We spent the morning at the Children's Museum of Houston today. We actually have an annual pass - the one that gets 6 people in, so I went with a friend who had a five year old and a baby and it covered them too. Phew, am I tired!
Here's a cool interactive map for prospective visitors.
If you haven't been lately they have completely renovated and grown in size - the expansion that was opened in mid-March doubled the size of the museum to 900,000 square feet, which was much needed. There are seven new exhibits which range from the baby-friendly Tot Spot to the all-new outdoor water feature, FlowWorks, and the energy burning Power Play which features a 3-story climbing PowerTower.
My kids, at 5.5 and just-turned 4 adore the FlowWorks (that sounds like something to do with toilets to me, but I digress...) water feature and next to that, the native red-eared sliders (turtles) outside, which are part of the ecology exhibit. The ecology area is actually very easy to miss on your way to flashier destinations, but it has a lovely butterfly garden, turtle pond, and a nice quiet air conditioned lodge with information about our Texan-grown wildlife.
The Beastlings also enjoyed the Kidtropolis area, though they find the concept of ATM cards which are used throughout, a little confusing still. I think that area is probably better for age six and up to reap the full benefit of the concepts.
Another hit was the How People Make Things exhibit, which shows how toys and other items are made - it includes a robot that assembles a toy - the kids could barely tear themselves away from watching it!
Misses include The Matter Factory which would be better for older (say 6-10) kids but is also positioned in an awkward area with people traipsing through constantly to get to somewhere else which detracts from the purpose. We also didn't bother with Invention Convention, though it looks fantastic for the older set - I'm sure ages 8-12 would have a great time in it.
Unfortunately, we decided to go on a day that apparently every single stay at home mom, vacation Bible school, daycare, preschool, and day camp decided to attend. For the first time ever that I have seen, there was a line out the door to the sidewalk ten minutes past opening, which did not bode well. And as feared, it was very crowded, really to the point of unpleasantness in many areas. I have no doubt that we would have enjoyed it much more on a less crowded day, though I have yet to figure out what day that might be. We might try going on a Sunday when daycares and preschools and such are closed and many families are at their place of worship - certainly it can't be more crowded than today.
They recently changed the rules to charge for any baby over 12 months. My 13 month old was in her sling or stroller 99% of the time - she wasn't feeling well due to molars and with the crowd, I couldn't let her out anyway. As a result, I would have been unhappy had I actually had to pay for her to come in. The old rule was that under-24 months were eligible for free admission and older toddlers do enjoy it. I think 18 months would have been a fairer cut-off point, personally.
Another new rule is that no outside food is allowed. Previously outside food was welcomed, but now they would prefer you purchase their overpriced, but not otherwise terrible Kid Cafe offerings. There are signs on all the tables reminding you that outside food is not permitted, however many families obviously did bring their own lunches and no one seemed to be enforcing the rule, which is good, because honestly, enforcing the rule would take the museum out of many families' reach financially. As we all know, little kids cannot wait to eat (trust me, I've tried and it's not pretty), so waiting until you leave just isn't practical. With our allergies I prefer to bring our own food and until I get booted out of the building, will continue to do so.
Positives are that the staff is fantastic and always willing to help out. There is always someone at each exhibit to help if you have any questions about how it works or something more basic, like where is the nearest changing table. I give the staff high marks for being so personable when they are dealing with such a constant crowd and probably a few brats (adult AND child) as well.
I also love that the exhibits in the main (old) building rotate regularly, so there is always something new to see there. We'll probably go back in a month - our pass expires in August, so I need to feel like I've gotten my money's worth out of it, which is ridiculous, but hey, whatever.
If you go, look us up - we'll meet you there.