In retrospect, I picked probably one of the top 10 worst days on the calendar to bring my two kids – Boy age 9 3/4 and Girl age 7 – to the new Children’s Museum in City Park. Not only was it my patron Saint Day (National Introvert Day –seriously), it was the day after New Year’s when everyone is looking to get small children out of their house. Here’s what you need to know to have a much more successful trip than I had.
The location of the new Museum is miles and light years away from the previous location on Julia Street. City Park is always easy on the eyes no matter what direction you turn and this particular spot is especially gorgeous. They have done a fantastic job of incorporating the famous oaks into the landscape so that the building looks like it was meant to be in that exact spot. Even my child self who was not keen on nature would have been enchanted.
So, the good news is that parking is free which is a considerable improvement over having virtually no option but to pay for parking in a surface lot downtown. The bad news is that the parking that is near the Museum is. . . not plentiful. If there were thirty spaces I would be surprised. It was already completely full by the time we rolled up at 10AM. There is parking all up and down the roads leading to and from the museum, but a bit of a hike is then required. I ended up parking on the side of the road which was not ideal. Pro-tip: get there right before opening or even a little earlier if you want primo parking.
Even if there wasn’t a steady stream of strollers and pitter-pattering feet all heading in the same direction, the entrance to the museum would be impossible not to find. Of course, the gift shop was the first thing in view but the swirly seats were also a good clue.
The admission process was not as well run as it could have been. Those with memberships were allowed to bypass the rest of us, but there was no designated lane and I saw at least one uber-Mom with jogging stroller cut in front of other members flashing her card like it was a badge, leaving other members who had been in line before her justifiably annoyed.
It took a while for us to get to the front of the line but once we did, it was super fast to pay and get in. The total for all of us was $42 as even one year-olds are considered adults price wise. The cheapest membership is $100 per year for one adult and one child. For both kids and one or two adults, we would need to get the $160 membership which would pay for itself in three visits per year. Pro-tip: It looks like you can buy tickets online but I don’t know if that fixes the problem of the bottleneck at the door.
The Mississippi River Exhibit
My husband had taken the kids to the museum back on Parish Fair Day and my son was adamant that we needed to go upstairs to the Mississippi River Exhibit FIRST. I vaguely remembered the river exhibit at the last museum, but this was truly impressive.
What was not so impressive was the noise. See those large ceilings that create an open and airy space? They also cause every noise to reverberate including the wall of hand dryers – yes, the loud hand dryers that you find in the restroom – that were constantly whirring up and turning off as kids dried their hands. It was like being stuck in a closet with a leaf blower and you never knew when it was going to turn on. Pro-tip: if you are the slightest bothered by loud, uncontrolled noise, bring ear plugs. Small kids who are noise sensitive would probably do well with headphones.
My kids easily spent an hour playing with the river exhibit testing out the locks, dams, and other features. It was ingeniously designed and was perfectly accessible for toddlers (who are provided with giant rubber bibs to try to keep them somewhat dry) to pre-tweens interested in hydrodynamics.
I finally dragged them away because my head was about to burst from the noise and we went downstairs to the practical life area. This was not as noisy, but it was just as busy. I was thrilled to see the grocery store was still there (why do we all want to operate the cash register?) and the veterinarian area was always a hit. Kids spent another hour in this area mostly at the recycling plant operation which was cool but splattered little balls everywhere.
We went over to the Acorn Cafe for lunch. It was a relatively nice day and the place was packed. I was amused to see that beer and wine were sold but for some reason no soda products. I saw numerous adults partaking of the beer (on tap!) and wine options while I was stuck with the choice of tea (sweet and unsweet) or water when what I really wanted was a Diet Coke ( I would have even settled for a Diet Pepsi). I chose water.
I also got each kid their own kids meal and a meal for me. Girl child is notoriously picky about her chicken fingers and Mr. Brennan’s offerings did not pass muster. Meanwhile, the Boy snarfed down the two pieces of pizza I got him and refused to help his sister with the chicken fingers (which were quite good). So, I ended up eating twice as many calories as necessary. In retrospect, I should have just ordered one large cheese pizza for all three of us. It would have been less expensive and somewhat less of a caloric bomb.
Then I let them loose on the grounds. This was easily my favorite part because it was not loud and not loud. There were not as many places to sit on the periphery – maybe I’m supposed to actually play with my kids – but it was comfortable nonetheless. And, they had grand time since they almost immediately found the other stream and began to wade in it.
About an hour later, I began to give them the usual wind down warnings and they began the usual negotiations to stay longer, but since I had the keys and I was the only one who could drive, it was literally my way or no highway, so we headed out. We had not even left the building before they started asking when we could go back. I think I’m almost ready to give it another try.