Ice skating at Rockefeller is quintessential Christmas in New York City. Whether you’ve done it yourself or not, you can picture the scene. The towering buildings, the twinkling Christmas tree, and the ice rink right in the middle of it all. Despite being “touristy,” crowded and unbelievably expensive, I was still excited to take my toddler ice skating at Rockefeller for the first time.
Follow along as we share what this experience was like, specifically with a 3-year-old. We’ll explain the booking process, how to get a penguin skate aid and what it was like to actually ice skate at the most famous rink in the world. (Probably? I made that up, but it seems right.) And at the end, we’ll share whether or not the experience was worth the price.
Debating between ice skating at Rockefeller Center and Bryant Park Winter Village? We have a post that outlines the 10 differences between these two popular rinks.
Reserving Tickets for Ice Skating at Rockefeller Center
We booked our tickets in late September, shortly after they went on sale for the season. Committing to a specific date and time that far in advance is tricky, especially with unpredictable winter weather (and an unpredictable toddler.) However, we knew we wanted to do it this year, so we just booked a date that worked for us and hoped for the best.
Popular dates and times do sell out. I would suggest booking at least two weeks in advance (or more) for weekend dates, and about a week in advance for weekday tickets. Early morning times are the last to go, and are often available until the last minute — they’re also the cheapest tickets. You can sometimes buy tickets at the door if space is available, but they’re more expensive.
Speaking of prices, they vary based on date on time, and they are not cheap. We booked our tickets for 9:30 AM on a Saturday morning in early December. General admission adult tickets were $59 each and a toddler ticket was $30 (“Tot” tickets are available for children 5 and under.) Since we don’t own skates, we also spent $11 each to rent them. With fees, our total came to $186 for 1 hour of ice skating for our family of 3.
Arrival at Rockefeller Center
The confirmation email specifically said not to show up early for our skate time. But with only 1 hour of skate time (which included checking in, renting skates, and getting laced up), I definitely didn’t want to be late. We ended up arriving 12 minutes before our ticket time — that’s as “not early” as I was willing to be.
The entrance to The Rink at Rockefeller Center is located on the 49th Street side of the plaza, right next to Kate Spade.
The staff member at the entrance booth explained that we could enter the rink starting at 5 minutes prior to our scheduled time. She instructed all early arrivals to line up along the sidewalk until it was time to enter. For the next 10 minutes or so, we watched a decently long line form behind us.
While it was true that we could not enter the rink area early, we did actually benefit from getting there earlier than our scheduled time. Since we were at the front of the line, we were able to quickly scan our tickets and rent skates without delay. We probably had a 10 minute head start on those who arrived right at 9:30 AM and were at the back of that line.
The Rink Check-in & Gift Shop
Once our group was called, we followed the queue down to the lower level near the ice. We followed the queue inside, where they scanned our tickets. We were given a color coded sticker, that aligned with our skate time. The skate times overlap, so the colored stickers indicate who can be skating when.
Just behind the ticket check was a small gift shop. They had souvenirs like magnets and beanies, as well as some clothing items and other chotchkes all branded with “The Rink at Rockefeller Center.” The register for the gift shop is also where you can rent a skate aid, but more on that soon.
We didn’t want shopping to cut into our skating time, so we figured we’d come back to the gift shop after. However, the exit doesn’t pass back through this gift shop, so we missed out. (Yes, my toddler was devastated.) If you want to buy anything, you need to do it first or cut back in that direction before you exit.
Toddler Skate Rentals at Rockefeller Center
Just beyond the ticket check was the skate rental booth. There were several people working and they were quick to gather skates for everyone.
The Rink at Rockefeller Center has rental skates available from toddler size 9 to adult size 16. My child is 3 years old and currently wears toddler size 7 shoes. The toddler size 9 skates were definitely too big, probably by at least an inch.
They could toddle in them, but couldn’t control them very well on the ground or the ice. An extra pair of socks probably would have helped, but we didn’t think of that. Instead, we just tightened them as much as we could and hoped for the best.
If you actually expect your child to skate, you probably want to have better fitting (and better quality) skates. That means bringing your own smaller skates or waiting until your child gets bigger. However, if you’re just going to pull them around like we did, the skates being two sizes too big wasn’t the worst thing. That said, I would think that a child much younger than 3 would likely struggle in the size 9 skates.
TIP: The ice rink at Bryant Park Winter Village has rental skates starting at toddler size 6, so you might want to head there for a better fit on a younger skater.
Locker Room / Skate Hut
Just past the skate rental desk was the Skate Hut. There were several benches, a wall of lockers, and bathrooms available in this heated room. This area was a bit crowded, but it had a lot of turnover due to the overlapping skate times.
The lockers were free to use and locked with a 4-digit you set yourself. The lockers were small, but one easily fit our three pairs of shoes and my coat. I had no problem finding an available locker and the lock worked well for me. They did have a staff member on hand though, who was unlocking lockers for people who couldn’t get back into theirs.
The ice is just a few steps away from the Skate Hut.
Penguin Skate Aid for Kids at Rockefeller
The Rink at Rockefeller Center has penguin skate aids for children. We first spotted them behind the skate rental desk, but we were told to purchase a ticket from the gift shop first.
We thought we’d try to get by without one. After one lap of pulling our fumbling toddler in their much-too-big rental skates, we turned right back around to track down that penguin.
As instructed, I went to the register inside the gift shop. (They said it was fine to keep my rental skates on for this.) It was a bit frustrating because I was in the same line as people dealing with ticket issues and buying souvenirs. I had to wait in line as my skate time was ticking down. After about five minutes though, I was at the front of the queue.
It cost $25 to rent a penguin skate aid at Rockefeller. This was hard to stomach, given the fact that we’d already paid $180+ to skate, and the tot skate price alone was $30. (Again, I’d recommend you check out the ice rink at Bryant Park Winter Village. If you go before 11 AM, skate aids are free.)
After I paid for the rental, they gave me a “Penguin” sticker and my receipt. They told me to put the sticker on my child and request a penguin from a staff member out on the ice. As soon as we got out there, we retrieved our penguin and were on our way.
Honestly though, I was just happy to get a penguin at all. They are are first come first serve, and you cannot pay for them in advance when you buy your ticket. I overhead that the mom behind me got the very last one.
Skating with a Toddler at The Rink at Rockefeller Center
By 9:45 AM — 15 minutes after our scheduled skating time — we were finally all sorted. We had our skates on, we had our penguin and we were all together out on the ice.
We had hoped our 3-year-old would be able to skate on their own with the skate aid this year, but that was not the case. Between their skates being 2-sizes too big and the ice in dire need of a Zamboni, our sweet baby didn’t stand a chance. They just couldn’t get enough oomph to get the skate aid moving on their own. (I saw some older kids do a little better, but it was tough.)
So instead, we mostly just pushed them around. They quickly figured out how to hold on and position their feet straight to coast. I held the outside of the penguin handles and skated behind, pushing the penguin and my little one along. I know this isn’t the best way to teach kids to ice skate, but it sure was fun.
Surprisingly, I wasn’t that uncomfortable and my toddler loved it. They laughed and smiled for the next 45 minutes straight, and couldn’t stop telling me about how much fun they were having.
We were also fortunate to have perfect weather. It was around 50 degrees and partly sunny. It was so warm that I actually took off my winter coat and was comfortable in just a sweater. My toddler wasn’t working quite as hard, so they were comfortable in their winter coat. A cold day out on the ice would probably be less pleasant.
The skating rink was full, but not uncomfortably so. There was a pretty good ebb and flow as skaters left and joined every 10 minutes. People also skated at a very reasonable speed, which was nice with a toddler. Everyone was moving around pretty leisurely, and no one was zipping around or cutting through the crowds.
In fact, if there was any danger on the ice it was people weren’t moving fast enough. Cameras and phones are allowed on the ice, and understandably lots of people were taking photos. It did take a bit of effort to navigate around those who were stopped for pictures.
I won’t complain about that though. I loved that photos were allowed on the ice, because this was a magical experience I did not want to forget.
Skate Session Time at Rockefeller
General admission tickets allow access to the ice for 60 minutes after your scheduled skate time. (VIP tickets are for 90 minutes.) This includes the amount of time it takes you to rent skates, store your things and get out to the ice. You are allowed to enter 5 minutes prior to your scheduled time.
If you arrive early and change quickly, you may have close to 60 full minutes of actual skate time. However, if you arrive on time and spend 20 minutes putting your skates on, you’ll only have 40 minutes on the ice. You can arrive late, but your skate time will not be extended.
We arrived 12 minutes before our scheduled time, entered 5 minutes early and were on the ice 4 minutes after our scheduled time. It took us another 10 minutes to get our penguin. That meant that we personally had about 45 minutes of skating time.
Honestly, with a toddler, 45 minutes was perfect. They easily could have lasted another 30 minutes had we thought to purchase a VIP ticket, but they also didn’t complain about leaving when we did. Even though they weren’t doing much work, the activity still seemed to wear them out.
They made an announcement that our color’s skate time had ended, and we cleared the ice. There were a few employees out on the ice monitoring this. They seemed to do a pretty good job managing the crowds, but we never really saw them aggressively kicking anyone out.
Was Ice Skating at Rockefeller worth the cost?
Ice skating at Rockefeller Center was expensive. It cost over $200 for two adults, one toddler (age 3) and a penguin. Booking this experience at all was not something we took lightly.
I looked into skating at Rockefeller last year, and immediately shut it down when I saw the price tag. At that time, we decided to go with the cheaper (but still expensive) ice skating at Bryant Park. It was only because they loved ice skating so much last year, that we decided to book the more expensive and iconic Rockefeller this year.
Honestly, we absolutely loved it. It was such a special memory that I won’t soon forget. It’s something I always dreamed of doing one day, and I’m just glad it was as magical as I hoped it would be.
We were fortunate, and a lot of things went our way that day. We booked tickets far in advance, so we got to pick a time that worked well in our schedule. The weather was absolutely perfect, which you can’t plan for. (We got so lucky. It rained literally all day the day before and after our session.) We lucked into the last penguin skate aid and our toddler happened to be in a good mood that day. All of this definitely contributed to how much we loved this experience.
I believe that touristy things are touristy for a reason. This is one of the most popular things to do in NYC at Christmas because it’s a really fun thing to do! You’re in the middle of Manhattan, under an iconic building, beside an epic Christmas tree, and you’re surrounded by the hustle and bustle of a city at Christmastime. I understand why it’s so popular, so famous and so crowded, and I’m okay with it!
You do have to come in with the right mindset, though. Ice skating at Rockefeller Center is more about being there than it is about the actual ice skating. The ice is choppy, it’s decently crowded and the rink is actually pretty small. If you want to do more serious skating, then there are other rinks in the city that are better for that. But if you want to live out a scene from a Christmas movie, The Rink at Rockefeller Center is for you.
I think I can safely say that ice skating at Rockefeller Center with a toddler was worth it. For the price, I don’t think it’s worth doing every year, but I do think it was worth doing at least once. Our child loved it, we made amazing memories, and as a bonus, we even snapped our Christmas card photo.
That said, I would never recommend spending above your means. My toddler loved this experience, but they also loved skating at Bryant Park (which was cheaper) and seeing the Christmas tree at our local park (free!). Kids don’t need expensive things to be happy. Honestly, ice skating at Rockefeller is for the parents.
I also like to pick one expensive Christmas activity a year. You don’t need to ice skate at Rockefeller, take a Christmas cruise, and see Holiday Lights at Bronx Zoo all in one season. Choose one of these big ticket items each year. Then pepper in Christmas cheer with cheaper activities like Christmas markets and festive strolls.
Things to Know about Ice Skating at Rockefeller with a Toddler
- There is no minimum age for children at The Rink at Rockefeller Center. If a toddler can stand and is wearing skates, they are allowed on the ice. (They cannot be carried.) Children under 6 need to be accompanied by a paying adult on the ice.
- Rental skates start at toddler size 9. The smallest rental skates available are toddler size 9. These were too big for our 3-year-old, but we made it work. If your child is much smaller though, you might need to bring your own smaller skates.
- Strollers are not allowed. You cannot bring strollers into the skate area, into the Skate Hut, or down to rink level at all. You will need to leave your stroller at home, or at least with someone else at street level.
- Penguin skate aids can sell out. If you are banking on using a skate aid, go to the gift shop register to purchase one as soon as you check in.
- Visit the gift shop after you skate but before you exit. The gift shop is near the entrance, but you don’t want to waste skate time shopping. After your skate time has ended, change into shoes, and walk back to the gift shop. If you drop off your skates and go out the exit, you will not pass back through the gift shop and can’t get back to it without a ticket.
- Cameras and phones are allowed on the ice. If your phone or camera fits inside your pocket, it’s allowed on the ice. This means you can grab some epic photos while you’re out there. Just be sure to be respectful of other skaters and stay to the side when you’re stopped.
- Morning times are cheaper. You can save a bit of money by booking an early skate time. The cheapest skate times are between 7-9 AM (or after 11, but that’s tough for a tot.)
- Put your child’s sticker(s) on their hat. All skaters have to wear a colored sticker out on the ice. Getting a toddler to leave a sticker alone is a tough ask. We had luck keeping it out of sight on their hat instead, plus it stuck better there than on their coat.
- Arrive 15 minutes early. I know the email says not to arrive early. Even though you can’t enter until 5 minutes before your time, they do form a line before that. If you arrive 15 minutes early, you’ll be at the front of that line and the first ones inside when they let your skate time in.
- Screenshot your tickets before you arrive. If you buy tickets online, you’ll get an email immediately with a link to your tickets. (It’s not an attachment.) There is a separate QR code for each ticket and each skate rental. Take screenshots of each QR code, so you can quickly swipe through when you arrive. Not only is this faster, but it ensures you won’t have any issues loading your tickets at the last minute.