New York gets its first "fake ice" skating rink....But is it skate-able?

By Alison Rohrs
October 3, 2012
Courtesy American Museum of Natural History\D. Finnin

On Saturday, the American Museum of Natural History opened New York City's first synthetic ice-skating facility, the Polar Rink, on its outdoor terrace.

The eco-friendly rink reminds visitors about the effects of global warming with a 17-foot glowing polar bear centerpiece. Its "ice" is actually a plastic surface engineered to match the density of frozen water. Every morning, a light spray lubricates the surface for skaters. Thanks to the clever new material, the museum doesn't devour enormous amounts of energy the way traditional ice skating rinks do. It also doesn't need to spend money on Zamboni cleanings. The "ice" isn't biodegradable, but the museum can re-use the same sheets for several years, and then they recycle the plastic.

But can plastic skating still mean good fun? I went for a whirl to find out.

Lined with twinkling trees and awash in cool blue floodlights, the terrace felt like a winter wonderland. And the museum's other-worldly planetarium seemed appropriate, looming in the background.

When I stepped onto the strange material in the rink, I quickly learned two things: First, synthetic ice is harder to skate on. Second, it's softer when you fall.

It took a lot of leg strength to push myself a few inches, and I couldn't dig my blades in to get a stronger push. To be fair, I've never been the most graceful skater, but looking around, I noticed that no one else was either. Even experienced skaters felt their skills tested.

Falling wasn't a problem, though. The surface isn't wet or cold, and it has more bounce than ice. Plus, every wobbly skater had plenty of room to spread out: The 150-foot by 80-foot rink can accommodate up to 200 people in each one-hour session, but when I got there at 6 p.m. on a Sunday night, there were no more than 20 people on the ice. Another 15 or so spectators guarded shoes on the sidelines. (There are no lockers available, so pack lightly or bring a designated bag-watcher.)

One group that seemed to love the faux-ice were children, who happily shimmied around the edges. A pair of laughing kids crawled around the center on their hands and knees pretending to be polar bears, something that would be too cold to do on real ice.

I was happy to watch them from the adjacent snack shop, which serves rich hot chocolate ($3.25) and candy, small sandwiches, and pastries. It's a cozy place to take in the picturesque scene—and to rest your quads.

Open until February 28, 2008

Arthur Ross Terrace at the American Museum of Natural History, enter at 79th St. at Columbus Ave.

$10 per person per hour includes skate rental. (Children $8, seniors/students $9.) Sessions start on the hour.

If you prefer a traditional ice-skating experience, note that South Street Seaport is opening up an 8,000-square-foot rink (with real ice) on November 28. Details at

Plan Your Next Getaway
Keep reading

A few good links: Finding serenity at the airport

A few travel stories that caught my eye this past week: Airport Havens A website for finding the quiet spots at O'Hare and so many other stressful airports. [via Chicago Tribune] Debunking Thanksgiving myths at Plimoth Plantation A serious lack of pie is just the start of it. [CNN] Gucci frames for $20? Try Shanghai market "It's a shame the market's so hard to find, because it's a Four Eyes' dream." [Los Angeles Times] Google Maps Translate Reviews Suddenly that primo cafe is just a little easier to find… [Google Maps Mania] Across France, Café Owners Are Suffering …unless it's closed already (blame the smoking ban). [New York Times]


Experience Narnia in Philadelphia

Intrigued by the filming locations depicted in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian, but can't make it to New Zealand, Poland, or Slovakia this winter? Well, head to Philadelphia instead to get your fill of all things Narnia at the Franklin Institute when "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Exhibition" opens there this Friday, Nov. 28. The 10,000-square-foot interactive exhibit features scene displays, creatures, props, and costumes from both movies, while also explaining the science and natural history behind the fantasy world. Guests enter in a re-creation of author C.S. Lewis's study and then step through a wardrobe to find themselves in a wintry Narnia scene, complete with wind and falling snow. Highlights include a replica of the White Witch's throne that visitors can sit on to feel its icy chill, accompanied by a display on climate change; a section on King Miraz's castle from Prince Caspian where guests can build an arch, learn about the architectural strategies used in the design, and also witness a demonstration of a medieval catapulting weapon; and an area showcasing pieces of petrified history, including a 5-million-year-old cave bear tooth. The displays—supported by input from NASA and California Institute of Technology scientists—are especially designed to allow kids to question the validity of the fantastical elements in the movies: Can animals communicate with humans? Can a waterfall really freeze? Can we manipulate the weather? In the movies, the magic was grounded in reality. As Prince Caspian executive producer Perry Moore explains, "That kind of magic is related to nature. It's about the power of the planet and the power of the earth." The exhibit runs at the Franklin through Apr. 19, 2009. Tickets cost $22.25 for adults and $17.50 for kids before 5:30 p.m., which also includes regular museum admission; after 5:30 p.m., adults pay $10.50 and kids pay $9.50. Tickets are sold online. Narnia-themed packages are also available at local hotels. Philadelphia is the second stop on the traveling exhibit's multi-city tour. It debuted in Phoenix's Arizona Science Center in June and will visit eight more cities in the U.S. and Canada over the next five years. EARLIER Q&A; with editor of On Location Vacations, about movie quest travel Philly tour guides will have to pass history tests Interview with the director of Quantum of Solace about how to do James Bond travel


New York: A cool hotel for under $100 a night is adding rooms

A visit to New York—one of the most expensive cities in the country—might not seem wise in the current economic climate, but maybe this will help: We know of a hotel where you can pay less than $100 per night. Are the rooms big and plush? Well, no. They're tiny, and most guests share a communal bathroom. But they're stylish, clean, and have more high-tech amenities than some hotels that cost three times as much. The Jane Hotel The West Village location is a whole lot cooler than midtown, where most of the city's hotels are, and the newly restored 1907 building has a heck of a lot more character. The $99 rooms each have a single bed with built-in drawers, a luggage rack, free Wi-Fi, a phone with voicemail, an LCD television, a DVD player, and an iPod docking station. Sixty rooms are currently open, and the remaining 140 will open in the New Year. If you're feeling flush, you can go for one of the 30 queen rooms, most of which will have their own bathrooms (rates haven't been set yet, but will probably be in the mid-$200s). In February, a ballroom bar and breakfast venue will open (breakfast will be included in the $99), and in the summer, look for a rooftop bar and basement pool. 113 Jane Street, 212/924-6700, MORE GREAT HOTELS New York City at a Price That's Right 2008 We found eight affordable hotels, including The Pod Hotel in Midtown East where a room with bunk beds starts at $89 per night. Rooms have iPod docking stations, LCD televisions, free Wi-Fi, telephone with voicemail, in-room safes, closets, and a table and chair. Larger rooms, some with private bathrooms, start at $109. Check out the full list of hotels…


Should churches have gift shops and coffee shops?

Some of Europe's greatest contributions to art and architecture have been in its churches. But Europeans are donating less and less money to churches. So there's less money on hand to maintain these gorgeous buildings. This trend really hit home for me during a summer visit to Haarlem, a town in the Netherlands. I dropped by the Grote Kerk (or Sint Bavokerk), a Protestant church. Its Gothic buttresses inspire passersby to look upward. Its organ (shown here) has an astonishingly rich sound despite being more than three centuries old. Handel and Mozart are said to have played on it. I was surprised to see a coffee shop in one part of the church. Some pews had been cleared away, and an espresso machine with some tables had been filled in. The goal was not to offer treats after a service to encourage parishioners to mingle. Instead it was to earn some extra cash. I had never seen a café in a church before, but I've often seen churches try to earn money on tourists. Elsewhere in Europe, the line between where a church ends and a gift shop begins is often blurred. Have you ever witnessed this? If so, feel free to share any thoughts or stories.