They're coming. Those two terrible words that will destroy a summer vacation faster than Chevy Chase. You can already hear them in your nightmares, a whisper growing to a whine-infused scream: "I'm booooooored!"
Don't panic; you have options. You can always sit the kids in front of the electronic pacifier. Or you can actually try to do something with the munchkins. Maybe you just want to have a little fun. Maybe you want them to learn a little something over their interminable break. Either way, we've got you covered with some safe bets, broken down by age range.
We're not re-inventing the wheel here --- most of this stuff is pretty obvious, although there are some new attractions that might surprise you. And there's most certainly more to do around town than what we've listed. Be sure to check the Family Valued column every week in City Newspaper for more activities as the summer soldiers on. If you're lucky, you might hear three other, more welcome, words: "That was fun!"
For the wee ones (kids 0-5):
The Seneca Park Zoo has plenty planned for summer. In addition to the regular exhibits featuring polar bears, parrots, alligators, and more, check out the recently expanded elephant and tiger habitats. Four of the zoo's Amur tigers --- momma Kira and her 11-month-old cubs Katya, Anastasia, and Ussuri --- have moved into a new exhibit across from the Eurasian Arctic wolves. (Five-year-old Sasha remains at the front of the zoo.) Meanwhile, New YorkState's only African elephants, Genny C. and Lilac, now have 22,000 square feet of yard to play in (that's five times the size of their old stomping grounds) in their new home next to the Rocky Coasts exhibit.
All this shifting is partially to make room for Satchmo, a 2-year-old, 3,000 -pound white rhino on loan from the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans. White rhinos are Species Survival Plan animals, so this is a good opportunity to teach the kids about conservation and preservation. You can catch Satchmo through September (possibly October) in the old elephant exhibit.
The Seneca Park Zoo, 2222 St. Paul Street., 467-9453, is open daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (grounds close at 6 p.m.). Admission is $8 ages 12-62, $7 for seniors 63 and older, $5 for kids 3-11, and free for 2 and younger. For more information check out www.senecaparkzoo.org.
For the preciously precocious (kids 6-12):
The big news for kids this summer has to be the July reopening of the StrongMuseum as the Strong --- NationalMuseum of Play. Much more than a name change is at work here. When the doors reopen July 14-16, kids will find a $37 million expansion that nearly doubles the size of the already massive premises. All the old favorite exhibitions are still there, including "Sesame Street" and the Wegmans shopping experience. But walk through "the caterpillar" --- an open atrium shaped like (you guessed it) a caterpillar --- and find three new additions.
"Reading Adventureland" brings to life five literary landscapes: Mystery Mansion (for Hardy Boy-Nancy Drew-Sherlock Holmes fans), Adventure Island (pirates, ships and desert isles), the Upside-Down Nonsense House (shades of Dr. Seuss), Fairy Tale Forest (everything from Jack and the Beanstalk to Hansel and Gretel), and the Wizard's Workshop (think Harry Potter). Each book-inspired section features oodles of hands-on opportunities: kids can explore a pirate's cove, solve a mystery, play with a riddle machine, or interact with a huge, animatronic giant.
"Field of Play" demonstrates the importance of play on childhood development (even the room the exhibit is housed in looks like a stack of building blocks from the outside), with activities like a "jellyfish" garden, rock-climbing wall, a giant walk-through kaleidoscope, and more.
Perhaps most exciting is the "DancingWingsButterflyGarden," which will be home to upstate New York's only indoor butterfly garden. Inside the butterfly-shaped glass room you'll find literally hundreds of exotic butterflies, which will alight on the tropical foliage --- and you. Kids will also learn about the stages of development for the delicate organisms, but we beg you to hold off on a rousing chorus of "The Circle of Life."
The Strong --- NationalMuseum of Play, 1 Manhattan Square, 263-2700, will reopen July 14. Summer hours will be Mondays-Thursdays 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Saturdays 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Sundays noon-6p.m., with extended hours during the grand reopening July 14-16. Admission is $9 for adults, $8 for seniors and students with ID, $7 for kids 2-17, and free for kids 2 and younger; admission to the butterfly garden is an additional $3. Two-day admission passes can also be purchased for $11-$14.50. For more information visit www.strongmuseum.org.
For the thrill-seekers and the surly (kids 13-18):
The key with teenagers is to take them someplace they can safely go off and do teen stuff (spend money, feel awkward, sulk) while you have a good time yourself. Thank god for amusement parks, and thank god we have two great ones nearby.
Seabreeze is right in your backyard, and in addition to standbys like Jack Rabbit and the YoYo, two new rides join the mix this year. The Helix sends innertubers down four stories of pitch-black tunnel and into a gigantic bowl of water, where they swirl around until being shot out into a pool below. The Banzai Pipeline is a revamp of the Banzai Speedslide. Gone is the open-air slide, now converted into a translucent tube that features an even steeper profile than the near-vertical Speedslide.
Seabreeze, 4600 Culver Road, 323-1900, is open Sunday-Friday 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m.-11 p.m., water park closes at 8 p.m. Admission is $20.95 for unlimited ride pass for those 48" or taller, $16.95 for 48" or shorter; night passes for unlimited rides after 5 p.m. cost $13.95. For more information visit www.seabreeze.com.
Head west to SixFlagsDarienLake for the biggest theme park in New York. Joining the seven rollercoasters and mammoth waterpark this year is the Big Kahuna, a 700-foot-long water slide in which four people sit in a raft and speed through triple dips and twisty turns until finally splashing down in a pool. And comic geeks rejoice: The Justice League is here! Costumed characters representing Green Lantern, Flash, Wonder Woman and Batman join Bugs Bunny and friends for your capering enjoyment.
Six FlagsDarienLake, Route 77 east of Buffalo, 599-4641, is open daily 10:30 a.m.-10 p.m. (limited hours prior to June 23). Admission is $34.99 for adults, $24.99 for children 48" or shorter, and free for kids 2 and younger. For more information visit www.sixflags.com/parks/darienlake.