10 great places to have scientific sleepovers


By Sarah Sekula, Published in USA Today

If snoozing aboard a submarine or waking up next to a lion sound far-fetched, think again. Themed sleepovers across the USA provide offbeat slumber soirées tailored to adventurous kids and their families. Jodi Butler, FamilyFun Magazine contributing editor, narrows down the choices and shares the coolest of the cool with Sarah Sekula for USA TODAY.

Oregon Museum of Science and Industry
“In addition to touring a decommissioned Navy sub, learning about sonar and frequency and sleeping in the crew quarters, families can wake up and explore OMSI before it’s open to the public,” Butler says. You can peer through periscopes and work in the control room during a mock mission after breakfast the next morning. 503-797-4624; omsi.edu

The Field Museum
“Young paleontologists can bunk down next to fossils at this family favorite,” Butler says. “Highlights include after-hours scavenger hunts throughout the museum, craft and activity stations and bedtime stories read beside Sue, the world’s largest and most complete T. rex skeleton.” 312-665-7400; fieldmuseum.org

Mystic Aquarium & Institute for Exploration
Mystic, Conn.
This family overnight program has guests snoozing next to giant indoor tanks. Because the renowned aquarium is dedicated to conservation, the night is packed with educational activities, Butler says. “Families with kids ages 5 and up can learn about the life of sea turtles, go on a fish scavenger hunt, take a behind-the-scenes tour of exhibits and make marine-oriented crafts.” 860-572-5955; mysticaquarium.org

San Diego Zoo Safari Park
San Diego
“Spending the night at this world-famous zoo isn’t cheap, but perks include close-up animal encounters and sleeping in a tent camp on the edge of an ‘East African’ plain teeming with giraffe, antelope and other exotic creatures,” Butler says. That said, there’s always the delightful possibility that you’ll be awakened by the roar of a lion. 619-718-3000; sandiegozoo.org

International Spy Museum
“At these occasional sleepovers, kids attend spy school to learn the art of the disguise, how to make or break codes and uncover secrets, while parents get their own secret mission,” Butler says. During the wee hours you’ll interrogate spies and hunt for a mole within the ranks. As day breaks, enemy agents are revealed and the clandestine mission comes to a close. 202-654-0932; spymuseum.org

Saint Louis Science Center
St. Louis
“The goal of these sleepovers is to get kids excited about science and show parents how easy it can be to do science-related projects at home,” Butler says. “Sleepovers are usually themed around current exhibits and touring OMNIMAX movies.” For example, learning about the human body and concocting edible poop are the highlights of the Grossology Camp-In. The Planetarium Camp-In, on the other hand, is a bit more laid back. Participants fall asleep under the stars (indoors). 314-289-4400; www.slsc.org

National Aquarium Baltimore
“Shark sleepovers have been popular for close to a decade, but during this new overnight adventure, families with kids ages 8 and up can go behind the scenes with a trainer, attend a private dolphin enrichment session to see how dolphins learn and play, and get reserved seats for The New Dolphin Show,” Butler says. At one point during the exhilarating evening, guests even get to tiptoe across the shark catwalk, if they dare. Then, snuggle up in the underwater viewing area for sweet dreams. 410-576-3800; aqua.org

The American Museum of Natural History
New York
“This must-see New York City attraction invites fans of the Ben Stiller movie to have their own Night at the Museum,” Butler says. “Overnight guests can take a flashlight tour through the fossil halls, see a live animal exhibit, and sleep under a 94-foot-long replica of a blue whale in the diorama-filled Hall of Ocean Life. The sleepover is a splurge, but experiencing the museum without crowds is no small feat.” 212-769-5200; www.amnh.org/kids/sleepovers

Carnegie Science Center
Children will hone their detective skills during the fun-filled CSI Sleepover. They’ll not only examine a faux-crime scene, they’ll also scope out the evidence in a crime lab workshop and discover what it means to be an eyewitness. Additional sleepover themes include spooky science, astronomy, engineering and fireworks for the Fourth of July. 412-237-3400; carnegiesciencecenter.org

Pacific Science Center
“Current exhibits inspire sleepovers at this popular attraction,” Butler says. The RoboQuest Camp-In (May 6-7, May 26-27, June 2-3) gives campers the chance to investigate the science of science fiction. Kids attend the Jurassic Jitterbug Dance with the Dinosaurs, see a live science stage show and participate in a hands-on science workshop. “All overnights include after-hours access to exhibits, including the butterfly house and insect village,” Butler says. 206-443-2001; pacsci.org