This hands-on, kids-centric attraction is anything but museum-like. Exhibitions are 100% hands-on: Everything is made to be jumped upon, entered in, bent, splashed, ridden, and otherwise played with. Oh yes, and it's educationally and culturally enriching, too, especially for children ages 3 to 12. In 2008, the museum relocated to historic Memorial Hall in Fairmount Park where it's no longer within walking distance to Center City, but it does allow for supereasy parking (for a fee). Also, the new space is many times bigger -- and encompasses a 9,000-square-foot housing for a mint condition carousel (ca. 1824).
Enter between the Beaux Arts columns of Memorial Hall, site of the Centennial Exposition of 1876 (the first-ever world's fair) -- and prepare to be impressed. A whopping $88 million went into the restoration of this grand structure. And, while it's seems a bit disproportionate to have a bunch of kids getting somewhat soaked while playing with plastic boats floating around waist-high pools in the River Adventures, climbing into a mini-SEPTA bus, fake shopping at a low-shelved supermarket, or play-working on a construction zone amid such architectural grandeur, the children sure don't seem to mind. Some exhibits are obviously tailored to toddlers; others, like the magically rendered Alice in Wonderland maze, seem better for children of reading age.
The larger facility allows for a nice little cafe that serves pizza, sandwiches, salads, and fruit -- although if school's out, it's not quite large enough. It also offers an expanded space for daily activities such as storytelling and crafts. Grown-ups that grew up locally will likely appreciate the Philly-centric exhibits of an old monorail from John Wanamaker and the set of Captain Noah. But best of all is the staff: Everyone here is absolutely professional in the art of pleasing kids. During my last visit, I saw the carousel operator offer a free ride to a child without a ticket. The worker told the parent she didn't want to disappoint the child. They're pros, here, for sure, but they are definitely not day-care workers. Parents and guardians cannot simply drop the kids off and come back to pick them up in a couple of hours -- and adults wouldn't want to. It's an absolute joy watching kids have so much fun together. It's also a great place to celebrate a child's birthday if you plan ahead.
- © Frommer's 2013
- Highly Recommended 2010