By Kelly Hodgson
After hearing lots of positive comments about The Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York, we booked a weekend trip with some friends and headed down to see what it was all about. All four kids (ages 4,5,6 and 8) had a blast and we spent a jam packed four hours exploring the many exhibits the museum had to offer. I would definately recommend this museum – tons of interactive play options! They do have baby specific areas but my thoughts are that kids 3 and up would get the most out of this museum.
Here are some tips and information to make your trip just as successful as ours.
1. Getting There
The drive was about 2 hours and 20 minutes from Oakville. Make sure you have some US Cash. The tolls cost us $3 USD on the way down to Rochester and $6.50 USD on the way back. And of course, don't forget your passports!
2. Making A Weekend Of It
If you are planning on staying overnight when you visit the Museum of Play, I recommend the Homewood Suites by Hilton in Greece, New York. It's about a 15 minute drive from the museum but had lots of great amenities close by. There was a Starbucks on the corner and an overpass to walk over the highway which led you to an Olive Garden or Applebee's.
We booked a one bedroom suite which gave us all a bit more space and used the kitchen to serve snacks and lunch. There was a Wegmans grocery store not too far away so we decided to save some money and avoid eating out at a restaurant for every meal.
The hotel stay did include breakfast and there is a pool on site. The pool is small, but did the trick of entertaining the kids – we were in the pool twice in just over 24 hours.
3. Museum Admission And Parking
The museum does offer free but limited parking on a first come, first served basis. Once the onsite lot at the museum is full, there are other pay lots close by. We arrive on Sunday at noon (the museum is open on Sundays from 12-5pm) and had no trouble getting free parking.
The museum admission rate is $13.50 USD per person, kids under the age of 2 are free. You should also plan on having some extra USD for the carousel that is right at the entry of the museum ($1 per child) and the train ride inside the museum ($1 per child).
They currently have an exhibit called Boardwalk Arcade (runs until September 7, 2015) which has arcade games and pinball machines from several eras. Some of the games can be played for free, but some do require tokens to be purchased – $1 US gets you 5 tokens. Money collected from the sale of tokens goes towards the maintenance and preservation of the machines.
4. Eating At The Museum
Coolers and lunch bags are not allowed to be brought into the museum. There is a food court on site that has a Taco Bell, Subway, Pizza Hut Express and an ice cream counter. There are also several vending machines at the back of the food court that offer a very wide variety of options – both snacks and drinks. Bill Gray’s Restaurant is located in the museum’s atrium and is a funky vintage dinner serving burgers and milkshakes.
5. What Is There To Do?
If it is your first time visiting, the museum suggests a minimum of a 4 hour visit. We stayed for four hours and felt we saw everything but there were for sure things our kids would have gone back to and played with again. Exhibits do change over the year, so make sure you check what's going on before you go.
There is TONS to do. I loved how interactive everything was and really allowed the kids to get into vast imaginative play. The post office had actual keys for them to use to check the mail, the car they sat in had a key to turn that made a sound like an engine starting up and the brake peddle sounded like the brakes being put on. They LOVED all the real life things they got to do.
You can find a full list of exhibits here. Note that to visit the Dancing Wings Butterfly Garden, you'll need to pay an extra $4 admission and you will receive a specific time frame to visit the garden. We didn't pay for this extra exhibit.
6. Favourite Exhibits
It would depend on the age of your kids perhaps, but our favourites were:
I am so glad we made this trip. Was a great, quick getaway that we all enjoyed. It was awesome to see our kids engaged and immersed in such imaginative play for so long, they really did have a fantastic time.
There are also some wonderful quotes on the importance of play on the walls of different exhibits that I really enjoyed reading and so I leave you with just one that resonated with me.
“We are never more fully alive, more completely ourselves, or more deeply engrossed in anything than when we are playing.” -Charles Schaefer