My 7-year-old is a major fan of Rick Riordan’s novels, and this weekend for a birthday present, I took her on a tour of sites from the books located in Manhattan. When I mentioned my planning for the trip on Facebook I got a lot of interest from other parents, so I figured I’d write up what we did and how it worked.
Obviously your mileage will vary with age of kid, willingness to walk, attention span, and level of obsession. My daughter knows the books well enough that we could drop into the stories at any point and read the chapter that bears upon the site we were visiting and have it make sense. Also she can be read aloud to approximately forever and not get tired of it. And we did–there’s something pretty neat about sitting in the spot being described and reading the story. You pick up on details you wouldn’t notice if you just walked up to something and said “Look, there’s the Plaza Hotel where the demigod army made their headquarters in the Battle of Manhattan” and stood there for five minutes. Given that the passages we wanted spanned several physical books and we were traveling light, I brought with me our paper copy of The Last Olympian (TLO), and then sprang for ebook versions of The Lightning Thief (TLF), The Red Pyramid (RP), and “The Crown of Ptolemy” to read from my phone. (Plus a backup battery stick for the phone.) That worked out quite well.
(Please forgive my iffy photography. It’s not my strong suit. And among other things, some moisture seems to have gotten inside my phone case over my lens.)
Stop 1: Empire State Building.
We got there at 8:30am, which even on a nice clear summer Saturday in June was early enough to have barely any wait, even though the top was plenty crowded already. The lines can get to be hours long later in the day, so I highly recommend the early start. I had bought tickets online and was glad I had not paid extra for express “skipping the lines” privileges or the 102nd floor. It was expensive enough already, and the views really were great. (I also forgot to bring quarters for the binoculars, which my daughter insists I note here. Something to consider.)
ESB is a great place to start off because it’s such a central location in the books, and you can get the lay of the land of the city from above. My daughter was too shy to ask the guy at the desk or the elevator attendants for the 600th floor, but I’m sure they must get it occasionally. If you do end up in a line, you can always read Mt. Olympus passages (TLF, 2nd half of chapter 21; TLO, chap. 17, 296-302) or battle scenes around the building (TLO Chapters 15, 16, 18).
(Bonus stop: If you forgot anything–like we forgot sunglasses—there’s a Duane Reade on Fifth Ave just north of the ESB — possibly the one that Will Solace sends the Stoll brothers to for medical supplies after Annabeth is wounded on the Williamsburg bridge.)
Stop 2: Plaza Hotel
We hopped on a subway uptown to the Plaza Hotel. We took a gander at the fancy lobby and then sat in the shade of the fountain across the street, which features a statue of the Roman Goddess of plenty, Pompona, who has a testy exchange with Percy before he heads inside, and read TLO, pages 194-205 (first half of chapter 12).
Stop 3: New York Public Library
It was an easy bus ride right from the corner of Fifth Ave back down as far as 42nd Street to the New York Public Library to visit the lion statues that are activated and devour the Clazmonian Sow. There are great spots to sit in the shade and read (The Last Olympian, pages 248-254, 2nd half of chapter 14), and the lions are climbable if you have that kind of kid.
Stop 4: Grand Central Station
Just a few blocks East from the lions along 42nd Street is Grand Central Terminal. On the outside is the statue of Hermes also involved in the Clazmonian Sow fight. Also inside the main entrance is a caduceus over the door. You can admire the ceiling with its constellations, many of which have Greek myth connections, hunt for a candy store like Sally Jackson worked in (there are two chocolate shops, which doesn’t seem quite right), and get lunch in the dining concourse.
(Bonus stops: We skipped these for time, but from here you could also head to the UN Plaza where Kronos gathers his forces in The Last Olympian—pages 282-285—or stop by Madison Square Park to the statue of Gov. Seward, the first automaton activated in Command Sequence 23, TLO pages 173–176.)
Stop 5: Walk Across the Williamsburg Bridge
Riordan loves the Williamsburg Bridge. Not only does a major battle in the Battle of Manhattan take place there (TLO, chapter 11), but also in the Red Pyramid, Bast, Carter and Sadie drive across it while fleeing some of Set’s minions (RP, chapter 9).
Walking across it is no mean feat, though lots of people do it. There’s a foot and bike path in the center of the bridge (with separate lanes for bikes/people). Subway cars rumble beneath you, and once you get over the water there are nice breezes. Bring lots of water and comfortable shoes.
(Other options: If you don’t want to walk the Williamsburg Bridge, you can ride a subway across it, or just ogle it from the Manhattan side, possibly tracing some of Bast’s path as she drives through the neighborhood in Red Pyramid, and then head south to take a shorter ferry from Battery Park to Governor’s Island.)
Stop 6: Governor’s Island
A few blocks from the Brooklyn side of the Williamsburg Bridge is the South Williamsburg NYC Ferry stop. Buy tickets online beforehand ($2.75 each) and have them printed or on your phone as it’s not a staffed site. Also be prepared for a wait–they were extremely behind schedule when we got there and the first boat to show up was too full let on everyone who was waiting. Luckily the crossover story “The Crown of Ptolemy” (printed in the House of Hades novel), which takes place on Governor’s Island, is long, so you have plenty of reading material.
Also this is a good chance to revisit the story of Percy getting the two river gods on his side (TLO, pages 176–180), as once you’re on the boat and headed south, you’ll get a great view of Battery Park, from which he jumped into the meeting point of the two rivers.
All aside from Riordan connections, the ferry ride is amazing. I recommend waiting near the exit on the lower level until it pulls out and then stepping out to stand at the bow for refreshing sea breeze and awesome views of the Brooklyn Bridge.
Governor’s Island is a gorgeous place to explore. The book connections involve the parade ground (now under reconstruction) and the picnic area at the south end of the island, but once you are there you kind of have to take the time to also enjoy things like the view of the Statue of Liberty from the Hills, the city’s longest slide (east of the lookout point in the Hills) and a climbable metal buoy with a loud, ringable bell. There are bike rentals if you have the time, and probably more we didn’t discover. Also if it’s still around and open, Play-ground NYC, the junk/adventure playground, is awesome. Be sure to have kids in closed-toe, hard-soled shoes if you want to take advantage of that.
Oh, and we also spotted a cruise ship that *might* have been the Princess Andromeda. You never know with the Mist.
57 foot slide
Self portrait with climby-pants in the background
Tired and filthy, with well-deserved Sno Cone
At the end of the day, my daughter told me “That was a really full day, and a really good one.”
Day Two: (Our day two was really a half day because we had a mid-afternoon train home, but it could easily be stretched to a full day, especially for older kids who have more museum attention span.)
Stop 1: Gazebo/Rocks by Central Park Lake
This seems like the best place to look for the Door of Orpheus (TLO, pages 109-116, beginning of chapter 7). It’s pretty, the rocks are fun to climb on, and bonus points for good odds of seeing turtles, frogs, and water birds. As you walk through the Ramble to your next spot, look up how to identify an elm tree and take nominations for the one Grover slept under for two months when he got hit with the Morpheus spell.
(Bonus stop: If you have time and desire to walk in the park more, head up to the southern end of the reservoir, site of the battle with Hyperion, TLO pages 239-248. See if you can find a big maple that might be imprisoning the titan of the East.)
Stop 2: The Obelisk/Cleopatra’s Needle
The site of Bast, Carter, and Sadie’s showdown with first the Carriers and then the Scorpion goddess Serqet (RP, Chapter 10). Super impressive—3500 years old, covered in visible hieroglyphs, with bronze crabs around the base added by the Romans. Could totally evoke the idea of a magic portal. Just west of the Met.
Stop 3: The Metropolitan Museum of Art Fountain
Out in front of the front entrance. Where it all began—the fountain that Percy unintentionally causes to drench Nancy Bobofit at the beginning of The Lightning Thief. (TLF, Chapter 1)
Stop 4: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Admission is pay-what-you-will. You can get tickets ahead of time online for the recommended donation of $25/adult, but since you need your printout scanned by a ticket seller to print a real ticket it doesn’t save you that much time. Note that you have to check backpacks and are not allowed to bring in or check luggage.
While the Greek and Roman galleries are full of statues and pottery pictures of characters that any Riordan fan will be delighted to recognize (and indeed the museum even publishes a Percy Jackson-themed guide to those galleries), we couldn’t find a room that clearly matches the description of the particular hall where he fights Mrs. Dodds or the stele that Mr. Brunner is lecturing on. Hey, it is a novel. (TLF, Chapter 1)
The Egypt galleries match the book description more closely (RP, Chapter 11), from the tomb when they enter the gallery to the eventual discovery of the Temple of Dendur. And the contents in between were more interesting to my kid too, though she was sorely disappointed not to be allowed to explore farther into the temple.
Stop 5: Heckscher Playground
We didn’t actually make step 5, because I had the misfortune of having not accounted for the Puerto Rican Day parade, which closed Fifth Ave and made it impossible to hop a bus directly down in time before our train, and it was too hot to walk. But if you have time and ability and need some physical play after the museum, Heckscher Playground in the southern part of the park is where the parley with Prometheus takes place in The Last Olympian (Chapter 13).
In which our intrepid Riordan fan finishes an entire footlong sub at the end of her adventures.
I didn’t go into complete detail above about how to get from place to place because there are so many options and I figure it will vary so much with personal preference, weather, and age/stamina of participants. There’s a map below. We spent about $45 on subway fare and $11 on ferries over the course of the two days and got everywhere we needed to go without excessive walking (except over the bridge). I relied very heavily on Google Maps for both transit and walking directions. (I do recommend checking for major road closures ahead of time though, as it doesn’t pick up on that. Try the MTA Trip Planner.)
Here’s a Google map of the whole thing:
If you do any version of this, please come back and comment about how it went and what you added or changed!