The Cheng-Wang Family
Travelers: Lei Cheng, her daughter Ava Wang, and Lei’s mother, Hua Liu
Destinations: San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York City, and Washington, D.C.
Dates: June 22-July 14, 2013
Cost: About RMB 99,000. Three round-trip tickets from Beijing to San Francisco via Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific cost RMB 21,000. Flights within the US to other cities totaled RMB 12,000. Three weeks of hotel stays came to a total of RMB 30,000. The travelers spent an additional RMB 18,000 on meals, ground transportation like a Greyhound bus to D.C. from New York City, and admissions to various attractions. Finally, they spent another RMB 18,000 shopping for clothes and gifts.
Planning: Lei bought plane tickets through CTrip (ctrip.com), and bought US flights on the websites of Virgin America, Delta, and United, but checked prices on Sky Scanner first
(skyscanner.com). For hotels, she booked through Hotels.com and Booking.com, both of which offer a free cancellation policy. For travel advice, Lei used Trip Advisor.
My mother and daughter had never been to the US, so we visited most of the major attractions – the more touristy, the better. We hit up Fisherman’s Wharf and Alcatraz prison in San Francisco; the kitschy (and sleazy) Hollywood Walk of Fame in LA; Times Square – which looks brighter at night than during the day – in New York City; and traipsed up and down National Mall in DC.
First stop, San Francisco. No other city could have left a better first impression of the US. Family-friendly, wallet-friendly, Asian-friendly. At a cool, drizzly 17 degrees Celsius, it was perfect walking weather. We strolled through Chinatown and Little Italy, then down to Fisherman’s Wharf; we listened to blues on the pier while scoffing clam chowder in sourdough bread bowls; and we walked to Boudin’s Bakery, where Ava was fascinated by the making of giant teddy bear loaf and received a small turtle-shaped sourdough as a gift.
A surprising success was Children’s Fairyland in San Francisco, a place that has delighted children (most suitable for kids under 8) for more than half a century. Everything is child-sized and super cute. There’s a mini Ferris wheel, a mini train, a carousel with ponies instead of horses, and a pumpkin-shaped kiosk. The daily puppet show was just as delightful for mom and grandma as it was for Ava.
Every place we went, we had seen or heard of on TV or in a movie. We went to the Bubba Gump restaurant chain with the famous Forrest Gump bench and box of chocolates; we remembered car chases with Sean Connery and Nicolas Cage in The Rock as we climbed the hilly San Francisco streets; and of course the Central Park fountain where Carrie Bradshaw met her nerdy beau in Sex and the City.
Even our hotel stays were historic: we stayed at the Omni Shoreham hotel in DC where parts of The Pelican Brief were shot, and in LA we stayed at the Roosevelt Hotel, where Marilyn Monroe shot her first advertisement and Shirley Temple learned to tap dance.
Our travels were filled with poignant moments. Ava and I got teary-eyed at the climax of the Broadway musical Cinderella, and we even saw a soprano singing my daughter’s favorite song, “A Whole New World” from Aladdin, at sunset on Santa Monica Pier.
The trip helped broaden Ava’s horizons; she now mentions Alcatraz in conversations, and after our visit to the moving “Daniel’s Story” exhibit at the Holocaust Museum in DC, she has become interested in the Holocaust and the events leading up to it. Ava’s physical stamina was surprising; we walked as much as seven hours one day, but refreshed by the occasional ice cream or splash at a water playground, she kept up with us.
The US was diverse enough to be enjoyable for all three generations. On any particular day, we could visit a kids’ attraction, throw in some shopping for me, and add some sightseeing and good food for my mom. It made a memorable trip for all three generations of women.
Spending Independence Day (July 4) in New York City sounded cool in theory, but in reality it meant long queues for the ferry and closures of places we wanted to visit, like the Staten Island Children’s Museum.
Though San Francisco and New York are top US destinations, they’re walking cities, and if you’re traveling with infants and toddlers, navigating these big cities with a stroller can be cumbersome.
The Smithsonian museums in DC are excellent for kids, as there are interactive exhibits, whereas standard art museums can be too stifling for young kids.
It’s possible to navigate LA without a car; we used the metro and buses to get around LA and San Francisco without much trouble. In DC, it’s better to hail cabs, as the public transport can be hard to deal with. See as much of NYC on foot as possible, as the metro can be hot and confusing.
Don’t worry. Crime-wise, the US isn’t as scary as the media makes it out to be. However in cities like New York, people can be brash and impatient.
photos courtesy of Lei Cheng
This article originally appeared on p32-33 of the beijingkids September 2013 issue.
Check out the PDF version online at Issuu.com