Let me start with a disclaimer: we love the Duke Energy Children’s Museum! We do! It’s one of my kids’ very favorite places to go. It’s always a hit, always a “good idea,” as Julian likes to tell me.
Sometimes it’s crowded. Really crowded. Between field trips, home school groups, parent meet ups and the various crafts/activities going on… it can be way too crowded for my liking.
Over the past few years, I’ve explored the entire Museum Center with my kids — and discovered many hidden, kid-friendly gems! Here are my favorites:
1. Tower A
I’ve written about Tower A before, but it deserves a spot on my list! Visit Tower A and see where rail operations were controlled when Union Terminal was a train station! Look out over the Queensgate Freight Yard and see trains coming and going through one of the busiest yards in the country! Tower A is free and open to the public on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 12 – 4 p.m.
2. The Caves
Julian brings his headlamp every time we go to the caves. There are two caves: a “beginner” and “advanced.” The advanced has lots of steps, some wet areas and pretty tight tunnels. The beginner is wider, great for strollers/little walkers and isn’t as long. Before you enter the caves, there’s a netted area with bats. Check the museum schedule for the “bat flights” — they are really, really cool!
My kids love ogling the extinct animals in the Natural History Museum. The bigger, the better! Between the fossils, bones and very large replicas of these now-extinct creatures, it’s all very exiting for my three. There’s even a dinosaur play area with books, toys and educational videos!
If your kids are fans of Holiday Junction, they’ll love this display! This permanent display fills 7,000 square feet of exhibition space, making it the largest full-motion urban layout in the country! Trains, cars, trolleys and planes buzz and whirl about this miniature layout of 1900-1940s Cincinnati, which features Riverfront and Downtown, Lunken Airfield, Coney Island, Over-the-Rhine, Mount Auburn, Ivorydale, Price Hill, the West End and Mt. Adams. Marvel at Cincinnati at 1/64 its actual size! There are even buttons to push — and you know how much kids enjoy pushing buttons (ha!).
Tip: As you enter the exhibit, you can give one of the workers your membership card in exchange for a box of toy trains. At the end of the exhibit, there are a few train tables your kids can play at. When you’re done, simply return the trains and get your card back!
As a special treat, sometimes we stop for an ice cream at the Rookwood Ice Cream Parlor. They have Graeter’s Ice Cream, which is a real treat for my kids! It’s a nice place to sit and take a break after your caving adventures.
6. The OMNIMAX
For older kids, there’s nothing quite like the Omnimax. It’s educational, exciting and really big! The OMNIMAX features a five-story domed screen and state-of-the-art surround sound that you right in the middle of the action! There are always really cool, PBS-type films being shown, making the OMNIMAX an educational alternative to the standard movie. Right now there’s a show about space, which sounds completely awesome. If your kids are into Star Wars, you should definitely take them!
7. The Giant Sandbox
I saved the best for last — the Giant Sandbox. Tucked into a corner of the Natural History Museum, is a little gem of an area just for kids 5 and under. It’s gated off, and features blocks, books, a train table… and a giant sandbox. My kids can literally spend hours playing in this area. There are trucks, tools and toys to play with — plus ride-able “sea horsies” (Mary’s description) for bouncing. Despite removing your kids’ shoes and socks for the sandbox, expect to bring some sand home with you. It’s worth it, though — your kids will absolutely love this!
So, next time you get to the Museum, only to find it’s Field Trip Day for Cincinnati Public School — head to one of these attractions instead!
The Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal is located at 1301 Western Ave., Cincinnati, OH 45203. It’s open Monday – Saturday from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.