Day 9: Mad about Midtown (Manhattan)

Trip Start Jul 15, 2011
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Trip End Jul 25, 2011


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What I did
Visited Midtown Manhattan

Flag of United States  , New York
Saturday, July 23, 2011

No sleeping in today as Midtown Manhattan was our destination and we had a 10:30am appointment at the Sony World Technology Labs. To get there required some walking as the Sony Building was several blocks from our subway line– so we prepared mentally for the heat as the heat wave continued today.

After breakfast in the hotel room we headed to the subway around 9:30 taking in the hectic sights of the other tourists and New Yorkers starting their Saturday. Our exit stop was at Columbus Circle on the southwest corner of Central Park, where we then began a walk along the southern edge of the Park along Central Park South Street and we were about to take a short stroll physically on a walkway inside the park. This was the kids' first look at Central Park. Although we were only on the edge of the park we were able to see some of the beauty of it as we noticed a nice pond with a row of swimming ducks, the wonderfully manicured lawn, a neat looking bridge and a swarm of pigeons which Jadin was most impressed with yelling, "Take a picture, Dad".

As we walked down Central Park South Street we were approached by mobs of peddlers trying to get us to either rent a bike to ride in the park or to sign up for a horse carriage or Pedi-cab tour of the Park. They came at us in waves and were aggressive. Even if they saw me say “no” to one, the next one would offer a better deal. It was too hot to ride a bike and regardless we had an appointment at Sony so after my consistent wave-offs we finally made it past them to southeast corner of the park.

At this location we looked up and saw The Plaza Hotel, the famous hotel home of the fictional character Eloise (see www.eloisewebsite.com). Aria loves the Eloise movies and books so seeing this hotel provided a grand photo opportunity. Not only did we take pictures of the exterior of the building but we went in the lobby for photos as well. After searching inside for a bit we found the famous picture of the six-year-old character herself and that’s where Aria got her picture with Eloise. It was a classy looking hotel.

By this time we were getting close to our appointment time at Sony so even though we walked right in front of the Apple Store (which was completely covered up with some sort of plastic covering) and the FAO Schwarz toy store we had no time to stop in. We reached Sony at 10:15 and were immediately placed in a line for an early entry into the Technology Lab.

The Sony Wonder Technology Lab (www.sonywondertechlab.com) is a four-story, interactive technology and entertainment experience. Inside there were multiple learning hands-on exhibits focused on technology and, best of all, it’s free. Once inside we each were given a “Felica card” which served as our “passport” to the Lab. We had to register our Felica card by supplying our name and our voice and photo were captured to individualize our card (this personalization seemed to irk Laneshia). It did make me think, “now.. what exactly will Sony do with this info when we’re finished?” Regardless, we didn’t have to supply any address or SS# so I went with it.

With the Felica card strapped to our wrist we now were released to the Technology Lab. And there were some cool things to do. The Lab mixed learning and playing exhibits as there were history exhibits such as the history of the internet and another one on the history of TV (one old TV on display was showing an episode of Sanford and Son, one of my all-time favorite shows – you should of seen my face light up!).

There was an exhibit that displayed how electronic devices worked with one showing the inside of a PSP -  PlayStation Portable, a game device that Jadin has. Jadin checked this one out and at the end of the animation an image appeared showing the PSP in 3D, appearing to float in midair in front of us. It was funny looking at Jadin and Aria trying to grab it (Ok, I tried to grab it as well).

The best time I had was in the Production Studio where we got to produce a HD television news cast working as a team. The setup allowed for each individual to play a different role such as director, cameraman, reporter or host. Well, if you don’t know, aside from me, the rest of my family is relatively shy, so with folks waiting in line & watching behind us, Laneshia and Aria were not wanting to step up to do anything in front of the camera. I was surprised to find Jadin step up to be a reporter (way to go, boy!) I was the news host and Aria worked the camera – and worked it she did. Laneshia settled for videotaping us with our camera. It worked out great but the monitor showing our speaking script went way too fast creating a funny moment as we tried to talk fast to catch up.  Jadin still did well and Aria, as I mentioned, was swinging that camera getting my good side. That was fun. When we finished we stepped outside the studio and watched our performance. The only disappointment was we didn’t get to have a copy of the final HD production shot.

Another neat exhibit was the Dance Motion Capture booths during which I performed dance moves that was captured and displayed digitally by an animated character. You should have seen me shaking it. For some reason our other family dancer, Aria, was just too shy to get in the booth. Maybe next time.

Some of the other exhibits were a robot programming zone (which Aria did) and a music production zone which was a neat interactive project during which we helped Alicia Keys produce and mix a song.

And yes, they had video games. Jadin spent some time on a Game Builder computer where he created his own video game and then we went “In The Game” as Sony calls it – an alcove equipped with HD displays where we could test certain PlayStation 3 games.  I’m pretty sure this was the 2nd highest thing Jadin was looking forward to.  What was the first you ask? Well that happened after we checked out of the Technology Lab and went to the Sony Store: Buying video games.  

Of course they had a Sony store to hock their goods, and the video game area was well laid out to Sony’s credit. It was very interactive with plenty of space to allow us to try out the games including a car racing setup which all of us enjoyed playing in.

And yes, Jadin got a video game.

After we left the Sony building we headed east to the Rockefeller Center better known as 30 Rock. I love high buildings and observation decks so I decided to take us up to the Top of the Rock Observation deck.  After a short line to purchase tickets (very expensive in my opinion at $70 for our family), we were guided through line leading to a “Beam walk” photo shoot where the image was of us sitting on a beam on the top of the building. Next was the elevator up—which was called the “sky shuttle”—and we began our assent 70 stories up. While going up there was this cool electronic light display through the top of elevator as we speed to the top in about 15 seconds – it was a very fast ear-popping ride.

Once on top I was in awe of the view. Central Park looked magnificent and on the other side was a clear view of the Empire State and Chrysler buildings. The sea of buildings below us looked like a Lego set. The observation area consisted of three levels and Jadin and I wanted to get to the very top level and so we did. I was like a kid walking through the three observation decks snapping pictures from every angle. For those not comfortable with heights this would not be for you.

After about 20 or so minutes on the deck and in the heat, we headed back down to the ground and went below the Plaza area to the underground Concourse at Rockefeller Center. This was a network of underground pedestrian passageways with shops and restaurants. Here is where we ate finding an eatery called the Tri Tip Grill, an upscale, quick service restaurant featuring salads, chicken, salmon, and sandwiches. It was hamburgers for Laneshia and I. Aria had a chicken sandwich and Jadin had a beef sandwich.

Leaving the Concourse area we headed upstairs to another store in the Rockefeller Center that filled Jadin with anticipation: the Nintendo World Store. This was a 10,000 square feet store that focused on hocking, err, I mean, selling the Nintendo goods. The store had plenty of interactive displays and an abundance of opportunities for the kids to get their game on. Even Laneshia got into the game playing mode. There were free downloads and charging tables which were packed with young and old “kids” who had their DSI games hooked up on them. The upper level of the store had Nintendo brand clothing and a small display area that was sort of like a Nintendo museum showing old game consoles and old game disks. One Gameboy console on display was burned and charred and read that it was in that condition due to an explosion in Iraq during operation Desert storm in 1991 – and it was still working!

We finally dragged the kids out the store and made a fast pace to our next destination – the New World Stages for a show called the Gazillion Bubble Show. This was for Aria and wow did she enjoy it. The Gazillion Bubble Show is described as an interactive bubble show featuring (of course) bubbles, lasers and lighting effects.  Once the show started, the bubbles came down in full force and Aria’s eyes popped open with amazement. She was jumping up and down grabbing at the bubbles trying to pop them with the biggest smile I’ve ever seen on her. She was really into this show.

The bubble artist was named Ana Yang who is described as “The World’s Greatest Female Bubble Artist” and a Guinness World Record holder. She was good and very entertaining mixing serious bubble making with some comedy as she brought a few of the audience kids on stage. I enjoyed a laser routine she did during which she seemed to grab laser beams and throw them on the ground (you had to be there to understand).

When the 80 minute performance was complete we just had to get Aria some bubble paraphernalia as she enjoyed the bubble making so much. And It was delight to get a bubble making kit for her. Although the staff repeatedly warned not to take photos I asked for chance for a photo of the set and a staff member allowed me to get a quick shot in (check it out). And to our surprise, Yang – the bubble artist, was waiting outside the theater seating area and so Aria got a photo with her as well. It was a nice time and Aria’s “moment”.

The last stop on our busy day was to visit yet another bookstore. This one was called Strands Books which was a few subway stops south. As we walked a few blocks to the subway station to get to the bookstore we traveled along a street that had several signs posted to the poles that read “No parking Sunday 7/24 – Film Shoot” which caught Jadin’s interest. He seemed thrilled to think he was walking on a street that a movie was to be filmed on so he excitedly asked to take a picture of the sign.

After the train ride we exited at the Union Square station which led up into Union Square Park and wow was that park packed with folks doing a little bit of everything from chess playing to people watching. I guess in the sea of concrete that Manhattan is, these small block-sized parks are the only public spaces people have to get out. And folks were squeezed into every area of the park.

We reached Strands Books which claims to have “18 miles of books” and they probably do. Laneshia disappeared for a while to browse as I went with the kids to the children’s section on the 2nd floor. We made some book purchases including Aria getting some more “Little Miss Manner” books to add to her collection, then we were off again back to the Union Square subway station. By this time it was completely dark outside but the park had even more people congregating in it. A performance was starting up by some street performers who began to do some dance moves and expected tips in the end. We didn’t stay to see their complete performance much to the disappointment of Aria. We had a long day and I was ready to get to the hotel.

For dinner Aria and I visited a well-known local shop right near our  hotel called Gray's Papaya. This place is famous for its inexpensive, high-quality hot dogs. The "papaya" in the name refers to the papaya fruit drink sold at the establishment. This place has been featured in a multitude of moves and TV shows including When Fools Rush In and Sex in the City. The dogs were well worth the acclaim, the papaya drink not so.

We spent the late evening in the hotel relaxing. Aria fell asleep watching TV and Jadin played his new video games until he crashed.
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