It's been a number of years since we went to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum and a lot has changed. Since our last post, the museum has gained a submarine and a space shuttle! Although some New Yorkers dismiss the Intrepid as just for tourists, it's not a fair assessment. Not only does the Intrepid have four jam-packed decks of cool gadgets, gizmos and exhibits, it hosts lots of special seasonal events for kids and families throughout the year, including FREE movie nights in summer, an entertainment-filled Kids Week during February break and educational celebrations for Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Veterans Day.
Visiting the decommissioned aircraft carrier can definitely be an all-day affair—especially if your kids are obsessed with anything that sails or flies. My family and I ill-advisedly rushed through in one busy afternoon but we're definitely planning a return trip so we can explore even more of the floating landmark's nooks and crannies.
Since the Intrepid offers many different admission packages, figuring out which one works best for your family can be tricky. We've got tips on the very best things to see and do at the Intrepid with kids, as well as tips on how to save money on your visit.
Originally launched in 1943, the Intrepid fought in World War II and was the target of a torpedo strike and five kamikaze attacks. Later it was used in the Cold War, as a NASA recovery vessel in the '60s and as a "special attack carrier" in Vietnam. In 1974, the Intrepid was saved from the scrapyard and finally converted into a museum in the early '80s.
Your DIY tour starts on the Flight Deck, where you'll find a beautiful collection of carefully restored aircraft. It's worth taking the time to climb up to the ship's highest point for a breathtaking view of the Hudson River and Manhattan. You can also check out the navigation bridge to play with controls and maps.
Toward the rear of the Flight Deck is the Space Shuttle Pavilion, which is the Intrepid's big new attraction. To enter, you pass through a "sound scape" tunnel where you hear audio recordings of actual conversations between mission control and Enterprise pilots. The pavilion itself is huge—230 feet long, 65 feet high—and the shuttle sits right in the middle. You can walk underneath and around it, and even climb up onto a viewing platform at the nose to get a full view. You cannot, however, go inside. Still, for kids obsessed with space it's a pretty impressive sight. In addition, there are 17 little "exhibit zones" with photos, artifacts like the shockingly small Soyuz TMA-6 space capsule, and a short doc narrated by Leonard "Spock" Nimoy. Since my son is six, we mostly looked at the big stuff but you could easily spend a lot of time reading and learning here. The downside: The Pavilion is not included with general admission and you need to exit to the gift shop.
Although visitors are only allowed limited access to the Third and Gallery Decks, you do get sense of how enlisted sailors lived, worked, dined and slept by checking out the berthing, mess hall and pilot ready room.
The Hangar Deck is where you'll probably spend the bulk of your time. The main attraction is the 13,000-square-foot interactive Exploreum, which was created specifically with families in mind. Unlike other parts of the museum, this area is all about hands-on fun. Kids can climb into a rocking lifeboat, "pilot" a helicopter, learn about the Earth's gravitational pull through a pinball machine and more. Plus there are lots of great photo ops as well as a few flight simulators. We also ejoyed the Fo'c's'le (a variant of forecastle that refers to the foremost part of the ship) on the same deck, with its anchor chain room, great for jumping around and climbing.
Our last stop was the Submarine Growler, a strategic missile boat that's also docked at Pier 86. Although the line was long, groups moved surprisingly quickly through the vessel exploring the mess hall, control room, attack center and two torpedo rooms. My family and I thought it was worth the wait. Warning: It's not good for visitors who suffer from claustrophobia or seasickness (the Hudson River gets pretty choppy when a cruise ship passes). At far end of the Pier, you'll also find the sleek British Airways Concorde, famous for crossing the Atlantic Ocean in under three hours. There are also tables and chairs, and nice waterfront views.
Things to Know Before You Go
Wear comfortable shoes A visit to the Intrepid inevitably involves lots of walking.
Leave the stroller at home While the Intrepid does have elevators, the Submarine Growler and Concorde do not. Plus taking the stairs is much faster.
Check the calendar for special events The Intrepid seems to have seasonal celebrations every month so browse the schedule before you go. Annual favorites include FREE summer movies on the flight deck and Kids Week during February break. Plus there are sleepovers, birthday party packages and camps.
Visit on a full stomach There's an Au Bon Pain on the Third Deck, a small concession stand on the Pier and vending machines. But a really good family-friendly meal is many avenues away. If you're starving, you can try Daisy May's BBQ on 46th and 11th Avenue or the Market Diner on 44th and 11th Avenue.
Peruse the website before you go Children can get a virtual taste of what's in store by checking out the Kid Zone on the museum's website, which has tidbits about ship life, aviation and history.
Save money by choosing wisely There are so many different admission packages, it's tough to figure out which one is best for your family. General admission doesn't get you entry to Space Shuttle Pavilion and other things like guided tours and simulators cost extra, too. If your science-obsessed kid will get a kick out of seeing a real-life space shuttle up close, it's worth the splurge. If not, stick to general admission. Buy your tickets in advance online to save $2 per ticket or check Smartsave for discount codes. Often you can save up to 20%. Planning on visiting often? Membership packages are also available. Since the Intrepid is part of the Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC) Travel Passport Program, certain memberships also get you admission to other participating institutions.
The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum is located on Pier 86 at 46th Street and the Hudson River. Walk from any Times Square subway or take the M42 crosstown bus to the last stop.
Read about other must-see NYC culture spots in our Museum Guide.