Monday, April 13, 2009

The Children's Museum of Indianapolis, part 1

I grew up totally spoiled. The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis is the largest children’s museum in the world, so it has been the standard I've always compare others to, and it's really not fair to them. When we visit my parents, it’s usually the highlight of our stay.
Admission is steep, so if you plan it visit more than once, a year’s pass is worth the money. There are group rates and various discounts you will want to check in to. You can buy tickets online, which I recommend because the line is always long. Better to skip straight to the will-call window. I’d avoid the “free” days, and also weekdays that school is out (MLK, Presidents' Day, etc)- those days are madhouses. Members have extended hours one Saturday and month, and Target sponsors free extended evening hours one Thursday a month. If you arrive and the garage is full (all parking is free), I suggest postponing your visit if you are directed to a 3rd tier (or more) satellite lot- it will be too crowded to be worthwhile. Right now they are building another addition, so the skywalk from the parking garage is closed and pedestrians have to cross a five lane road. They have traffic guards, but as you can imagine, this snarls up the area pretty badly during peak arrival hours.

And by the way, if you are an out-of-towner, be make sure you study the roads into and out of the area, because the museum is in the heart of some, um, unsavory neighborhoods. The last thing you want is to make a wrong turn and end up lost. The museum area itself is clean and well policed, but two blocks out and you are entering unsafe territory.

Check the website for info on rotating exhibits. Right now they are running an X-Men thing and a Lego castle exploration area. The planetarium is currently running a “Worlds of Star Wars” show to complement a visiting Clone Wars exhibit. Get your free tickets online or bright and early, we have never managed to get there early enough.

There’s no food or drinks allowed in the museum, but there is a cafeteria with pizza, burgers, deli sandwiches, and sugary goodies. Prices are fairly reasonable, but you can bring your own food and eat in the Sack Lunch Room on the second floor behind the water-clock. It can be full of school kids on field trips, so you may have to use it off peak hours, but we often see other large families brown-bagging it. Bring your own drinks- there are price-gouging vending machines available if you are desperate.

Since the place is so big, I’ll start with the rotating exhibits.

LEGO Castle Adventure
As to be expected, there are lots of legos to play with- ranging from foamy big blocks, to duplos, to the conventional ones which have 6 tables so there’s plenty of elbow room.

There’s also a handful of castles built after real ones in Europe. You can either walk around them or rotate them on a pedestal to get a 360 view.

There are areas to read or dress up and joust, and also a video catapult game where you try to knock down a castle wall. I think the kids could have stayed in there all day.

STAR WARS: The Clone Wars

This was a bit disappointing. It’s all in the basement corner near the planetarium, and consists mainly of a few costumes and movie props and conceptual drawings. Maybe with the planetarium show it would have been better. Kids were falling all over themselves to stand next to the life-size cut-outs for pictures, though.
In the main entrance they have Obi-Wan’s star fighter displayed- since you can’t get to it, I think it’s the real one from the movie.

We didn’t do the X-men thing, so a brief word on their water clock, which stands in the main entrance. It’s one of the largest in the world, and runs on gravity, physics, and a single pump to get water to the top. The area around it gathers a crowd at the top of every hour so people can watch the minutes drain out. The best time to see it is at 1pm when both hours and minutes drain, and they have an interactive info session on how the clock works.

Tune in later for more on The Children’s Museum!

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