by Candyce Stapen, USA TODAY 12:48 p.m. January 7, 2014
Photo: Field Museum
Bond with your kids — or grandkids — on a real night at the museum. You can go undercover on spy missions, learn the secrets of caves, discover the science of igloos, meet live baby bears and beluga whales and take flashlight tours through exhibits filled with fierce dinosaurs, huge walruses, mysterious mummies and much more.
Many sleepovers include big-screen movies or planetarium shows plus the chance to sleep near a T-rex, robot, coral reef or a real tiger. Budget-friendly, exciting, and easy to do, these overnights make great parent/child and grandparent/grandkids getaways. Just remember to reserve these popular programs way in advance as they sell out quickly. Here are 10 top museum overnights.
American Museum of Natural History, New York City, AMNH Sleepovers.
On a flashlight tour of the dinosaur exhibits, wend your way among such glowering creatures as the fierce-looking Tyrannosaurus rex with its 4-foot long jaw edged by 6-inch teeth. Get up close to live bats, wolves or even baby bears, depending on the evening’s Audubon Society presentation. Crafts may include creating a totem pole or making moon scratchings. Afterwards, watch the 3-D movie, Mysteries of the Unseen World, before bedding down beneath the iconic big blue whale.
Ages: 6 to 13. One adult required for every three children.
Cost: $145 per person, $135 for members.
Dates: Jan. 10; March 7, 15; April 5, 11; May 2, 17, 41; June 13, 21.
Contact: American Museum of Natural History.
Busch Gardens Tampa, Summer Nights Family Sleepovers, Jack Hanna Family Fun Sleepover
Close encounters with animals and guided hikes at night, a time when the critters tend to be more active, are signature elements of both the Summer Nights and the Jack Hanna Experience. On each you sleep in Tiger World, an indoor area with floor-to-ceiling window views of the tiger habitat. Owls, flamingos and alligators are some of the wildlife showcased by handlers on the Summer Nights Sleepovers, which also give you access to SheiKra, a gut-wrenching coaster with a 200-foot drop. Hanna, for his once a year event, has brought creatures as diverse as aardvarks and zebras to ogle. Listen to the famous animal ambassador’s tales and in the morning, learn about training and feeding tigers from the tiger team.
Ages: Kids in grade 3 or higher. One adult required for every two children.
Cost: 2014 prices are not yet firm. About $80. The fee does not include park admission, 10% pass member discount.
Dates: Summer Nights Family Sleepovers take place in June, July and August. Date to be determined for these and the Jack Hanna Family Fun overnight.
Contact: Busch Gardens Tampa.
Carnegie Science Center, Pittsburgh, Science Sleepovers
Build structures from marshmallows and Dixie cups, then test your item’s durability on an earthquake table during engineering overnights. Create snow dough igloos and figure out the essentials of electric currents, fog and bubbles on Polar Express sleepovers. General overnights cover the science — and importance — of sleep. Get a sense of how exhaustion impedes tasks by donning blurry goggles before completing a challenge and investigate ultraviolet light in a glow room. All programs include an OMNIMAX movie. Sleep near the space station, the robots, the coral reef or anywhere there’s carpet.
Ages: 4-10. One adult required for every eight children.
Cost: $35 per person.
Dates: Feb. 14 Engineering; March 15, 21, 28; Apr. 11,18; May 2; Oct. 24 Spooky Science; Nov. 21 Light Up Night; Dec. 13 Polar Express.
Contact: Carnegie Science Center,
Cincinnati Museum Center, Cincinnati, Caves!, Explore!
Choose from two overnight programs at this complex of museums. With Caves! learn about bats, beetles and other nocturnal life at the limestone caves in the Museum of Natural History & Science. Meet turtles, snakes or tarantulas at the docent-led talks. In the morning, watch the OMNIMAX film A Journey into Amazing Caves. With Explore!, you and your kids browse both the natural history facility as well as the Cincinnati History Museum on your own, pausing to talk to a steamboat captain, set type at the print shop, practice weaving with a pioneer woman and get hands-on at more work stations. In the morning view Tornado Alley, an OMNIMAX movie.
Ages: 8-12. One adult required for every four children.
Cost: $28 per person.
Dates: Caves! Jan. 10, Feb. 8, March 21, May 9. Explore! Jan. 25, March 22, April 18.
Contact: Cincinnati Museum Center.
Field Museum, Chicago, Dozin’ with the Dinos
Walk through an Egyptian tomb, past the sarcophagi and mummies on a flashlight tour of Inside Ancient Egypt and go on a night-time safari past mounted giraffes, hippos and lions in the African savannah exhibit. Depending on the worshop, touch monster-size bugs or uncover fossils. With a premium package and tour ticket, you also get a behind-the-scenes look at fossils, fish or other specimens with a museum scientist. Sleep on the main level with a standard pass, or bed down next to the dinosaurs with a premium pass.
Ages: 6 to 12. One adult required for every three children.
Cost: Standard $63 per person, $55 Field members; Premium package, $75, $65; Premium packages with tour ticket, $87, $77.
Dates: Jan. 10, 31; Feb. 7, 21, 28; March 14, 28; May 9, 30.
Contact: The Field Museum.
International Spy Museum, Washington, D.C., KidSpy Overnight: Operation Secret Slumber.
Morph into a secret agent to complete a clandestine mission. After you and your budding spies choose aliases, create disguises and memorize your new identities, the adults go undercover in one group while the kids work together in another. See which team does better at decoding messages, locating dead drops (where spies hide things in plain sight) and unmasking the mole in your midst.
Ages: 9 to 13. One adult required for every two children.
Cost: $115 per person, $105 for members.
Dates: Nov. 8-9, 2014. (The March session sold out months ago).
Contact: The International Spy Museum.
Milwaukee Public Museum, Overnights
By flashlight, trek past a Masai lion hunt in Africa, walrus and polar bears in the Arctic, fierce masks made by natives in New Guinea and other exhibits. Each overnight also includes a planetarium show or a giant screen movie plus themed hands-on activities. On the Mummies sleepover, make a mummy wrap or learn to fashion a figure according to the ancient Egyptian canon of proportions. Sleep near the forests in the Wisconsin Woodlands or the colorful figures in a modern powwow that’s part of A Tribute to Survival.
Ages: 6 to 12. One adult required for every five children.
Cost: $47 per person, $37 for members.
Dates: April 11 Safari; May 16 Raiders of the Lost Artifact; June 20 Wildlife Adventures; July 25 Mummies; August 15 Streets of Old Milwaukee.
Contact: Milwaukee Public Museum.
National Aquarium, Baltimore, Sleepover with the Sharks, Sleepover with the Dolphins.
Both the shark and the dolphin overnights feature hands-on labs and the chance to venture onto the Shark Alley catwalk so you’re inches above the toothy predators. On a shark sleepover, listen to the squawks and screeches of the nocturnal animals during a no-lights tour of the aquarium’s rain forest and touch real shark jaws, teeth, skin and egg cases in the Shark Discovery Lab. On a dolphin overnight, watch the clever mammals speed swim, jump and splash with their flukes in the dolphin amphitheater; and handle dolphin, seal and sea otter skulls in the Dolphin Discovery Lab. In the morning watch a trainer teach a dolphin to play ball and learn how to signal the intelligent creatures for a blowhole whistle or a fluke presentation.
Ages: 8 and older. One adult required for every 10 children.
Cost: $114.95, $102.95 members
Dates: Sharks: Feb. 14, 28; Mar 14; Dolphins: Jan. 3, 17, 31; Feb. 7, 21; Mar 7, 21, 28
Contact: National Aquarium.
Saint Louis Science Center, Camp Ins
Geared to a theme, the family camp ins feature science demonstrations, an OMNIMAX film or a planetarium show, free time to explore the museum and activities targeted to both older and younger kids. Teens construct an animatronic dinosaur while younger kids fashion the big critter’s teeth out of resin during Dinosaurs in Motion. Build rockets and use simulators to fly a plane as part of the Planetarium camp in. Learn about fingerprints, analyze germs in the Life Sciences Lab and solve a crime as part of the Sherlock Holmes sleepover.
Ages: Kids in grades K through 12 for Dinosaurs; K through 8th grade for Planetarium; 3rd grade through 12th for Sherlock Holmes. One adult required for every five children.
Cost: $50 per person; $45 members.
Dates: April 25 Dinosaurs in Motion; Sept. 19 Planetarium; Oct. 24 Sherlock Holmes.
Contact: Saint Louis Science Center.
SeaWorld San Diego, Father’s Day and Halloween Sleepovers
Polar bears, beluga whales and big walruses star in the Wild Arctic, Father’s Day overnight. Find out how these animals fit their environment, learning about their food, fat and, for the bears, their thick fur and powerful paws. Then roll out your sleeping bag near the viewing window to the polar bears’ habitat. On the Halloween Spooktacular, tour a special Animal Connections open house to find out how trainers care for the park’s turtles, lizards and birds and view snakes, spiders and other “spooky” creatures. Last year’s Halloween event, included breakfast with Shamu.
Cost: June, $145, $115 for Premium Pass members; Oct. $165, $135 for Premium Pass members. Fees include park admission after breakfast.
Dates: June 14, Father’s Day; Oct. 25th, Halloween Spooktacular
Contact: SeaWorld San Diego.seaworldparks.com/en/seaworld-sandiego/Educational-Programs/Family-Fun-Sleepover