By Judy Koutsky
My three-year-old was on Spring Break (from nursery school), so I decided to pack up the car, load up the kids (we also have a one-year-old) and hit the road for a good, old-fashioned road trip. Our destination? Upstate New York.
For families traveling from New York City, upstate is great for little kids because it’s not too far (3-4 hours), but it feels like another world.
Holiday Inn Arena Binghamton
The Holiday Inn Arena is centrally located in downtown Binghamton, not far from Binghamton University. For our family, the king-bed suite was ideal. This corner-room suite has a large king bed, full bath, then a separate room with another full bath, table and chairs and pull-out sofa bed. The suite has two flat-screen TVs, a mini fridge, microwave and plenty of closet and wardrobe space. The hotel had a crib, complete with fresh sheets and a bumper, already in the room per my request. The set-up was ideal. The table and chairs came in useful for meal times, and we utilized the microwave and refrigerator throughout our stay. Having the kids sleep in one room with the adults in the other made everyone happy. There are 240 rooms at the hotel, with four executive floors.
Hotel Amenities and Dining:
The hotel pool was a big hit with both the kids and the adults. It was very spacious and heated to a nice warm temperature. Lounge chairs, tables and large, fluffy towels made this a great place to relax at the end of the day. The hotel also has a fitness center, business center and plenty of meeting space.
We ate at the hotel’s restaurant Cafe Select for breakfast and it was extremely family-friendly. They made my son’s pancakes into the shape of Mickey Mouse ears; they happily refilled the kid’s milk sippy cups; and were very accommodating with our requests. The service was great-our waitress was attentive without being intrusive-and the food was top-notch. I had the same vegetable omelet two days in a row because it was so good. The views of the Chenango River were also very nice.
Binghamton Mets: Little kids and sports don’t always mix, but at this minor-league facility it was a good fit. The Binghamton Mets are the Minor League Baseball team for the New York Mets. Prices are extremely reasonable (tickets under $10, parking only $3), so you don’t feel guilty if you don’t stay for the entire game (my kids lasted an hour). The mascots were super energetic and interacted with my boys during the game. We had so much fun, watching the players, talking to the crowd, giving high-fives to the mascots and eating hot dogs and pizza. It was my sons’ first baseball game and they both had a blast.
Binghamton Zoo at Ross Park: This zoo is celebrating its 137th grand opening this year-which is definitely something to celebrate. It’s the fifth oldest zoo in the country. What I really liked is the fact that it’s on the smaller size and very manageable. For little kids, the zoo is a great way to spend a few hours and you really do cover everything. We saw penguins, otters, birds, wolves, lemurs and more. There’s even a great playground within the zoo where we spent a good amount of time.
Discovery Center: This children’s museum is great for little kids because there are many different “theme” rooms, so it works for small children with limited attention spans. There’s a grocery store, dentist office, music room, TV anchor set and much more. Kids can try out different professions and learn at the same time. Plus, at 22,500 square feet, you can spend the day here without getting bored.
Hope Lake Lodge at Greek Peak
After leaving Binghamton, we traveled north about 45 minutes to the bottom tip of the Finger Lakes to Hope Lake Lodge at Greek Peak. For little kids, water is key (it’s fun, it wears them out and they don’t get bored easily), so I was excited to investigate the water park at this “four seasons” resort. Hope Lake Lodge is nestled in the mountain valley across from the ski slopes. There are 106 Northwoods-style rooms with nine different room categories. Views are of either the Greek Peak ski slopes or Virgil valley.
In the summer, guests can enjoy the beach at Hope Lake including boat rentals, fishing, hiking and aquatic and land activities. The resort also has a child care and activity center, where the director plans numerous events with the kids like pottery making, mini science projects and pretend play. The resort also has wireless Internet and complimentary valet parking.
For winter, Greek Peak is great for skiers of all ages and skill level. There are 32 trails, six aerial lifts, two surface lifts, a beginner’s slope and three terrain parks. Greek Peak Mountain Resort also offers a Nordic Center with cross country and snowshoe trails.
Hope Lake Lodge boasts the first indoor waterpark in the Finger Lakes. The 41,000 square foot Cascades Indoor Waterpark is great because it has sections for kids of various ages and swimming abilities. The tiny ones-like my youngest, Matthew, who is just a year-loved the one-foot wading pool and slide area with water swings. My older son Jack, who is three, loved the activity center which had slides, a 500-gallon deluge bucket, sprinklers, water shooters and more. I liked the indoor and outdoor hot tubs and the wave pools. The other big hit for older kids was the three-story tube slide. The water park boasts over 150,000 gallons of water and over 500 feet of slides in a nice, warm 84 degree temperature year-round.
Rooms at Hope Lake Lodge:
We stayed in the Cedar River Suite room category, which was the ideal fit for my family. There were two separate bedrooms, three separate bathrooms, a full-size kitchen complete with an oven, refrigerator, microwave, sink and a whole set of dishes (plates, bowls, cups, mugs and more). This is perfect for families who want to cook their own meals, have plenty of space to spread out and separate the two bedrooms for sleeping.
The service at the property was really top-notch. As soon as we checked into our room I called to ask for extra towels and also to see if someone could turn off our fireplace (as much as I love a good fireplace, with a one-year-old crawling and touching everything, the already-hot glass wasn’t going to work). Within minutes a mechanic came to the room and disconnected the fireplace and housekeeping team came by shortly after with our extra towels.
Be sure to hit the Feng-Shui designed Waterfalls Spa at Hope Lake Lodge; the 5,500 square foot spacious spa is a beautiful, relaxing environment with well-trained therapists and estheticians. The relaxation room has super comfy lounge chairs, a great selection of teas and silky-soft throws. Guests change in their own therapy room and are invited to relax in the lounge before and after their treatment. In addition to individual treatment rooms, there are also two suites complete with a two-person therapy tub, an infrared sauna and a shower and a lounging area. Now that’s pampering.
We had dinner at the Acorn Grill at Hope Lake Lodge, which was chock-full of families. Kids of all ages, high chairs, grandparents-you name it, it was here. They had crayons and activity books to keep the kids busy. Buffet was the most popular choice, with those under 4 eating for free. A la carte options included fish, steak and pasta options. The table next to us had special dietary requests-no dairy, no gluten-and the waitress worked with them on planning the right dinner for their needs.
We also ate off property, in nearby Cortland at the Hollywood Restaurant. This family-friendly establishment has been around since the 1940s and is a favorite with locals and tourists. The menu had a lot of kid-friendly options. My kids loved their spaghetti and meatballs, while I loved the yummy chicken dishes and peanut-butter-pie dessert. The décor of the place was fun–there was a jukebox, a life-size statue of Marilyn Monroe and colorful knickknacks. Our waitress was super helpful and quick to offer extra napkins and to-go boxes for the kids leftovers.
Our stay in Upstate New York was a big hit, for the kids and the adults.
For more information on fun things to do with the kids in New York, visit the New York tourism board’s website.