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Things to do in New York City: Museum of Natural History - Sleepover for Grownups


There are a few places in New York City that are almost more New York City than New York City itself.

The American Museum of Natural History is one of those places.

Say its name in certain late-night conversations and you are bound to encounter a wide spectrum of responses most of which are accompanied by a starry-eyed look usually reserved for times when people think back to beloved childhood memories.

Even visiting the museum on frequent school trips during my own childhood, the museum seemed to be a portal into an alternate New York City reality tinted by nostalgia.

The museum started having around a decade ago. But it wasn’t until last week that the museum decided to host its first ever .

The allure of an adults-only sleepover was strong, of course. The sleepover’s tickets sold out within the first three hours that they were up for sale.

I was fortunate enough to be one of the 150 adults who got to attend the sleepover. It was a fascinating night.

Here is some of what transpired…


Sleepover guests were greeted by live jazz music inside of the museum courtesy of the 12th Night Jazz Ensemble


The Milstein Hall of Ocean Life was the setting for the actual sleeping part of the sleepover. Guests were guided to the hall to pick a cot under the 94 foot blue whale or away from it (I met quite a few people over the course of the night who seemed to share a fear of having the giant whale fall on them in their sleep).


There was also a champagne reception followed by a three course meal where sleepover guests nervously contemplated how the evening’s adventures would unfold.


I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I was happily surprised to find that there was an in-depth itinerary provided for us:


All 45 museum halls and the entire Rose Center for Earth and Space were open for free exploration. Some of the hallways were completely empty.


I took an empty elevator up to the 4th floor. I knew what I wanted to see most of all.

The dinosaurs, of course.


It was a stellar moment when I realized that the dinosaurs were lit up in a special way at night.

I had T-Rex all to myself for a good 10 minutes.

It was *spectacular*.


This night was also the first night I got to use the Sony A7S which has insane low-light capability. You can basically shoot up to 50,000 ISO with little noise. For those who don’t know what ISO is, ISO is the measure of how sensitive your camera sensor is to light. For reference, my first DSLR could only ever really shoot up to around 800 ISO. Anything greater than that and the photos would be extremely noisy.

This next photo was taken at 25,600 ISO with the A7S. It’s straight out of camera. If you want to view it really large, here it is:


I can’t wait to take this camera out on the dark streets of New York City at night.

Back to the sleepover though.

There were a lot of events on the itinerary. I took a break from the dinosaurs to go and attend a presentation about toxicology in the Power of Poison exhibit.

The exhibit was fun to walk through. Here is a representation of the witches from Macbeth.


This is the table at the presentation with all sorts of ominous things like a giant cell display, a tea kettle, a skull, and Arsenic.


And here is the curator of the Power of Poison exhibit who is an author and one of the world’s top leech experts, . He is demonstrating the effects of Arsenic. :)


Before the next event on the itinerary, I ran back to the 4th floor to gawk at the dinosaurs again for a few minutes. If this is what the kids at the sleepovers have been experiencing for years, I am supremely jealous. I love these exhibits even more at night.


I also took a little detour and visited a new exhibit called Pterosaurs: Flight in the Age of Dinosaurs. There is a simulation game where you can flap your arms to fly like a pterosaur on the screen in front of you. You can then fly over the ocean and try to catch fish, or fly through a forest and try to catch bugs. It is surprisingly (or not surprisingly) hard to catch fish or bugs while flying around with an enormous prehistoric wingspan.

This is another museum guest attempting to fly like a pterosaur.


My dinosaur visit was short-lived since I had to book it to get to the Live Animal presentation. No one really knew what live animals would be featured but the speculation was quite amusing over dinner. My dinner table guests nearly lost it when someone suggested that there would be sloths. Sloths!

Alas, there were no sloths. But that’s ok because there was an owl:


…and a lemur eating a banana.


There was also a bird of prey, an alligator who urinated all over the trainer and the stage, and a Burmese python.

Before the midnight showing of the current space show in the planetarium, I quickly made my way to the Theodore Roosevelt Rotunda. When I was really little, it was one of my favorite places in all of New York City. It’s really hard to beat. Not too many other places can boast a trio of large dinosaurs in action poses.

I was surprised to find the room totally empty. If you have visited this museum, you will recognize this room as one of the main entrances. It’s usually full of people since it’s one of the places you can enter the museum and purchase tickets to the exhibits. To experience it empty was truly sublime.


I always thought that the dinosaurs looked a bit like they were dancing.


That tail…


The planetarium show ended somewhere between 1 am and 2 am. I had lofty goals of sleeping under the giant whale but I wanted to visit the Lunar Lounge first.

The Lunar Lounge was the name given to the adult-sleepover-decked-out Gottesman Hall of Planet Earth. It was a space for those adults who preferred to skip sleep. With non-stop films, electrical outlets to charge devices and dim lighting, it was a pretty cool place to hang out for a bit.


At around 3 am, I decided to make my way back to the whale.

Decked out in an oversized hoodie and leggings (the instructions were to bring comfortable clothes for sleeping in sleeping bags but no pajamas: one of the most puzzling requests related to the event), I marveled at how eerily beautiful the museum was at night.


And as I nestled into my sleeping bag under the giant whale, I knew this would be a night I would never forget.



Some notes about the sleepover:

1. Sleep was but a dream. As I mentioned, I had lofty expectations that I would be able to sleep. In truth, they remained lofty expectations. We were warned that the cots would be extremely uncomfortable. That was an understatement.

But it wasn’t the cot that did me in sleep-wise. And it wasn’t the noise or low-level of light in the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life. As a travel photographer, I travel with ear plugs and an eye mask and I had both in my possession for this sleepover.

It was the bone-chilling cold.

I guess something that you never really think about when you think of museums is how incredibly cold they get at night. While I had my comfy sleeping bag and I was wearing a hoodie and leggings, I was still uncomfortably freezing for the few futile hours that I attempted to sleep. In retrospect, I should have just kept roaming around the museum. If I were to do the sleepover again, I would actually bank on not sleeping at all.

2. The crowd. I was actually a bit surprised at how restrained the guests were throughout the night. I think I expected that there would be more…revelry. Everything was very, very subdued though which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I was shocked when I entered the sleeping hall at around 3:30 in the morning to find many people sleeping soundly (how did they sleep in that cold?!).

There seemed to be many couples and groups of friends. I was solo on this adventure and so perhaps I was just keenly aware of how paired-up everyone else seemed to be. It’s a great event to attend with someone special, that’s for sure.

3. The itinerary. As I mentioned in the photo-set above, I was pleasantly surprised to find there was a planned itinerary with events and presentations. The presentations and events were pretty fantastic. The only thing I think could be improved would be to space the events out a bit more to allow for more free roaming of the museum. If you wanted to attend all of the events, you would have been left with only a little over an hour to explore the museum.


I hope you enjoyed my museum sleepover recap!


Looking for these (and more) photos of the museum sleepover for adults to view larger? Here you go (click or tap on each photo to view larger):


P.S. - Information about my New York City photography book which is releasing in stores and online in the autumn of 2014 (including where to order it):


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