Wednesday, February 12, 2020

What to See at the Intrepid Museum with Kids

After living in the New York City area for more than four decades, I finally visited the Intrepid Air and Space Museum for the first time with my family  and it was a true delight. Not only does the museum sit aboard a decommissioned aircraft carrier floating on New York City's Hudson River at Pier 86, it also features an eclectic collection of special vehicles, including a submarine, a space shuttle, and a huge assortment of fighter jets.

Here are the sights and activities that were particularly interesting to my kids (ages 10 and 8 at the time of our visit).

Growler Submarine

Our first stop after paying the entrance fee was the USS Growler, a submarine that's the only guided-missile submarine open to the public in this country. After filing through an interactive exhibit that shows you what life was like for the 90-plus men who lived aboard the Growler, you're instructed to climb through a hole that's the same size as the smallest entryway within the submarine to qualify for entry into the actual submarine.

Climbing into the submarine and making your way through the extremely tight spaces is a fascinating experience. You see everything from the mess hall to the control room to the bunks/torpedo room (yes, these two elements were put together to save space!). There are panels and dials and sonar detectors everywhere. The mess hall displays the weekly menu from 1962, and the game room features chess and backgammon boards built into tables. The whole thing looks and feels like a movie set  except it's all real!

My kids loved clambering across the different levels of the sub and imagining what life was like aboard it. It's hard to believe that a whole crew actually lived within this cramped space for two months at a time, hardly moving or even showering.

Space Shuttle Enterprise

After emerging from the Growler, we checked out a real live NASA orbiter at the space shuttle pavilion. Enterprise was built to be a prototype shuttle, so it never actually launched into space, but it looks just like the ones that did (including space shuttle Atlantis, which we viewed at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida). Even though you can't climb aboard the Enterprise, it's pretty amazing to just gaze upon its size and contemplate its purpose.

The pavilion that houses the Enterprise also features tons of interesting NASA and space artifacts for those that are interested in such things. My kids were actually most interested in the "space food" found in the gift shop.

Flight Deck 

After checking out the submarine and space shuttle, you almost forget that you're on a boat  and that it once carried fighter planes. A huge collection of these air crafts are located on the flight deck of the Intrepid, lined up on display against the New York City skyline as an awesome backdrop. The fighter planes resemble oversize model airplanes, complete with funky designs painted on some of them.

The Bridge

The bridge of the ship is where the controls are and the captain sleeps. On the Intrepid, it doesn't look like a bridge at all, but like a tall tower. You can climb through several levels of the Intrepid's bridge and learn about how the ship was once controlled and navigated. The self-guided tour also includes a glimpse of the captain's quarters, the admiral's quarters, and the helm, where you can take a turn "steering" the ship.

The Exploreum

This part of the Intrepid (the Exploreum is located on the hangar deck) is like a children's museum, featuring lots of hand-on exhibits and opportunities to climb, touch, and explore. My kids loved punching out morse code at the communication center, "sleeping" in close quarters in a bunk setup, and sitting in the pilot's seat of a helicopter.

Family-friendly demonstrations are also offered in this area. On the day we were there, we got to experience a pop-up planetarium, which was really neat. We were ushered into a blown-up half dome, where we were instructed to lie on the floor while we watched a space presentation happen above us.

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