Real-Life Night at the Museum

Genevieve Shaw Brown
Real-Life Night at the Museum

There are a million things to do in New York City, but chances are if you’re coming with kids, a visit to the American Museum of Natural History is at the top of your list. And sure, you could learn about dinosaurs and our solar system during regular visiting hours, but you might not know you can actually spend the night at the museum and do things they’d never let you do during the light of day.

But at $150 per person, it’s not a cheap adventure. Think about it: A family of four could easily spend the night in a five-star hotel for the same money. Here, you’re sleeping on cots and bringing your own sleeping bag. Director of Visitor Services Brad Harris said it’s roughly the same price as a Broadway show. True. And you get about six hours of nonstop activity included in the fun.

Actually, it turns out you can’t even squeeze all the activities on the schedule into the night. When a museum is the size of four city blocks, there’s plenty to see and do.

But I sure did try. I took my niece, 8, and nephew, 6, to the Night at the Museum. After we found our cots and dropped off our bags, we began our adventure at about 6 p.m.

“Being able to wander around the museum with family and close friends and wander into one of the great big halls all by yourself and be able to explore and learn on our own is the best part of the program,” Harris said.

Having the museum to ourselves, along with the roughly 300 other people who were also staying the night, was more exciting and less scary than you might think after seeing the Ben Stiller 2006 blockbuster “Night at the Museum.” Many of the scenes in the movie were shot right inside these four walls, though, and fans of the movie will recognize many shots from the film.

We started our night in the Butterfly Conservatory. The butterflies have free rein and the kids hoped and simultaneously feared a butterfly landing on them. Then it was onto a current exhibit, The Power of Poison. It was quite a contrast to sweet innocence of the butterflies: This exhibit was about the potential deadly poisons all around us every day. Turns out even too much salt can kill you.

The highlight of the evening was the live animal show. Snakes, hissing cockroaches, tarantulas and a black crow were all part of the hands-on show, though some kids, my niece and nephew included, didn’t muster up the courage to get touchy until the final moments of snake-petting at the close of the show.

From animals that were very much alive to animals that have been dead for millions of years, the next activity was a fossil exploration by flashlight. Set up like a scavenger hunt in the dark, it was designed to teach the kids about the museum’s most famous residents, the dinosaurs.

It was getting late, but there were still a few things left to do: Origami lessons and an IMAX movie.

It was during the 3-D movie that I temporarily lost one of the kids to exhaustion. It was 11 p.m. after all. He took a quick snooze and then it was time to wake up and head to the Hall of Ocean Life for a bedtime story and lights out. Which story did they choose to read the kids? What else? “Night at the Museum.”

It was nearing midnight, and time for lights out. As the overheads went off and electronic devices were put to bed, all that was left was the soft glow of the marine-life exhibitions behind the glass walls. Our neighbor was the sperm whale. And over our heads, the museum’s famous 94-foot-long blue whale. As we drifted off to sleep, there was hardly a sound. Well, except for the snorer in the cot section to our left.