What: Pensacola Children’s Museum; Where: 115 Zaragoza Street; When: Tues-Sat from 10am to 4pm; Cost: $3 per person including adults
When I first heard that Pensacola was getting a children’s museum, I began dreaming about taking my kids to a museum like Biloxi’s Lynn Meadows Discovery Center, Mobile’s Exploreum or the Louisiana Children’s Museum in New Orleans. I have always said that Pensacola would benefit from a museum like this. When I first visited the Pensacola Children’s Museum, I admit that I was a little put off by the fact that I was now paying $3 per person for admission for some things we used to be able to play with for free (Disclosure: We were invited to the Opening Reception so we did not have to pay for our visit).
BUT — The day after we visited the museum, my kids wouldn’t stop talking about all the fun things they did and how they want to go back. As I listened to their chatter, I realized that they were mostly talking about the new exhibits, not just the items moved from the TT Wentworth.
Upon further reflection, I realized that if you go to the Pensacola Children’s Museum expecting something like the Exploreum than you will probably be disappointed. But, if you go into your experience at the Pensacola Children’s Museum with an open mind than you will be blown away by how beautiful it is and how thoughtful the exhibits are. Maybe a better name would have been Pensacola Children’s History Museum?
My pal, Jay, wrote a wonderful review about his experience at the museum (where he was a paying customer). I think that it is a great review and I am thankful that he has given it to me to share with you.
Side note: The pictures are mine and were taken from my cell phone. I pulled the rookie mistake of not checking my camera’s batteries before heading out the door.
Welcome back, Jay!
So, Pensacola Children’s Museum has opened its doors to the public now, and I had the opportunity to visit there with my kids (J.T.-7 and Jillian-4). Before I got to go, I was already hearing some buzz about the museum. Here’s an example of what I heard:
“I heard that it was just the play stuff from T.T. Wentworth Museum that they moved to a new building.”
“They are charging $3.00 per person now too. I just don’t know if it will be worth it to pay for that.”
I actually overheard this conversation between two moms before I had even heard that there was a new museum. I feel the need to preface my review with it because I was, admittedly, biased by it. After hearing these comments, I was already asking myself whether or not the drive downtown and the three-dollar tickets would be worth it, but it was cloudy and rainstorms were predicted, and both kids had already endured a day at home the day before, so we loaded up in the daddy-van and headed out. I armed myself with a cooler bag full of juice pouches and a soda for myself and a printout of the Google map directions to 115 Zaragoza Street.
This review would be incomplete if I didn’t tell you about the 30 minutes we spent looking for the place. Now if someone had told me, “It’s on the corner of Tarragona and Zaragoza,” I would have been fine. The parking lot on that corner is our usual choice when we head to events in the park downtown, so I could have found it easily; even though I am so bad with directions I would probably get lost between the kitchen and the bathroom in my house without a GPS. Unfortunately, my wife Amber was at work, so she-who-can-find-anyplace was not available to clue me in and I had to rely on Google maps. Bad choice! The great Google has his downtown bearings all messed up. The map tried to direct us to Zaragoza way up by Florida Blanca Street, which is about 6-7 blocks too far down Zaragoza; a one way street. Finally, after a half hour of frustration and listening to my son telling me that I, “should have just asked Mom,” we made it to the museum. It took some restraint on my part to not burn the Google map printout in effigy in the parking lot, but if my suffering can keep someone else from the same, it’s worth it. Again let me be clear…the corner of Zaragoza and Tarragona is where you want to go!
We walked across the street and went into the museum, paid our $3 apiece, and entered the “Discovery Gallery;” which is, as I had heard, all of the same exhibits which were previously housed upstairs at the Wentworth. Now I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. In fact, my kids used to love going to play in that space and they were soon enjoying shooting each other with wooden muskets, loading up baskets of food from the store, “Ahoy matey-ing” aboard the pirate ship, and running amok.
I convinced them, using the lure of a ride in an elevator, to leave the play area and go with me to see the rest of the museum. When we arrived upstairs, a very nice lady dressed in period dress made sure we knew the rules for the upstairs area: no running, inside voices only, and please keep the display items in the rooms to which they belonged. Simple enough, I supposed, so we started through the 5 open rooms. Our first stop was the Maritime room, complete with displays and pictures of sailing ships and cargo ships. The room also had a magnetic “fishing hole,” an open cargo ship where the kids could load the ship with blocks, and a train set (which seemed disconnected from the theme of the room, but J.T. loves trains so I went with it.
The next room was the Multicultural Heritage room. This one had puzzles, a reading station with books and accompanying CDs, and a computer set up for a drawing game. There was a map on the wall that showed where different ethnic groups settled in Pensacola. Jill did a puzzle while J.T. read a book about Martin Luther King Jr.
The Army-Navy room was full of displays of the military history of our city; including a huge wooden aircraft carrier and planes which prompted the first “look” from the nice costumed docent when my kids started “flying” the planes around the room. There wasn’t much interactive play in that room.
The Fort room was a hit with both kids with its blocks and small cannons that the kids could use to build their own fortifications. They also liked the costumes in this room, an old army dress coat and hats, and a couple of the wooden rifles from downstairs. J.T. really liked seeing the real cannon mounting and actual period cannon balls.
The last room was the Indian room. Some of the stuff in this room was also relocated from the upstairs at T.T. Wentworth, including the wooden canoe, the campfire, and some of the food items. The kids liked this one too and once again earned a look from the docent when J.T. put on a costume and started stomping out a “rain dance.”
The entire upstairs lasted about thirty minutes before the kids were done and ready to go back downstairs to, as Jill put it, “the fun, running, shouting room.” In total, we were there for just over two hours, which, when you consider it against other two-hour indoor options around town, made the $3 tickets seem pretty reasonable. It would be even more worth it if we had combined it with some other downtown fun because the tickets are good for the entire day. Unfortunately, we weren’t prepared to spend more time downtown and the kiddos were hungry, so we had to head back home.
I took a look at some of the fliers/materials available by the entrance and found out that they do parties at the museum as well. For $100, you get 1.5 hours of time in the “Party Central” room and the ‘Discovery Gallery.” It did not mention a limit on the number of kids allowed at a party. I also found out that you can purchase an annual pass that also includes Wentworth, Historic Pensacola Village, and Arcadia Mill Archaeological site. I actually considered this for a second until I saw that the annual pass is good from “September to September” only; meaning a pass purchased today (June) would only be good for about 3 months. I also noted, on this information sheet, that they “reserve the right to ask children to ‘sit out’ for part of their visit if they are unable to follow the rules.” That would probably have been after one more encounter between my son and the docent and would have had me headed out the door, but I can’t blame them, I suppose.
By way of final thoughts, I would make three suggestions to the museum immediately. First, charge admission, sure, but charge it for the kids and not the parents. I’ve seen this done at other children’s museums and kid-centric places. It’s not unreasonable and it would likely encourage more parents to bring their kids. Second, change the annual pass policy! A year pass should be good for a year, no matter when it is purchased. Finally you MUST find a way to get some seating options in the “Discovery gallery” for adults. At Wentworth, they had benches in the outer area for parents to sit down while the kids played. In this new venue, parents were standing everywhere and getting stepped on and run into repeatedly because there were no places for us to sit down. If you are going to charge me $3, I don’t think a chair is a lot to ask. The kids had fun and, with better planning for a full day in the vicinity of the museum, probably would have been good for another hour or two of play, so I am sure we will go again, but not without some forethought on my part about how to make better use of this fun facility.
Thanks, Jay for sharing! If you want to read other posts by Jay, read about his experience on the Olin Marler, a dolphin cruise, his favorite place to watch the Blue Angel beach air show. He was also one of our Pensacola People to Know!
Have you been to the Pensacola Children’s Museum, yet? What did you think?