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Overnight at the Natural History Museum and win an upgrade to the cool Airbnb Base Camp. Family Traveller Editor, Jane Anderson, and son Fin, aged 10, check it out
As we arrive at base camp, Captain John is already drying is thick socks by the fire, his toothbrush tucked his natty top pocket, vying for space with his binoculars. With a gentlemanly yet deadly serious Victorian air, he asks my 10-year-old son Fin whether he’s remembered his compass, informing us that all camp visitors have a duty. Ours is to watch out for thunderclouds.
We’re camping by a mighty sequoia over 1,300 years old and a diving blue whale with monkey screeches and woody smells all around. There’s a sign saying ‘Beware of low flying pterodactyls.’ No we’re not in the wilds of California or on safari, nor have we travelled back in time to the Jurassic era. We’re in the heart of London at the Natural History Museum’s glorious Dino Snores sleepover for kids aged seven to 11 and their carers.
Captain John leads us up the mighty stairs in Hintze Hall to our tents on the balcony, all pitched in a row between the statue of naturist Alfred Russel Wallace and the guide to the Hintz Hall’s incredible decorated panel ceiling featuring everything from lemon trees to sunflowers . Fin and I fall in love with our canopied camp beds decked out in grey blankets with a WWII evacuee meets Victorian explorer feel. But there’s hardly time to put our things in the wooden chest, before we’re off to the first of three evening activities.
The ‘Exploring Space Show’ is led by Epi, one of the scientists who works at the NHM. He tells the kids he lives in the basement and looks after the rock collection. Soon he’s blasted us all into metaphorical space. We learn that the moon is 27% of the size of earth and proportionally see the distance between them when the earth is a basketball and the moon a tennis ball. Fin gets to hold a real piece of a meteorite and for his finale, Epi creates a comet out of dry ice, soil, ammonia, alcohol and sugar.
After a swift packed dinner, it’s off to the Marine Invertebrates room with a giant squid over our heads where the kids get to design their own dino t-shirt. Fin has a bit of a low as he berates his stegosaurus but I bring him round with a look at the awesome sponges on display. Who knew there was a boring sponge and a breadcrumb sponge?
The NHM has of course left the best until last. Kids are kitted out with torches, crayons and a piece of paper to become paleontologists and record six dino clues whilst let loose in the dark exhibition gallery stuffed full of dinosaur fossils, bones and animatronics. There’s much scurrying around, shafts of torchlight illuminating jaws and ribs and kids stopping in their tracks when they encounter the immense T-Rex at the end of the hall in full roar.
Now past 11pm, we head back to base camp. Captain John has his silk dressing gown on, telling us the gorillas have now gone away and that he’s managed to get coffee for breakfast from up river. Hurrah!
It’s half an hour til lights out, just time for a quick read around the campfire. We peer over the balcony at the tremendous blue whale skeleton. Its jaw is the largest single bone on earth and hanging above the tiny human bodies in their sleeping bags camping out in the famous Hintze Hall, it puts the might of nature into perspective.
Fin and I wake at 3am in need of the toilet. We head over to the loos, which have been rechristened ‘long drops’ by Airbnb and decorated in jungle foliage and the odd spider. Attention to detail is the name of the game here.
It’s eerie being in the museum in the dead of night, the ceiling lights creaking. It really does feel like we’re on an expedition surrounded by all these wonders of nature.
It’s an early start with Captain John chipper as ever, handing out metal tuck boxes with breakfast goodies and fresh bananas. But there’s no time to dawdle. We have to pack and make our way down to the Hintze Hall for The Animal Man show before the museum opens to the public at 10am.
Soon Nick Spellman is delighting the young crowd with his giant African mountain snail, pancake tortoise and bearded dragon.
Kids are chosen to come up and lend a hand whilst Nick tells them fabulous animal facts. Fin gets to hold an immense Burmese Python with the help of fellow Airbnb kiddie campers.
When we leave the museum at 10am it’s a shock to return to the bustle of London on a Saturday morning. The Natural History Museum and Airbnb really do transport you to another time and space.
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To be in with a chance of an upgrade to Airbnb’s Base Camp at the Natural History Museum, book one of the monthly Dino Snore dates up to January 20th (£60 per person, £54 members) and you’ll be entered into a draw.