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Animal Experiences

Summer Playground At The Sydney Opera House

Summer At The House #sydneyoperahouse via christineknight.me

The Sydney Opera House never ceases to surprise me with their wonderful programming for families.

Summer At The House #sydneyoperahouse via christineknight.me

Right now, kids can enjoy the fabulous free Creative Play available daily at the Sydney Opera House just inside the Western Foyer. Kids can take time out of the heat with free LEGO play, while contributing to a collaborative musical composition – using their LEGO creations. The shapes built by the kids is turned into music using a really cool technology (a scanner in the roof and some sophisticated software). Three very entertaining and energetic musical performers engage the kids and introduce the LEGO music every 15 minutes.

Summer At The House #sydneyoperahouse via christineknight.me

I’d previously thought Cheese was just not really into Lego, but she surprised me by wanting to build Lego towers for over an hour. I literally had to drag her out of the building, which was a shame considering how great the air conditioning was.

Creative Play operates daily until January 26. Free and suitable for any ages who enjoy building with regular sized LEGO (no Duplo here).

Summer At The House #sydneyoperahouse via christineknight.me

Out on the Western Forecourt is the Summer Playground. The Harbourside sandpit is a big hit, letting kids kick off their shoes and play with the provided sand toys while parents can sit around the sandpit under shade and enjoy a drink or lunch.

Hungry families can grab a bite at the Summer Playground’s House Eatery By George, Opera Bar or Opera Kitchen. Their kids’ menu features three meals, each $15 (tip: if the cafe inside the foyer is open, you can pick up a kids’ box for $7 which includes sandwiches, juice, a cheese stick, museli bar, lollypop and mini box of smarties. These boxes can be brought out into the Summer Playground area to eat).

Summer At The House #sydneyoperahouse via christineknight.me

When we stopped by, the Taronga Zoo’s Zoomobile was there, giving kids the chance to meet Australian wildlife like echidnas, snakes and shingleback lizards. Sadly the day we visited (Jan 15th) was the last day for the Zoomobile.

Summer At The House #sydneyoperahouse via christineknight.me Summer At The House #sydneyoperahouse via christineknight.me Summer At The House #sydneyoperahouse via christineknight.me

The Sydney Opera House Summer Playground is open until 01 Feb 2015, Sun-Thur 9am-11pm, Fri & Sat 9am-12am.

Public transport is the easiest way to get there (catch the train to Circular Quay), but if you need to drive, until 31 January Wilson are offering Opera House visitors a special Summerhouse deal. Pre-book a bay in the Opera House car park and quote Summer15 to receive $15 flat rate for weekday parking 9am-5pm and $9 flat rate for weekend parking 9am-5pm.

Brunch Survival Guide: Governors Island Day Trip

Governor's Island Survival Guide via brunchwithmybaby.com

Desperate to get away from the cement landscape that is Manhattan? Us too, especially on days when the heat radiates from the ground up. One of our favourite easy escapes is an afternoon trip to Governors Island. The 172-acre island is just off the southern tip of Manhattan, near Brooklyn. Governors Island was used as a military base for almost two centuries, before 150 acres were sold to the people of New York in 2003. (The remaining 22 acres of the Island was declared the Governors Island National Monument that is overseen by the National Park Service.)

Each year, Governors Island opens every Memorial Day weekend through to the end of September, and is chock full of fun events all summer long. With a young toddler, our choices are a bit limited —so this year the best bets for us were the FIGMENT interactive installations (including the treehouse pictured, above) and a mini-golf course (open summer-long, at the Parade Grounds) the Fête Paradiso and Compost Outpost. Older kids will love the Children’s Museum of the Arts Free Art Island Outpost Program, which is open all season from 11am to 3pm, at Nolan Park. Kids can enjoy hands-on workshops including painting, sound design, sculpture, animation and podcasting.

Governor's Island Survival Guide via brunchwithmybaby.com

As well as enjoying the seasonal events offered, it’s also really nice to simply take a walk around the island. I love this walkway  (above) through the middle of the park, with the towering trees on both sides, and the empty buildings that once housed military personal (which can sometimes make you feel like you’re in a ghost town).  On a quiet day, it’s an eerie vibe. You can walk or bike (BYO bike or hire one when you get there) around the entire island, to take in an amazing view of the Statue of Liberty and southern tip of Manhattan.

Governor's Island Survival Guide via brunchwithmybaby.com

The hot event to visit this summer has been Fête Paradiso, a traveling festival of vintage carnival rides and carousels, making its American debut. The collection includes attractions from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, such as carousels, flying swings and a pipe organ. Not only is it cool seeing rare, museum-quality items in a setting as beautiful as the island, you can also ride most of the vintage attractions. Insider tip: The rides are a bit on the pricey side, particularly if you’re going with a toddler. If you’re riding with your kid, it will cost you each a ticket, even if you’re just holding your kid while they’re riding the carousel. The best value is a buying in bulk.

Governor's Island Survival Guide via brunchwithmybaby.com

There are a lot of rides, mostly suited to adults and older kids due to lack of modern safety features. The best rides for small kids are the carousels.

Governor's Island Survival Guide via brunchwithmybaby.com

Governor's Island Survival Guide via brunchwithmybaby.com

A carousel with cars was the favourite among the junior set (vroom vroom!). The only problem? No seat belts to strap the kids in, so the merry-go-round presents a couple of challenges — a moving platform, plus a moving toddler ON the platform who wants to buzz from car to car to car. TOO MANY CHOICES FOR TODDLER BRAINS!

Governor's Island Survival Guide via brunchwithmybaby.com

This miniature VW van was dubbed “the party bus” by the parents watching the chaos unfold, as all the kids scrambled to squeeze inside and take the wheel at once.

Governor's Island Survival Guide via brunchwithmybaby.com

For a change of pace, calm everyone down at Earth Matter’s Compost Outpost (open all season, 10am-5pm, South Battery). Kids can get up close to chickens, goats, rabbits and worms, all of whom spend their days eating compost, care of Governor’s Island visitors. Older kids can learn about compost first-hand, by taking part in the daily composting.

Eating On The Island
When it comes to food, you have a few expensive choices. Fête Paradiso features an eatery inside a pavilion designed in 1900 for bumper cars. Food is available in a tent, catered by French eatery Le Gamin. You’ll be able to try some traditional bistro fare like Steak Frites ($15), Croque Monsieur ($8) Salade Nicoise ($8) and sweet crepes with Nutella, lemon sugar or jam ($5). Kid-friendly options include hamburgers ($8) and Rotisserie Chicken ($10). Adults can enjoy spirits and wine from the Languedoc region of France. There is also the King Island Food Court, featuring a variety of vendors and cuisines, and picnic tables at which to sit. For a really relaxing day, bring a packed picnic and blanket.

Tips to Know Before You Go:

  • There’s no drinkable water on the island (so no drinking fountains). You can buy water from island vendors and vending machines, but we’d advise bringing plenty of your own. Water bottles can be re-filled in the Governors Island Ferry Waiting Room at the Battery Maritime Building.
  • The only indoor bathrooms are located on the upper and lower level of Building 110, adjacent to the ferry landing. There are plenty of port-a-loos placed around the island if you can’t hold on to find these bathrooms.

Governors Island
Open every Sat, Sun and holiday Monday from 10am-7pm through to September 29. To get there, catch the East River ferry from Manhattan (from Wall St/Pier 11 ($4) or the free ferry from the Battery Maritime Building) or the free Brooklyn ferry from Brooklyn Bridge Park Pier 6. Check out the ferry schedules before you go, and be prepared for a long line if you’re heading across from Brooklyn.

Coney Island Day Trip: Totonno’s Pizza + NY Aquarium

Totonno’s - kid-friendly restaurants, Coney Island - via brunchwithmybaby.com
Huge pizza. No problem.

A day trip to Coney Island for most people is about sun, fun and hotdogs. For us however, it is all about pizza at Totonno’s, which is quite possibly the best pizza in New York. Big call, I know. But Totonno’s has plenty of press to back them up over the nine decades they’ve been open, as one of the best pies you’ll get in NYC.

Let’s back up a bit: After hearing about the Totonno’s reputation soon after we moved here from Sydney, we were determined to put their pizza to the test. So we decided to make a day trip of it, beginning with pizza and ending with a visit to the nearby NY Aquarium.

We were a bit wary after walking through a few Coney Island back streets, past auto-mechanics, to a nondescript storefront that opened to an old-school diner. Was this really home to one of New York’s best pizzas? We were dubious, but decided to stay and try it out anyway. Note to readers — our visit and these pics were taken before the hurricane, and before Totonno’s remodeling following the disaster. The pizza however, is exactly the same.

Totonno’s - kid-friendly restaurants, Coney Island
Waiting for food in the low-key dining area.

Totonno’s is not a fancy place. It’s more like your grandma’s 1970’s-style kitchen—no frills tables and chairs, old pictures on the walls, and the menu spelled out in tiles above the ordering window. The service was also similar to what you’d get at your grandparents’ house — friendly and casual, with a strong likelihood that one of the owners themselves would be serving you. (Totonno’s is owned by three siblings; Antoinette Balzano, Frank Balzano and Louise Ciminieri; whose grandparents opened the restaurant.) Totonno’s was closed for five months after Hurricane Sandy ripped through Coney Island, opening again on March 24 to the rapture of locals and tourists alike.

The pizza itself is MASSIVE. Absolutely huge. We ordered a large, plain cheese pizza ($19.50). Of course we ate every single last bite. With a pizza that good, it’s a crime to leave a sad little crust behind. And yes, it is as good as it’s reputed to be. The crispy dough, the perfect layering of delicious tomato sauce, and  the dollops of fresh mozzarella cheese: Heaven. Go to Coney Island, just for this pizza. If you want something not-pizza, go somewhere else, as this is the only thing they serve on the menu. Add extra toppings for $2.50 each.

When we visited, Cheese was too young to do anything except gnaw on a pizza crust, which she highly enjoyed anyway. They did have a highchair, but we opted to hold her in our laps.

Coney Island via brunchwithmybaby.com
Coney Island beach.

After stuffing yourself with amazing pizza, walk on down to the Coney Island boardwalk to check out the beach and do some people watching.

New York Aquarium via brunchwithmybaby.com
New York Aquarium, Coney Island

Then wander on down like we did, to the also recently re-opened NY Aquarium (at Surf Avenue & West 8th Street) and get up close and personal with some seriously cute sea life. The aquarium also suffered a beating during the hurricane and is still being rebuilt. Several of the animal exhibits have reopened, like the penguins, sea lions, otters and walruses.

Last bite: A family-owned pizzeria that loves families. Scarf down some of the best pizza in NYC, then check out the also recently re-opened New York Aquarium for the perfect day trip.

Highchairs: Yes.
Stroller storage: Yes.
Easy access: Yes.
Change tables: No.
Kids’ menu: No.

Totonno’s
1524 Neptune Ave
(between 15th St & 16th St)
Brooklyn, NY 11224
Phone: (718) 372 8606
Price: $$
Hours: Wed-Sun 12pm-8pm

Get directions.

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Prospect Park Zoo, Brooklyn, New York

Nestled in beautiful Prospect Park is the sweet little Prospect Park Zoo. It’s a tiny zoo – perfect for people like us with a toddler. We saw everything in an hour and 20 minutes with our 19-month-old walking everywhere herself. I don’t like zoos much – I usually find them a bit depressing. The Prospect Park Zoo, however, is filled with well cared for animals and exhibits.

Sea lion, Prospect Park Zoo.

Miss Cheese’s favourite animals of the day were the sea lions, whose exhibit is smack in the middle of the zoo. Make sure you catch the daily sea lion feedings at 11:30am, 2pm and 4pm, to get a really good look at the sea lions performing their natural behaviours with some help from the keepers.

Kids of all ages (including us!) will love feeding the animals in the barn area of the zoo. Cows, goats, sheep, alpacas and chickens are housed in barn-like pens, with slats and holes in some of the fences so you can feed them the designated food. Watch out for the goats and sheep – they are so used to being fed that they climb up onto the fences and reach their long necks over for better access to food – funny for us, but a bit scary for little toddlers. They’re super gentle and tame though, and Cheese had no problem feeding them with animal kibble straight from her little hand. The best bit: baby lambs, just two weeks old. Squeee!!

Lambs! Prospect Park Zoo.
Baboons! Prospect Park Zoo.

The other highlights for us were the baboons, housed in a large enclosure adjoining one of the visitors centers, with floor to ceiling glass, and the Discovery Trail, a winding path through gardens and scrub lands, with animal exhibits like prairie dogs and red pandas. Cheese particularly loved the ducks, including eating the duck kibble instead of feeding it to the actual ducks.

Cheese watching the ducks, Prospect Park Zoo.

What to eat: This is the sad part of our post. While the animals are well fed, the humans aren’t. There are a lot of outdoor picnic tables to sit at, but inside the cafeteria lies only vending machines. We highly recommend you bring your own lunch, or leave the park and eat at a nearby cafe or restaurant. Check out our personal fave in Prospect Heights, Gueros, or download this guide to eating in Prospect Heights for a larger directory of places to eat.

Prospect Park Zoo
450 Flatbush Ave, Brooklyn, NY
Phone: (718) 399-7339
Hours: Spring/summer (Mar 23–Nov 3, 2013) Mon-Fri 10am-5:30pm, Sat-Sun 10am-5:30pm.
Fall/winter (Nov 4, 2013–Mar 28, 2014) Daily 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m