The Christmas and Hanukkah holidays are almost upon us, and you know what that means: Soon your children will be running around the house like maniacs, fighting with their siblings, tracking snow all over your floors, and breaking stuff. Fun! Alas, the 10-day festival of cabin fever known as School Vacation can be interrupted here or there for a quick jaunt, a day trip, or even an overnight away. Here are a few places where you can keep the whole family amused next week.
The most obvious place to entertain the kids is right here. If they are little, start with the Boston Children’s Museum. I always enjoy the “Johnny’s Workbench’’ room, perhaps because my home-repair skills have yet to progress past that point. On the other hand, there’s the “Big & Little’’ exhibit, which is all about proportion and scale, up through Jan. 2. Older kids will prefer the Museum of Science, whose devastating “A Day in Pompeii’’ show - with its body casts of victims who perished in the lava - is drawing acclaim. If I did not have three beehives and 30,000 honeybees in my backyard, I might also be interested in the glassed-in beehive that provides a window onto apiarian life. For windows onto aquatic life, there’s the New England Aquarium, whose new Shark and Ray Touch Tank is attracting crowds. The penguins may never be unseated as the aquarium’s cutest creatures, but you can’t pet them - and you have not lived until you have petted a cownose ray. Usually you cannot do much touching at the Museum of Fine Arts, but its galleries offer plenty of children’s programs, especially during school vacations. We would be happy to stare all day at Dale Chihuly’s Lime Green Icicle Tower. Boston Children’s Museum, 308 Congress St., 617-426-6500, www.bostonkids.org; $12 admission, free under age 1. Museum of Science, 1 Science Park, 617-723-2500, www.mos.org; admission $22 for 12 and older, $20 seniors, $19 ages 3-11. New England Aquarium, 1 Central Wharf, 617-973-5200, www.neaq.org; $22.95 for 12 and older, $20.95 for seniors, $15.95 ages 3-11. Museum of Fine Arts, 465 Huntington Ave., 617-267-9300, www.mfa.org; $22 adults, $20 students and seniors, free under age 18
Forget about the shortened NBA season. You can relive the league’s glory days at the Basketball Hall of Fame, which honors the game in the city where it was born with interactive exhibits, artifacts, game balls, and once-sweaty jerseys. Downtown, five museums operate under the auspices of the Springfield Museums - and charge only one admission price to get in all of them. Try jamming visits to two art museums, two local history museums (well, one is temporarily closed), and a science museum into one afternoon. If forced to choose, I think I might head for the Lyman & Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History and its collection of more than two dozen Indian motorcycles. (I would much rather look at motorcyles than hear them.) Right outside the museums is the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden, a whimsical collection of bronze renditions of Theodor Geisel’s most famous characters, such as Yertle the Turtle, the Lorax, and the Cat in the Hat. After dark, it is imperative to hit Bright Nights at Forest Park, a display of 600,000 holiday lights along a 3-mile route that is among the best in the nation.
Basketball Hall of Fame, 1000 West Columbus Ave., 413-781-6500, www.hoop hall.com; $16.99 adults, $13.99 seniors, $11.99 children 5-15. Springfield Museums, 21 Edwards St., 800-625-7738, www.springfieldmuseums.org; $12.50 adults, $9 seniors and students, $6.50 children 3-17. Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden, 21 Edwards St., www.catinthehat.org, free admission. Bright Nights at Forest Park, off Sumner Avenue, www.bright nights.org., $15 to $18 per vehicle
While far smaller than Boston’s, the Providence Children’s Museum offers a variety of hands-on exhibits that warrant the trip down Interstate 95. The “Waterways’’ room - where you can squirt H20 from fountains and figure out how best to flow water in order to direct ships through mazes - is a boatload of fun. Trinity Repertory Company’s annual production of “A Christmas Carol,’’ which changes every year, is a highlight of theatergoing in New England, and the shows that run between Christmas and New Year’s are among the easiest to score tickets to. The Roger Williams Park Zoo is open year-round, and in the cold weather you can view the giraffes, seals, and tamarins without having to elbow between other people. If you think the rink at New York’s Rockefeller Plaza looks enticing, try ice skating at Kennedy Plaza, which is twice the size. No skates? You can rent a pair. Providence Children’s Museum, 100 South St., 401-273-5437, www.childrenmuseum.org; admission $8.50, free under age 1. Trinity Repertory Company, 201 Washington St., 401-351-4242, www.trinity rep.com; tickets $15-$66. Roger Williams Park Zoo, 1000 Elmwood Ave., 401-785-3510, www.rogerwilliamsparkzoo.org; $12 adults, $8 children 3-12 and seniors. Kennedy Plaza, 2 Kennedy Plaza, 401-331-5544 ext. 5, www.kennedy plaza.org; $6 adults, $3 children 12 and under and seniors, $4 skate rental
The village of Mystic is a veritable playground for those who like to be near, and learn about, the sea and our relationship with it. Mystic Aquarium, right off I-95, is a world-class showcase of marine life with mesmerizing exhibits of beluga whales and jellies. Ole Mistick Village, which sits outside the aquarium, is no run-of-the-mill shopping center. Its 40 stores, arranged along pleasant brick pathways, specialize in everything from cowboys and fine chocolates to Tibetan crafts and Scandinavian gifts. Around the corner, Mystic Seaport re-creates life in a New England fishing village in the 19th century, complete with tall ships to board and explore. In addition to mingling with the living-history actors, kids can build toy boats and learn to tie sailor’s knots. A few miles away in Groton, the USS Nautilus, which was built at nearby Electric Boat, is the big draw at the Submarine Force Museum. Visitors can clamber aboard and experience what it was like to serve aboard the world’s first nuclear-powered sub. Mystic Aquarium, 55 Coogan Blvd., 860-572-5955, www.mysticaquarium .org; $29 adults, $26 seniors, $21 children 3-17. Ole Mistick Village, 27 Coogan Blvd., 860-536-4941, www.oldemistickvillage.com. Mystic Seaport, 75 Greenmanville Ave., 888-973-2767, www.mysticseaport.org; $24 adults, $22 seniors and students, $15 children 6-17. Submarine Force Museum, 1 Crystal Lake Road, Groton, 800-343-0079, www .ussnautilus.org; free admission
O VERNIGHT | CAMDEN, MAINE
One of my favorite family winter destinations is Camden, but the four-hour trip there will necessitate an overnight. It’s plenty worth it, especially if there’s a good deal of snow on the ground. One could spend all day (and one has) at the Camden Snow Bowl, which boasts ski slopes and trails, a tubing hill, a skating pond, and New England’s only wooden toboggan chute. (If you have yet to speed down the toboggan chute at 40 miles per hour, you don’t know what you’re missing.) Camden Hills State Park is a great spot for snowshoeing, with miles of maintained trails - both flat and uphill; take your pick - and acres upon acres of peace and quiet. Later on you will want to warm up indoors, which can be done at any number of shops and cafes along Main Street. Not to be missed is The Owl & Turtle Bookshop, which is widely considered the best independent bookstore in Maine. The well-appointed children’s room makes it a required stop for young families. Camden Snow Bowl, 20 Barnestown Road, 207-236-3438, www .camdensnowbowl.com; prices vary. Camden Hills State Park, 280 Belfast Road, 207-236-3109, www.maine.gov/cgi-bin/online/doc/parksearch/index.pl; off-season admission is $1.50 adults, free under age 12. The Owl & Turtle Bookshop, 32 Washington St., 207-236-4769, www.owlandtur tle.com