The NYC American Museum of Natural History and The Manhattan Bus Tour
TR Robertson – Day 4 in NYC was a packed day as we had to complete a requirement for the Oceania cruise we would soon be starting, and we were also going to take a tour of the American Museum of Natural History. The morning started off with a Lyft ride from 47th Street, where our hotel was located, to 35th Street for a COVID antigen test I had scheduled for Carolyn and myself. We tested Negative for COVID and received print outs we would give to the Oceania officials as part of the requirements for our scheduled cruise. Our Limo-taxi driver, we had used the day before, picked us up from the non-descript testing location and drove us down 8th Avenue/Central Park West to the entrance to the American Museum of Natural History, across from Central Park. We had decided to visit this museum from the multitude of museums NYC has to offer.
A lengthy line stretched out from the main entrance, as the museum was about to open. Many had purchased tickets online; we were directed to another line. It did not take long to get entrance tickets and we entered an impressive display of animals from Africa, highlighted by a group of elephants in the center of the exhibit. The massive lobby of the museum is also breathtaking, filled by the largest freestanding dinosaur in the world, a Barosaurus. As we wandered through the various exhibit halls, we would eventually work our way to the 4th Floor of the museum, with over 300 dinosaur exhibits.
The Museum of Natural History opened on December 12, 1877 and has grown into one of the largest museums in the nation. The museum sits in Theodore Roosevelt Park. There are 26 interconnected buildings, housing 34 million specimens in 2 million square feet of display areas. There are currently 45 permanent exhibitions on display, a planetarium, library, and a theatre. A current staff of 225 employees welcome an average of over 5 million visitors every year, pre-COVID years. They are now fully open after several years of having to shut down due to the pandemic. The museum is four stories tall and has an extensive archive and research facility. Numerous dioramas are scattered throughout the museum portraying both animals and cultures from around the world. On the third floor is a Margaret Mead Hall of Pacific People, including an Easter Island Moi and on the fourth floor the extensive collection of dinosaurs is on display including one room filled with the 122 foot long, 46-foot-tall Titanosaur from Argentina. The first floor has an impressive gem and mineral collection with the Ross Hall of Meteorites featuring the largest meteorite on display in the nation, a 34-ton meteorite that landed in Greenland. The Mexico and Central America and the South American Peoples displays are very spectcular with large reconstructions of Mayan, Aztec, Olmec and Inca stelae and other cultural pieces filling the rooms.
The museum features four gift shops – The Museum Shop, Planetarium Shop, Cosmic Shop and Dino Store as well as three dining areas. There is also a garage parking area on the Lower Level, accessible from 81st Street. We spent a little over four hours in the museum and were able to walk through about 70% of the museum but did not take time to see some of the video and movie or Planetarium viewings that were available, some with an extra charge. If you take the time to carefully go through each hall and read all the information describing each piece, I imagine you would need the better part of a year to see everything. Leaving the museum, we received some extremely helpful advice from one of the security guards on how to correctly hail a cab in NYC, primarily the correct arm and hand motion to hail the cab. Using this information, we took our first NYC cab ride back to the hotel, complete with our Yellow Cab honking all along the way, sometimes honking at nothing.
Day 5 in New York City found us walking a few blocks down 7th Avenue to a designated location for our bus tour of Manhattan. There were numerous people getting on the Hop On Hop Off bus, but we had decided to take an enclosed bus with air conditioning. This six-hour tour had an excellent guide who told us that the Manhattan area surrounding Times Square was once called Hell’s Kitchen City. Some New York City facts – the European Dutch first settled the island of Manhattan, in 1624, led by Peter Minait, Governor of the Dutch West India Company. It is said he purchased the island from the Lenape Native American tribe for the equivalent of $24 dollars. The settlement was first named New Amsterdam. The English would take control of Manhattan in 1664, changing the name to New York to honor the Duke of York. New York City was the nation’s first capital after the Constitution was ratified in 1788 and George Washington would be our first President, inaugurated at Federal Hall, located on Wall Street. Our guide also pointed out that Central Park’s construction began in 1854 and the building of a Subway for Manhattan began in 1904. There are currently 660 miles of subway track and 468 subway stations.
Our first stop for the tour was along 72nd Street, across from Central Park. We walked by a classic apartment building on the corner, called the Dakota Apartments at 1 West 72nd St., once the home of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, also the scene of John Lennon’s death when he was murdered on December 8, 1980, by Mark David Chapman. Yoko Ono is said to still live in one of the apartments facing Central Park. Our group walked across the street into Central Park to see the portion of the park now called Strawberry Fields and the memorial dedicated to Lennon. Hundreds of countries donated funds to acquire and build the memorial. Fittingly, a gentleman was sitting on a bench playing guitar and singing Beatles songs. We took a stroll around the area and received additional information about Central Park. The park is 10 blocks across and 6 miles around. Years ago, a group of men used to run weekly around the park four times. The story goes that it was suggested they change their route so it would not be so monotonous, so they began to start in Staten Island and go across the Queens Bridge ending in Central Park. This became the route of the famous New York City Marathon, ending each time at 72nd Street. We were also told the apartments surrounding Central Park are some of the most expensive in Manhattan, one recently selling for $97 million. The park features theatres, museums adjacent to the park, a castle, and a zoo.
From Central Park we drove down 5th Avenue, past some of the most expensive shopping areas in the city. Our destination was Rockefeller Center. Rockefeller Center consists of 19 buildings including the famous ice-skating rink, during the summer months a roller-skating rink. The area where the fountain is located above the rink is where the Christmas tree appears that is lite every Holiday season. We walked around the rink and entered the building where the Today Show studio is located and were able to look into the studio and see what the hosts see each morning the show is produced. Back on the bus, we continued down 5th Avenue, stopping for a quick picture of the Empire State Building, the Met Life Building, and the Flat Iron Building. The Empire State Building opened in 1931 but had trouble getting tenants for the offices. It was not until the 1933 movie “King Kong” came out that businesses started occupying the offices. Today, over 50,000 people work in the Empire State Building. Continuing, our guide told us the area we were in has been in numerous movies, especially the recent Spiderman movies. We passed Macy’s Department Store, opening in 1854. Macy’s was the first to make specific sizes for women. The Strauss Family purchased Macy’s in 1893. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade began in 1924 to “drum” up business for the store during the holiday season.
Our bus continued to Noho and Soho, passing Tribeca, Chinatown and into Little Italy, which is only one street long. This area once had a large Irish and German population. Before our lunch break, we drove under a section of the Brooklyn Bridge, completed in 1883. John Roebling designed the bridge along with his chief engineer, his son Washington, and completed by Washington’s wife Emily. People initially were afraid to use the cable suspension bridge so to prove its strength Barnum and Bailey Circus elephants were led across the bridge. We had choices for our lunch break, so Carolyn and I chose Little Italy Pizza on Fulton Street, more delicious NY pepperoni pizza. After lunch we were taken to the Staten Island Ferry terminal for a ferry ride across the Hudson River past the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island to Staten Island and back. After this, our group was taken to the 9/11 Memorial Park where we were given a quick tour of the park including the Memorial Waterfalls and the Survivors Tree. We were also shown The Sphere, the World’s largest bronze sculpture of modern times (20 tons), which was once located in Austin J. Tobin Plaza between the WTC Twin Towers, not on top of one of the towers stated in a previous article. Seeing the 9/11 Memorial a second time was even more impressive and moving than the first time.
This long bus tour was a great finish to our New York City vacation. We would be leaving the next morning to board our cruise ship for the next part of our east coast and beyond adventure. We drove back to our starting point, next to the back entrance of the Winter Garden Theatre where Hugh Jackson is starring in The Music Man. Dinner that evening was at Junior’s Deli on 49th Street, a Brooklyn themed deli, famous for their variety of New York Cheesecake. We shared a NY pastrami/corned beef sandwich and took a slice of Velvet Cake with us for dessert. A delicious ending for the day.
Next up if Day 6 & 7, boarding the cruise ship, leaving New York City, sailing to Boston and a tour of Boston.