We all know that it can be difficult to get your children truly excited about history.
So when I heard about new attractions at the National World War II Museum, I teamed up with my sister-in-law and her three boys to check it out.
You may already be familiar with the building on Andrew Higgins Drive that housed the original D-Day Museum.
It is now called the Louisiana Memorial Pavilion and is where you’ll find ticket and guest services. A scavenger hunt specifically designed for kids that will keep them searching for specific artifacts and symbols throughout the museums is available at the ticket desk.
The Louisiana Memorial Pavilion is also home to the new Train Car Experience.
As you approach the ride, you’ll notice that the exterior identically resembles a Pullman train car. The “ride” recreates the train trip that new military enlistees would have taken in the early 1940s.
Inside are two-person wooden bench seats that are in rows just as they would be on a train.
The window panes are actually screens that play scenes, making you feel like you are pulling away from the train station of a small town and heading to boot camp and then combat. Although the train car is stationary, passengers actually hear and feel the rumble of the train wheels moving beneath you.
The Train Car Experience is a perfect choice for children of all ages.
After taking in the artifacts in the Louisiana Memorial Pavilion, we crossed Andrew Higgins Drive to explore the newer buildings across the street.
It was difficult to bypass the acclaimed 4-D, Tom Hanks produced movie Beyond All Boundaries, but since the average age of our kids was just 7 years old and included a 4 year old, we decided it was too intense for us. However, if you’re visiting with a slightly older set, Beyond All Boundaries isn’t to be missed. The special effects rival the Disney 4-D theaters, complete with snow falling during the segment depicting the Battle of Valley Forge.
We continued into the US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center, a thoroughly modern four-story building made of steel, concrete and glass.
Upon entering the vast open space your eyes are immediately drawn up to see six airplanes suspended from the ceiling.
The view from below is impressive, but it doesn’t compare to sightlines achieved from the skywalk bridges on the third and fourth level.
You are literally at eye level with the pilots of the largest plane, a Boeing B17 Heavy Bomber called “My Gal Sal” that was salvaged and restored after it crashed in Greenland in 1942.
On the second floor platform, you’ll find several large touch screen computers where you first choose either the Atlantic Campaign or Pacific Campaign, and then the specific battles you want to watch.
It perfectly illustrates for children and adults the advancement of allied forces and the scope of soldiers, tanks, planes, ships and subs involved and lost in the war. This is screen time that parents can approve of!
The Boeing Center is also home to the brand new interactive experience called Final Mission: the USS Tang, which recreates the last combat maneuvers of one of the most highly decorated submarines in the American fleet during World War II.
Before you enter the belly of the sub, the attendant gives each passenger a card with their station assignment and the name and picture of the actual sailor who manned the position on its final day.
Once inside, the captain explains the mission and you hear and feel the submarine surface as you assume your position.
The ceiling then becomes an incredible screen that mimics what you would see if you had a panoramic view from the tower of the sub.
A battle with nearby enemy ships begins with some of our gang responsible for manning the radar stations, another stationed at the periscope and one with her hand on the firing mechanism for the torpedoes.
After a few minutes, our sub was struck. Alarms sounded, smoke filled the vessel and the sounds of increasing water pressure filled the space as the USS Tang sunk. Final Mission is a realistic adventure, but also an emotionally moving experience as you realize that only nine of the sailors on board survived.
By this time we were ready for a lunch break, and, lucky for us there are fun, delicious options on the property.
John Besh’s The American Sector offers soup, salads, sandwiches, burgers and main course entrées for lunch and dinner. Kids are welcomed and will even be served a kids meal in a metal lunch box they can take home. We opted for the new, more casual, counter-service Soda Shop, which serves breakfast and lunch; it’s a great place to grab a quick sandwich and a delicious ice cream sundae, malt or shake.
After an afternoon of wartime adventures,it was time to head home, but we’ll be back in the summer to take advantage of different camp options.
The museum offers three different one- and two-week camps: Science Camp, Spy Camp and Theatre Camp for children ranging in age from 8-13.
For information on admission prices, Beyond All Boundaries and Final Mission tickets, summer camps, restaurant hours and reservations, visit NationalWW2Museum.org.