NEW YORK -- ''Oh you pretty Chitty Bang Bang, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, we love you. And, in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang what we'll do," sang our family of four, hopelessly out of tune.
We had just left the latest family musical to hit Broadway and couldn't get the lyrics out of our heads. No, Dick Van Dyke didn't reprise his role for this version of Ian Fleming's only children's book. But Raul Esparza did a fine job playing that wacky inventor, Caractacus Potts, and Erin Dilly was nominated for a 2005 Tony for best actress in a musical for her performance as Truly Scrumptious. Yet it was, of course, Chitty that stole the show, flying high above the audience on several occasions to the many ''oohs" and ''aahs" of the crowd.
Just as remarkable as a flying car was the fact that I was exiting a theater on 42d Street. Twenty years ago, I wouldn't set foot in Times Square, known then for its adult book stores, peep shows, triple-X movies, and seedy cast of street characters. I used to arrive by bus at the Port Authority, on the corner of 42d Street and Eighth Avenue, and quickly hail a cab to flee the scene. Never would I have dreamed that years later, I would bring my 6-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son to this part of Manhattan. And that they would love it!
Rudy Giuliani pledged as mayor of New York (1994-2001) to clean up Times Square, and he made good on his word. He brought in mega stores including Toys ''R" Us and Niketown, theme restaurants such as Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. and ESPN Zone, and, most important, the necessary financiers to bring 42d Street back to its heyday. Disney invested $34 million to restore the old Ziegfeld Follies haunt, the New Amsterdam Theater, to stage ''The Lion King" in 1997. It's still playing to packed audiences. Down the block, the Apollo and Lyric theaters were combined to form the Hilton Theatre, the current home of ''Chitty Chitty Bang Bang."
Across the street, at Madame Tussauds, you can get a good look at the 200 or so lifelike wax figures of celebrities and world leaders. Since my children couldn't give a hoot about seeing Brad Pitt with Jennifer Aniston or Angelina Jolie, we opted to check out Toys ''R" Us on Broadway, in the heart of the neon lights and billboards that make up the square. A large indoor Ferris wheel stands at the entrance. My daughter was quickly off and running to the two stories of Barbie accessories, while my son was checking out the latest video games.
Simply walking down Broadway with the swelling hordes of humanity underneath the flashing lights is exciting for any out-of-towner. Fake
For convenience sake, we stayed at the massive Marriott Marquis, on the corner of 45th and Broadway. The hotel features its own amusement-like ride, a glass elevator that zips up and down a 37-story atrium to your room, and the city's only revolving restaurant on the top (49th) floor. We stayed on the 42d floor, with great views of the West Side and the Hudson River, and when the kids were bored, they could use the elevator for entertainment.
Instead of franchise restaurants or long waits at the popular Carmine's on 44th Street, my wife and I brought the children to one of our favorite spots from when we lived in the city. A short walk from the hotel, Ralph's is on the corner of 56th Street and Ninth Avenue, formerly a rough edge of the Theater District. Not anymore. Now it's been gentrified into a foodie mecca with every ethnic possibility imaginable. The kid-friendly Ralph's has anchored the neighborhood for years, offering affordable mom-and-pop Italian food.
The kids sank their teeth into a thin-crust pizza, setting off an argument over which city has the better pizza, New York or Boston.
''Chicago has the best pizza," their Midwestern mom chimed in. ''New York has the best bagels. And Boston has the best baseball team."
New York Marriott MarquisTimes Square
Rooms with two double beds start at $369 in the fall.
''Chitty Chitty Bang Bang"Hilton Theatre
213 West 42d St.
Prices range from $55 to $100, with performances Wednesday-Saturday at 7 p.m., Wednesday and Saturday at 2 p.m., Sunday at 1 and 6 p.m.
Toys ''R" Us Times Square1514 Broadway at 44th Street
Dinosaur lovers will want to visit the 20-foot-high animatronic T. rex in the Jurassic Park section of the store.
Ralph's Italian Restaurant862 9th Ave. at 56th Street
Even on a busy Friday night, the wait was only 10 minutes.
www.nycvisit.comFor more information about family travel to New York.
Newton-based Stephen Jermanok can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.