The Good: Affordable, Amazing displays, Educational
The Bad: Parking options can be annoying
The Basics: Affordable, educational and overwhelming, the American Museum Of Natural History is a cultural treasure for anyone in the United States.
For those who have ever wondered about the value of traveling to New York City, consider how many travel guides have been written about that city; they might well outstrip London, Cairo and Paris in the travel guide section of your local bookseller. And considering that my last trip to New York City was at the end of February/the beginning of March of this year and I am just now completing my reviews of places my wife and I went while there, this is certainly a testament to the sheer volume of activities New York City represents for the average tourist. Our final stop before departing New York City for Grand Rapids, Michigan was the American Museum Of Natural History.
The American Museum Of Natural History is a full day's worth of education and enlightenment in New York City and a real treat to experience over and over again at different times of life. In fact, outside the annoyances of getting around New York City and finding parking, the American Museum Of Natural History is a perfect museum! It is also worth noting from the outset that housed in a wing of the same building is the Hayden Planetarium. This can enhance anyone's trip to the Museum, for those who might be more interested in geology and astronomy, as opposed to the biology of Earth's many lifeforms.
The American Museum Of Natural History is a mammoth museum in New York City which is over four stories of fossils, animal recreations and displays of humans of various timeperiods and cultures. These occupy a building at Central Park West at 79th Street in New York City. This is midtown Manhattan essentially in the middle of the island. Given all of the one-way streets in this section of Manhattan, I highly recommend getting directions off something like MapQuest to insure you get from where you are to the American Museum Of Natural History.
Ease Of Local Transport/Parking
As the name of the street suggests, the American Museum Of Natural History is adjacent to Central Park and while Central Park West is a long street, one might have to circle the block several times in order to find a place to park. We visited the American Museum Of Natural History in the middle of winter and at two in the afternoon, we were actually able to find on-street parking within a block of the Museum. Feeding the meter gave us only two hours within the Museum, but we were able to move the car up a few positions after our first two hours expired.
Actually, when we first arrived at the Museum, we had figured there would be no parking nearby, so we parked about three blocks away. Again, given that it was midwinter, we found metered parking for over an hour. We lucked out and I suspect most people will feel compelled to either get to the museum ridiculously early, travel and park in packs or shell out for the Museum parking which is never going to be cheap. The one advantage of parking in the Museum parking garage is not having to worry about one's vehicle and the meter expiring. There is something of a buzzkill over having to break up one's experience at the American Museum Of Natural History to go out and feed the meters.
Here, too, books have been written by others on all that there is to do at the American Museum Of Natural History, but this is a very traditional museum experience focused on the development of life on Earth as well as the rise of human civilizations. Dedicated to Theodore Roosevelt, the American Museum Of Natural History experience begins on the ground level with a lobby that features the reconstructed skeleton of a giant dinosaur, flanked by two smaller ones. This immediately excited my partner, who was quite dismayed to realize that there were no velociraptors on display. Still, the presence of fossilized remains that are hundreds of thousands of years old standing strong in the lobby is incredible in and of itself. To see that, one need only walk into the museum, so even those just passing by ought to stop in for that!
The American Museum Of Natural History is a public resource and as a result, entrance into the museum is based upon a donation. While there are minimum recommended donations, this is a museum that was built in the populist tradition and anyone, regardless of economic status ought to come learn here and experience the Museum. This is a very traditional museum experience, though, in that visitors walk through the Museum reading, observing and coming to understand the principles being displayed. Most of the displays do not talk to the visitors and this museum is low on infotainment; principles on display are based on science and reason, not flash or ideology. While there are guides and walking tours, most visitors will find it valuable to walk through the museum at their own pace.
The first floor is dominated by models of various forms of life. Adjacent to the lobby, one walks through a mock-up of a rainforest, filled with replicas of birds and small jungle mammals. Near that is the room that drew our attention the longest; the Milstein Hall Of Ocean Life. The Hall Of Ocean Life is a massive chamber that actually goes down a floor that is packed with displays of every type of undersea life found in the ocean. In addition to a simple wall display with various fish and crustaceans displayed to give visitors an idea of size, scale and diversity, there are "tanks" on the main floor. There are no real, live fish or undersea creatures here, but each display is organized like a fish tank filled with display pieces of various creatures or segments of reefs, designed to give visitors an idea of just how diverse and impressive the undersea world actually is. One can see scale replicas of octopi, sailfish, sharks and whales. This is truly an incredible hall and there are movies played at regular intervals about undersea life. The Hall Of Ocean Life is a place one may spend hours just experiencing a very different world than ours on this same planet! We spent most of our visit here and on the top floor.
The second floor had limited appeal for us, as we were there mostly for the animal life displays and the fossils. However, anyone interested in the evolution of humanity and the various advances in culture and technology by different peoples throughout history will find this floor fascinating. It is dominated by environmental displays of New York State (which, given that we live near the Adirondacks was easy for us to pass by!), cases of Native American Indian cultures and artifacts and a few rock displays. This floor is dominated by wax and plastic replicas of different lifeforms and people. In the Northwest Coast Indians hall, there are wax mannequins of various tribes of Indians alongside actual artifacts taken from those natives. The mannequins are incredibly well made and detailed with lifelike details.
This floor also has the bottom level of the mammal room. The North American Mammal room features glass-protected displays - dioramas, if you will - of various animals unique to North America and the detailing on these is incredible. Each display describes the animals perfectly as well as their habitats. Each display has a map defining all of the creatures and plants within each diorama! This is a great way for visual learners to get all sorts of information on animals.
The third floor has the upper level of the Hall Of African Mammals, which is essentially a continuation of what was on the lower level of the same room. There is a similar room on this level with reptiles and amphibians and that is pretty incredible - and creepy for those not into reptiles! There is also a hall of birds and more primitive peoples on display in wax. We had little interest in the artifacts and maquettes from the pacific people, so we skipped much of this floor.
The top floor - that the public has access to - is of great interest to those who are interested in dinosaurs. The American Museum Of Natural History has one of the world's most extensive collection of dinosaur fossils in the world. The fourth floor is organized in a loop wherein one walks through halls of dinosaurs and extinct mammals in their remnant forms (these are not maquettes or models, only reconstructed skeletons. There are dinosaurs from various eras and species groups - Saurischian, Ornithischian - as well as skeletons of extinct mammals and the first vertebrates on the planet. Here, evolution is illustrated through fossilized records and the changes in the animal life are fascinating to see.
The American Museum Of Natural History has several places to eat, most of which were drastically overpriced cafes.
The American Museum Of Natural History contains several a gift shops which sells educational souvenirs as well as the usual tourist swag, like t-shirts, stickers, magnets and the like. The gift shops also have books and biology and cultural resources as well. So, for example, on the fourth floor there is the Dinostore with resources specifically for dinosaur enthusiasts. The American Museum Of Natural History is not exactly a shopping destination within New York City, but it does have plenty of souvenirs and educational materials available for sale.
Given how much there is to do at the American Museum Of Natural History, it is a perfect museum and a must-visit location within New York City.
For other places in New York City to visit, please check out my reviews of:
Lincoln Center For The Performing Arts
For other travel reviews, please be sure to visit my Travel Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the travel reviews I have written!
© 2012, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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