With the movie "Night at the Museum" starring Ben Stiller drawing hoards of children to the movie theaters, it just may be time think about an outing to one of the many educational and fun places across the country — without the live dinosaur skeletons.
Many museums even offer sleepover programs. Here's a sample from TODAY Travel Editor Peter Greenberg on overnighter opportunities at museums, zoos and other cool places across the country:
— Albuquerque, N.M.One of the most hands-on museums in the country, the Explora Museum offers more than 250 interactive science, technology and arts exhibits for all ages. The overnight programs are similarly hands-on and groups will have it to themselves during the “Camp-Ins.” Activities such as the high-wire bike and robotics lab are hot. Kids at the robotics lab can design, build, program and play with their very own robot. These Camp-Ins are so popular that the museum does adult versions, which are also well-attended. — Pasadena, Calif.Kids attending the "Overnight Nature Retreat" are said to have so much fun at Kidspace they don't realize they are learning. During the nature program they can hold a giant millipede, tarantula, hissing cockroach or walking sticks. Other attractions are the World Famous Spider Show where they learn about a variety of spiders and butterfly discovery program where kids are taught about the life cycle of a butterfly and participate in related role-playing activities. There is also the big bug off where kids can perform the "honey bee waggle" as they learn about the various dances bees use to communicate.
Wild Animal Park — Escondido, Calif."Beastly Bedtime" and "Roar and Snore" are sleepovers designed for families with kids between the ages of 4 and 7, and are just two of the zoo's nighttime and overnight programs. Kids and families will be camping out near the Wild Animal Park’s East Africa Field Exhibit, and the event will also feature plenty of face time with the animals as well. As might be expected for the nation's pre-eminent zoo, the programs main learning component is animals. There are animal presentations and behind-the-scenes tours of a number of areas. Handlerswill also bring around animals on leashes. These may include a cheetah, an African porcupine, an aardvark and many others. And at bedtime, it's like a safari with rhinos, giraffes, wildebeests, etc., all roaming in herds like they do on African savannas. – Memphis, Tenn.During the "Zoo Snooze," participants get to explore the wonders of the zoo at night. Since there are plenty of nocturnal animals, it can be quite a different experience. Kids take a moonlight/flashlight tour of the zoo, with silence only broken by the animals. There's also a lot of behind-the-scenes action, with kids joining zookeepers in the kitchen to see where all the animals' food is prepared. Later, they'll even get to help feed some of the animals. There are also meet-and-greet sessions with some of the better-behaved and trained animals. — Camden, N.J.The "Overnight Encampment" program lets kids get to know about the life aboard the most decorated battleship in American history. Program includes dinner and breakfast served through the chow line and eaten in the crew's mess, just like sailors used to. Some kids are pulled to be servers in the chow line, and are treated (winkingly) as "real" sailors, with barking commands. And it goes further than that — kids go to sleep to "Taps" and wake up to 6:30 a.m. reveille. There's a tour of the World War II-era battleship and kids bunk down right where the sailors used to sleep. Called "coffin racks" because of their small size, they're fine for most kids, who bring along sleeping bags. There's also a historically accurate 4D Flight Simulator that simulates a dogfight over Iwo Jima in World War II. Plus, a special "Girls Only" night allows Girl Scouts to earn the "Women Serving Our Nation" badge. Girls seem to love the presentation from a female code breaker who served in World War II.Oregon Submarine/ — Portland, Ore.Want to spend the night on a sub? Kids can do it on the USS Blueback in Oregon, which hosts kids from grades 3-12 on overnight programs. These Camp-Ins feature a night aboard the actual submarine, with special "secret missions" for grades 3-6. They'll get hands-on lessons in navigation with real charts and maps of the sea, learn about sonar with software to demonstrate passive and active sonar, plus propulsion and buoyancy basics. The "secret mission" involves kids rescuing another submarine, while "operating" the sub from the command center. In the simulation, they must dive the sub, fill the ballast tanks and even fire a torpedo. Grades 6-12 will get an in-depth look at sub operations, everything from planning missions to practicing dives. They also build boats with clay and have a contest to see whose boat holds the most marbles. They’ll figure out how much food they would need for the sub's sailors for one tour of duty. And finally, the older kids will watch some of "The Hunt for Red October," a 1990 thriller that features the USS Blueback.
— New YorkSite of the "Night at the Museum" movie, but for real. Designed for children between 8-12 (accompanied by a parent), children sleep on cots and attend workshops, including a flashlight tour of either North American mammals or the dinosaur skeleton floor. Sleep in the "Hall of Ocean Life," underneath the blue whale. — Los Angeles
The California destination has an extensive themed overnight program designed for children 5 and up. These overnight camps include favorites such as "Camp Dino" for junior paleontologists and "Camp Goo" at the Tar Pit portion of the museum. These programs are for groups with an adult-to-kid ratio of at least 1:6. — Solomons, Md.
Overnight programs, from April-November, offer a chance to spend the night in the nearby Cove Point Lighthouse, where children can learn about the rich marine history of the area and seafaring in general. — Honolulu
In the "Snooze in the Zoo" program kids ages 4 and up can discover the creatures of the night. Lie with the lions; doze with the doves; be a dreamer with a lemur. The night will be filled with storytelling, campfire songs, walking tours and excitement. Participants can pitch their tents on the back lawn or sleep out under the stars. Special group reservations are available. — Annapolis, Md.The museum has a number of overnight programs, typically for Junior Girl Scouts but open to all. Two of the highlights are "Hike Annapolis Overnight" with plenty of outdoorsy activities and "Underground Railroad Overnight," where attendees learn about the history of the Underground Railroad, the network that smuggled slaves to freedom in the 1800s. (The Underground Railroad was very active in Chesapeake Bay.) — PhiladelphiaSpend the evening in the Treehouse with the zoo's overnight staff. Activities include interactive theater presentations, fun educational activities, meeting a zookeeper and live animal encounters. An evening hike through the zoo gives guests a chance to see animals in their "night mode." Groups are invited to remain in the zoo to explore on their own during the day. This experience is recommended for scouting, church, school and family groups with children age 6-12. USS Cobia, Wisconsin Maritime Museum — Manitowoc, Wis.A affiliate of the Smithsonian, the Wisconsin Maritime Museum offers overnight programs for students and families. The USS Cobia overnight education program offers a chance to experience the submarine lifestyle up close. Overnight guests get a guided tour and accommodations on board a World War II-era submarine with special supervised access to some non-public areas. — ChicagoOne of the preeminent dinosaur museums in the world, the Field Museum's overnight program includes "Dozin’ with the Dinos," which features activities such as making necklaces in the style of the Masai tribe of Africa and a self-guided flashlight tour of the "Inside Ancient Egypt" exhibition.
One of the nation's largest aquariums, the Shedd offers overnighters 6-12 a chance to "Sleep with the Fishes" while learning about aquatic life. The Shedd's sleepovers also offer the added excitement of live entertainment. Guests tour the entire aquarium, including the Oceanarium and Wild Reef (where kids gather the raw material for their shark-infested dreams). Oh, and it's really not an underwater experience: Mammals without fins doze on carpeted floors in the galleries.