Pop songs reconceived as chamber music are piped through the bus speakers as the children double fist sweet tea in travel mugs and miniature chocolate mousse pastries.
My girls, aged 5 years and 364 days, and 11, lounged against a banquet covered with a soft pink throw as the double-decker bus navigated the canyons of Midtown Manhattan. A tour guide shared a few factual tidbits, then broke out into song (and she could actually sing).
I don’t really remember what she talked about, and neither do the kids. The city information seemed beside the point on TopView’s “Tea Around Town” tour bus.
The premise seems genius, at least as far as my kindergartener was concerned: Fancy tea, in a fancy dress, on top of a double-decker bus (she’s seen double-decker tour buses driving around, but had never ridden one). It was her last day of being 5, and this was an adventure to celebrate.
My husband donned a sport coat and pocket square, and our 6th grader and I completed the party. This bus trip included four birthday parties, all girls ages almost 6 to 16. Clearly, a good option for early teens.
The buses pick up on the north side of Bryant Park, impossible to miss with pink and gold floral murals on their sides. A staffer scanned our digital tickets off an app we downloaded. Tip: Do come early and be prepared to wait outside for 10 minutes or so – they will leave people behind who miss the ticket time.
Tea Around Town with kids
Once past the doors, we climbed narrow stairs to the top level, which is transformed into an Instagrammer’s paradise. Lights and flowers and feathers framed the bus roof, which was glass and open to the sky. Even the metal supports dividing the roof glass were covered in crystal. Tables sat two or four. A cart held carafes of hot tea. A three-tiered serving tray sat atop each table, laden with pastries (top), savory bites and sandwiches (middle) and scones (bottom).
Waiters in vests were kind and generous, fawning over the kids, accommodating their tea preferences. We had the premium package, which meant unlimited prosecco for the adults and sparkling cider for the kids, in addition to tea, and a few extra types of food.
About the food: It was fine. Is it The Plaza or Harrod’s? No. At least one carafe I noticed had tea bags, not loose tea. The food was fine – just not exceptional. But then, the point isn’t really the food, is it? This is an experience. It’s the ambience, the novelty and feeling special for a few hours.
And there was plenty of food. Additionally, a table set in the back for four had no guests – perhaps they missed the bus. The servers distributed some of the plates to those of us in the back, and so the kids (and a 13 year-old by us celebrating her birthday) had all the mini eclairs and tiny lemon meringues they could eat.
We aren’t big drinkers, so the prosecco was lovely but we didn’t take full advantage. But we don’t usually let the kids gorge on more petit fours than they can eat, and unlimited fizzy cider. With prices starting at $109 per person (plus many fees) for the premium/VIP experience, for a family of four adds up. For us, the $69 standard admission probably would have sufficed, although a gentleman and his date beside us were clearly enjoying the wine. My husband and I decided this would be an excellent alternative to a booze brunch, sans kids.
The bus did a slow roll through Midtown – taxis, city buses, and bikes passed us. Towards the end, we rolled past Central Park, still dusted with snow, as a classical version of Taylor Swift “Wildest Dreams” played. The little one waved to the passersby, delighted. We circled back through Times Square, and even I, jaded adult that I am, had to acknowledge it was fun seeing the lights from a different, higher angle.
As we turned back toward Bryant Park, my husband and I realized we lacked cash to tip the servers. They were excellent – kind and friendly. They treated the kids with patience and respect, despite having to navigate small stairs with pitchers of hot liquid. We asked the tour guide for her Venmo, but we wished there was some way to tip the excellent staff without cash. If you go, bring some cash.
As we disembarked, the kids gushed. They couldn’t think of a better birthday adventure. And really, that’s what mattered.
By Anne Miller
If you go to Tea Around Town with kids
Ages: Children must be at least 3.
Tickets: Minimum two per purchase. You are guaranteed a private table seating.
Is Tea Around Town only for families? No! It’s popular with couples, bridal parties, ladies’ gatherings, and other adult groups.
Meet up: Arrive at least 15 minutes early. They will leave without you if you are late.
Timing: The tea/driving experience is about 75 minutes, with another 15 minutes for bording. Plan for 90 minutes not including your wait time for the bus.
Menu: You can see the menu on the Tea Around Town website. The menu notes which items are vegetarian or gluten-free. (The sweets are all vegetarian as are half of the items on the premium savory menu and all on the standard menu).
Trips per day: 6-10 trips daily
The route: Includes photo ops of Columbus Circle, Central Park, the theater district, Radio City, the Chrysler building, New York Public Library and Empire State Building.
Disclosure: The reviewer paid part of the Tea Around Town with kids cost and received a comp for part, to accommodate the review. All opinions are her own.