When I was younger, I had three great loves: cardboard boxes, doing extremely dangerous things on my bike the moment I was out of sight of my mum, and dinosaurs. Being a proper grown-up, a house full of cardboard boxes has come to mean that it's probably my turn to brave the rain and slugs and take out the recycling. Dangerous bike-related escapades are out, now that I'm officially in the 35 to 44 Facebook bracket and worry that body parts might break spontaneously every time I do something vaguely dangerous.
But dinosaurs? Well, dinosaurs never get old*.
So, when I was asked to visit the much-talked-about Dino Snores at the Natural History Museum in South Kensington, I leapt at the chance. The kids packed up their pyjamas and snugglies, asked me for the hundredth time if I was positive Night at the Museum was not real, and off we went on our Dino Snores adventure.
Here's the resulting 'five things you absolutely must do at Dino Snores'.
1. Learn how to survive extremely cold temperatures
Our evening starts with a fascinating talk from some scientists at the Natural History Museum on how animals survive the cold. Far from the dry lectures we remember from our school days, it's engaging and all of the kids are completely hooked. Clearly dinosaurs themselves had not been to similar survival talks.
2. Find dinosaurs in the dark
I cannot even begin to explain how magical this experience is, but I will at least try to set the scene. After a delicious dinner, we are split into small groups and sent off into the dinosaur exhibit. We have a printed activity sheet with a challenge to unscramble some letters and discover which dinosaur is hidden in the clues. Now, this might sound a little like your usual school trip so far…
But now imagine that it's pitch black.
All you have to guide you is a tiny wind-up torch and two over-excited children tugging at your hands and hopping up and down with excitement. The walls are ridged with fossils, and looming over you are enormous ghostly dinosaur skeletons of all kinds. Rounding a corner in the dark, you sense movement and hear a roar, shining your tiny torch to see a full-size animatronic Tyrannosaurus Rex glaring down at you, mouth gaping.
Sounds terrifying, right? Wrong. This is The. Most. Awesome. Thing. Ever. I can guarantee that my kids will never forget the experience.
3. Make your own T-Rex t-shirt
Later that night, we get to learn how paleontologists use skeletons and partial skeletons to deduce what dinosaurs would have looked like, how they moved and what they ate. The scientist running the workshop makes it sound easy. Using our new knowledge, we draw our own dinosaurs from unfinished skeletons, adding in the bones we can safely assume are missing, muscles and ligaments to tie everything together, making space for a big stomach, and finally adding and colouring in the skin.
Better still, we then trace our creations onto t-shirts to take home as a souvenir.
4. Look up, look waaay up
Hanging from the ceiling above your cosy sleeping bag is a spectacular blue whale skeleton over 25 metres long — that's about three times as long as a London bus. Or if the whale were standing on its tail, it would be half as tall as Nelson's Column.
OK, it's not a dinosaur, but this awe-inspiring blue whale is possibly the most breathtaking exhibit in any museum I've visited, and well worth the trip to the Natural History Museum, with or without Dino Snores.
I especially love the fact that our overnight stay gives us the chance to pause, look up, and just take it in, feeling small and awed, counting bones until you drift off. In the daytime, you can still of course look up and enjoy the view, but there is something about the quiet at night that makes it all that more wonderful.
5. Bring your appetite
The food is amazing. All of the Dino Snores explorers are treated to dinner at the T-Rex Grill, with everything from pizza and chips to a sumptuous oven-roasted chicken with sumac and quinoa. They don't skimp on the portions either — these are gorgeous, hearty meals and (hopefully) guarantee your children will have a good night's sleep afterwards. In the morning, you can start your day with a freshly cooked full English, or even coconut yoghurt with fresh fruit. Which is what, I presume, dinosaurs used to eat.
So there you have it. A world-class museum, an unforgettable experience with your children, and the opportunity to be surrounded by creatures so old they make you look young and vigorous in comparison.
Make no bones about it, Dino Snores is one London experience not to be missed.
Dino Snores takes place throughout the year. For more information and booking, visit the website.
*I am not a paleontologist, and they never covered this in Friends.
By Janis Curry