While my kids don’t mind the heat of summer, I’m looking for a few family field trips in a more comfortable atmosphere. Thankfully, opportunities for indoor adventures abound at local museums.
Come discover three local attractions featuring summer activities for all ages. Spoiler alert: the kids won’t want to leave!
Set Sail at Mariners’ Museum
Try the Scavenger Hunt for Kids
As a Navy family, visiting the Mariners’ Museum was high on our summer bucket list. When we arrived, Mason, 4, received a Scavenger Hunt booklet. Answers are found in each exhibit, which gave Mason extra incentive to use his listening ears as we learned about the ships and artifacts throughout the museum.
Along with the scavenger hunt, Mason bounced from one display to the other asking, “What’s this?” Soon we saw Ron Lewis, a docent at the museum, building a model Clipper ship. Ron was happy to give my son a close-up look while explaining how clipper ships are designed. Upstairs in the Batten Conservation Laboratory, we watched how historic artifacts are restored and prepared for display.
Back downstairs, we weaved through more exhibits learning about rigging, looking glasses, and even space exploration. Then, we took a fun step in time through “Toys Ahoy: A Maritime Childhood,” featuring over 100 children’s toys, books, and activities throughout the ages. Who knew that the slinky had connections to maritime history? While many of the interactive stations and hands-on activities are temporarily unavailable due to Covid-19, the exhibit is a fun walk down memory lane for parents and kids.
The highlight of our visit was viewing dozens of life-sized boats inside the International Small Craft Center. Jeanne Willoz-Egnor, one of the curators at the museum, happily walked along with my son and explained the history behind many of the vessels. We laughed while Jeanne explained that a hairy washtub called a “Bull Boat,” once used by native Americans, is actually covered in hide from a bison.
There was more to explore during our time at the museum, but it was time to go home. On the way out, we stopped by the #iamamariner wall to leave a little reflection of our day and our newfound connection to the water.
Mariners’ Museum and Park, 100 Museum Dr., Newport News • 757-596-2222 • www.marinersmuseum.org
Colossal Fun at Virginia Living
Don’t Miss Jurassic Giants Through Sept. 6, 2021
After traversing the seas with Mariners’, it was time to return to dry land at the Virginia Living Museum. Peggy Sijswerda, publisher of Tidewater Family Plus, tagged along for this adventure with her son, Ross, and grandson, Lincoln, 3. Though the museum offers several exhibits taking guests from the plains to the mountains, underground and into spooky caves, Mason and Lincoln were in search of something a bit more primitive: dinosaurs!
Luckily, the VLM has plenty of dinosaurs to go around. In “Jurassic Giants of the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous Periods,” giant animatronic dinosaurs can be found indoors and outside. The boys enjoyed pressing buttons to make a deconstructed robotic dinosaur move his head and arms, while all around them the Rugops, Styracosaurus, and Edmontosaurus roared and chattered.
Don’t forget to pack a lunch. Outside, picnic tables perched right between a T-Rex and a 20-foot-tall Gigantosaurus in the Conservation Garden offered a perfect picnic spot. Mason and Lincoln climbed onto the T-Rex’s back for an action-packed photo-op.
The prehistoric fun didn’t end there. Where the boardwalk ended, the Dinosaur Discovery Trail began. Inside the Paleo camp, kids can dig for fossils, climb on an 8-foot-long titanosaur femur, and build a tower with wooden blocks in the interactive play area.
By now, the adults were ready to head back into the cool air conditioning, where the boys perused the Jurassic Giants exhibit one more time (okay, maybe three more times) before heading to the gift shop to choose a memento for their colossally fun day.
Jurassic Giants • Through September 6, 2021 • Virginia Living Museum, 524 J. Clyde Morris Boulevard, Newport News • 757-595-1900 • www.thevlm.org ($)
Celebrate Innovative Travel
with Nauticus Maritime Science Center
With my husband underway, the kids and I needed a midweek getaway. Nauticus in downtown Norfolk was the perfect escape from our everyday routine. Be prepared, though. With no on-site parking, we had to find metered parking in Downtown Norfolk. I used the ParkNorfolk app on my iPhone, which provided a nifty countdown to alert me when it was time to head back to the car.
With the timer on my parking meter ticking away, we checked out Nauticus’ newest summer exhibit, “Going Places: The Technology of Transport.” It certainly did not disappoint! From the moment we entered the exhibit, we felt the excitement of innovative, high-tech travel. All of the displays were hands-on, allowing guests to fly a drone, test a flight simulation, and even ride a hovercraft.
Mason darted over to the giant red plane to try the flight simulation, but there was quite a wait as it was easily one of the more popular features in the room. We tried the hovercraft in the meantime, where Mason sat in a black seat positioned over a rubber donut and pushed a big red button that sent him gliding along the platform.
We raced wooden yachts, learned about train and bus transportation, and stuffed boxes of luggage into an overpacked car. There were also stationary traditional and recumbent bicycles set up so guests could virtually race each other, but Mason wasn’t quite tall enough to race.
After one last flight on the big red plane, we took a quick opportunity to walk aboard the Battleship Wisconsin before we had to go. Though it’s not quite the same, I appreciated the opportunity for Mason to imagine what life for Daddy might be like when he’s away from home.
The time on the parking meter was running low, though there was much more to explore. While we still have a few more local attractions to visit on our summer bucket list, these three experiences left us with unforgettable family memories and peaceful car rides home with worn-out kids—the perfect gift for any parent!
Going Places: The Technology of Transport • Through Oct. 10, 2021 • Nauticus, One Waterside Drive, Norfolk • 757-664-1000 • www.Nauticus.org ($)