The Glazer Children's Museum opens Saturday for kids and everyone who acts like one. Thinking about having a child or adding to the herd? One tour of all the fun exhibits and you'll be clipping diaper coupons before you know it. The Times, along with 60 winning families and other media members, got a sneak peek at the $20 million museum this week. Here's a bit of what we discovered and what to expect.
What's so special about it?
The 170 "interactivities'' and 12 themed areas are both entertaining and educational. There's such a diverse mix of offerings, from arts to sports, that every child can find something to enjoy. That everything is brand new, from the lab coats in the hospital to the pepperoni slices in the pizza shop, adds to the experience and, at least for now, gives the museum the edge over other area attractions. Beyond the exhibits, the museum has idyllic views of kids playing at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park and splashing in the fountain along Ashley Drive. The Tampa skyline and University of Tampa minarets are a stunning urban backdrop.
What ages will like it?
It caters to children from infants to 10, although tweens and even teens with younger siblings will enjoy it as well. A few places are age-specific, such as the Tug Boat Tots area, where toddlers can sit in a carpeted tug boat and play with stuffed sea creatures and bath toys to the music of Row, Row, Row Your Boat. Water's Journey, the netted climbing area that shows the path of water from aquifer to city, is best-suited to older kids.
What not to miss?
We've seen mini cities elsewhere, but this one really shines. The Publix supermarket has digital checkout scanners that show the name of the item and price on a screen. The veterinary clinic has stethoscopes and blood pressure cuffs for treating stuffed dogs and cats. The hospital has a three-layer puzzle of the human body showing the veins and organs, the skeleton and the muscles. There's a pizza parlor and a sandwich shop where kids can prepare fake food. At the fire station, kids can slide down a pole or ride in a fire truck with a video simulator of Tampa streets that kids can control. Younger kids, in particular, enjoyed the water area with boats, water wheels and a wavemaker. Parents appreciated the "sandless'' beach area for digging up buried coins. The beach has tiny rubber particles that look like sand but don't stick.
What's particularly unique?
Artsy kids could spend a few hours in Art Smart and still find things to do. Make a sculpture with pool noodles, write your name in fluorescent light or watch yourself dance on TV. And that's the beginning. The drama queens — and kings — in the family will enjoy the Twinkle Stars Theatre, where kids can pretend to produce their own show with lights, sounds and costumes and act it on stage in front of an audience. The design and build area lets kids operate a crane, install bathroom plumbing and construct a city on downtown Tampa streets using soft models of County Center, the Beer Can building and other recognizable skyscrapers.
Anything just so-so?
Some people scratched their heads at the cruise ship exhibit, which shows the bow of a ship sailing through the ocean with girls in bikinis walking on deck. It seemed like it was a live Web feed, but it wasn't. The two telescopes near the ship, while probably expensive, were difficult to focus and see anything.
Is it worth it?
Yes. To borrow from Goldilocks, the museum is priced "just right.'' It's a bit more expensive than Great Explorations in St. Petersburg ($9 for adults and kids, under 2 free, free parking) but quite a bit less than the Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa ($20.95 for adults and $16.95 for kids ages 2 to 12, which includes an IMAX and planetarium show and free parking). Expect to spend a few hours visiting, maybe more if your child wants to try every activity and grab a bite to eat at the Tiny Bites Cafe.
Surprisingly, the museum has no quiet area for breast-feeding moms. The boys and girls rooms have diaper-changing areas but no seating for relaxing or settling down an overstimulated child. Also, parking isn't free. The nearest parking is at the Poe Garage, which charges $1.20 an hour.
If you've got a young child or know one, chances are you'll be getting an invite to a museum birthday party soon. The museum offers five kinds of parties, starting with b-day bashes for babies turning the Big 1. Parties start at $225 for museum members and $275 for nonmembers and include invitations, drinks and unlimited museum play. The museum's Imagination Gift Shop has all kinds of toys, stuffed animals and museum swag, ideal for downtown office workers needing last-minute gifts.
Susan Thurston can be reached at sthurston@ tampabay.com or (813) 225-3110.