Whale of a Time

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There are now more whales to ogle at The American Museum of Natural History

There are now more whales to ogle at The American Museum of Natural History

When the thermometer rises and humidity is stifling, the beach becomes mighty appealing. But lugging all the necessities: the towels, sunscreen, umbrellas and… oh, yeah…the kids!, can be unbearable. There’s another way to get your ocean fix in NYC, without stepping foot on sand. “Whales: Giants of the Deep” at the American Museum of Natural History brings the ocean to you, with an interactive exhibit that won’t give you heatstroke.

This is a special exhibit, so you need a timed ticket to gain entry.  We had an hour to kill before we could enter, so we decided to keep with the whale theme for the day and check out the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life on the first floor. It’s practically impossible to miss the enormous blue whale hanging from the ceiling, which gives a breathtaking introduction to the size and scope of the species. My preschooler was happy to run himself ragged in the dim, dark, cool room, but eventually we wandered around to look at the sea creature dioramas which included the spooky cool Sperm Whale and Giant Squid.

It was almost time for our ticketed entry, so we made our way to the 4th floor LeFrak Family Gallery to gain admittance.  There are no strollers allowed in the special exhibit, but there is stroller parking outside the door. Also, there is no re-entry into the show or bathrooms inside, so if your child, say, leaks through both his diaper and pants, and is screaming because he is wet, you must exit immediately with no re-entry. This happened to us at the recent Global Kitchen show, so we learned our lesson and used the loo before going inside.

Once inside, the exhibit is organized into different themes like Evolution, Strandings and Maori Whale Watchers which all include fossils, life-sized models, films and games to demonstrate the awesomeness of whales. We couldn’t believe that whales once lived on land and looked like a cross between a hippopotamus and a wolf!

My favorite part was the sound section which had a chamber where you can spin a wheel to hear the different whale songs. And then, climbing aboard a small, 10-person surround sound theater, we actually watched life from a whale’s point of view and eardrums. Diving deep, deep, deep through the water, we watched a whale attack prey and saw giant jellyfish swim by.

The heart of the "Whales: Giants of the Deep" exhibit

The heart of the “Whales: Giants of the Deep” exhibit

The largest section of the exhibit was about anatomy, complete with x-rays and fossils, touchable rib bones, and models of whales and dolphins.  There were tons of interactive videos, buttons to press and fossils to trace. My son’s favorite part was the life size replica of a Blue Whale’s Heart that kids can actually tunnel through to play videos and games. After the millionth climb through the “heart house”, we were ready to eat.

Usually with a day at AMNH, we opt to bring our lunch and eat in the spacious school lunch rooms downstairs. But today, we couldn’t resist a stop to Levain Bakery. A slice of deliciously crisp, flatbread cheese pizza sets the stage for the main event: their signature chocolate chip cookies.  They are as big as a baseball and so deliciously undercooked on the inside that they may not have been cooked at all.  For us, they were literally “a whale of a treat.”

American Museum of Natural History, Central Park West at 79th Street, open daily from 10:00am- 5:45pm. “Whales: Giants of the Deep open through January 5, 2014.

Levain Bakery, 167 West 74th St. (between Columbus Ave & Amsterdam Ave), Mon-Sat 8am-7pm, Sun 9am-7pm.

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