doll, they can bring her to the store and have her hair styled, buy her new accessories or just carry her around on the tour. Even without owning a doll, the store is floor to ceiling imagination and fun.
Any Jimmy Fallon fans out there? For children 6 years and up, the NBC Studio in Rockefeller Plaza takes guests on a backstage tour of the studio where many favorite shows are filmed. Advance registration is not required, but is strongly suggested.
For suburban kids, just riding on a subway or train can be a vacation thrill. Add to that a visit to the MTA museum, and the subway just became an entire activity. Housed in an historic subway station in downtown Brooklyn, visitors learn about the history and structure of the subway system. It also includes age-appropriate workshops and hands-on experiences for children. There are also the NYPD and NYFD museums, both always a hit with the kids.
The Yankee Stadium Tour is a fun activity, even for family members not as interested in baseball as their sports-minded counterparts. During the off season, the tour includes the New York Yankees Museum, Monument Park, Press Box and the Warning Track/Legends Outdoor Seating. If baseball fans just can’t bring themselves to tour Yankee Stadium, rest assured that Citi Field offers its own tours as well. Non-Gameday tours include a visit to the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, views of the production control rooms, dugout and bullpens and the Mets Hall of Fame Museum.
Even without stepping on a plane, staycation activities can ring up a high tab. Always read The Jewish Link for exclusive coupons to local activities. Also, check discount websites such as Groupon or Goldstar for cheaper tickets (many of the activities mentioned above have discounts currently available), sign up for emails from the venue for unadvertised specials or try to organize a group of friends for lower group rates.
Of course, any trip requires a little bit of planning and foresight. “Hanger” management is important for kids as well as adults, so make sure to pack snacks and meals if necessary. A camera or a phone with enough space to snap all the adorable pictures can be taken care of in advance, and activities to keep riders entertained during the trip can all enhance the staycation experience. Also, remember to bring along a first-aid kit.
Enjoy the winter break, whatever distance from home you may be!