While resurgent family togetherness has been a widely heralded silver lining to the era’s stay-at-home orders, some kids are literally climbing the walls (see: the suddenly famous 15-year-old who just turned her bedroom into a climbing gym). Assuming you and yours can relate to the need for a quick escape, we’ve been sussing out kid- and family-friendly virtual tours around the globe. From wild rides to wildlife, here are nine of the best.
Ride roller coasters
Hersheypark, Hershey, Pennsylvania
Pop a batch of brownies in the oven to mimic the olfactory backdrop of this 121-acre ode to chocolate, then figuratively buckle up. All 15 of Hersheypark’s roller coasters are open 24/7 online, though one has yet to debut in real life: Candymonium, a hypercoaster scheduled to open in 2020, will be the park’s tallest, longest, and fastest ride, with top speeds of 76 mph. After sneak-previewing this sweet addition, “ride” Skyrush for the high-speed turns and zero-G effects, Fahrenheit for the extra-steep ascent, and Comet for the history: Dating to 1946, the wooden coaster was the last to be bought by founder Milton S. Hershey.
Take a 'Small World' tour
Disney Parks around the world
If a slow boat feels more your speed now, proceed to Disney’s It’s a Small World. This new virtual version of the beloved classic blends footage from five parks: the original Disneyland Park in California; Walt Disney World Resort in Florida; Disneyland Park, Paris; Tokyo Disneyland; and Hong Kong Disneyland Park. The result is as meta as it gets. Just as we’re all feeling how unfathomably interconnected—and yes, small—the world really is, we can sail through and around it on our screens. Of course, only parents risk overthinking the whole experience—and even then, only briefly: For anyone with childhood memories of this singing, dancing version of the planet, the primal joy kicks back in almost instantly. And for anyone who wants more virtual Disney, there’s now an entire portal’s worth of free content for the #stayathome era. Your kids can learn everything from how to dance on Broadway courtesy of The Lion King cast (you’ll find it inside The Lion King Experience: At Home) to how to draw Ariel (courtesy of The Little Mermaid’s directing animator, Mark Henn).
Watch sea creatures
Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monterey, California
To spend even more time under the sea, make a virtual visit to this iconic institution—as much a conservation and teaching center as an aquarium. But before you send the kids on a deep educational dive, lure them in with the marine life webcams. All 10 fall somewhere between hypnotic and addictive. Popular ones include the sea otters (Abby pictured above), the jellies, and, naturally, the sharks. If you can pry anyone away from the live streams, check out the distance-learning options, from full-blown courses to guided activities to games. Note to parents: If you’ve used some of your newfound time at home to binge Big Little Lies, take a show-focused tour of the aquarium while the kids are, say, seeing how many species they can find in the kelp forest.
See animals play
The San Diego Zoo and Safari Park, San Diego and Escondido, California
Not to be outdone, the land mammals down the California coast tar in their own streaming show. Your virtual tour of the nation’s most-visited zoo should include, at the very least, stops at the Baboon Cam (part of the recently added Africa Rocks exhibit), Ape Cam (baby alert!), and inland at the Safari Park, Elephant Cam (see if you can catch class clown Phakamile, an African bush elephant, doing the helicopter with her trunk). Your little ones also will love the zoo’s kids’ portal, home to all manner of animal-themed videos, games, stories, and more.
Go on a safari
You could just as easily get out of the country and visit those same animals—and countless others—on their home turf. Book yourselves free “seats” on the WildEarth Kids SafariLive game drives that take off twice daily from South African reserves. Once you’re confirmed on a departure, “ride along” and interact with your guide, whose adventures are streamed online. Even if you don’t secure spots right away (demand is high now), watch any of the safaris. Another newly popular stay-at-home safari series is led by wildlife photographer and field guide Ross Couper at Singita Sabi Sand, a safari lodge in South Africa. Check under the heading “Latest Videos”), and if you don’t have time to dig around, head straight for the giraffes in the first few minutes of the April 15 video, or the leopard cub video from the day before (titled Schotia Leopard Cubs).
See awesome skeletons
Natural History Museum, London
If your family likes to travel across the centuries as much as the seas for animal viewing, this revered institution is one of the best places to visit. Sir David Attenborough will guide you through the iconic Hintze Hall, home to everything from an Ice Age proto-elephant to a dinosaur fossil that’s 125 million years old (give or take a few million years). Oh, and if you look up, you’ll see the 82-foot skeleton of the largest animal on Earth: the blue whale (pictured above). For a wider-ranging tour of the museum, follow along with Google Arts & Culture. If the kids are willing to wake up early or you’re willing to keep them up really late, hang out with the museum’s scientists, who stream live on Tuesdays and Fridays on Nature Live Online at noon Greenwich Mean Time. (Alternatively, browse the show archives on the museum’s YouTube channel.
Play in a museum
Boston Children's Museum, Boston, Massachusetts
If you’d rather visit a museum that’s exclusively for kids, check out one of the world’s oldest—and one of the few to house an extensive permanent collection of vintage dollhouses, toys, and other kid-friendly artifacts, in addition to interactive play spaces. Beyond the three-story virtual tour, you’ll find all kinds of activities on the museum’s YouTube channel, from storytelling to science classes.
Predict a geyser show
Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
For those who prefer their science classes in the great outdoors, there’s a naturally occurring one at Yellowstone: By virtually visiting Old Faithful and using a handy rangers’ formula, you can predict the iconic geyser’s next eruption. Even if your kids are in the mood to do precisely zero calculations, a tour of this otherworldly national park is never a bad idea.
Visit outer space
International Space Station
For the ultimate otherworldly experience, you’ll want to visit this orbiting science center 240 miles up and away, where several virtual tours are available. Among the endlessly fascinating aspects of Commander Suni Williams’ guided tour—from the coffee-brewing Russian cosmonauts to the body-squishing Soyuz capsule—one standout, literally, is her hair—a leonine mane perpetually afloat around her head. And one of the most moving sights is the planet she points to from the cupola: our shared home, which—honestly—we can’t wait to start exploring again IRL.
Writer and editor Abbie Kozolchyk once divided her time between California and New York but now travels between her living room and bedroom.
AAA Travel Alert: Many travel destinations have implemented COVID-19–related restrictions. Before making travel plans, check to see if hotels, attractions, cruise lines, tour operators, restaurants, and local authorities have issued health and safety-related restrictions or entry requirements. The local tourism board is a good resource for updated information.
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