The Vanderbilt Museum and Planetarium
|The Vanderbilt Museum and Planetarium in Centerport has a diverse collection of natural history exhibits set on a beautiful Gold Coast Estate.|
When you enter the museum grounds, the public parking area will be on your left. Getting to any of the museum's three centers will require a little bit of walking. The planetarium is easily recognizable by its dome on one side, while the Marine Museum is located on the opposite side of the parking lot. The main house on the Vanderbilt Estate is the home of a number of exhibits, most notably the Egyptian mummy room. The mummy is a rather small exhibit, but it's authentic and there aren't many places for kids to go and see a real Egyptian mummy. The staff there was very knowledgeable about the exhibit and cheerfully entertained questions during our visit.
A separate building hosts the Marine Museum, where there are extensive displays of stuffed fish from around the world. The lower gallery is divided into geographic displays and features a great diversity of sea life. This is definitely not a hands-on exhibit, so kids who like to handle things as they explore may be disappointed.
The upstairs at the Marine Museum has a more scientific feel, with specimens preserved in glass jars all along the walls. Smaller children might find some of this a little creepy, so use your judgment in deciding whether to make the climb up to the second floor. There are also many large cases displaying seashells, which most kids will enjoy.
Back at the main house, there is a habitat gallery below the mummy exhibit. You have to descend two flights of exterior stairs (through a very nice garden) to reach the habitats. This is probably a good time to point out that the Vanderbilt is not a stroller-friendly museum. Most of the walkways are cobblestone and would be nearly impossible to push a stroller across. They're even a little tough on small feet, although there are a series of brick paths that run along most of the pathways. The habitats themselves should have been a highlight, but for some reason most of the lights were turned off during our visit. We could see into the dimly lit polar bear and tiger habitats, but barely. Many other displays were undergoing renovations. An enormous whale shark hangs from the ceiling in the main habitat room.
The Vanderbilt Planetarium features hourly shows on Saturday and Sunday, as well as laser rock shows on Friday and Saturday nights. Many of the early shows are geared towards young kids, and it's a good place to expose children to a planetarium show for the first time. In the lobby, there is a giant model of the moon and actual meteorites that you can touch. Check their website for planetarium show times.
The Vanderbilt Museum is open for very limited hours. It's basically open on Tuesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. The financial troubles of the museum have been well-documented, and the lack of funding shows in some areas. But there is still a lot to see here for children who are curious about the natural sciences. They need visitors to stay open, so head over there and check it out. They're even expanding with some new ideas like the "Our Night Out" story time, where they read children's stories and project related pictures onto the planetarium ceiling.
The Vanderbilt Museum and PlanetariumOfficial Site: www.vanderbiltmuseum.org
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