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Family Fun: Your Winter Guide to 2013

Does cabin fever kick in at your home when the temperature starts to drop? Fear not. We've got 52 great kid-friendly New Jersey destinations (and some geared to grown-ups) to help cure the cold-weather blues.

Posted November 25, 2013

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Family Fun
Photo: W. Ph. Getty Images
Penguins Family Fun
Waddle This Way: Endangered African penguins strut their stuff at Jenkinson's Aquarium.
Courtesy of Jenkinson's aquarium

Rock Climbing Family Fun
Wallflowers: Test your skill on Gravity Vault's 13,000-square-feet of climbing walls.
Courtesy of Gravity Vault

Snowboarder Family Fun
All Aboard: Mountain Creek woos snowboarders with more than 80 terrain features and 67 acres dedicated to freestyle.
Courtesy of Mountain Creek

Ballet Family Fun
No One Nods Off: Awaken your inner ballet buff at the McCarter Theater's Sleeping Beauty.
Courtesy of McCarter Theater.

KID-FRIENDLY MUSEUMS

Garden State Discovery Museum, Cherry Hill
Kids 10 and under have a choice of interactive exhibits and play spaces that will introduce them to science, theater, technology and fitness. They can dig for dinosaur bones, get a chance to be a news anchor in the ABC 6 studio, head to Cooper Hospital for a mock visit to a doctor or try their hand at being a mechanic in Subaru’s car clinic. Birthday parties, sleepovers and craft workshops are available. 2040 Springdale Road; 856-424-1233; discoverymuseum.com; Monday through Friday and Sunday, 9:30 am–5:30 pm; Saturday, 9:30 am–8:30 pm; closed Christmas Day; adults and children 1 and older, $10.95; seniors, $9.95.—Robert Strauss

Imagine That Museum, Florham Park

Grab brunch with Santa or tour the latest addition, a three-level train exhibit. The 16,500-square-foot museum features modern interactive and educational fun for toddlers and children up to age 10. In the TV newsroom, kids can try their hand at anchoring. At Pet/Vet, animal lovers can learn about becoming a veterinarian or groomer. 4 Vreeland Road; 973-966-8000; imaginethatmuseum.com; daily, 10 am–5:30 pm; adults, $9.95; children, 1 and older, $10.95.—Sophia Ahn

Monmouth Museum, Lincroft

Two areas in this sprawling science, history and art museum—the Becker Children’s Wing for kids 6 to 12 and the WonderWing for kids 6 and under—specialize in incubating ideas, creativity and learning. Wander through and interact with the “Ancients to Astronauts: How We Communicate” installation and the MMKids Discover & Exploration Series (both ongoing). Or choose Starlab Planetarium Shows or the Green Arts Studio. The museum’s annual Teddy Bear Tea happens March 30 for children 3 to 8 and their furry friends. Lot #1, 765 Newman Springs Road; 732-747-226; monmouthmuseum.org; Tuesday through Saturday, 10 am–5 pm and Sunday, noon–5 pm; $7, children under 2, free. Planetarium, $1 extra. ­—Tammy La Gorce

Newark Museum, Newark
A stroll through these 80 galleries devoted to art and science provides stimulating diversion any day. But the museum’s family festivals—including January 20 for Martin Luther King Jr. Day and February 1 for Chinese New Year—are a special draw: Activities for kids fill both afternoons. Weekends through December 22, the planetarium presents programs for children 6 and up. 49 Washington Street; 973-596-6550; newarkmuseum.org; Wednesday through Sunday, noon–5 pm; prices vary. Planetarium, adults, $5; children under 12, seniors and college students, $3.—TLG

New Jersey Children’s Museum, Paramus

Easily accessed from Route 17, this hands-on learning center, designed for children seven and younger, has 18 rooms with about 40 interactive exhibits on one floor (no stairs to climb!). Kids can explore a dinosaur cave and a medieval castle, or sit in a real fire truck and a helicopter. The museum also has a play pizzeria, TV studio, post office, hospital and more. Don’t miss the giant-size interactive light mosaic. 599 Valley Health Plaza; 201-262-5151; njcm.com; Tuesday through Sunday, 10 am–5 pm; adults, $9.99; children 1 and older, $11.99.—Amanda Staab

New Jersey State Museum and Planetarium, Trenton

Families with school-age kids will enjoy the exhibit “Where in the World is New Jersey: Historical Maps of the Garden State.” (A guided tour will be given December 29. Private tours can be arranged Tuesdays through Sundays.) In addition, the museum hosts monthly story-time days for preschoolers, which include a take-home craft. The planetarium is New Jersey’s largest, zooming you through the solar system and beyond from the comfort of specially designed reclining seats. 205 Route 29; 609-292-6300; statemuseum.nj.gov; Tuesday through Sunday, 9 am–4:45 pm; adults, $5 (suggested); seniors and students with ID, $4 (suggested); children 12 and under, free. Planetarium, adults, $7; children 12 and under, $5.—TLG

Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University, New Brunswick

Sure, the Zimmerli is a serious art museum with more than 60,000 works in its collection. But that doesn’t mean it can’t delight the very young. Drawing and art classes for school-age children and teens are held weekly. Until June, a special exhibit, “Maples in the Mist: Chinese Poems for Children,” illustrated by Jean & Mou-sien Tseng, can capture the fancy of even those freshly parted from their sippy cups. “Maples in the Mist” is open to families Friday through Sunday. Zimmerli’s annual Celebration of Storytelling, for preschoolers, is held in March. 71 Hamilton Street; 732-932-7237; zimmerlimuseum.rutgers.edu; Tuesday through Friday, 10 am–4:30 pm; Saturday and Sunday, noon–5 pm; first Wednesday every month, 10 am–9 pm; adults, $6; seniors, $5; children, Rutgers students, faculty and staff, free; first Sunday of each month, free admission for all.—TLG

ZOOS AND AQUARIUMS

Adventure Aquarium, Camden

The 760,000-gallon Ocean Realm tank is home to stingrays, sharks, sea turtles and many other aquatic creatures; dive teams provide free shows throughout the day. You can also watch a pair of West African hippos, above and below the water, or check out the bizarre animals on view in the Jules Verne Gallery. There are seven tanks where you can touch a shark or stingray, if you dare. 1 Riverside Drive; 856-365-3300; adventureaquarium.com; daily, 10 am-5 pm; adults, $24.95; children, 2 to 12, $18.95.—RS

Atlantic City Aquarium, Atlantic City
Situated in placid Gardner’s Basin, away from the Boardwalk casinos, the Atlantic City Aquarium devotes itself primarily to fish and small land animals native to New Jersey. In addition to the 25,000-gallon main tank, there’s an exhibit in which you can touch animals like baby stingrays or bamboo sharks, a brackish-water tank with terrapins, a live small-animal show on the weekends, a freshwater tank based on the habitat of the Mullica River and a feeding exhibition where divers enter the main tank to feed the sea creatures. 800 North New Hampshire Avenue; 609-348-2880; acaquarium.com; daily, 10 am-5 pm; adults, $8; seniors 62 and up, $6; children 4-12, $5.—RS

Cape May County Zoo, Cape May Court House

One of the few zoos in South Jersey, Cape May has 550 animals, many rare and endangered. In the last six months, a baby giraffe was born on site and the zoo added rare snow leopard cubs, four Chinese alligators and a Holstein calf. The 57-acre African savanna features antelopes, zebras, ostriches and giraffes. Exotic birds in the aviary greet visitors near the entrance. 707 N. Route 9; 609-465-1033; capemaycountyzoo.org; daily, 10 am-3:45 pm; free.—RS

Jenkinson’s Aquarium, Point Pleasant Beach

Located on the Boardwalk since 1991, the two-story aquarium features several tanks—the largest being the 58,000-gallon Atlantic shark tank—and a rainforest habitat of monkeys, parrots and frogs. The three harbor seals and 15 endangered African penguins are the most popular exhibits. The festive December evening program, Sea of Lights, is a showcase of holiday decorations; guests participate in arts and crafts and receive discounted admission to the aquarium. 300 Ocean Avenue; 732-892-0600; jenkinsons.com/aquarium; Monday through Friday, 9:30 am-5 pm; Saturday and Sunday, 10 am-5 pm; adults, $10; children over 2 and seniors, $6.—SA

Popcorn Park Zoo, Forked River

More than a zoo, Popcorn Park is a refuge for animals that can no longer survive in their natural habitat. Three Bengal tigers rescued from Texas and BooBoo the American black bear are just two members of Popcorn’s population of over 150 rescued creatures. In conjunction with Associated Human Societies, Popcorn also has a shelter for cats and dogs available for adoption. Call ahead to schedule a tour or visit the website for a list of family-friendly events. Humane Way at Lacey Road; 609-693-1900; ahscares.com; daily, 11 am–5 pm; holidays, 11 am–2 pm; animal shelter open Monday through Friday, noon–6 pm, Saturday and Sunday, noon–5 pm.—Margaret Blaha

Trailside Nature and Science Center, Mountainside
In the woods of Watchung Reservation, this learning center, renovated in 2006, packs plenty of interactivity to ease kids into understanding the environment and the region’s natural history. Step into a life-size Lenape wigwam, learn about nocturnal animals in the night theater, and watch fish and aquatic turtles swim in a waterfall and running stream exhibit. The 2,065-acre reservation also offers playgrounds, horse stables and more than 13 miles of hiking trails. 452 New Providence Road; 908-789-3670; ucnj.org; open daily, 12 pm–5 pm; general admission, free; fees for workshops and other programs vary.—AS

Turtleback Zoo, West Orange

For its 50th anniversary this year, Turtleback Zoo invites you to emerge from hibernation to watch a red panda, wolves, bobcats and Highland cattle frolic in the frosty weather. Then warm up indoors at the reptile house, aquarium and the Sea Lion Sound. 560 Northfield Avenue; 973-731-5801; turtlebackzoo.com; open daily; adults, $9; seniors and children 2 and over, $7.—SA

Wetlands Institute, Stone Harbor

True to its commitment to education and research about coastal ecosystems, the Institute welcomes vistors year-round. The gardens in front of the main building and the salt marsh trails behind it remain open all winter for self-guided tours. Inside, the aquarium and small-creature exhibits offer hands-on encounters with terrapins, horseshoe crabs, sea stars and marsh animals. 1075 Stone Harbor Boulevard; 609-368-1211; wetlandsinstitute.org; Friday through Sunday, 9:30 am-4:30 pm; members are free; adults, $8; children 3-12, $6.—RS

INDOOR AMUSEMENTS

iPlay America, Freehold

This 115,000-square-foot indoor amusement park includes rides, attractions and restaurants. It has a go-kart speedway, two-story laser-tag arena, mini bowling alley and arcade. Guests also can ride electric bumper cars and get a free-flight experience on a glider. The 16-seat 4D movie theater has special effects like water spray, vibration and air blast. For younger kids, there is a soft play area with web bridges, cargo slants and crawls. 110 Schanck Road; 732-577-8200; iplayamerica.com; daily, hours vary; tickets start at $22.95.—AS

Monster Mini Golf, Multiple Locations
This chain of glow-in-the-dark mini-golf courses has six locations in New Jersey. They each have a ghoul-themed 18-hole course with animated props. They also offer contests and monthly specials. Some locations have an arcade with all sorts of games. T-shirts and other souvenirs are available for purchase. Eatontown, Edison, Fairfield, Marlboro, Paramus, Union; monsterminigolf.com; open most days, hours vary; adults, $9; kids, $8. —AS

Funplex, East Hanover and Mount Laurel

The two locations are packed with attractions like bumper cars, electric go-karts, laser tag, a VIP bowling alley for parties, and Foam Frenzy, a massive three-level playground equipped with foam-ball air cannons and air blasters to (safely) attack your friends. While they both have outdoor water parks during the summer, there are plenty of carnival rides inside, like the Super Twister and a 30-foot free-fall ride in East Hanover. 3320-24 Route 38, Mount Laurel; 856-273-9666; 182 Route 10 West, East Hanover; 973-428-1166; thefunplex.com; open daily; either pay for individual rides and attractions or purchase wristband packages, no general admission price.—Joanna Buffum

Northlandz, Flemington
Much more than a railway museum, Northlandz is paradise for model-train buffs. On eight miles of HO-gauge track, up to 100 different trains operate simultaneously, crossing 40-foot bridges, emerging from tunnels, curving around mountains, stopping at detailed stations and freight yards. The viewing walkway is nearly a mile long. No wonder Northlandz bills itself as the world’s largest model-railroad layout. (The building also features the world's largest dollhouse). The annual Christmas show features live music. Pull on gloves and a scarf for a ride on a real train on the adjacent mile-long outdoor track. 495 U.S. 202; 908-782-4022; northlandz.com; Monday and Wednesday through Friday, 10 am–4 pm; Saturday and Sunday, 10:30 am–5:30 pm; adults, $13.75; seniors, $12.50; children 2 and older, $9.75.—SA

Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, Atlantic City

A gallery of shrunken heads and an exhibit on medieval torture are among the curiosities awaiting older children with a taste for the bizarre. For G-rated fun, try the vault laser maze, an obstacle course of laser beams that’s a change from typical laser tag. Toward the end of the tour is the popular vortex tunnel, where you feel you’re falling upside down on a motionless bridge due to an illusion created by the rotating walls. 1441 Boardwalk; 609-347-2001; ripleys.com/atlanticcity; Monday through Friday, 11 am to 9 pm; Saturday, 10 am to 11 pm; Sunday, 10 am to 9 pm; adults, $15.99; seniors, $12.99; children 5-12, $9.99.—SA

KID-FRIENDLY THEATER


The Growing Stage, Netcong

The state’s only professional theater devoted to children keeps its main stage hopping with Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, through December 22, and the comedy The Secret Life of Hubie Hartzel, about the perils of fifth grade, from February 7 to March 2. Meanwhile, classes in dramatics, musical performance and theater dance begin January 18 for preschoolers through teens. A festival of new plays, presented as readings, takes place March 6 to 9. 7 Ledgewood Avenue; 973-347-4946; growingstage.com; Fridays, $15; Saturdays and Sundays, adults, $20; children and seniors, $15.—TLG

Paper Mill Playhouse, Millburn
The children’s series, beginning this month, may be the ideal way to kindle love of theater in little ones 4 and up. December 7 brings The Little Engine That Could Earns Her Whistle; December 14 and 15, it’s A Christmas Carol. On March 22, see Junie B. Jones, about an intrepid kindergartner, based on the book series. The Paper Mill’s production of the 1963 Broadway musical Oliver! features 15 New Jersey actors ages 10 to 14 playing the title character’s band of adorable street urchins. It continues through December 29. 22 Brookside Drive; 973-376-4343; papermill.org; children’s series, $12.75; Oliver!, $26–$97.—TLG

Kelsey Theatre, West Windsor

The Kelsey, at Mercer County Community College, presents well-loved shows in abridged, one-hour versions ideal for small children. This month, bring them to see ’Twas the Night Before Christmas, December 6 to 8, and The Nutcracker, performed by the New Jersey Youth Ballet, December 20 to 22. The theatrical adaptation of the Judith Viorst classic, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day takes the stage January 11. An adaptation of author Danny Schnitzlein’s The Monster Who Ate My Peas arrives February 8. A full-length production of Peter Pan: The Musical whisks audiences to Neverland, March 8-23. 1200 Old Trenton Road; 609-570-3333; kelseyatmccc.org; prices vary.—TLG

McCarter Theatre Center, Princeton

The McCarter launched its Family Series this past summer. It continues with Jim Henson’s Dinosaur Train–Live!, for preschoolers January 25. Catch the classic Sleeping Beauty, performed by Russia’s Rudolf Nureyev State Ballet Theatre, on February 7. The Peking Acrobats will astound all ages February 28. Cirque Eloize’s Cirkopolis, a musical extravaganza of dance and acrobatics for ages 10 and up, holds forth March 6. 91 University Place; 609-258-2787; mccarter.org; Family Series tickets, youth, $25; adults, $35.—TLG

HISTORIC SITES

Thomas Edison National Historical Park, West Orange
America’s greatest inventor spent the second half of his long life working in this sprawling red-brick complex. In its labs, he developed the storage battery and the motion picture camera, employed X-ray technology to create radiographs with his fluoroscope, and refined earlier inventions such as the phonograph. Visitors can explore Edison’s machine shops, stock room, library and private lab. Phonograph demonstrations are given daily, and a small theater plays The Great Train Robbery, a silent film Edison produced in 1903. From 1886 until his death in 1931 at age 84, Edison resided nearby in the gated community of Llewellyn Park. Today, you can get a pass at the visitors' center to drive through the gates and tour Glenmont, the 29-room Queen Anne-style mansion where Edison lived with his second wife, Mina. They are buried together on the grounds. 211 Main Street; 973-736-0550; nps.gov/edis; laboratory complex, Wednesday through Sunday, 10 am to 4 pm; Glenmont Estate, Friday through Sunday, 11:30 am to 4 pm; adults, $7; under age 16, free.—AS

Battleship New Jersey, Camden
The lovingly restored BB62—at 887 feet, America’s largest battleship—saw action in World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the Middle East. The 90-minute tour, appropriate for kids and adults, takes you from the massive gun turrets to the depths of the ship, detailing its history and technology. Package tours are available with Adventure Aquarium and Philadelphia’s National Constitution Center. 62 Battleship Place; 856-966-1652; battleshipnewjersey.org; Saturday and Sunday, except January; adults, $21.95; seniors, veterans, children 5-11, $17; children under 5, active-duty military and WWII veterans, free.—RS

Drumthwacket, Princeton

The official governor’s residence since 1982, Drumthwacket (the name means “wooded hill” in Gaelic) was built, beginning in 1835, near the site of the pivotal Revolutionary War Battle of Princeton. Chris Christie, like several governors before him, uses it only ceremonially. Each Wednesday, a docent leads a reservations-required 45-minute tour of the six public rooms, including the solarium, which leads to the extensive Drumthwacket gardens. Morven, formerly the governor’s mansion, at 55 Stockton Street (morven.org), is open Wednesday through Sunday for tours. Just up the road, the Orange Key service gives tours of the Princeton University campus daily (princeton.edu/orangekey). 354 Stockton Street; 609-683-0057; drumthwacket.org; Wednesdays by reservation, except December 18 and 25; donation requested—usually $5 per person.—RS

OUTDOOR SPORTS


Mountain Creek, Vernon

Bigger in vertical drop than Shawnee or Camelback in Pennsylvania, Mountain Creek has a lot more going for it than its most obvious virtue, its location. Its 44 trails cover a respectable 167 skiable acres, every inch open for night skiing and covered by snow guns (1,000 in all). With a vertical drop of 1,040 feet, Mountain Creek makes the most of what it’s got—especially after last year’s $20 million investment in a new base lodge, learning and rental center, and tubing park, which it calls the biggest in the country. Every Sunday from 1 to 2 pm, terrain-park lessons are free in Twist Park (helmets and injury waivers required). Special events, weather permitting, include Go Skiing Day (December 17) and Go Snowboarding Day (December 19). See if you can spot Santa skiing on December 24 and 25. The Zoom Zipline and Mountain Coaster, a gravity-propelled roller coaster, are open all year. 200 Route 94; 973-827-2000; winter.mountaincreek.com; adult season pass, $309.99; youth season pass, $269.99; adult weekend lift ticket, $64.99; youth weekend, $50.99; adult midweek, $51.99; youth midweek, $40.99. Lift ticket, lesson and rental package, $99.99.­—JB

High Point Cross Country Ski Center, Sussex

Its elevation of 1,803 feet makes High Point indeed the loftiest perch in the state. That means it often gets snow when lower elevations don’t, a boon for cross-country skiers and snowshoe trekkers. At the very peak is the High Point Monument, a memorable 220-foot-tall obelisk. Skis, poles and snowshoes are available for rent. 1480 Route 23; 973-702-1222; xcskihighpoint.com; open December 1 to April 1.—JB

Campgaw Mountain, Mahwah
Beginning skiers of all ages love Campgaw. Tickets for its two lifts start at $18. With a vertical drop of about 270 feet, the ride to the summit is quick, and with 100 percent snowmaking, the ride down is smooth. Tubing is a major attraction. Campgaw has eight tubing lanes up to 800 feet long. 200 Campgaw Road; 201-327-7800; skicampgaw.com; Monday to Thursday and non-holidays; hours vary; $18; Friday, $20; Saturday and Sunday, $24.—JB

ROCK CLIMBING


Gravity Vault, Chatham and Upper Saddle River
Kids as young as 5 can take to the walls, and the facility offers a number of instructional classses. Check out their New Year's Eve party, which includes pizza, games and night climbing with head lamps. With over 13,000 square feet of rock for climbing (which include 35-plus feet of climbing walls, extensive bouldering stations and 45 to 60 top rope stations), it’s no wonder Gravity Vault is challenging fun for adult climbers, too. 40 Watchung Road, Chatham, 973-701-7625; 107 Pleasant Ave, Upper Saddle River, 201-934-7625; gravityvault.com; Monday-Friday, noon-10 pm; Saturday, 9 am–8 pm; Sunday, 9 am–6 pm; adults, $18; student pass (14-21), $14; children (10 and under), $12. Full gear rental (shoes, harness and chalk bag), $7. ­—Maryrose Mullen

Garden State Rocks, Morganville

Climbers age 7 and up can scale the heights of this Monmouth County gym, home to more than 6,000 square feet of climbing surfaces. Bring the family; group packages at $20 per participant for 1½ hours, or $24 per participant for 2 hours. (Book at least three weeks in advance.) Youngsters can also enroll in Youth Climbing of America, an eight-week session on basic climbing and safety techniques. 705 Ginesi Drive; gardenstaterocks.com; 732-972-3003; Monday through Friday, 3-10:30 pm; Saturday and Sunday, noon-7 pm; adults, $16; student/military pass (22 and under), $12; gear rental (shoes, harness and chalk bag), $7. —MM

Elite Climbing, Maple Shade

This South Jersey rock climbing gym, home to 19 top rope stations with over 120 routes (or “problems”), offers Kids Club every Friday from 6 to 8 pm. For $15, kids 7 to 14 can learn the ropes with two hours of climbing and instruction. Adults can get in on the action with the Family Climbing Package. 67 Old Kings Highway, Maple Shade, 856-273-1370; eliteclimbing.com; Monday through Friday, 4-10 pm; Saturday, noon-8 pm; Sunday, noon-6 pm; adults, $15; student/military pass, $13; children, $11. Gear rental (shoes and harness), $8, chalk bag, $1.—MM

Rockville Climbing Center, Hamilton
Not only does this central Jersey gym possess 10,000 square feet of rock climbing, 35 ropes, and bouldering, it hosts a four-week family climbing program, where parents can join kids (ages 5 to 13) for $80 per parent and child. Rockville also offers six auto-belay stations—single climbers can scale the walls without a partner. 200 Whitehead Road, Hamilton, 609-631-7625, rockvilleclimbing.com; Tuesday, 3–10 pm; Wednesday through Friday, noon–10 pm; Saturday and Sunday, noon-8 pm; adults, $17; junior pass (12 and under), $14; equipment rental (harness, shoes and belay device), $8.—MM

New Jersey Rock Gym, Fairfield

New Jersey Rock Gym claims the largest freestanding boulder island in the state, in addition to 12,000 square feet of climbing terrain. Boulder enthusiasts may want to check out the bouldering tunnel, where climbers can ascend up to 25 feet without a rope. The facility has birthday party packages for groups. 373 D Route 46 West; 973-439-9860; njrockgym.com; Monday to Friday, noon-10:30 pm; Saturday and Sunday, 10 am–8 pm; adults, $17; student pass, $13; equipment rental (shoes, harness and chalk bag), $9.—MM

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