It's hard to believe that I've waited this long to write about The American Museum of Natural History, but after our most recent trip to the museum, I figured the time had come.
I could probably spend all day writing about all of the fantastic exhibits at the museum, but I won't because if you're anything like us, you've probably already been to The American Museum of Natural History and already have your own favorite list of exhibits.
Instead, I'll focus on what I've learned over the years about taking our children to the museum and how to have a stress-free visit! So, here's the skinny...
The American Museum of Natural History is enormous! Seriously, it's impossibly huge, which makes it both wonderful and overwhelming all at the same time. So, if you have young children, please keep in mind that you will not be able to cover the entire museum on any one visit.
To keep spirits high, and crying to a minimum, create a game plan ahead of time. For our clan, we always have very set missions: Dinosaurs, Butterflies, and More Dinosaurs. Since this is all that our children really care about right now, we make sure we hit these "must see" exhibits first. Then, if they're still feeling sprightly, we let them pick something else to see.
For our family, going to The American Museum of Natural History is an annual event that we partake in every winter. We try not to go during the school breaks due to the insane crowds, but this year, we broke our rule and went during Christmas Break. (EEK! For a claustrophobic person, this was not a very good idea: Heart palpitations galore!)
If you cannot avoid going during a school-scheduled holiday, there are a few things you can do to keep the chaos under control:
-Wear layers. There are a lot of people in the museum, and when your family gets hot and sweaty, emotions will start to soar. I always put a short-sleeved tee-shirt on under the kids winter shirts, so they may strip as needed. Since I also despise being hot and sweaty, I wear a tank top under my layers so that I may strip as needed. It really helps, especially if you plan to go into The Butterfly Conservatory.
- Bring an umbrella stroller. You will not have room for your deluxe stroller. It is just impossible. I saw so many moms with their children in double-wides and they couldn't see, or do, anything. If you must bring in a stroller, (like we do), the collapsable, lightweight, umbrella strollers are the way to go. We brought one in with us, and used it to hold our bags and snacks. This way, when the elevators were too crowded, we simply walked up the stairs with it. Trust me - you may think it's better to bring the whole house in with you, but if it's crowded, you will just be peschy and angry the whole time!
- Go early! You know the saying...the early bird...gets into the exhibits first! Seriously, we try to be the first ones in the door. Going early means: there are no lines to buy tickets; there are no lines for the bathroom; and you get your pick of when you want to see the exhibits that your kids are clamoring about. We love being able to schedule the "must-see events" right at the beginning of our trip; this way, no one leaves with a sad face because there "wasn't enough time to do everything".
Food is readily available at the museum, but it takes forever to maneuver through the dining areas, and there are rarely available tables to sit at. With that said, the food offered has gotten better over the years. Now you can easily find healthy food to feed your family. Along with the standard chicken fingers, pizza, and hamburgers, you can also get yogurt, salads, sandwiches - and, yes, even sushi (God help you!).
But, we always bring our own food. We pack a cooler and then drive into the city. We all eat breakfast on the way in, and then snack our way through the museum until it's time to leave. Once the kids are safely in their car seats, we unpack their lunches, and we eat on the drive home. Dorky? Perhaps, but...our kids are never cranky, and neither are we! It really simplifies the need to "find food", especially when you have little ones underfoot. And, I'm happy to say that we have never had to endure a "food meltdown" at the museum due to our careful planning.
The best place to park is in the lot that is attached to the museum. You can enter this garage at 81st Street between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue. See rates here.
However, don't be fooled into thinking that you can always get a spot in this garage simply because it's attached to the Museum. This parking garage is not owned by the museum which means that anyone can park there; it's not just for museum visitors.
So, if you're driving into the city, it's best to arrive at the Museum as close to 10 AM as possible, so that you can make sure you get a spot because once this lot is closed, you're on your own for parking.
P.S. If you snag a spot in the attached parking garage, leave your coats in the car! The walk to the elevator is super quick and it'll save you the hassle of lugging heavy extras all through the museum!
You can buy your tickets in advance online, but the process is a bit clunky, so we just called the museum instead. If you're confused, they are happy to walk you through your options, or you can just wait until you can speak face to face with someone in the museum.
This year, in an effort to be as cost-conscious as possible, we gifted ourselves a Membership to the Museum. As we stood online trying to figure out how much we'd end up paying for four admissions plus the extra exhibits, we simply decided that a Membership was the way to go. As long as we visit the museum twice in one year, it will have paid for itself.
Aside from the Membership being cost-effective for our family, you get some nice perks to being a Member. We just went with the regular family membership, but in the long run, it will have saved us a pretty penny. Plus, The World's Largest Dinosaurs and Beyond Planet Earth tickets are free for Members, so that was an added bonus!
Another cool perk is that Members get to enjoy exclusive "morning hours" to the newest exhibitions. Members morning access occurs the first five days the exhibition is open, and start at 9:30am. However, you need to reserve a spot, so make sure you call the museum first!
There are also some weird little perks to becoming a Member. They don't actually advertise this one, but if the lines are wrapped around the building (like they were the last time we went), the museum will send out it's staff out to pull Members off of the line. Now this is really cool, but be warned - one staff member told us that they don't always remember to do it. However, you can leave your family standing on line and politely ask a staff employee if they are pulling Members off line, and they most likely will once they're asked.
We love this exhibit. We have been to it three times already and will continue to go every time we visit the museum. Here's why:
- It is a nice, peaceful break from the craziness of the museum, and allows you to recoup your sanity for a few minutes.
- The butterflies are flying all over the place, so as long as you prep your kids for this beforehand (i.e. remind them to look before they step, not to touch the butterflies powdery wings, etc.), you will all have fun.
- It is toasty, warm and ALIVE, which shakes things up for the kids. (Just make sure to heed my warning of wearing layers - you'll want to be in tee-shirt mode before entering the conservatory).
- The butterflies are simply beautiful.
This was our first visit to this exhibit and the kids were psyched. (As an adult, I found it to be just okay, but it wasn't about me - it was all about the kids!) Here's the dirt on this exhibit:
- This exhibit pays homage to the world's largest dinosaurs, the sauropods. Upon entering the exhibit, there is a massive reconstructed sauropod that is quite cool.
- The children can don "Paleontologist" gear - goggles, fossil scrapers, and more - and dig in the fossil bed to unearth "dinosaur bones".
- The kids get access to a completely seperate (and fairly quiet) dinosaur exhibit! It's another wonderful opportunity to catch your breath for a few minutes.
Overall, The American Museum of Natural History is a fantastic way to spend a day in Manhattan. It gets you out of the cold, it gets your kids out and about, and it gets your family involved in our natural history. More than anything else, I love that I have been to this museum countless times, and still have not seen everything there is to see.
Here’s what else you need to know:
Pros: tons of exhibits to see (you can easily spend the whole day there); The Butterfly Conservatory is very cool, and who doesn't love DINOSAURS?
Cons:very large and depending on when you go - very crowded (might be too much for some children), some exhibits cost extra (butterflies, dinosaurs, IMAX, etc); food is very expensive, restrooms could be more abundant (plan pee-pee breaks WAY in advance!)
What to bring: your camera; snacks & drinks, excellent walking shoes, wear a tee-shirt under your "winter clothes" (the butterfly exhibit is very hot - everyone is happier if they can go in without layers!)
Parking: IF you get there first thing in the morning, you can snag a spot in the parking garage that is attached to the museum. If you do not arrive early, good luck.
Admission: Open to the public daily, from 10:00 a.m.—5:45 p.m. The Museum is closed Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Location: Central Park West at 79th Street, New York, NY, 10024-5192.
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Thanks for reading,