Over the weekend, I took my older girls (ages 6 & 7) on the train from DC to New York City. It was our second annual trip to the Big Apple. Just like last year we had lunch at American Girl Place, but this year, we also spent several hours touring the American Museum of Natural History.
Living near Washington, DC, we’d been to the National Museum of Natural History many times, and given our love of mammals and dinosaurs, in particular, we wanted to check out this museum while we were in New York. While we loved the museum, there’s a lot I wished I’d known before paying a visit, so I wanted to offer these 7 tips for families thinking about visiting the American Museum of Natural History.
- Do Not Buy Your Tickets Online. Often you can save money by buying tickets online, but that’s not the case here. You’ll actually be charged an extra $4 per ticket service charge if you buy online, which is nuts. When we visited the museum we walked right up to a ticket kiosk and were able to buy our tickets and get our timed-entry tickets with no wait and no problems.
- Go When the Museum Opens or After Lunch. The museum is huge. Including lunch on-site it took us around 3.5 hours to take in the museum, including two special exhibits and a planetarium show. Skip lunch or go just after lunch and you could do it in 2.5 to 3 hours. Don’t bother eating lunch here. As with most museums, it’s outrageously expensive. It cost just under $35 for me and the kids to eat lunch.
- Start with the Dinosaurs. Head to the 4th floor first to visit the dinosaur exhibits, which take up about half the floor, including The World’s Largest Dinosaurs traveling exhibit, which is on display through Jan. 2. You’ll need timed tickets to visit the traveling exhibit, so get them when you arrive. The special exhibit is worth the trip, especially the Dig Pit where your kids can dig for dinosaur fossils.
- Skip the Brain. Once you visit the dinosaur exhibits, head to the 3rd floor, but if you have kids under age 10, I’d skip the traveling exhibit, Brain: The Inside Story, which is on display through Aug. 14. There were lots of flashing lights to represent neurons, but it was a little too high-level for my kids who were more excited to see the mammals, reptiles and primates that were on the same floor.
- Get the Apps. The American Museum of Natural History has three free apps for the iPhone or iPad. Get these before you leave the house since two of them require you to connect to a wi-fi network. My favorite is the Explorer app, which taps into your GPS capabilities to help you find exhibits, restrooms and cafés. It also comes with several pre-designed museum tours to help you explore the museum.
- Don’t Miss Journey to the Stars. Make sure to get a timed ticket to see the 25-minute film, Journey to the Stars, in the planetarium. Not only is it a visually spectacular show, but you’ll walk away with some pretty cool facts about the stars and the sun. And if nothing else, you’ll be able to sit down and relax for nearly half an hour.
- Save the Frogs for Last. My kids’ favorite exhibit, by far, was Frogs: A Chorus of Colors. On display through Jan. 8, this is another timed ticket exhibit and is located on the 1st floor. The kids were starting to slow down and this was a great way to end our museum visit. There were lots of interactive activities and even a FrogCam to let kids see the frogs up-close.
Quick note that in order to go to the special exhibits, like The World’s Largest Dinosaurs and Journey to the Stars, you’ll need to get an upgraded ticket. You can see the three different ticket prices here. We got the SuperSaver tickets, which at $32 for an adult ticket, doesn’t seem like much savings to me. It’s a better option, however, than the $24 Museum Plus One admission, which allows you general admission plus only one extra exhibit or show. Most people were buying SuperSaver tickets when we were there.
Have you been to the American Museum of Natural History in New York? I’d love to hear your feedback as well as your tips and advice to ensure a fantastic visit with your kids.