Most girls who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s in the US knew about American Girl Dolls by Pleasant Company. I was around 8 when I first heard about American Girl. Kristen, Samantha and Molly were all 9 year old girls growing up in different time periods in the US, going through the same struggles, but in a different times and environments. My sister and I devoured every book from the library, and longingly looked through the catalog that came home, admiring the dolls, the accessories, and the clothes for me and the doll. But my fiscally prudent mother thought the dolls were too expensive and refused to get us one. Both of us purchased dolls as adults (both where a Samantha) but lamented the missed opportunity in childhood.
The day I found out I was pregnant with a girl, my sister’s first thought was of the American Girl store in New York. We now would have a legitimate reason to go without looking like weird adults in a kids store. Since the early 90s the line up has changed. New historical characters added, some retired, and a whole new line of Truly Me dolls and books, encouraging girls to appreciate and love what’s unique about them. The company is all about girl empowerment, and who wouldn’t love that for their daughter.
About a year ago I started to introduce my children to American Girls. The books on the historical (now called BeForever) characters were available at the library, and they were the perfect length chapter books that the kids didn’t lose interest along the way. The kids learned about the suffragette movement, child labor protection movement in factories, slavery and the civil war, the Great Depression, and World War II all through the eyes of 9 year old Samantha, Addy, Kit, and Molly. Then, the perfect moment came. I had booked a two week trip to New Jersey, and my sister could get off a day to join us in New York. We were going to the American Girl Place.
The American Girl Place is not just a store, it’s an experience. I wanted the full array of experience for me, I mean my kids. First thing I did was make reservations at the American Girl Café. Our reservation was for 11am, so we made sure to catch an early train into the city to make sure we arrived the recommended 15 minutes ahead of time. Maybe a wee bit too early, we were at the store a full 45 minutes before our reservation.
We show up at the store, and got some exciting news. American Girl was launching a new line of dolls called Wellie Wishers. We happened to be there on launch day, were they had all sorts of special free activities planned for that day. Talk about luck!
After cookie decorating, we went up to the second floor where the BeForever line was in full display. This was the line of historical dolls that I grew up knowing. Each character’s area had a display of the doll in all the clothing available for that character, as well as an education section where you could learn about the character and a bit about the time they lived in. But soon it was time for lunch, so I had to drag the kids away to the café.
The Café is a tasty, fun experience. The New York Café has an in one price, where you get appetizer, an entrée, and a dessert. As you walk in, you see that the café has an elegantly set up, but the food is all kids friendly (with some nice choices for the adults as well). Children are encouraged to bring their dolls, and a chair is provided so your doll is seated next to you during the meal. If you don’t have one, no problem. They will gladly lend you one to sit with you during your meal.
Honestly, the food was really good, I was throughly impressed. The mini cinibuns are not too sweet, there was plenty on the veggie and bruschetta platter for all to eat, and we all enjoyed our meals. My mom and sister were actually so full from the appetizers, they took food home with them. But we all managed to find room for dessert, a chocolate mousse and vanilla cupcake. My kids didn’t like the mousse for some reason, so I happily traded my cupcakes for more mousse. I love chocolate!
After the meal, we went down to do a build your own house craft before we went to the book section. I had told the kids ahead of time that we were not purchasing a doll, only books. My kids were quite overstimulated at that point, so it was hard to get them to focus on choosing the promised books. My son was still mad he wasn’t getting a doll (even though he was warned repeatedly), but I held my ground and got each the complete set of books from their choice of BeForever characters. I did mention that they could ask Santa for the dolls…
Once we all had our fill of American Girl and paid for the books, we headed out into the streets of New York where my giant 6 year old promptly fell asleep in the stroller from overstimulation, and my independent 4 year old walk all the way to Times Square singing and talking about the adventures she would have when she had a doll. Guess I’ll have to have a conversation with Santa too.