Still sweet on the Big Apple

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iol travel sept 12 new york AP Knocked from top spot, New York.

New York holds a special place in my heart.

I first went there before Christmas in 2005 when I was wooing my then girlfriend, now wife, Tara.

We jetted back just two months later, in February 2006, when I bought Tara her engagement ring.

And in April 2008 I whisked her back again to celebrate our first wedding anniversary in the Big Apple.

So it was a special trip for us at the end of March when we returned to New York with our little toddler Lexi in tow.

On previous visits we experienced many of the sights, like a helicopter ride over Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty and a trip to the top of the Empire State Building.

iol travel oct 31 ss nu ny horse cops New Yorks mounted police maintain law and order, and wont mind posing for a pic or two. INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS

We've had lunch in Little Italy before a walk up through Chinatown just as the snow started to fall in what would see us caught up in the 'blizzard of 2006'.

And we'd also enjoyed an anniversary dinner in Gordon Ramsay's restaurant The London NYC and took in a Broadway show (Chicago).

So this time around, with a two-year-old to entertain, it was a very different holiday - but we left with memories every bit as good as when we'd been as a couple.

Central Park is an amazing oasis in the middle of the concrete jungle of Manhattan and it has something for everyone, whether you want to relax, eat or have fun.

We enjoyed a lovely stroll through the park to get away from it all and, on the recommendation of a colleague, headed for the Boathouse by the lake which was a brilliant tip.

It's the perfect place to grab food and drinks and it was really child-friendly as well.

Our little one loved the park's abundance of squirrels, but amongst the many other things to see and do there I'd recommend taking in the Strawberry Fields memorial to John Lennon, a trip round the park by horse and carriage and, if it's inwinter time, you must go to the ice rink. Central Park also has a neat mini zoo, but we decided to take the subway to the Bronx Zoo, which was a brilliant family day out.

A polar bear, giraffes, a lion, tigers, grizzly bears, monkeys, a rhino... it had a good selection of animals on show, although Lexi was as pleased to see peacocks scattered about the paths, as she could get up close and personal with them.

Kids under four go free as well, which was a pleasant surprise for us when we got there.

Back in the rough and tumble of the city, like any toddler our daughter was keen to visit the toy stores.

In any other city that might be unremarkable, but New York has FAO Schwarz, just a hop across the road from Central Park.

And FAO Schwarz has THAT piano.

Their grand piano - priced at a cool $250,000 and made famous in the movie Big - is a must if you have kids and, in my opinion, a must even if you don't.

It's a giant multi-coloured musical floor piano that you can dance on and the great thing is that, as long as you take off your shoes, anyone can have a go.

They have a photographer on hand to capture the moment for you, but you can save the cash by taking your own snaps, they don't mind.

But FAO Schwarz is a great store besides the piano, and you'll love the life-size toy animals, its fantastic signature FAO Schweetz candy shop downstairs and, beside it, if you don't mind splashing some cash, the Muppet Whatnot Workshop where you can build your very own Muppet-style puppet creation!

Our base for our trip was The Roosevelt Hotel in midtown Manhattan, a historic building which isn't immediately evident from the outside but hits you the minute you set foot in the lobby.

Opened in 1924 at the height of the Jazz Age and dubbed the “Grand Dame of Madison Avenue”, you'll be forgiven for thinking you stepped onto a movie set on your way in to check in.

And with good reason - the ornate surroundings of the hotel lobby and bar has been used in hit series Mad Men as well as a host of big screen movies, like Wall Street, Maid in Manhattan and The French Connection.

Location-wise it was perfect, it's right in the hub of things beside Grand Central Terminal and not a big walk to Times Square, Central Park or Broadway.

If you're travelling to New York for the first time here's a couple of tips - with tips themselves being the first one.

Apart from buying a gift in a shop, you're expected to tip for everything - a taxi, a pint in a bar, the concierge getting your bag, the waiter bringing your food - and it's customary to tip up to 15-20 percent when it comes to food.

That can make for a pricey meal, and remember too that for most things you spend money on, and this includes food and gifts, you will have tax added on before you pay. And my other tip is via my wife, who checked out movie actress Gwyneth Paltrow's lifestyle website Goop.

Check it out before you go, she has a home in New York so she has all sorts of great recommendations.

We checked out one cool little restaurant called Prune for lunch, but there were loads more we'd love to have tried... but 'til the next time, because we will be back, and we can try them then. - The Independent

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