I walked into The Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden with four kids between the ages of 7 and 10 trailing behind me ready to see some serious trains.
It was late on a Wednesday afternoon and there was no line to speak of, so we quickly made our way through the entrance pavilion and into the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory itself. The Holiday Train Show occupies one wing of the conservatory, and we quickly circled the large pond in the front (stopping to admire the Holiday Train Show tease consisting of The Statue of Liberty and assorted buildings) and reached the sparkling entrance. A note: strollers cannot be taken into the Conservatory, but can be parked outside.
Right away, I realized that Holiday Train Show was a deceptive title. While there are plenty of G-gauge trains running all over the exhibit, the real draw are the handmade miniatures of hundreds of buildings in New York and the surrounding area. We saw the original Penn Station, the New York Public Library, Radio City Music Hall, the Empire State Building and Yankee Stadium all made out of natural products such as bark, acorns or pine cones in what the designer calls Botanical Architecture.
The kids ran from replica to replica, calling out the names of the buildings and cheering as trains wove through the buildings next to us and crossed over bridges above our heads. Every new miniature we came across demanded our attention, and the kids pointed out every little detail, from the lights flickering in the tiny windows to the sounds of cheering coming from Yankee Stadium. Equally impressive were the reproductions of regular Manhattan streets. Looking at St. Patrick’s Cathedral was as cool as inspecting a row of brownstones perfectly immortalized in wood and bark.
Behind the Scenes
Halfway through the exhibit, we entered The Artist’s Studio, which showcases the man behind the creations, Paul Busse, and his company, Applied Imaginations. In this part of the show, Busse and his team extends the geography to models of other landmarks across America and the world. We saw a Route 66 Diner from Illinois and a Coney Island Hot Dog Stand from Aspen Park, as well as The Parthenon and The Sphinx, my daughter’s personal favorites.
At this point, the path wound back the way we came, this time focusing on the opposite wall. I meandered my way past trains (including Thomas the Tank Engine) roaring by intricate miniatures and man-made water features and twinkling lights. All of a sudden the children with me became even more excited and dragged me over to view a few replicas of buildings from Westchester County. Being from Tarrytown, I was thrilled to find Lyndhurst Mansion and Kykuit among the plants and trees. There were plenty of other historic buildings from our county depicted as well, making the end of the exhibit, for me, the most satisfying.
Overall, this is a terrific family activity. On the way home, each kid in my car started naming their favorite buildings, and all agreed that seeing these buildings recreated out of natural products was really special. They were ready to go back and see it again.
For the grownup of the group, while it was an enjoyable experience and the creations are truly remarkable, make sure you make the most of your visit, as the price of admission is steep relative to the time it takes to get through the exhibit. All told, we were in and out of The Holiday Train Show in 20 minutes. However, I imagine that a first visit with a full crowd could take up to maybe an hour at most to get through the entire exhibit. There are other exhibits and adventures in the Garden including The Everett Children’s Adventure Garden, where children can explore nature through hands-on exhibits and programs, which can add more activity to your visit.
Note: see website for holiday hours and early closings. Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
When You Go…
New York Botanical Garden
2900 Southern Blvd., Bronx, N.Y.
718-817-8700 | nybg.org
Tickets start at $20 adults, $10 children (add $5 for weekends); reservations strongly recommended. Tickets are timed and sold at 15-minute increments to help with crowd control.
Nov. 16, 2013 to Jan. 12, 2014
10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays;
10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.