VIAGGI – FAMILY TRAVEL
There is something magical about the dinosaur. These beasts, whose bones we still can dig up and whose existence is well documented, are so ferocious and awesome that it’s hard to believe they ever really roamed the Earth despite all the evidence lying before us. That is why kids can’t get enough of them. My son roars like a dino, draws dinosaurs, and is fascinated with any book or cartoon that features them. So, when the dinosaurs recently became our neighbors at Field Station Dinosaurs in Overpeck Park in nearby Leonia, N.J., I just knew we had to go.
To be honest, however, I did have some reservations. The dinosaurs are enormous, move, and even roar at you. You can see how real they look in the photos. Earlier in the year, during a trip to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., my son was terrified on Dinosaur, the ride at Animal Kingdom. He ducked down and hid his head in my lap for the duration. He was convinced the dinosaurs were going to eat us. Who could blame him? He’s 4, and extinct giants ripping you to shreds with their monster hands and sharp teeth seems totally plausible. Of course, Disney makes it all seem real. But he kept seeing the signs for Field Station, and he begged to go. So, we went.
Turns out, I had nothing to worry about. He loved every minute of it. Our visit was rushed for a number of reasons beginning with the fact that we picked up my sister from the airport on her way to a rehearsal dinner for a wedding for which she was the maid of honor and had to be at the bride’s house on time. The other big reason for not having much time is that we were facing a dangerous heat wave, and it actually felt like we were walking through boiling split pea soup. Add in the disturbing smell coming from the trailer bathroom – let’s just say they were going for authenticity and had the place smelling like dinosaur poop had been laying out in the hot sun all day – and you can understand want to get through the park quickly.
I purchased the tickets online ahead of our trip, which allowed me to use a discount (with a code I found on the site). As a result, we were able to buy the Explorer’s Pass (admission to the park + admission to the 3D movie) for the price of a Day Pass (admission to the park only). It was a significant difference in price because it normally costs $20 each, and we paid $15. Unfortunately, we did not get to see the movie because of our time constraints, but we could have and it cost the same as standard admission. There are other pay-extra activities, so visit the Website or ask at the ticket booth upon arrival to determine what works best for you.
Come prepared. What I mean is that it was really hot on the day we went, and we needed sunblock, bug spray, and plenty of water. You can find drinks for sale and a small souvenir shop, but it’s all pretty expensive, and the options are limited. This is especially important if you choose to spend more time there.
The curators of the Field Station see all guests as scientists coming to study dinosaurs. Each child is issued a lab booklet and the group receives a map with an explanation of the animatronic dinosaurs you will encounter. Besides checking out the dinosaurs on display, there are tents and outdoor theaters with various exhibits and activities. When you complete certain activities, you receive a stamp in your booklet. Those who get six stamps are considered the best of the paleontologists. My kid and his cousins loved getting stamped. It may have been their favorite part.
Massive animatronic dinosaurs are impressive and fun for little ones. But that’s not even the best part of the Field Station. The nerdy experts on hand, who know everything about dinosaurs, offer up educational experiences that are so much kids don’t even realize they’re learning. We played in the T-Rex Games, which had our kids being placed on a team with other guests. Teams competed against each other in various events. For instance, the kids had to throw bean bags on a map and hit where the meteor that killed the dinosaurs struck; the game got more interesting when the leaders placed a dinosaur on that part of the map and insisted kids get close to the dinosaur without knocking it over. They also had to get balls in their team’s color into a basket guarded by the dinosaurs and answer increasingly tough questions about dinosaurs. As the youngest of the teams, our guys found the game truly challenging, but they had a great time shouting out answers and winning a little plastic dinosaur to take home.
In another tent, we broke up into two teams to play a paleontologist-inspired matching game. Our leader there used the opportunity to teach kids about the different tools and skills those who study dinosaurs need. As more people entered the tent and joined the two teams, the more we laughed at our inability to make a match. This was a great one because the grandparents who were there really got to participate and everyone could beat the heat in the shade for a few minutes, while still having fun and learning something.
Of course, the kids’ favorite part was the giant sandbox with dinosaur fossils. They sought and found dinosaur bones for at least 30 minutes. The only way we could convince them to leave was by promising them an ice pop when we got home. The ultimate question for anyone in the area who is reading this is whether it’s worth it. Well, as always, it depends. If you’re kid is a dinosaur lover, this is a great trip worth making. If not, you might be disappointed. And really little kids might be frightened by the giant dinosaurs and the roars they make. I also couldn’t help but notice that this trip cost just a few dollars less than our recent day at Liberty Science Center, which was jam packed with all sorts of science-related fun. There’s no question that LSC offered way more for the money. Still, I could see us doing this again on a cooler day when we have more time. After all, the staff told us about a dinosaur dance party, and who can resist doing the Dinosaur?