Last January, when we were scheduled to fly into NYC for our Norwegian Breakaway cruise, I realized the city was going to be hosting Super Bowl XLVIII the very weekend we were in town!
For many people, especially NFL fans, this would sound like a fantastic opportunity; but for our family with autism who shies away from crowds, this was not welcome news in any way.
Making matters worse, we realized that Super Bowl XLVIII Boulevard activities were going to be located next to our hotel and that the weather for the weekend was grim – with a blizzard and freezing temperatures forecast.
So, the trip sounded like it had the makings of a potential disaster right off the bat and had the plane tickets been refundable, we would have probably opted to cancel the trip.
But sometimes things have a strange way of turning around and proving even the most experienced mom wrong.
Not only did we end up participating in three Super Bowl XLVIII related activities, but encountered a level of kindness and autism awareness that was so amazing, it totally blew us away.
The Puppy Bowl
Our first stop was the Puppy Bowl Experience at the Discovery Center, showcasing Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl decade of success.
For those of you who don’t know, the Puppy Bowl started as part replica/part parody of the Super Bowl back in 2005 with half a million viewers. It subsequently ballooned into an annual TV event with over 12 million viewers by 2013.
Broadcast every year on Super Bowl Sunday, the show consists of adoptable shelter puppies playing in a miniature stadium. The show features instant replay shots, a ‘kiss camera’, its tailgate party and even kitty halftime show. With comments from Dan Schachner using football terminology, and ‘Meep the bird’ as the official social media blogger tweeting about the game in ‘real time’, viewers find it highly entertaining!
The 15,000 square foot Puppy Bowl experience turned out to be quite the crowd pleaser with a Puppy Hall of Fame, several interactive booths filled with games, face painting, and even an area to create a customized dog tag.
The exhibit’s highlight was a replica of the show’s stadium filled with puppies playing with various chew toys. Our son with autism loved the guide dogs section and couldn’t get enough of playing with and petting the docile service dogs.
Chase’s VIP Lounge
As we were leaving, the Puppy Ball we stumbled upon another surprise.
Chase was hosting a free Super Bowl VIP lounge for its United Airlines credit card users next door at Guy Fieri’s American Kitchen restaurant.
After having our ID’s and credit card checked at the entrance, we got right in with less than 5 minutes wait which was great considering it was 20 some degrees outside!
After we were all fitted with a green wristband, my husband and I (the adults) were handed three tickets for free alcoholic drinks.
We discovered pretty soon that the lounge was popular, in other words — we couldn’t find seating at all.
My son was getting tired, a bit anxious and close to melting down when the manager himself saved the day and personally brought an extra table and chairs from the back and finding us a spot in a corner of the locale.
The sports bar offered a buffet with several hot dishes, salads, fruit and mini petit four cakes, as well as servers that came around with appetizer platters throughout our time there.
My husband and I exchanged our drink tickets for a Cosmo while our son ordered pineapple juice.
Did I mention that all the juices, soft drinks, coffees, teas and hot chocolate were complimentary and unlimited?
Overall, we were surprised to discover the food was pretty good and replenished promptly unlike our experiences in many hotels and airport lounges we’ve visited over the years.
To add to our wonderful experience, we were each handed a gift on the way out that included a blue plush bag with fleece gloves, hat, and scarf, which was perfect since we had forgotten to pack our gloves for the trip.
The Super Bowl XLVIII Boulevard that stretched over thirteen blocks in the middle of Times Square was the third free event we attended that day.
It featured an autograph stage, a place to take your picture with the Lombardi trophy and 20-foot Super Bowl XLVIII Roman numerals sign, spots to practice football like in the ‘rush hours’ and ‘play 60’ games, as well as NFL, ESPN, and FOX, broadcast stations to gawk at.
As we passed by the different displays, we saw sponsors like Papa John’s, McDonald’s and M&M giving out free samples, but didn’t stop since we were still full from the food we had eaten at the lounge.
Our son with autism was only interested in two activities; checking the Xbox One display which didn’t hold his interest for long, and riding the 180-foot long toboggan run.
When we approached the toboggan ride, we were told to go and purchase a $5 ticket in an office around the corner.
The temperature was dropping fast, and we were thoroughly discouraged to discover there was a huge line of thirty minutes just to buy the tickets. Did I mention there was a separate even long line for the ride itself?
I was tired, cold and about to call it quits but our son decided that this was the moment to self-advocate and ask for help.
He went to a young lady who was in charge of the line and explained his disability.
The next thing we knew, she went to purchase his ticket and proceeded to escort him to a special VIP line for the ride, so he didn’t to wait in either line! She came to us and explained that she had worked with special needs kids, so she was aware of the challenges involved and wanted to help.As parents to a special needs child, I can say it is a rarity to find a complete stranger who shows such an understanding of autism and is so helpful. Both my husband and I were moved to tears!
Needless to say, her gesture set the tone for the rest of the day -in a positive way!
Our initial anxiety and hesitation at the thought of participating in these events turned to the enjoyment and profound gratitude.
For being such reluctant Super Bowlers, I can say that we are now big fans!
In fact; the whole experience was so uplifting it turned out to be one of the best memories of our entire year.