Come along, Old Sport, the Duke and Duchess should be arriving shortly, and the servants are in a tizzy getting everything ready.... From the moment you enter through the gates of the Vanderbilt Museum, you feel as though you have been transported to a bygone era of unreserved opulence. Visitors taking the museum's Living History Tour can experience Long Island's Gold Coast history at its finest. Just imagine yourself back in the late 1930s, attending a party hosted by none other than William K. Vanderbilt II. As you enter the grounds, aptly named Eagle's Nest, you are greeted by two enormous statues of our national bird, majestically positioned and perfectly framing your view of Northport Harbor.
The home of William K. Vanderbilt II, has been preserved by the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum, which seeks to use the collections housed here to educate the public. The eclectic collections of Vanderbilt make this museum a rare find where you can experience history, art, culture, and science in one place. If you've only got an hour or two you can enjoy the grounds and take a mansion tour, but if you've got more time you may want to enjoy a leisurely stroll along the grounds and have a picnic lunch while taking in the view.
There are two options for taking in the mansion. The first is the highly interactive Living History Tour. In this experience you can expect to be greeted by either the Duchess of Windsor or Vanderbilt's secretary. As you tour the living quarters of the mansion, you'll be given a lively account of what life would have been like for the Vanderbilt's staff. The dedication of the museum staff is fascinating to witness. Kids and adults alike cannot help but be drawn into the action as they become part of the script and get to play along with the fun. This is a very enjoyable experience for young and old, although I would recommend preparing your kids ahead of time for what they are about to experience. These tours are offered Saturday and Sundays, Memorial Day through Labor Day.
The traditional Mansion Tour may be more appropriate for younger children and toddlers. We chose this option because my children are 3 and 5. The guides were extremely knowledgeable and truly dedicated to their craft. As you tour the rooms, you'll see an eclectic array of artwork, model ships, and architecture. Vanderbilt, being a yachtsman, traveled the world bringing back interesting artifacts from around the globe. Tours can last up to an hour and are scheduled throughout the day.
In addition to the mansion, there are currently two exhibits available for touring. "The Cars Are Coming" exhibit features Vanderbilt's own 1928 Lincoln and documents the Vanderbilt Cup Race on Long Island. The Lincoln sits atop a turntable, a very convenient contraption for those not wishing to have to be bothered with backing their car out of the driveway. "W.K. Vanderbilt II and His Yachts" centers on ten of Vanderbilt's yachts. Both exhibits are included with the admission price.
The Hall of Fishes
Housing Vanderbilt's extensive collection of marine life, this building was open during Vanderbilt's lifetime, making it a museum of a museum. The displays look very dated and don't resemble the variety of interactive and informative dioramas we're now accustomed to, but this is part of the room's charm, which lends itself to the magic of being transported back in time as you visit.
Through July and August, kids ages 3 through 8 (entering grade 3) can participate in a variety of creative workshops. Each day begins with an educator-led tour of the museum's collections of marine life, natural history, ethnographic artifacts and animal habitats. A hands-on project relating to the exhibits follows each tour.
3- to 4-year-olds accompanied by a caregiver
$20, members $16
Topics change weekly.
$200 per week, members $160
Children should bring a bag lunch
During this weeklong program, according to Beth Laxer-Limmer, manager of Vanderbilt's education programming, "children travel the world," with Mr. Vanderbilt, and explore the world's oceans, Pacific islands, and African grasslands and then they will make a piece of artwork to take home, a reminder of their explorations.
The beauty of the grounds, with its spectacular view of the harbor make it an ideal location for a wedding or private event as well as a family stroll. There is a rose garden with a fountain in the center, an ideal spot for a picnic.
Currently undergoing extensive renovations, the planetarium is scheduled to reopen in October. According to the museum website, when it does open, it will be one of the best-equipped planetariums in the country. The improvements include a new state-of-the-art Konica Minolta star projector as well as new seating, carpeting, and ticketing kiosk.
180 Centerport Rd.
Centerport, NY 11721
Open Tuesday–Saturday 11am–5pm, Sunday 12–5pm
The museum will be closed on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays until June 19th.
Adults $7, seniors over 62 $6, children under 12 $3