a birthday trip to the museum

Yesterday, we went to the Children’s Museum of Manhattan in New York for my older daughter Charlene’s birthday. (Actually, both of my daughters’ birthdays are in February so it was more a joint birthday celebration, but Charlene’s actual birthday was yesterday.)

Getting there wasn’t much of a problem and finding the place is easy; it’s located on West 83rd St. between Broadway and Amsterdam. The hard part was finding parking, which is no surprise in Manhattan, but what was frustrating was every parking garage in the two or three block radius of the museum all told us they were full, at 10:00 AM on a Saturday morning in Manhattan. Maybe I should have known better, but being that I rarely ever go into the City for this very reason, because I like to drive and I hate finding parking, but the whole experience of driving around for 30 minutes trying to find a parking garage was extremely annoying. In the end, we ended up parking on the street at a meter in front of the museum — limit of 2 hours on the meter and you get 10 minutes a quarter and I put in 90 minutes worth, or $2.25, which gave us until noon before we needed to decide if we want to refill the meter or not.

Now with the parking situation out of the way, we unbuckled the kids and made our way into the museum. Normally, for two adults and two kids, you’d be looking at paying $32 for admission. However, there are advantages of working for big companies who invest in the communities where they have offices — they donate to these kinds of places! And, the museum offers free admission to corporate members: All Corporate Member employees receive unlimited FREE admission for themselves and their immediate family. Just present your company Photo ID card at the Museum’s admission desk and enjoy 5 floors of exciting exhibitions and programs for FREE! So, I just brought along my badge, showed it at the door and we all got in for free, which was awesome. Having been spared extortion at the parking garages, we only ended up shelling out the $2.25 at the meter and a couple of dollars in the gift shop, this was an incredibly good deal.

As an aside, while driving around looking for a parking garage, we managed to catch a glimpse of one section of The Gates exhibit at Central Park. It’s probably my inability to appreciate what others consider “art”, but man, what’s the big f’ing deal about ugly saffron-colored curtains hung up throughout the park? Is there some inside joke hidden in the exhibit (like a caricature of Winston Churchill only visible from an arial view) or something? I just don’t get it …

We spent the next hour and a half oohing and aahing at the Dr. Seuss exhibit on the first floor, which the kids really enjoyed. After a while, we went up a floor to the Dora the Explorer exhibit which had the kids running around happily some more. Going up another level brought us to an exhibit of Romare Bearden’s art, which the kids didn’t really get into and frankly, neither could I. Thankfully, all was not lost — we rode the slow-boat-to-China elevator all the way down to the lower level where the Magic Schoolbus exhibit was set up, and the kids had more fun! Finally, it was time for lunch and the kids were hungry, so we herded them towards the (free!) coat-check to get our coats, and head back outside for food.

While driving around near the museum looking for parking (ugh!), we spied a few Indian restaurants, so we decided since the car was already parked that we’d just feed it another $2.25 worth of quarters and walk to lunch. Of course, the first place we walked to was closed (!) on a Saturday. WTF? Okay, this is New York City, there’s places to eat every fifty feet, so we’ll just walk some more. Great! Another Indian place … which was closed too! WTF? It seems that Annapurna was just not on our side that day, so after asking Charlie what she felt like eating — which was “a hamburger, with lots and lots of pickles!” — we decided to check out a place called Fred’s, which is your average “Americana” (you know, burgers, etc.) bar/restaurant. We had a nice meal, a little pricey but probably not for Manhattan, and afterwards got back in the car for our next stop on the day’s itinerary.

The next stop was the New York Aquarium in Brooklyn. Fortunately, they have their own parking which cost us $7 (extortion). This place didn’t have the same sweet deal for corporate members, so it ended up costing us $36 in admission here, on top of the parking. Frankly, after having experienced the aquarium, I have to say that it just wasn’t worth that much money. Wandering around in the cold outdoors looking at small bodies of murky water, and peering through thick glass in the muggy air of the indoor exhibits, it’s hard to get excited looking at animals in captivity while listening to the tree-hugging conservationist propaganda. We left, children and adults exhausted, ready to head on home.

All in all, it was an excellent way to spend the day and I highly recommend people with young children to take the family to see the Children’s Museum of Manhattan, especially if you work for one of their corporate members. I’d definitely go there with the kids again. I’d pass on the aquarium, though, it just wasn’t worth it.

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