Sleepover at the National Archives

All Photos: Jeffrey Reed of the National Archives

There’s certainly no shortage of amazing, unique opportunities in Washington, DC. Most visitors to the city hit a lot of the same standard hot spots: the White House, the Capitol Building, a Smithsonian museum or two, the Washington Monument, and so on.

But there’s so much more. And if you have the time – or if you’re a local looking for something truly special – you really should consider spending the night at the National Archives.

What’s that? Didn’t know you could stay at the Archives? Well, normally you can’t. But twice a year, the National Archives Foundation hosts a Sleepover at the National Archives. The next sleepover will be held on October 14, 2017, and you can reserve your spot(s) now. If you’re interested, I highly recommend reserving your spot as early as possible. These events DO sell out.

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The Discovery of King Tut Exhibition

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Manhattan is a mecca for world-class museums, and there’s certainly no shortage of genuine art and artifacts from Ancient Egypt. The Metropolitan Museum of Art holds tens of thousands of pieces of historical significance, and practically all of them are on display – including the magnificent Temple of Dendur and several real-life mummies! The Brooklyn Museum also has two mummies on display.

So it came as a bit of a surprise at how much we enjoyed an exhibit about King Tut composed entirely of reproductions. This is something you should know about The Discovery of King Tut, currently on display at Premier Exhibitions on 5th Avenue (at 37th Street) in New York. It consists of about 1,000 replica objects but is without a single genuine artifact. But that almost doesn’t make a difference.

What came as a shock was just how enraptured my kids (4 and 6) were with the exhibit. I credit much of that to the audio guide that comes with your admission, but neither of my kids wanted to leave until they had listened to all 38 tour stops and seen absolutely everything the exhibit had to offer. As a result, my daughter is currently fascinated by all things Ancient Egypt and has a stack of library books on her bedroom floor. I call that a win.

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Star Wars and the Power of Costume

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Discovery Times Square has become one of the hottest go-to venues for nerdy exhibits and traveling shows. The space recently hosted the incredibly high-tech Avengers STATION and has been home to a Hunger Games exhibition for more than a year now.

The newest exhibit to come through may have a clunky name, but – in short – it’s well worth your time and money if you’re in the city. Rebel, Jedi, Princess, Queen: Star Wars and the Power of Costume opened in November of 2015 and will remain on exhibit until September of 2016 (before moving on to the Denver Museum of Art).

The traveling exhibit was developed by the Smithsonian Institution’s Traveling Exhibition Service in partnership with the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art and Lucasfilm. Rather than focus on the narrative structure, special effects, or chronology of the Star Wars films, the exhibit instead turns its focus to the costumes created for the saga.

More than 60 different costumes, spanning all seven films, tell the story not of Star Wars but of the collective vision to develop that universe. The exhibit walks the visitor through the creative process of turning ideas into reality.

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New-York Historical Society: Superheroes in Gotham

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Superheroes and popular culture. They’re like peanut butter and jelly. For almost as long as there’s been a “popular culture,” there have been superheroes. I mean, Edgar Rice Burroughs had superhero archetypes in the Barsoom and Tarzan novels as early as 1912 . . . and he wasn’t even the first.

But, realistically, when people think of superheroes, they’re not thinking of John Carter or Dejah Thoris. They’re thinking of Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Wonder Woman, Iron Man, and all the rest. In short, they’re thinking of DC and Marvel characters.

Even those characters are much older than many people think. Mention Superman, and odds are people think of Christopher Reeve. Mention Batman, and people probably think of Christian Bale, Michael Keaton, or his animated form. Iron Man? That’s easy. Robert Downey, Jr. essentially introduced the character to a huge population that had never heard of him before.

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Day Out With Thomas…and Percy!

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Last week, we had the joy of attending another Day out with Thomas event at the Strasburg Rail Road outside of Lancaster, PA. (To read about our previous visit, when Percy made his grand debut, click here.)

Not much has changed since last year, so our review of the event and offerings still mostly hold true. The biggest difference is that rides on Thomas and Percy are sold separately now. Thomas trains (22-minute trips) depart every 30 minutes and alternate with 12-minute Percy rides.

In addition to the train rides through beautiful central Pennsylvania farmland, there are still photo ops (with Thomas, Percy, and Sir Topham Hatt), temporary tattoos, Thomas video screenings, storytimes, and more Thomas train tables than should be legally allowed in one place.

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Giveaway: Day Out With Thomas: The Celebration Tour Tickets

Thomas

It’s that time of the year again! It’s time for that little blue engine Thomas to make the rounds. And this month, the Strasburg Rail Road is kicking off summer with not only Thomas the Tank Engine but also a return of last year’s surprise favorite: Percy!

That’s right, Percy’s back! (Click here for our review of last year’s event when Percy was unveiled for the first time.)

From June 20–28, both Thomas and Percy will be giving rides at Strasburg Rail Road! Additional activities include photo ops with Sir Topham Hatt, art-and-crafts stations, more train tables and Thomas toys that you’ve ever seen assembled in one place, and storytelling sessions, among other things.

Frankly, if your kids love Thomas, this event is everything they could ever want.

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Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorium – Baltimore

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It’s been a long time since I entertained the notion of going to a Ripley’s Believe It or Not! museum. When I was a kid, I used to love them. But I also used to love Twinkies and Fun Dip.

I didn’t have very discerning taste, is what I’m trying to say.

Maybe it’s just nostalgia, but it seems like these places were a dime a dozen when I was younger. If you had asked 8-year-old me, a place wasn’t worth visiting if it didn’t have miniature golf, a wax museum, or either a Ripley’s museum or a Guinness Book of World Records museum.

As a kid, I ate these places up and couldn’t get enough of them. I loved ’em. But they weren’t very good. They were often thrown together for knucklehead kids like me who didn’t know any better. The museum was small, the exhibits were cheap, and you usually felt ripped off in the end.

It was therefore with some skepticism that we visited the brand-new Ripley’s Odditorium in Baltimore. I have to hand it to them, though, they know how to make themselves compelling. The museum has perfect placement right on the Inner Harbor, and that huge green dragon snaking its way around the entrance sure is eye-catching.

It caught the eye of my son, and that was all it took to bring me back inside a Ripley’s museum. And, believe it or not (sorry, had to do it at least once), this place is actually really great!

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Crayola Experience

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The Crayola Experience is one of those museums we’ve been dying to check out forever, but it was just so…out of the way. It’s located in Easton, PA, which is about an hour and half north of Philadelphia and west of New York.

In truth, it’s not near much else, so the chance that you’d make it quick add-on side trip while visiting someplace else is slim. However, we took a roundabout route up to New York on a recent trip with the express purpose of checking this place out.

And I’m glad we did. It’s pretty outstanding.

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Avengers STATION

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The Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N exhibit in Times Square is something I’ve been looking forward to seeing since it opened. However, first things first. That acronym? Scientific Training and Tactical Intelligence Operative Network. Of course.

Officially, the exhibit is “a completely immersive experience that brings visitors into the world of The Avengers. Visitors of all ages are granted S.H.I.E.L.D. access to the official S.T.A.T.I.O.N. headquarters and taken deep into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Here visitors will have open access to a vast array of intelligence files, classified studies and experiments that explores the history and scientific origins of Marvel’s The Avengers.”

It’s important to note that this exhibit is almost exclusively based on the Marvel Cinematic Universe. If you’ve seen (and enjoy) the movies, then you’ll enjoy this exhibit. No comic book knowledge is required.

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Day Out With Thomas

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(The Day Out With Thomas is currently at the Strasburg Rail Road outside of Lancaster, PA, through Sunday, September 21. Buy tickets here.)

The Day Out With Thomas events have been a staple at train museums for many years now. The first such event in the United States was back in 1996, and they’ve been going strong ever since. If you have a kid who likes Thomas or is a train fanatic, then you’ve very likely heard of or been to this event.

There are about a half dozen different Thomas engines making the circuit, and I was surprised to learn that they were all built by the Strasburg Rail Road.

Well, Thomas now has a new friend on the rails! The good people at the Strasburg Rail Road decided to expand the fleet, so they designed and built a working Percy engine!

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The National Toy Train Museum

National Toy Train Museum

To coincide with my post about the Choo Choo Barn, I thought I’d just talk about the National Toy Train Museum at the same time. Both are located in Strasburg, PA, which is just a short drive from Lancaster and is filled to the brim with train-related goodies.

The two museums share a common enthusiasm (they’re both lovingly devoted to the world of model railroading), but they have different missions. Whereas the Choo Choo Barn is a presentation of what model railroading looks like, the National Toy Train Museum is dedicated to sharing how the hobby was born, presenting the history of its growth, and reveling in the obvious joy its curators take from this pastime.

Bonus: they’re only about a mile apart, so there’s really no reason not to visit both of them.

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The Choo Choo Barn

Choo Choo Barn

The area around Lancaster, PA, has no shortage of stuff to do with the little ones. We recently spent a weekend in the area and devoted most of a day to the wonderful world of trains. Strasburg, PA, about 15 minutes to the southeast of Lancaster, is also known as Traintown, USA.

And for good reason. It’s home to the Strasburg Railroad, the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, the National Toy Train Museum, the Choo Choo Barn, and the incredible Red Caboose Motel.

The adorably named Choo Choo Barn certainly lives up to the cuteness of its name. Located just down the street from the Strasburg Railroad, the Choo Choo Barn is essentially an enormous model train layout.

It’s every little boy’s fantasy. At 1,700 square feet and with 22 operating trains, it certainly puts my childhood model train layout to shame.

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The BIG Maze – National Building Museum

National Building Museum

The National Building Museum in Washington, DC, is one of our favorite places in the city. It has been since the kids were very young. It’s a great escape from crowds of tourists, it’s got a fantastic kids play area (Building Zone), and…well…it’s drop-dead gorgeous. It looks like something a giant would’ve built.

This summer, the museum has constructed an enormous maze (60×60 feet), which is surprisingly still dwarfed by the museum’s massive columns (that never fail to impress, no matter how times we visit).

The maze is 18 feet high around the perimeter, but is slopes down to a mere 2-3 feet in the middle. This creates a unique experience while inside, allowing you to peek over the walls as you close in on the center.

This inventive design makes the maze something truly creative—it is essentially a work of art in itself.

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Virginia Living Museum

Virginia Living Museum

We’ve been members of the Maryland Science Center in Baltimore for several years now. One of the best-kept secrets of membership is the reciprocal admissions offered by other institutions affiliated with the Passport Program of the Association of Science and Technology Centers.

The Roarbots love science museums, so this program has been an incredible perk of membership. We make it a point to visit as many participating museums as possible during our travels.

This is the first of an occasional series of posts highlighting some of these amazing local science centers. Find more by following the ASTC tag on this post.

On a recent trip to Williamsburg and Virginia Beach, we managed to stop at a couple ASTC institutions. First up was the Virginia Living Museum, which was a wonderful surprise.

Located in Newport News, Virginia, the Living Museum is in the heart of Southeast Virginia’s tourist center.

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Zoo Sauvage de St-Félicien

Zoo Sauvage

Zoos. You either love them…or you don’t. Where do the Roarbots fall? Ironically, I think we’re somewhere in between. Good zoos can be wonderful. Bad zoos? Don’t get me started. They can be some of the most depressing places on Earth and cause for us to denounce all zoos.

But the good ones? The unique ones? The truly awe-inspiring ones? The places that genuinely care about the animals and actively support conservation efforts? Those are fantastic.

We’ve been fortunate enough to visit several such places that we’d recommend in a heartbeat: the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park, The Singapore Zoo and Night Safari…and now, Zoo Sauvage de St-Félicien in Quebec, Canada.

About three hours north of Quebec City, on the other side of a breathtaking drive through the Laurentides, Zoo Sauvage is located near Saint-Jean Lake in Saint-Félicien. We drove up from Quebec specifically for the zoo.

Was it worth the drive? Absolutely.

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Madame Tussauds Washington, DC

Madame Tussauds DCA bit of history: when I was a kid, I used to love wax museums. If we saw one, I’d make my parents take me. I remember with such clarity one (I think it might have been at Niagara Falls) that was all about medieval torture devices. That one had a lot of gore. 10-year-old me adored it.

I haven’t been to a wax museum in years. Madame Tussauds is undoubtedly the “rockstar” of modern wax museums, but I’d never been to one. There were always too many other things I wanted to see in whatever city happened to have one. I just couldn’t justify a trip to a wax museum whenever I was in London, Las Vegas, or New York.

However, there’s one in my hometown, and it was only a matter of time before I made it inside. This past weekend, we took the kids downtown and finally visited Madame Tussauds DC.

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Espace pour la Vie (Space for Life), part 3: Insectarium and Botanical Gardens

Montreal Insectarium

[Read part 1 of our review (the Biodôme) here and part 2 of our review (the planetarium) here.]

Finally, we come to the end of our journey through Montréal’s Space for Life (Espace pour la Vie): the insectarium and botanical garden (Jardin Botanique). Ironically, it’s also the largest space; in fact, you could easily spend the better part of a day in the botanical garden alone. The gardens are about a 10–15 minute walk from the rest of the Space for Life complex.

The Insectarium is housed in a somewhat small building (when compared with the Biodôme and planetarium), but it’s billed as “one of the largest insect museums in North America.” Truly, I’m stumped to think of another, so who am I to argue with that claim?

Two steps inside the building and the kids were enthralled. Their mother had a constant look of unease the entire time we were there, but the kids? They LOVED this place.

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Espace pour la Vie (Space for Life), part 2: Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium

Montreal Planetarium

[Read part 1 of our review (the Biodôme) here and part 3 of our review (the botanical garden/insectarium) here.]

Continuing our journey through the sprawling Espace pour la Vie (Space for Life) in Montréal, we move next door from the Biodôme to the planetarium. We also move away from the various ecosystems of our own little planet to the vastness of the Universe.

Admission to the planetarium includes access to three separate attractions: two different shows in two different planetarium domes and the permanent exhibition between them.

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Espace pour la Vie (Space for Life), part 1: Biodôme

[Read part 2 of our review (the planetarium) here and part 3 of our review (the botanical garden/insectarium) here.]

Montreal’s Espace pour la Vie (Space for Life) is actually a sprawling complex that includes several different “spaces”: the Biodôme, a planetarium, a botanical garden, and an insectarium. It should be noted up front that each charges a separate entry fee (the botanical garden and insectarium are included together), but they offer combined admission tickets, which make the most sense if you want to visit more than one.

However, visiting all in one day (which is what we did) is a major endeavor, especially with young kids. It’s a whole-day affair. In fact, there’s so much to see that I’m actually going to split this across three posts.

First up, let’s take a walk through the Biodôme, a massive structure built to house and replicate various ecosystems found in the Americas. The building is mostly divided into four main ecosystems, but there are other spaces available for temporary exhibits.

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The Big Build – National Building Museum

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This past Saturday was The Big Build at the National Building Museum in DC. We’re big fans of the museum, but we’ve never been to this annual event. I think it’s safe to say we’ll be adding it to our regular late summer/early fall rotation. We had an awesome time. Definitely recommended.

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