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Let’s Play!

Strap on your seatbelts, kids, it’s going to be a bumpy ride—but it’s all for fun and for learning at the children’s museums located in or within an easy drive of Kentucky. You can use your outside voices in these sprawling indoor playgrounds and you can touch pretty much everything you see; in fact, the buzzwords here are hands-on, interactive, and do-it-yourself, and the only rule is to explore to your heart’s content.

The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis
Even before you enter the building, the dinosaurs lumbering about the grounds of The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis set the tone, screaming—no, roaring!—”Kids have fun here.”

And, boy, do they ever.

From a dino dig set in the Cretaceous Period 65 million years ago, to the rock climbing and construction site, to the working 1917 carousel replete with original carved horses, and a lot of roll-up-your-sleeves busyness in between, this five-story, 472,900-square-foot museum rocks kid fun like nobody’s business.

Spiral your way from the bottom floor to the top, stopping in at the National Geographic Treasures of the Earth exhibit to explore the burial chamber of an ancient Egyptian; be awed by mysterious Terra Cotta Warriors found in massive pits in Xi’an, China; and study old maps in a quest to identify an authentic shipwreck found in the shallows off the coast of the Dominican Republic. Is it the long-lost shipwreck of notorious pirate Captain William Kidd? Time to excavate artifacts buried at the bottom of the ocean for some answers.

Dust the sand off your hands before catching one of several shows in the Lilly Theatre or full-dome SpaceQuest Planetarium, building your own model aircraft, or sending a Morse code message from 1890s Madison, Indiana, where a 35-foot-long, 55-ton Reuben Wells steam engine holds court. Explore floor by floor, encountering miniature doll rooms, spiders, costumes, and much more along the way.

With more than 16 regular and traveling exhibits, this museum is as much fun for adults as it is for kids. Watch geckos strut their stuff with 18 live species, through May 15; Hot Wheels For Real, collectibles as well as life-size versions, through May 27; Avatar: The Exhibition, June 22-September 22; and Haunted House—50 Years of Fear in October, rated one of the Top Ten Haunted Houses in the nation by Rand McNally.

Explorium of Lexington
Closer to home at the Explorium of Lexington, kids can surround themselves within a giant bubble, hop and bop to activate sounds and colors projected beneath their feet, play virtual soccer, climb into a colossal mouth showing its teeth, splish-splash in water, and ride the Brain Bike.

Formerly called the Lexington Children’s Museum, the Explorium has nine discovery zones offering special programs throughout the year, including making crafts like pinch pots. The Explorium Store is a fun place for kids to spend their own hard-earned money because among the science-related toys, games, and puzzles is a large selection of items priced less than $5.

City Museum, St. Louis
This is where the imagination ran—no, galloped—wild (and still does). From the shaggy ceiling and wide-mouthed whale, to a 19th-century frontier log cabin that was once home to Daniel Boone’s son, to the elaborate Enchanted Caves, a 10-story spiral slide, City Museum is a breathtaking adventure that unleashes nonstop fun throughout its 600,000 action-packed square feet. And topping it off, literally, is a Ferris wheel giving riders a 360-degree view of St. Louis, including a glimpse of the iconic Arch.

Housed within City Museum is a separate attraction, the World Aquarium, with a shark tank and crawl-through glass tunnel.

The museum was created by the late sculptor Bob Cassilly with help from lots of other artists to construct this mash-up of romper room/funhouse/architectural elements graveyard where everything, including the fiberglass insulation fabric “icicles” on the first floor ceiling, is made from reclaimed building materials, such as bridges, old chimneys, and abandoned planes.

“We build on a whim,” says museum director Rick Erwin.

Those impulses have led to a new climber inside the outdoor castle that takes you four stories up through the center of the castle, the world’s largest tennis racket (currently awaiting a home), and a bunch of new Louis Sullivan “father of skyscrapers” architectural elements that are now located in the third floor Architectural Museum.

The latest zaniness spawned at the museum are an outdoor dragon slide, a tree house climber, and something Erwin describes as a “bunch of ceiling climbers that let you spy on the people below” made out of rebar and gym lockers.

Duke Energy Children’s Museum at Cincinnati Museum Center
The wilderness awaits in one exhibit at this children’s museum located inside the massive Union Terminal, a National Historic Landmark, built in 1933 as a train station. Burrow through hollow logs, climb up into the tree house, and crawl through a rope tunnel, collecting clues about fossils and animals as you go. Step into the Energy Zone with its colorful balls, sprockets, and activity stations to help fill the Big Bucket—but be forewarned: when the bell goes off, it’s time to get out of the way as balls, balls, and more balls rain down from above.

Step into the remodeled “Kids’ Town,” grab a mini shopping cart, and find your favorite snacks and veggies at the Kroger Store. Unload your purchases on the counter and ring them up at the cash register. Have a sick puppy? Head to new exhibit Banfield Pet Hospital and check your (stuffed) pet’s vital signs and review his X-rays after weighing Fido and scanning him for his microchip.

This museum is part of the Cincinnati Museum Center, which also comprises the OMNIMAX Theater, Cincinnati History Museum, and the Museum of Natural History & Science—where kid-sized fun is exploring the replica limestone cave and walking the Ice Age Trail.


Kids play here

The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis
(317) 334-3322
Admission: $18.50 general; $17.50 seniors; $13.50 ages 2-17. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily through August; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday, September-February. Free parking.

City Museum, St. Louis
(314) 231-2489
Admission: $12 general (ages 3 and up); $10 after 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday; $5 The Roof (seasonal attraction, May-October); $6 World Aquarium (additional with City Museum admission). Hours: mid-March-Labor Day, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 9 a.m.-midnight Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays Labor Day-mid-March.

Duke Energy Children’s Museum at Cincinnati
Museum Center
(513) 287-7000, (800) 733-2077
Admission: All Museum Pass + OMNIMAX Theater: $16 general; $15 seniors; $11 ages 3-12; $4.50 ages 1-2. All Museum Pass: $12.50 general; $11.50 seniors; $8.50 ages 3-12; $4.50 ages 1-2. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday. Parking $6; $4 after 4 p.m.

Explorium of Lexington
(859) 258-3253
Admission: $8 ages 1 and older. Hours: 10 a.m.-5p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; 1-5 p.m. Sunday. Open Mondays during the summer.


For another 12 Kentucky museums offering kid as well as adult fun, go to here.

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