Sunday, February 14, 2010

Dozin with the Dinosaurs -- at the expensive Field Museum but on fun Cub Scout budget

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There's no doubt that the Museums in Chicago are expensive. Add the high entry fees and the astronomical costs for parking in Chicago -- the new rob-your-wallets parking rates set by the company that hoodwinked Mayor Daley for a lease on our parking meters set the ball rolling for parking fees across the board, including at public entities like the museum -- and you can burn through a chunk of change fast.

Costs are extraordinary but painfully more so for those entities that receive public funding and support from our tax dollars. That's a constant theme I write about on this blog and in my columns, too.

But all that aside, I managed to find a great way to enjoy the Field Museum of Natural History this past weekend without the huge costs and, in fact, on a very affordable budget that was hugely entertaining and fun for families

The Field Museum has this great program, spun off I believe from the hit Movie "Night at the Museum" where you can bring your duffle bags and flashlights and get locked in the museum overnight and explore most of the exhibits in the light and best yet, in the dark until 1 in the morning. It's called "Dozin with the Dinos."

My son and I participated in the overnight program through his Cub Scout Pack 372 in Orland Park. What a fun experience.

When I was a kid, one of the most phenomenal exhibits was the Section with the mummies and ancient Egypt. But walking around the museum, each of the glass-encased window displays came to real life and I don't think I could ever have enjoyed it more than my son did who literally walked through the museum and practically read every information box at every display -- although he was a little shy about the mummies. (Who wouldn't be.)

Orland Park 372 organized the trip for the Cub Scouts (and if your son is not a Cub Scout you should join the pack. There is always room. There are costs, but once you join the costs for events are go-as-you-choose. You don't have to do everything. The Pack, which consists of a dozen or so dens, meets once each month and the Dens meet once each month also.

It cost only $53 per person to spend the night at the museum through the Cub Scouts. That included the cost of overnight parking which came out to be and unbelievable and outrageous $38 (again, the costs was waived for the participants.)

But you don't have to go as a group, although you can if you organize one. It might be more fun for the children. The group rate is only $51 per person, and the individual rate is only $63 per person. That means you can take the children and have one of the most exciting family nights possible. And it all includes the outrageous cost for parking, which is waived. Oe of the many employees who spend the night at the museum offering craft tables with things for the kids to do and learn provide paid parking tickets.

You can also opt for a special Premium Package which means you sleep in certain premium sections of the museum. We slept in the Mammals of Asia section on the main floor with our Pack 372 Cub Scouts. Others were spread out in other sections. The premium sections include the actual room where the dinosaur exhibit is -- Sue, the only completely restored T-Rex in the world, is on the main floor foyer, right down the hall from where we slept. But you can, for the few extra bucks, take your family and sleep also in the Evolving Planet exhibit. (And for slightly more, you can sleep in the Evolving Planet section and get a tour from one of the museum scientists.)

Hey, Aaron and I enjoyed partnering with one of the other Pack families and letting the kids explore the museum on their own.

Okay, it was the first overnight since I was a Cub Scout in 1962 and a Boy Scout in 1968 -- (I still have the Hiawatha Trail Medal I earned trekking the trail downtown around the tracks). We brought two sleeping bags (for 20 degree weather). I also bought two cots that easily open and close but that weigh a ton. Other purchased air mattresses that have air pumps to fill and even remove the air when done. (They're still bulky, too and I like the cots the best.) I'll bring a dolly next time -- no, not a female sherpa, Alison will get upset. And we had flashlights and some snacks you can eat in the cafeteria in the lower level.

The museum also provides a night time snack (eat a good meal before you go). And, they provided a morning breakfast of cereal, rolls, fruit, milk, coffee and more.

Of course, my son started to get a little fever during the night so having a brilliant wife who is always prepared, I brought some off-the-shelf medicine which helped. Although he crying for 20 minutes in the middle of the night didn't help the others sleep. Well, of course, his crying was nothing like the snoring. Actually, the snoring added ambiance to the exhibits, sounding like a water buffalo in heat roaming through your dreams.

We unpacked right in front of the one of the deer exhibit windows. It was phenomenal.

Museum staff provided neat things for the kids to do like learning about ancient crafts involving games and music. They were even able to make some things as they also wandered around to earn their badges. (And you can purchase the "Dozin with the Dinos" Badge if you are a Scout, too.

The Ernst & Young 3D Dinosaur movie (for an extra $5 -- and everything is commercialized at the museum) was breathtaking. We sat in the front row. I learned through the past year of taking my son to the new 3D movie craze that the best seats in 3D are not in the back but up close in a 3 D theater). The dinosaurs jumped out at us like they were right there.

Here's the link to the museum web site where you can get more information on the unbelievably fun "Dozin with the Dinos" overnight. Click here to view web page. They do about two overnights each month, one during the summer months. So check it out and register for one fast.

Or, better yet, check out you local Cub Scouts and enroll your son for an adventure of a life time.

-- Ray Hanania

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