A Tradition Born in New York, New York

by Karen Reich, Vice President, Insurance and Global Fine Arts

The Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island
The Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island

My son first “visited” New York back in 1998, when I attended the naming ceremony of Grand Princess, which was then debuting as the biggest cruise ship in the world.  As part of the festivities, the ship sailed past the Statue of Liberty for a spectacular fireworks display.  Since I was pregnant at the time, my son was with me for the emotional moment as “America the Beautiful” resounded throughout the ship.  (Naturally, today I have no problem remembering the age of Grand Princess!) At that moment, I thought about my unborn son and dreamed about the day I would take him to see the “Big Apple.”

Ten years later we decided he, and the rest of our family, should really experience what New York has to offer.  So we set off; a family of born and bred Californians, including my husband Jon, son Greg, and daughter Val; for a place that often seemed as foreign a location as any country we have visited.

Even from that first drive into Manhattan from the airport, it’s clear that New York is an intense concentration of people and energy.  But with so many things to see and do, it was obvious we needed a plan.

Luckily, we collectively agreed our first priority was to visit the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.  Our ancestors hailed from Russia and Austria, and three of my grandparents first arrived in the United States through Ellis Island.  For me, these places are not only symbolic of our own patriotic spirit, but they are an important part of my family’s personal history.

The Statue of Liberty is such an iconic symbol of New York, so we started there.  That first exciting glimpse of the statue as the ferry approaches was just as emotionally stirring for the children as it was for me.  It was so easy to imagine the hope that this same vision brought to so many people after enduring not only the transatlantic voyage, but the conditions that drove them to leave everything familiar, to come to the United States to fulfill their dreams.   Here was the same view that greeted my grandparents as they embraced a new future – that inspiring first glimpse of Lady Liberty led to a better life for them, as well as for my parents, me and my children.  I think we were all filled with a sense of gratitude for the good fortune.  Inside, tour guides explained the construction and history of this iconic New York landmark.  I filled in for my son his own history of “visiting” the statue.

Nearby, Ellis Island was the main processing center for immigration from Europe in the 19th and early 20th centuries.  While the statue is symbolic of the immigration experience, Ellis Island is the heart and soul.  Between 1892 and 1954, 12 million immigrants passed through the facilities there.  Ellis Island went through an extensive restoration starting in 1984, the largest historical restoration in U.S. history. As a recent college graduate, I actually donated money to the project in honor of my grandfather who came to the US alone at age 16.   This visit to Ellis Island not only felt like a way to honor him and my other relatives who passed through these doors, but it captured the commonality of the immigrant experience in the United States.  It was an amazingly moving experience for me – and I hope for my children as well.

After our day collectively traveling back in time to the immigrant era, we all wanted to experience the essential nightlife of New York.  However, here we could not agree on what was THE essential New York after-dark experience.   So, the boys went one way, and the girls another.   The boys (my husband and son) headed off to Citi Field to see the Mets beat the Phillies.  They had the true NY sporting experience, taking a train full of fans wearing their Mets’ gear and rooting for the home team.   The girls team (me with my daughter and our NY friend, Fran) went to experience the bright lights of Broadway with a performance of “Billy Elliot” and a post-theater stop to revel in genuine New York cheesecake.  To this day, each of us is sure that our team experienced the best of New York.

Because my job includes management of the art auction program for Princess (and because art has always been a passion of mine), we of course needed to delve into New York’s rich cultural attractions.   We ended up visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art not once, but twice – and I could have spent days there.  The Met’s unrivaled collections definitely kept us busy – but I still think about the awe-inspiring Van Gogh collection.

Another cultural stop, the Museum of Natural History, was a bit like meeting a movie star, thanks to its newfound fame in the movie “Night at the Museum.”   The walk back to our hotel sent us through Central Park for a taste of how the park is a way of life for so many New Yorkers, whether it’s their place to run, walk their dog, take a romantic stroll or just get from point A to point B.  Oh, our Central Park walk also necessitated a taste of ice cream at the famed Boathouse.

For the international side of New York, we visited the United Nations – technically foreign soil with its own post office and postage stamps!  The amazing guides here can conduct tours in almost any language you can imagine.  Ours hailed from Korea but spoke English flawlessly.  Val found her interest in international relations piqued by the UN’s many diverse programs.  Who knows, we may have a future diplomat in the family thanks to this stop!

Travel is about memories, and some of the most powerful memories for kids are not what you would expect.  In contrast with his “first” visit, this time New York made a strong impression on my son, just not exactly how I would’ve expected.  To this day Greg still recalls his visit to the NBA store on 5th Avenue.  The store has interactive features that are fun for everyone, but he especially loved being able to measure his hands against the handprints of some of his favorite players and to pose for photos with life-size models of the players.

Today, we often remember our time in New York and talk about returning to see and do more – The Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center and let’s not forget about his dream to see a Yankees game.  I smile knowing that he has a lifetime ahead to visit again and again, and he’ll never have the same experience twice, which is the beauty of New York.  I guess you could say, New York is in his blood and I like to take credit for this.  He was, after all, exposed at a young age!