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Times Square -- with its neon lights, Broadway theatres, and non-stop action (not to mention seedy peep-show arcades) -- has always been a "must" stop for camera-toting tourists. But the sleaze factor was a bit too high for families.
Now you can't keep them away. Ever since Disney came to town (opening productions of Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King), Times Square has gone from X-rated to good clean fun. There are kid-friendly theme restaurants, TV studios with live broadcasts, name-brand stores, and dozens of multiplex movie theatres. It's a veritable Disneyland, so to speak.
Sure, the area's crowded and hectic (you must keep close tabs on your kids) but the new and safer Times Square is now also a popular family spot.
Any parent of MTV-age children has probably quarreled over the virtues of doing homework versus watching TRL (Total Request Live), the MTV show. But the books are at home, and you're here. So go watch a live broadcast of the show at MTV Studios.
Kids can catch a glimpse of host Carson Daly and guest stars, just by hanging outside the studios during the broadcast (no one under 18 is allowed inside). Cameras occasionally pan the crowd, so you might even be seen on the show. When heartthrob Daly appears in the second-floor studio window, expect much screaming.
Early-rising fans of ABC's Good Morning America can see that show broadcast from its Times Square studios, too, by hanging around outside weekday mornings. Or, try for tickets inside (kids are allowed).
Got a kid into WWE? (In teen-speak, that's short for World Wrestling Entertainment.) Then you must have lunch at the WWE New York restaurant. You can eat a so-so meal (the food's not really the thing) and watch videos of past bouts. Live events with appearances by real-life wrestlers (but no actual wrestling) take place regularly. Kids will beg you to stop at the giant gift shop filled with WWE regalia. (Warning: You must pass through the gift shop to get in and out of the restaurant.)
Sports fans will also want to check out ESPN Zone, which shows live events on a big screen and TVs positioned everywhere (even in the bathroom). You can get a good burger here. But the real attraction is the top floor, which is filled with sports-oriented virtual reality games and games of skill. Play basketball, go parachuting (on a simulator), or scale a real rock-climbing wall. Note: You don't have to eat at the restaurant to visit the game room.
One of the newest gotta-see Times Square attractions is Madame Tussaud's. The five-story New York branch of the world-famous wax museum is lots of fun and well worth the rather hefty price of admission. Come here, if for no other reason than to photograph the kids next to Michael Jordan and Brad Pitt, and fool the folks back home into thinking you actually met the mega-stars.
If you have little ones, avoid the guillotine beheading demonstration (an alternative route is marked). And don't pay extra for the movie. It's not worth it. Save your bucks instead for the great gift shop, where you can buy costumes, wigs, and gross-outs like eyeball pens or detached hands.
These days, there are many family-friendly Broadway shows. And Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday matinees mean you don't have to keep the kids up late. You're best booking tickets in advance (for Disney shows, up to six months in advance) at the box office.
The New Victory Theater is another option. Originally New York City's oldest theater, built in 1900, it was recently renovated to offer high-quality productions for children at reasonable prices.
For a good listing of current Broadway shows, visit Live Broadway. The site offers links to show Web sites and ticket information. You can also buy tickets in advance of your visit through Ticketmaster (Phone: 800-755-4000).
Can't get seats? Brokers like Theatre Direct (Phone: 800-334-8457) specialize in getting tickets for "sold-out" shows. But you'll pay a huge premium for their service (Theatre Direct charges an additional fee per ticket). If you're already in town, check out what's available at the Broadway Ticket Center booth at the Times Square Visitors Center (see below).
Tip: For same-day, discounted Broadway tickets, try the TKTS booth at 47th St. between Broadway and 7th Avenue. But be prepared to wait in line, settle for less popular shows, and pay cash.
The Times Square Visitors Center, a converted landmark movie theatre, is the place to get free visitor information and brochures, use ATMs, book a bus or boat tour, buy subway and bus passes, access the Internet free via Yahoo, buy Broadway tickets (for full price plus a ticket handling charge), and most importantly, find clean restrooms. 1560 Broadway (between 46th and 47th Sts.).
Type of trip: Urban entertainment
Best ages: 9 and up
Ideal trip length: Weekend
Distance: Philadelphia (94 miles), Hartford (117 miles), Boston (215 miles)
Best time to go: January and February, when it's easiest to find hotel availability. Fall and summer, rooms sell out.
Weather: 48/26 degrees winter, 83/68 summer
Lodging: For last-minute hotel deals, try the NYC Visitor's Hotel Hotline, 800-846-ROOM or online discounters Quikbook.
Squirm factor: None, some at a Broadway play
MTV 1550 Broadway, between 44th and 45th Sts. Phone: 212-258-8000 Stand behind the police barriers as indicated.
Good Morning America 44th Street and Broadway Phone: 212-580-5176 You can request tickets the day before the show, or show up by 6:15 a.m. for standby tickets. One advantage of waiting: You can call the hotline a few days in advance to find out which guests will be on. But if your heart's set on seeing the show, get your tickets way in advance. Reservations more than two months ahead must be made online.
WWE New York 1501 Broadway at 43rd St. Phone: 212-398-2563 Seating is first come, first served. A service charge is automatically added to food bills.
ESPN Zone 1472 Broadway at 42nd St. Phone: 212-921-3776 Reservations are not accepted and there is usually a line to get seated.
Madame Tussaud's 234 West 42nd St., between 7th and 8th Aves. Phone: 800-246-8872
Disney Theatrical Productions Ticketmaster Disney Hotline: 212-307-4747 Tip: If you plan on coming back to Times Square in the future, buy advance tickets at the box office, where you'll have the best seat selection and avoid extra fees.
New Victory Theater 209 W. 42nd St., between 7th and 8th Aves. Phone: 646-223-3020
Contact: NYC & Company Phone: 800-NYC-VISIT
Favorite local spot: Carmine's 200 W. 44th St. Phone: 212-221-3800 Reasonably priced (for New York, that is) southern Italian cuisine served in heaping, family-style portions. Reservations are advised; allow plenty of time before a show.
Local food: Anything sold on the street, from Texas barbeque to sushi. Kids will like the sugared nuts for sale from pushcart vendors.
Best souvenir: Anything with the Big Apple on it.
Traffic alert: Times Square runs from W. 40th to W. 53rd, west of 6th Ave., to both sides of 8th Ave. (and to 9th Ave., only on 46th St.). Avoid driving in this area if possible; it's always congested -- and parking can be outrageously priced. Most hotels have their own lots or discounted deals elsewhere, so let them arrange your parking. Or go directly to the cheapest lot in the area, at 42nd St. between 9th and 10th Aves., just as you exit the Lincoln Tunnel from New Jersey.
Annual events: For any of the events listed below, call 212-768-1560 or visit the official Times Square Web site.
Broadway on Broadway Outdoor stage at 43rd and Broadway Mid-September Free performances of scenes from Broadway shows
New Year's Eve Times Square December 31 See the famous ball drop but be prepared for massive crowds. (Best for older kids and teens.)
Taste of Times Square W. 46th St. between Broadway and 9th Ave. Late June Food fair and live entertainment
Get away from the hustle and bustle at Wollman Rink in Central Park. Ice skating is offered both day and night (day skating only on Mondays and Tuesdays). It's a pleasant half-hour walk from Times Square or a quick taxi or subway ride (take the local # 1/9 train from 42nd St. to 59th St.). In the summer, the same circular rink is used for in-line skating. 62nd and 63rd Sts. (enter at 59th St. and Sixth Ave.), 212-439-6900.
Reviewed April 2004.