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Beautiful Boston Views From Skywalk Observatory

View from Skywalk Observatory

I was about 11 or 12 when, on a family day trip to Boston, I first experienced a bird’s eye view of the city from the top of a skyscraper. We’d gone to the observation deck of the 60-story John Hancock Tower, and I was awestruck at the vast panorama of streets and buildings that spread out below. Something about the experience affected me deeply, and I still remember it vividly over 25 years later.

The Hancock observatory closed right after 9/11, but the Skywalk Observatory at the Prudential Center has taken its place where Boston’s visitors go to experience the thrill of the city laid out at their feet. “The Pru,” as it’s known, is easily recognizable in the city skyline; even though it was Boston’s first skyscraper, built in the 1960s, it’s still the second-tallest building in the city today. Having never been to the Prudential, and wanting my kids to experience the city as I did at their age, my sister Lisa and I planned to visit with our combined brood of four kids, ranging in ages from 6 to 11, as part of a day trip into the city this past July.

As it turned out, the Pru was the last destination of the day for us. Lisa and I debated the pros and cons of walking there versus taking the T (Boston’s subway system); we opted to walk, seeing as it was only about 2.5 miles from where we were at Quincy Market. In hindsight, covering that distance was asking a lot of the kids, who were dragging their feet after having visited the Museum of Science, Quincy Market, New England Aquarium and Quincy Market (again). Between a few rest stops and some piggyback rides, though, we made it there, and as a bonus, we were able to see a lot of the city on our route. We passed through the financial district and downtown and cut up to Boylston Street, which then brought us along the southern perimeter of Boston Common and the Public Gardens, and finally along Boylston Street to Back Bay. It was a great opportunity to point out numerous landmarks to the kids, like the Old South Church and the Swan Boats; that said, taking the T definitely would have been faster and less whine-filled, and there’s a T stop (Green Line) right in the Prudential Center.

Feeding time at Boston Gardens

Upon entering from Boylston Street, we found ourselves in the Shops at Prudential, a beautiful, modern shopping mall with lots of upscale retailers, including L’Occitane, Kate Spade, lululemon and Free People. After crossing through the mall (now it was MY turn to reluctantly drag my feet as my practical-minded sister towed the group through), we found the tower’s lobby and took the elevator to the 50th floor.

After a day filled with the loud chaos of the science museum, Quincy Market, the aquarium, and the city streets, it felt like a considerable – and welcome – change when we stepped off the elevator into the hushed, removed-from-it-all atmosphere of the observatory. At the welcome desk, we exchanged our CityPASS tickets for audio tour handsets. And then we were free to wander throughout the four sides of the observatory, taking in the sweeping panoramas of the city, which, even on a not-quite-clear evening, stretched for miles and miles around us.

There were two versions of the audio tour – one for adults, one for children. Our group split up, each of us following the audio tour, or just walking and looking, at our own pace. I thought the audio tour was a great enhancement to the experience; each station described the buildings and neighborhoods you could see below and gave some of the history of each of them. Among the notable ones, we saw the John Hancock Tower, the Christian Science Plaza with its reflecting pool, Back Bay, Fenway Park, the Boston Common and Public Garden, Logan Airport, the Esplanade and Hatch Shell, the Charles River, Massachusetts General Hospital (with its famous “Ether Dome”), MIT, Harvard University, and many other landmarks. There were high-power binoculars – always a favorite with the kids – stationed around the observatory. We looked, meandered, listened, and took it all in.

Boston Harbor

Even though it was the last experience of an incredibly busy and site-filled day, there was something very peaceful and fitting about the Skywalk. For me, it was a sense of coming full circle; it had to do with seeing the places we’d visited and the streets we’d traveled from 750 feet in the air, and it gave me a sense of how all of the various pieces – the buildings, the monuments, the neighborhoods, the stories – fit together to form a larger tapestry of the city.

The Skywalk Observatory is located at 800 Boylston Street, Boston. They occasionally close for private events, and hours change depending on the time of year. Please visit www.skywalkboston.com for more information.

Congrats to the #1 Museum in the World, the Art Institute of Chicago!

Confirming what many art aficionados and museum-goers already knew, TripAdvisor just gave the Art Institute of Chicago the number one spot in its Travelers’ Choice Awards, ranking it the top museum in the world.

TripAdvisor is well known for being one of the top travel resources available today, and these awards are based on the millions of reviews submitted to the site. According to TripAdvisor, an algorithm takes into account the quantity and quality of the reviews for a 12-month period to determine the rankings.

Last year’s awards had AIC at number one in the U.S. and number three in the world, but clearly the museum doesn’t rest on its laurels and has continued to impress visitors with its permanent collection of 300,000 works of art housed in eight buildings, as well as its impressive roster of special exhibitions, including the currently showing Magritte: Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926-1938.

These excerpts from TripAdvisor reviews give a glimpse into how AIC guests feel about the museum:

“This has always been a world-class institution, and with the addition of the modern wing… wow!”

“My most favorite museum in the world! I was surprised to see a spectrum of important paintings from all over the world during my first visit there.”

“One cannot go wrong here. Everywhere you turn are wonderful and important works of art.”

“There's something for everyone. A modern wing, more classic areas, sculpture, painting, ancient Greek and Asian art.... and plenty of pieces that you've seen hundreds of times in books and in the media. There they are, right in front of you - the real thing!”

“This is truly an awesome art museum. It has some of the very best and most admired works in the world right there.”

We at CityPASS are proud of our partnership with the Art Institute of Chicago and congratulate them on this impressive honor!

Unusual Museums Throughout the US

Most museums are buildings that serve as vaults for some of humanity's most culturally significant art and artifacts. Places like the Louvre in Paris, which houses the Mona Lisa, and the Museum of Natural History with its fantastic dioramas are classic examples of what most people think of when museums come to mind.

Unfortunately, there are a large number of items and industries that have cultural significance that just can't find a home in a “normal” museum. Luckily, instead of being lost to history forever, there are plenty of unusual museums across the U.S. that cater to even the most obscure interests and cultural taste.

The Museum of Jurassic Technology - Culver City, CA

While many Southern California attractions cater to a wide array of interests, the Museum of Jurassic Technology hones in on the strange and the weird. The MJT, which bills itself as “an educational institution dedicated to the advancement of knowledge and the public appreciation of the Lower Jurassic,” offers a diverse collection of artistic, historic, and scientific exhibits. Its microminiature collection by Hagop Sandaldjian focuses on sculptures carved out of single grains of rice or single strands of human hair, and displayed within the eye of a needle. There's also a collection detailing life and “artifacts” from Los Angeles trailer parks known as The Garden of Eden on Wheels, as well as an oil painting gallery named The Lives of Perfect Creatures, which depicts the heroic canines of the Soviet space program.

The Museum of Sex - New York, NY

One of the more unique museums in New York is located on 5th Avenue: the Museum of Sex, or MoSex, offers educational exhibits that cover a wide range of presentations related to sexuality and its related topics. Some of MoSex's previous exhibitions have examined how New York City affected the perception of sex in the United States, and others have focused on sexuality from other time periods and cultures. While the museum presents these topics in an academic format, some items and images are graphic, which restricts admission to MoSex to those 18 or older.

The Museum of Bad Art - Boston, MA

With so much great art in the world, it stands to reason that there would be some art that misses the mark. The Brookline and Somerville, Mass., (both just outside Boston) branches of the Museum of Bad Art aim to give those peculiar pieces the exposure that they so richly deserve. The MOBA's collection of “art too bad to be ignored” contains approximately 500 pieces and ranges from mountains that look more like ice cream to portraits of landscapes that might actually be portraits of dogs. Despite the quality of the artwork, everything is displayed and exhibited with the utmost seriousness (loosely speaking). Each piece of artwork is examined, critiqued and interpreted by curators, just like a traditional art museum. The MOBA is not interested in collecting or displaying tacky artwork, so to be considered for inclusion, pieces must have been created with serious artistic intent.

National Museum of Funeral History - Houston, TX

Founded in 1992, the NMFH in Houston is a museum with the goal to “educate the public and preserve the heritage of death care.” The museum, which is widely regarded as the largest funerary educational institution in the world and hosts a variety of exhibits, including Thanks For the Memories, which focuses on celebrity funerals. Additionally, the NMFH is also home to Celebrating the Lives and Deaths of the Popes. This exhibit contains vestments, funerary items, and even the Popemobile, and was designed in collaboration with the Vatican to make visitors feel as if they were part of the papal funeral process

Free Falling Falcon's Fury Debuts at Busch Gardens Tampa

You’ve probably heard the term “free-fall” before, but have you ever experienced one? Well, now’s your chance. Busch Gardens Tampa’s newest thrill ride, Falcon’s Fury, opened September 2 and is giving guests plenty to scream about. Falcon’s Fury is a free-standing drop-tower – the tallest one in North America. It climbs to a height of 335 feet, where it surprises riders by pivoting them 90 degrees into a face-down dive position. read more »

Planning a Family Getaway: Disneyland Attractions in Anaheim

Disneyland Attractions One of the most “magical” and family-friendly destinations to keep in mind is Disneyland in Anaheim, Ca. The theme park was opened in 1955 and conceptualized by the “man behind the mouse” himself, Walt Disney. To this day, the 160-acre expanse delights over 16 million guests each year, bringing families face-to-face with the timeless characters they grew up with and the friendly new faces their own children have come to love. The park plays host to a number of iconic rides and attractions. Disneyland tickets are available year-round in the perpetually sunny Magic Kingdom, making it an ideal place for a family vacation. If you’re thinking about mingling with Mickey and Minnie on the West coast, here are a few of our favorite spots that offer a little something for everyone. read more »

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