While the South Street Seaport Museum on Fulton Street is currently closed due to ongoing Hurricane Sandy-related repairs, you can still visit its Water Street attractions including the Maritime Crafts Center, where you can watch pros carve wooden masterpieces, and the historic Bowne & Co. Stationers. Due to all the damage sustained during Sandy, the museum is in more need of visitor support than ever so if possible make a donation and sign up for the email list to stay informed about any updates..
Before it closed due to financial problems in March 2011, we were big fans of the South Street Seaport Museum. In fact, we raved about this lesser known museum in one of our very first posts on Mommy Poppins.
Thanks to being taken over by the Museum of the City of New York, the South Street Seaport Museum is back in business and its revamped slate of family programming is really making a splash. My daughter and I went to check out the reopened space, and even got the chance to participate in a cool Mini Mates program aimed specifically at toddlers and preschoolers.
Mini Mates is the South Street Seaport's signature program for little landlubbers 18 months to three years. Our session began with free play and then we sat for a sea-themed circle time. The kids were really excited about pointing out details in a large picture of a boat in stormy waters exclaiming, "Big waves!" and "Wind blowing on sails!"
The hands-on parts were definitely the most fun. The kids loved the "sink or float" experiment, where they had to guess what would happen when they dropped objects like coins and plastic stacking rings into the water. They were definitely surprised by some of the results! The art project was the biggest hit, as kids made tiny aluminum foil boats and floated them in a tub. After a brief snack time (Goldfish crackers, of course), kids played parachute games and finished with a sea-themed storytime. Mini Mates takes place on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10am-11:15am. Registration is for a full semester. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to learn about availability and pricing.
The South Street Seaport Museum also has Saturday Family Programs for children ages 5 to 12. During these kid-friendly activities, families can learn about Manhattan's ecology, geography and history. Kids work on projects like tying knots or making "scrimshaw" (engraved pictures created by whalers). Saturday Family Programs take place the last Saturday of every month from 10:30 to noon. This program is free with admission. Drop-ins are welcome until we reach capacity or visit the museum's website to reserve your spot.
My daughter and I also toured the reopened galleries. The exhibits are rich with history, not just about sailing but lower Manhattan in general, and really help kids understand what New York City life was like in centuries past. When we visited, our favorites included Bottled Up, a display of miniature ships in glass bottles, and Super Models, a fleet of incredibly detailed models of historic ships. But unfortunately these are now closed. However, the glowing digital Mannahatta map, which shows Manhattan throughout the centuries, is still there, and new exhibits are always going on display.
My daughter really wanted to pick up the cool antique shipping tools used for ice carving, whaling and ship building in the Handheld Devices display, but touching here is a no-no. This is not a museum where your kids can run wild, and there aren't any hands-on stations. Since many of the objects are accessible to curious tots, you may find yourself repeating, "Don't touch!" throughout your visit. That's why Mini Mates or Saturday Family Programs are probably the best way to introduce young children to this culture spot. It certainly worked for my daughter. As she left clutching her handmade boat, she turned to me and said, "This is a special place."
As for the museum's stunning ships, a few of them are finally back on the water where they belong. The Lightship LV-87, better known as the Ambrose, is permanently docked at the South Street Seaport. Visitors can climb aboard and explore this "floating lighthouse" with the cost of museum admission. If you want to go for a ride, the historic schooner Pioneer offers public sails May through October for an additional fee. Visit New York Water Taxi's website for schedule and prices.
South Street Seaport Museum is located at 12 Fulton Street between Water and South Streets. Open every day 10am-6pm. $10, free for children under 9.
Read about other great exhibits and programs for kids in our Museum Guide.