Saturday, September 11, 2010

Yes, Virginia, There Is A Fifth Borough: The Staten Island Children's Museum

You thought I was going to forget about Staten Island, didn’t you? Although known as the “forgotten borough” and often mistaken for part of New Jersey, I would be remiss if I left out Staten Island, home to not only nearly half the cast of “Jersey Shore”--including Michael “The Situation” Sorrentino--but also to a children’s museum that is less expensive ($6 as opposed to $10), less crowded, and infinitely cooler than its Manhattan counterpart.

Start on the third floor in the Bugs and Other Insects exhibit, where kids can try on an exoskeleton, wend their way through a giant ant hill, watch bees in their hive, sort arthropods, and ogle over an emperor scorpion and tarantula.

Being a bug

The Ant Hill

Next, make your way around the corner to Charlie’s favorite exhibit, House About It. Children of all ages will delight in donning hardhats and neon orange vests, helping complete construction on a two-story frame house, operating a digger and wrecking ball, and bouncing up and down on a life-size level seesaw. This was probably my favorite exhibit, too, because there was no shortage of deep, wooden window seats where I could stretch out comfortably and check my email while the kids channeled their inner construction workers. (What? You didn’t think I played with my kids all the time, did you? My new favorite line, borrowed from a friend’s mother, is actually, “I’m your mother, not your playmate.”)

"Look, lady, the only thing I can guarantee is that it's going to take twice as long and cost twice as much. Capiche?"

Take a break in the museum’s Snack Zone, which has vending machines and a limited menu, but also allows you to bring in your own food. Then visit the Great Explorations exhibit where kids can trek through a rain forest, dive to the bottom of the ocean, build an igloo, and cross piranha-infested waters on a wooden raft.

Row, row, row your boat, gently down the Amazon...

By now, the kids are probably nearing their saturation point (that’s a euphemism for “whining to beat the band”), so hit one last exhibit on your way out. We opted for Ladder 11, where Charlie and Vivi, disguised in fire helmets, uniforms, and airpacks, slid down the firepole to their waiting firetruck and responded to all sorts of imaginary five-alarm fires throughout the city.

Auditioning for the 2011 Staten Island Fireman Calendar

Make a note of the exhibits for which you didn’t have time today (Portia’s Playhouse, Block Harbor, Sea of Boats, and The Big Game), so that you can visit them the next time you come.

Finish the day at R.H. Tugs, a nearby, child-friendly restaurant which is rumored to have been where Madonna’s 1986 “Papa Don’t Preach” video was filmed and serves up standard barfare, along with great views of the tugboats and cargo ships going by.

Staten Island Children’s Museum, 1000 Richmond Terrace, Staten Island, NY (on the grounds of Snug Harbor Cultural Center), (718) 273-2060,; Hours: Tuesday to Sunday: 12:00 PM to 5:00 PM (when New York City public schools are open); 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM (when New York City public schools are closed); Admission: $6 for people one year and older; Grandparents are free on Wednesdays.

R.H. Tugs Restaurant and Bar, 1115 Richmond Terrace, Staten Island, NY, (718) 447-6369,

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