In 2006, a movie entitled Night At The Museum made all of us fall in love with history. For some it was love at first sight, while for others it rekindled a love we had not explored since World History classes in high school. We fell in love with the historical characters depicted in the movie as they came to life each night, giving us a glimpse of the real people that shaped our past.
The Museum of Natural History in New York City was used as the backdrop for the movie. Officially known as The American Museum of Natural History, it is located at 79th Street and Central Park West. Standing outside of Central Park, the grand entrance to the museum seems familiar from the movie, with the exception of the massive bronze statue of Theodore Roosevelt gracing the front steps.
Teddy plays a significant role in the movie much like the Roosevelt family played in the establishment of the Museum. While you may not be greeted by a wax figure of the rough rider himself, you can take a self-guided tour that leads through exhibits with connections to the 26th president.
A self-guided, Night At The Museum tour directs visitors to some of the characters/exhibits featured in the movie. Other self-guided tours highlight specific interests, keeping space, whale or dinosaur lovers excited all day. Visitors seeking a little guidance can follow one of the complimentary Public Tours offered every hour beginning at 10:15 am. Whether you plan to follow one of the tours or venture out on your own, I recommend reviewing the on-line map before you start. The museum offers 45 exhibit halls, so there is no way to see it all; have a discovery plan in mind.
There is an app for the Museum, downloadable to your smart device. It has been met with mixed reviews. Some reviews saythe navigation took them in circles. Others found service spotty or audio was difficult to hear. Results likely depend on your service plan and crowd size. Personally, I don’t enjoy walking around with my phone up to my ear, but if you do, I recommend that you grab a paper map as back-up.
A few other tips to keep in mind. The American Museum of Natural History is a “pay what you want” museum. There is a suggested price for admission, however, visitors may stop at the ticket counters to pay any amount they wish. To avoid the extreme lines that this policy creates, I advise purchasing your tickets on-line, paying the full suggested amount. Guests visiting from Labor Day through Memorial Day will want to purchase an additional ticket to visit The Butterfly Conservatory. More than a tropical escape from the winter blahs, the knowledgeable guides make the exhibit educational as well.
In the movie, Larry, the night security guard, had the museum all to himself. Not quite the case during a day visit, as this popular museum can be quite crowded. Doors open at 10 am, one way to avoid the crowd is to arrive early. Another crowd avoiding tip is to use the 81st street entrance. While it is not the iconic image from the movie, the crowd is substantially lighter and you will be among the first guests to explore the Rose Center for Earth and Space. Consider using the coat check here as well, the main coat check off the lobby is very tight and congested, and on the day of our visit stopped accepting coats.
Although winter brings smaller crowds, it also brings an increase of enthusiastic school groups on field trips. As a seasoned school chaperone, my best advice is to go all the way to the top floor of the museum and work your way down. Afraid they won’t get to see it all, this is a concept school children will not buy into. With luck, you will pass like ships at night. If you should, however, meet in the middle, take this time to go for a snack or visit the gift shop, a place over their dead bodies, chaperones will not take their charges. Apart from the main gift shop there are small shops outside several of the special exhibits throughout the museum. Good news, if it is a really crowded day, the food court sells beer and wine.
Arriving at the food court before or after the typical lunch hour can also help to maneuver through the crowds. Before lunch will give you with the best selection of food options, whereas after, we discovered many items were sold out. In any case, the options were quite limited for those with food allergy/sensitivity issues. If you fall into this category be on the safe side and pack a snack.
We know the exhibits really can’t come to life like in the movie, but if you are one of those people that need to see for yourself, the Museum offers overnight visits. The very popular Sleepovers are offered for families and includes snacks, light breakfast, cots, flashlight tours and activities. A more grown-up version for adults, 21 and over, also includes a buffet dinner with beverages.
Visiting the exhibits at The American Museum of Natural History brings history to life encouraging you to explore day after day.
Disclosure: The author received a complimentary admission to The American Museum of Natural History.
Photo credit: Photos provided by American Museum of Natural History, Photo Credits: American Museum of Natural History ©AMNH/R. Mickens, Akeley Hall of African Mammals ©AMNH/D. Finnin, Pacific Rim Peoples ©AMNH/R. Mickens