Visiting Toronto on vacation or just in for the day, you are probably familiar with the Royal Ontario Museum, or ROM as we know it in the city. The ROM is a great family destination, with dinosaur bones, Egyptian mummies, the Bat Cave and so much more.
But what about after hours?
The movie The Night at the Museum stirred up the imagination of many kids (and some grown-up) to wonder what does go on in the museum after hours. The ROM gives kids a chance to find out with their ROM Sleepovers.
Scheduled to run about four times a year, my 8-year old daughter and I had the opportunity to hangout during the ROM’s April sleepover to experience first hand what’s involved.
The days leading up to the sleepover my daughter and I read and re-read the schedule of events with great anticipation, we packed our gear just like we were heading to camp, and then Friday finally arrived.
5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Friday after school and we were ready to go. We arrived at the registration desk at 7:00 p.m. (registration runs from 5:00 p.m. until 7:45 p.m.) but if you can arrive earlier, do. Getting there as early as 5 p.m. gives you free time to explore anything and everything within the ROM as part of your sleepover ticket. It had been awhile since we’ve been to the ROM so I think my daughter would have loved the additional time to roam around the museum.
8:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.
To kick-off the sleepover there’s a brief orientation for all sleepover guests in the lower theatre. Here Erin Hauser, Program Coordinator – Education and Programs at the ROM, welcomed everyone and went over a few rules and safety procedures for the evening. Then there was a movie. On the night we attended they showed UP, which received a huge cheer from all the kids attending. My daughter had seen the film but was still looking forward to watching it again. I actually liked that the lights weren’t turned off completely during the movie, but rather turned down low. This made it easier to make a quick exit to find the bathroom (which you no doubt will find yourself doing) and I think it kept most kids from falling asleep.
After the movie we were put into our groups (based on the names printed on our name tags). My daughter and I were part of the Eco Explorers. Our group leader showed us where our sleeping area was in the museum (near a dinosaur which was pretty cool), where to find the washrooms as well as how to get to the various other spaces for food, crafts and the special WATER exhibit (part of the April sleepover specifically).
10:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m.
After our orientation my daughter and I grabbed our gear from the lockers in the lower level and claimed our sleeping space. All set, my daughter, like many other kids at the sleepover, decided to change into her PJs and then explore.
We hit the crafts area first. Each sleepover includes a craft activity based on the theme of the sleepover. Our theme was Water, tied into the special Water exhibit going on so the kids were making sea creature puppets out of paper.
As part of our sleepover, each guest was given a midnight snack in the Food Studio, which consisted of a slice of pizza (pepperoni or just plain cheese), a drink (non-pop), chips. This was served cafeteria style. Kids were well behaved, waiting in line for their turn. My daughter loved eating a snack so late in her PJs.
Tummies full we headed out to explore the special Water exhibit. Not all sleepovers have special exhibits like the April Water exhibit but other areas within the ROM are open after hours for kids to explore, specifically the exhibits on the second floor like the Dinosaurs, Hands-On Discovery Zone, and Bat Cave. It was kind of cool wandering around the ROM after hours. It was quiet and felt like we were doing something sneaky.
Karaoke PJ Party
Within the same theatre we watched our movie earlier on, the ROM hosted a Karaoke party. My daughter wasn’t that keen on attending, she was more interested in exploring the ROM, but there were a lot of kids who were excited about it so I’m guessing it would have been a fun, crazy room.
Lights Out. Now the ROM didn’t go completely black; there were safety lights, but they did dim down most of the lights in the sleeping area to encourage kids to go to sleep. No surprise, some kids were up talking and giggling and walking around with flashlights but eventually everyone fell asleep. My daughter was out in about 30-minutes.
7:00 a.m. to 8:30 a.m.
The lights came back on and it was time to get up, get dressed (in the bathrooms) and pack-up our sleeping gear to store in the lower level lockers. I was surprised how awake my daughter was in the morning, after our full night. Then it was time for breakfast in the Food Studio: eggs or eggs with bacon, bagel, cereal, fruit and a drink.
I loved the recycle system the ROM has in place in the Food Studio; it really made kids think about the items they used and where they belonged (paper, plastic, bottles, organic, etc.), though maybe first thing in the morning after a sleepover wasn’t the best time to test a child’s thinking.
8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m.
The museum was still closed to the public, giving us sleepover guests exclusive access still, including access to the gift shop for souvenirs and exploring some of the family-friendly exhibits on the second floor.
My daughter and I visited the Bat Cave one more time (a favourite is seemed with many of the kids there) and the Hands-on Discovery Zone, where my daughter dug for dinosaur bones, wrote her name in hieroglyphics, dressed in ancient costumes and tried on chainmail. I can see this area being quite busy during museum hours so it was nice to get in and explore without the crowds.
The museum opened to the public again at 10 a.m. but sleepover guests were invited to hangout and explore the rest of the museum for the day if they so wish (but I really needed a shower to wake-up).
Most ROM sleepovers follow the schedule and activities above. The actual crafts vary based on the sleepover theme and each of the four sleepovers have different themes, such as Dinosaurs, Egypt or Canada (which is the theme planned for the June 4/5 sleepover event).
According to Erin, up to 250 guests are allowed to attend a sleepover event. That sounds like a lot of people, but the night we attended there were only two times it looked like a big crowd: in the registration area while locker spaces were being sorted out and in the theatre which pretty much filled up. Walking around the museum it felt like we were on our own most of the time and the sleepover areas were spaced out enough that you never felt like you were sleeping on top of your neighbour.
Both my daughter and I had a great time exploring the ROM afterhours. What a great way to hangout as a family or to entertain a few of your kids friends; certainly beats a sleepover at home.
If you’re planning on attending one of the future ROM Sleepover events, some things you should keep in mind:
- Bring a camp mat as the museum floors can feel hard to sleep on, even with a sleeping bag.
- There is no on-site parking so be sure to find a lot in the neighbourhood that offers overnight parking.
- Not to be confused with the main museum entrance, sleepover guests enter to the south side by the old planetarium.
- Sleepovers are designed for kids 5 and older but the late night might be difficult for younger kids. Use your judgment based on your child’s temperament
- This isn’t a program where you drop your child off and pick them up the next day; you go together. If you are going as a group (Guides, Scouts or birthday party), one adult (19 years+) is required for every five children attending.
- The storage lockers are fairly large but they aren’t locked or supervised so don’t leave any valuables there or better yet, don’t bring any valuables.
- If your child has food allergies and won’t be able to eat the breakfast or snack, you can make arrangements with the ROM ahead of time and they can store it for you. However, if your gathering is for a birthday, they are unable to store a cake for you.
Learn more about the Royal Ontario Museum’s Sleepover Nights.