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National Geographic Encounter: Ocean Odyssey {Family Fun}

National Geographic Encounter: Ocean Odyssey is an immersive, family fun experience in NYC. Take a journey under the ocean and learn all about the sea and its life.

(We were provided tickets to Ocean Odyssey.  However, all opinions are our own.)

Located in Times Square in New York City, National Geographic Encounter Ocean Odyssey is a fun, family experience.

If you are looking for a new, one-of-a-kind family outing in New York City, you must check out National Geographic Encounter: Ocean Odyssey. Conveniently located in Times Square, Ocean Odyssey is an immersive, underwater experience.  You will use almost all of your senses as you “travel” from the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific to coastal California via the Pacific Ocean.

While I’d love to fill this post with pictures of our experience and give you all the details, I’m going to try my best to keep it short, but informative.  The Encounter really needs to be seen and experienced in person.

Entrance to the Encounter Ocean Odyssey is by timed ticket.  We had 2 PM tickets but arrived early and were admitted in.  We were placed in a group of approximately 25 people and began our journey.  You move with your group throughout the majority of the Encounter, over 60,000 square feet of space.

The Encounter begins in The Shallows.  Here we were introduced to sea life via a screened wall and floor.  After a few minutes here, we then entered the Coral Reef.  The reef is fairly dark lit by the glow of the bioluminescent coral and eels.  There is some seating in this room but the exhibit is interactive and meant for guests to walk around. After the Coral Reef you visit Deep Ocean at Night. This is a very dark room with benches for guests to sit on.  In this exhibit we used our sense of hearing to listen to the sounds of the ocean at night.

The journey then continued to Squid Battle.  Here we watched on surround screens as two Humboldt squid battled it out.  We then walked to the Kelp Forest & Sea Lions.  The kelp forest is a maze that you must navigate.  At the end, you get to play with a sea lion and make him do tricks with your hand movements. Our Encounter ended at Bait Ball where we watched a 3-D viewing of a feeding frenzy.

In every room there are knowledgeable guides, who explain what is going on. They usher you from one room to the next.  The group experience lasts for approximately 45 minutes.  After that, you are free to stay and explore in Exploration Hall for as long as you wish.

If you complete the scavenger hunt at the National Geographic Encounter Ocean Odyssey, you get a puzzle piece to decorate and add to the Ocean Community Wall.

In Exploration Hall children can color ocean images, learn more about the animals in the exhibit via touch screens, or “clean up” a portion of the ocean via the Pristine Seas Challenge.  There is also a scavenger hunt which anyone can complete by watching a series of videos.  Once the scavenger hunt is completed and shown to an Encounter Guide, you are given a puzzle piece to design and place on the Ocean Community Wall.  Although our kids spent some time exploring the exhibits in the hall, they did not wish to participate in the scavenger hunt.  As you exit the experience you are routed through a gift shop selling branded memorabilia and ocean-related gifts.

National Geographic definitely went for the “wow” factor with the Ocean Odyssey Encounter.  It was such a fun and different experience.  However, keeping with the Society’s mission, they did a great job of educating guests as will.  Visitors will leave with a greater knowledge of the wildlife living in the Pacific Ocean and the importance of keeping the oceans clean.

The Details:

National Geographic Encounter: Ocean Odyssey
226 W. 44th Street between 7th and 8th Avenue, Times Square
New York, NY 10036
(646) 308-1337

Hours: Sunday – Thursday 10 AM – 10:30 PM, Friday & Saturday 10 AM – midnight
Last tickets are sold one hour prior to closing time

Tickets:  Online, for reserved time, $39.50/adults, $36.50/seniors (65+) and veterans, $32.50/child (12 and under)

Tips:

*Reservations are highly recommended.  Order tickets online if you are looking to visit at a specific time.  If purchasing onsite you will be admitted for the next available time slot.

*This experience is recommended for ages 3+.  Strollers are not permitted in the experience. but there is place to park them during your visit.

*Photography is allowed, but flash photography and video recording are prohibited.

*If you are looking for someplace to eat before or after your Encounter, there are many restaurants within walking distance including Junior’s, Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar, Carmine’s, Sardi’s, City Kitchen and Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.

Brunching at Calle Dao {Chelsea}

 

{I was invited to a tasting of the everyday brunch menu. All opinions are my own.}

Just hearing the restaurant name Calle Dao, you know you are going to get a global dining experience. Calle Dao serves Cuban-Chinese cuisine, paying tribute to the heyday of Havana’s Chinatown. Located at 461 West 23rd street, the new Chelsea location opened in the beginning of September. This is the second Calle Dao location (the first one is located in Bryant Park).

Owner of Calle Dao Marco Britti.

Owner Marco Britti, a musician by trade, has traveled the world as a drummer.  He has spent a good amount of time in Cuba, playing music and studying the culture and food. Calle Dao Chelsea is his seventh restaurant.

The Dining Space at Calle Dao in Chelsea.

The restaurant’s decor reflects more of a Cuban vibe. The white-washed walls lighten the space and each table has its own overhead light.  The abundance of potted green leafy plants, Chinese prints and neon lit signs add pops of color.  The beats of the Latin music playing will have you tapping your toes and make you want to get up and dance.

A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Chef Bradley Warner helped create the menu at Calle Dao.

The restaurant serves brunch seven days a week.  From 11 AM to 4 PM, you can enjoy all the deliciousness they offer!  Appetizers are in the $9-$10 range, with options like these Cuban Sandwich Spring Rolls and Shrimp Empanadas.  I highly recommend the spring rolls that are served with a Mojo Lime Mustard.  They really showcase the fusion of the Cuban and Asian cuisines.

Calle Dao's tasty version of the classic Beef and Broccoli. One of the entrees offered on their seven day a week brunch menu.

Main entrees are priced from $15-$23.  I was most impressed with the restaurant’s take on Beef & Broccoli.  Tender pieces of smoked short ribs are served with Chinese broccoli and noodles in a garlic hoisin sauce.  I just wish there was more than three small pieces of meat.  They also serve a vegetarian, mushroom and broccoli version of this dish.

An entree served on the seven day a week brunch menu at Calle Dao.

Another one of my favorite entrees was the Chorizo and Garbanzo Hash.  The chorizo and garbanzo beans are mixed with sweet potatoes, peppers and onions and topped with sunny-side up eggs.  This was a very flavorful dish with a great combo of flavors.

Other dishes I tried were a Lamb Picadillo & Corn Congee, topped with poached eggs and Huevos Al Horno (eggs baked in a white bean stew with Chinese sausage).  The picadillo was an interesting fusion of the two cuisines.  The Huevos Al Horno was a hearty dish.  However, this was one of the few dishes that I felt that I could make myself at home.  When I dine out I try to order dishes that I wouldn’t make at home due to the complex ingredients, flavors, or cooking methods.

A classic Cuban sandwich served on the everyday brunch menu at Calle Dao.

The menu has a couple of classic dishes like this Cubano sandwich with Mojo glazed pork, cured ham, salami, pickles and Gruyere cheese.

Besides the Mushroom and Broccoli noodle bowl, Calle Dao offers several other vegetarian-friendly options.  They make a Black Bean and Mushroom Burger, Shiitake Spring Rolls and two different salads. More breakfast-y options include a vegetarian omelette, Maduro & Eggs (fried rice topped with eggs), Avocado Toast and a strawberry jam and cream cheese filled french toast.

One of the delicious cocktails served at Calle Dao. I enjoyed a brunch tasting at the newest Chelsea location.

The restaurant has a fully stocked bar and also serves wine and beer.  Master mixologist Joy Daniel has created several unique Cuban-Asian cocktails to accompany Calle Dao’s menu.  I prefer my drinks on the sweeter side and sampled the “Flor de Oro”. Made with vodka, rose and vanilla infused dry vermouth, cherry jam and fresh lemon juice, this cocktail did not disappoint.

Calle Dao serves some amazing desserts like these Bunuelos and Matcha Tres Leches.

You have to leave room for dessert!  I tried both the Bunuelos (fried dough balls, rolled in Chinese Five Spice Sugar and served with a chocolate coconut sauce) and Matcha Tres Leches.  Both were amazing, but if I had to recommend only one, I’d vote the Tres Leches.

Whether you are in Chelsea to visit an art gallery, see a show or to shop, take a brunch break at Calle Dao.  You are in for a great dining experience!

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5 Things Our Family Wants To Do In NYC

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When you don’t have the funds or the time to travel a great distance, it is often suggested that you be a tourist in your own town.  Our family is certainly trying to take advantage of all our town and the surrounding Hudson Valley has to offer this summer.  However, we also live a short train ride away from New York City. The city offers so much to see and do that there’s always something to add to our NYC to do list.  Here are five things that we’d like to do in NYC:

1. Visit the Statue Liberty – The last time I visited the Statue of Liberty was in elementary school on a Girl Scout trip.  I thought that maybe we’d take the kids this summer and went online to reserve tickets to the crown…..because if we go visit the Statue of Liberty, I want to go to the top.  The next available tickets were for the middle of October!  Since I don’t know the kids’ sports and activity schedules for the new school year, I didn’t want to make any reservations yet.  I guess this trip won’t be happening anytime soon.

2.  See a Broadway Musical –  New York City is famous for its Broadway musicals and plays.  It is always fun to go see a show together.

3.  Take a Bus Tour – I’ve been saying for awhile now that I’d love to do the whole touristy thing and take a bus tour through NYC.  While The Ride is a bit on the pricey side, I’ve heard it’s one of the better bus tours available.

4.  Have Dim Sum in China Town – Last year, my family conducted our own food tour of China Town.  My kids ended up loving soup dumplings and have been asking for them again.  Instead of doing another food tour through Chinatown, we think they’d like having dim sum there.  It has been years since we’ve had dim sum and what better place to get some than in Chinatown?!

5.  Visit a Museum – Last year we visited the Museum of Natural History.  While we took the kids to the Children’s Museum of Manhattan when they were much younger, we think they are now old enough to enjoy the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) or the Guggenheim.  We may have to take advantage of the MoMA’s free Friday nights one day this summer.

And a bonus:

6.  Walk the High LineThe High Line is an elevated freight rail that has been turned into a public park.

We are fortunate to live so close to New York City.  There is always something new to see or do and we are hoping to take advantage of this more often.

What are your favorite New York City family-friendly recommendations? 

 

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Gelato in Eataly (New York City)

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We took a recent trip down to New York City to see the tree in Rockefeller Center.  After seeing the tree, taking the mandatory photos, and visiting the Nintendo Store, we took a trip down to Eataly.  We had never been and I had heard so much about it.

According to their website, Eataly is “an original “marketplace” model inviting consumers to be active participants in an innovative food and beverage experience where they shop, taste and savor high quality traditional Italian food products and beverages along with local produce and artisanal products; a multifunctional marketplace that includes a premier retail center for Italian delicacies and wine, a culinary educational center, and a diverse slate of seven boutique eateries.” The 50,000 square foot entity opened in 2010 and is owned by Mario Batali, Lidia Bastianich and Joe Bastianich.

It is an Italian food lover’s dream.  As soon as you walk through the doors your senses are bombarded with various sights, sounds and smells. And yes, there are plenty of crowds in Eataly…especially over the holiday break.  From our understanding, if you were interested in eating fish, you would go to the fish area and try to get a table at Il Pesce.  If you wanted, you could stand and nibble on wine and cheese in La Piazza.  They cook with fresh ingredients that they sell in the marketplace.  You can also purchase most of the food products to take home with you, including one of the 200 different types of cheese and over 30 types of baked bread.  We saw cooked lobster pieces in a plastic take-out container that were going for $70/lb.

As I mentioned, the place was super crowded.  We didn’t get to see them making homemade mozzarella, or hand-made pasta.  We didn’t get to see them rolling out the dough at the bakery.  These are things that the kids would have enjoyed seeing.  We found the demarcations of one eating area from another weren’t very clear, and there were people everywhere. We weren’t going to be able to get a table at any of the seven restaurants without a huge wait time.  With two young children and no clear waiting areas we decided to skip eating lunch there.  Unfortunately, because it was so crowded, you couldn’t really stop and just take it all in.  The below pastry shots were taken on the fly as we were pushed along with the crowds.  But you can’t leave Eataly without some type of treat!
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We passed bakery cases showcasing all kinds of delectable looking treats but decided on gelato.  My husband and I honeymooned in Italy and have fond memories of gelato.
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The chalk drawn menu listed several gelato flavors including chocolate, vanilla, pistachio, and some fruit sorbets, including raspberry.  We ended up getting a large cup to share, with up to three different gelato selections, for $6.90.  I chose Salted Caramel, my daughter chose Stracciatella (sweet cream with chocolate chips), and my son chose Coconut.  My husband is not picky and was happy enough with our choices.  The gelato was cold, creamy, and delicious and we all voted the Salted Caramel as our favorite.  The Coconut gelato, which we were originally trying to dissuade our son from choosing, was actually really tasty, with shreds of real coconut.

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Overall, the crowds of the place really detracted from our enjoyment.  I felt rushed and was more worried about losing my kids in the crowd than really enjoying the place.  While Eataly has restaurants that serve food very kid-friendly food, like pizza and pasta, the long waits were not child-friendly.  We would prefer to go again when the crowds aren’t so heavy. Unfortunately, since we make family trips into the city so infrequently, it is highly unlikely that we will be returning to Eataly anytime soon.

Have any of you been to Eataly? Please share your experiences in the comments section.