There seemed no better way to usher in summertime than watching a field of children chasing bubbles. So on Saturday we met our friends Bill and Jessa and their baby-o Fox downtown at the Long Events Center for our first Bubblepalooza. There wasn’t much more to it than a bunch of kids and an abundance of bubbles but it was really a lot of fun. Bubbles float everywhere, and it made for a lot of mingling with other families. Little Guy seems to thrive in these types of environments and was smiles all day. Such a great sunshiny Saturday for us all!
The Good: It was free and just plain fun.
The Not-So-Good: Parking was a zoo.
Like most little boys, our son loves trains. We have books about trains, toy trains, and his grandma even got him his own rideable motorized train. The ultimate experience though is riding a “real” train where there are other people involved and a station of some sort. So far the “real” trains we have ridden include the MetroRail train, the train at Lakeline Mall, the Zilker Park train, the Austin Zoo train, and now we are happy to add to the list the Cedar Rock train.
The train operator wore overalls and a conductor’s hat and called “all aboard” before punching our tickets. Then the train chugged us out of the “town”, through a forest, across open plains, past playing fields and a pond, and into a tunnel full of spiders (fake ones!). The round trip was about 15 minutes and was followed by play time in the town and with a stationery train, as well as optional individual train rides (which received mixed review from the other kids in the group who got tired of peddling with their hands).
Perhaps the biggest discovery of the afternoon, however, was driving through nearly 800 acres of the Southwest Williamson County Regional Park to get to the Cedar Rock Railroad. We saw playing fields, picnic pavilions, hike and bike trails, a splash pad, and I’m sure there’s even more we didn’t see. Definitely a place we will be exploring further!
The Good: If your kid likes trains, and Leander is close by, this is a no-brainer. Tickets were only $2.50 per person.
The Not-So-Good: I’m drawing a blank.
We recently visited our friends, Jessa and her little toddler Fox, who live in Georgetown and introduced us to Creative Playscape. To say it is a playground would be a vast understatement. As you can see from the photos there is a train station, a bank, and a store as fronts to a series of bridges, ladders, stairs, and slides. There are also swings for all ages and obstacle course type structures. If you are ever near downtown Georgetown with a kid, then you should definitely pay a visit.
The Good: Free fun for children of all ages.
The Not-So-Good: None, unless you live far from San Gabriel Park.
Overall: Hours of good times.
Website: Creative Playscape
The Austin Aquarium is located in a North Austin strip mall in what I believe used to be one of those huge furniture stores and is a very interactive experience for kids. I’d estimate that maybe half of their tanks are ones you can stick your hands in, the best of which is the stingray exhibit. Apparently stingrays are very friendly as they surface often and let you pet their slimy skin. You can also feed them if you purchase food at the door.
There is also a bird enclosure that you can enter and hold a bird on your finger (while the rest plot to poop on your head). Other hands-on areas include a hurricane simulator and a playground and, of course, a gift shop.
All in all it is always a memorable outing. What kid can forget touching their first starfish or making friends with a stingray?
The Good: The place is relatively small so the worry about losing track of your kid is minimal. And with the focus on interactive exhibits your little one is likely to be engaged the whole time.
The Not-So-Good: Tickets are $14.95 per adult and $9.95 per child ages 2-11, which seems rather expensive to me. They are less expensive if you buy online.
Overall: Because of the cost, we don’t go as often to the Aquarium as we do to places like the Thinkery but when we do, it is always a fun afternoon
Website: Austin Aquarium
Actually it is called the Austin Zoo and Sanctuary, with a heavy emphasis on the sanctuary. If you are used to a big elaborate zoo, as I am having grown up near the one in Detroit, then you need to adjust your expectations. Many of the animals are on in their years. Picture blind tigers, balding monkeys, lots of farm animals and birds, a train, small enclosures, and dirt pathways. All that said, you may be surprised to hear I LOVE the Austin Zoo and here’s why . . .
The Good: Unlike other zoos where it can be sad to see animals in their prime confined within their exhibits, at the Austin Zoo you see old, sometimes ailing, animals enjoying a cushy retirement. You see tigers that would probably have died if still in the wild but instead are served daily buckets of raw meat which they can digest as they laze beneath the shade of a tree. And, of course, the whole zoo isn’t a senior citizen home, last year they welcomed rescued baby bears! In short, the zoo is small and charming … and young kids don’t notice the difference anyway. Plus instead of being a whole day excursion like the big zoos, you can see the Austin Zoo in a couple hours.
The Not-So-Good: If your expectations are for a big flashy zoo, you will be out of luck. Also if you have a specific animal you want to see, the Austin Zoo, being as small as it is, may not have it.
Overall: The Austin Zoo is very Austin-y – quaint, quirky, and has lots of personality.
I never went to the original Austin Children’s Museum downtown. That was before our days as parents. With all the time we spend at the Austonian, we were initially disappointed when I was pregnant, and we heard the new museum would no longer be located around the corner. However after listening to anyone who has been to both, it seems the new Thinkery blows the old one out of the water. It has play spaces for babies on up to kids 8+ years old. Our son currently loves the water room which is exactly as it sounds, an elaborate water table with stations for pouring and splashing and making music. Though smocks and crocs are provided, most kids leave this room rather wet. I recommend bringing a change of clothes over spending lots of time in front of the dryers.
Another favorite is the food market and chicken coop which has tons of plastic produce for collecting, sorting, weighing, and serving.
Also top on the list is the light room (tables with interactive colored light displays), the outdoor playground with waterfall, and baby space (a soft room with mirrors, a tunnel, and displays in the floor).
There’s so much to experience I can’t possibly describe it all here but suffice to say we enjoyed our time there so much we purchased a membership.
The Good: Everything I just talked about.
The Not-So-Good: I’ve heard you don’t want to visit at the same time as large groups or field trips.
Overall: We expect the Thinkery to remain a family favorite for many years to come!