Things to Do with Kids in and around Northern Virginia
Northern Virginia has plenty of family-friendly activities!
My wife and I have three wonderful kids, a fifteen-year old boy, a thirteen-year old girl and a ten-year old boy. We're always on the lookout for fun (and different) things to do in the Northern Virginia area.
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Save $5 at Madame Tussauds
Show your SmarTrip card and save!
I received the following email from WMATA (Metro) yesterday:
Metro has partnered with Madame Tussauds, Washington, DC to reward you with valuable savings just by showing your SmarTripÂ® card. Just present your SmarTripÂ® card at the time of purchase and receive $5 off an adult admission ticket. Bring friends and family, this offer is valid for up to 8 guests. Offer expires 12/31/13.
Take Metrorail to Madame Tussauds at 1001 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004
Red, Blue, Orange lines - Exit Metro Center - 11th and G Streets, NW
Red, Green, Yellow lines - Exit Gallery Place - 9th and G Streets, NW
This discount offer is not valid for advance ticket purchases and cannot be combined with any other offers. The Madame Tussauds may close for special events, so please call 1-866-823-9565 or visit their website for updates www.madametussaudsDC.com.
Enjoy Madame Tussauds and thanks for riding Metro!
I couldn't find any official press release or web page confirming this coupon; however, Unsuck DC Metro has a blog post about the same e-mail.
The circus is coming...
Lions, tigers and bears... oh my!
The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus is coming to the Washington, D.C. area. Shows at the Verizon Center will take place from March 20th to March 24th. The circus makes a stop in Northern Virginia at the Patriot Center from April 10th to April 21st. More details to come...
Do you like movies?
If you like movies, check out my newest lens, DC Film Festivals. I'm just getting started with this lens and will be adding content regularly.
National Museum of the Marine Corps
The National Museum of the Marine Corps is located about 35 miles south of Washington, D.C. in Triangle, VA. The museum is very easy to get to. From D.C., take I-95 South to exit 150A and follow the signs to the museum. As your approach the musesum, you'll see the stunning design of the building, which evokes the iconic photograph of Marines raising the American flag on the island of Iwo Jima. There's plenty of parking.
The first thing we did upon entering the musesum was to watch the brief 15-minute movie about the Marine Corps. The film was a series of interviews with current (and former) Marines that was a patriotic, yet honest and gritty, look at what being a Marine means. The movie runs every twenty minutes starting at the top of the hour. For you afficianados of military time, that's 00, 20 and 40.
In the central gallery, there are several life-sized displays that all visitors will be awed at, especially the youngest ones. In addition to aircraft hanging from the ceiling, there are a couple of large displays, including a helicopter and simulated beach landing.
The permanent exhibits in the museum are laid out in sections chronologically, starting with the birth of the Marine Corps in 1775. The first exhibit that we visited was Making a Marine. Starting with the bus that transports the new recruits, the exhibit walks visitors through the intake process. As you walk past the bus, you immediately notice the series of footprints, heels touching with toes pointed outward at an angle, painted on the ground. Next to the bus is a barber's chair and a series of changing photos that show young recruits before and after their first haircut. My two younger kids enjoyed this part of the museum the most. There are plenty of interactive hands-on activities, including a backpack to lift, pull up bars to pull up on and even a firing range where you can try your hand at shooting a laser beam using an M-16 at targets downrange. There is an additional cost ($5 in July 2011) for this activity. Each participant gets 10 shots. The M-16 is heavy and can be difficult for a small child to hold. There are stands that you can use to help steady the weapon. At the end of the 10 shots, you get a printout that shows you where each shot fell on the target.
The permanent exhibits in the musesum are impressive in the amount of information provided, as well as the quality of the pieces shown. If you like military memorabilia, you'll love the Marine Corps Museum. You can see the Marine Corps uniform as it changes over the years. There are hundreds of flags, medals, swords, weapons and vehicles (ground, air and water) throughout the museum. Kids will love the larger displays where you, the museum goer, are part of the action. One minute, you've boarded an amphibious vehicle ready to storm the beachhead, the next minute, you're outdoors in the dead of winter helping defend your position from the relentless enemy. All in all, the exhibits are extremely well done, with the right combination of information and objects to look at and interact with.
The museum has two restaurants, both located on the second floor. The Mess Hall is a casual, cafeteria style restaurant. On the day we visited, the Mess Hall was serving typical fare like pizza, hot dogs and cheese fries. The second is Tun's Tavern, a slightly more upscale sit-down place. While we didn't eat at either restaurant during our visit, the prices in both restaurants were very reasonable. There is a museum store that carries all kinds of Marine Corps sourvenirs. Again, the prices in the store seemed reasonable compared to other muesum stores I've visited. If you prefer to bring your own lunch, there is an outdoor picnic area with a great looking playground.
The Marine Corps Muesum is open daily, except Christmas, and is a terrific place to visit for adults and kids alike. For more information, check out the Marine Corps Museum web site.
Are you a sports fan?
If you (of someone you love) is a sports fan, check out my DC Sports Squidoo Lens. Recent posts include Potomac Nationals single game tickets going on sale and the UVA Cavaliers football team holding a spring scrimmage in Alexandria.
Laser tag fun in Sterling, VA
My son and I joined a group of middle-school aged kids from our church and went to LaserNation in Sterling, VA to play laser tag on a recent Friday night. LaserNation is located in the same strip mall as Big Lots, but the front of the store is not visible from the main entrance, so you may have to look for it. Our group, one adult and six kids, arrived at LaserNation around 8PM and each one of us purchased an all-night, unlimited laser tag pass for $13.
After we paid for our unlimited pass, we were given individual wrist bands to wear. Each band has a specific color and you're playing with the same group of people that have the same colored wristband. On the night we visited, there were two other groups that had the same color wristbands as we did. One group had about 10 people, mostly adults. The other groups was 10 teenagers. When your color is announced, you head to the briefing room. In the briefing room, the Game Master briefs you on the game. Our Game Master was a tall, lanky teenage boy (high school junior/senior, perhaps?) who did a good job reciting the rules and answering the handful of questions that the adults asked. The stated "goal" of the game is a form of three-way capture-the-flag, but, based on my experience, it quickly becomes a free-for-all, every-person-for-himself (most laser tag participants seem to be teenage boys) shooting extravaganza :-)
We stayed at LaserNation for about two hours and played four games of laser tag. I'm not sure how long the actual gameplay lasts, but the time flies by quickly while you're playing. You spend most of your time in the briefing room (prior to playing), vesting (getting your vest on) or waiting for your score (after the game is done).
In between games, there isn't a whole lot to do. Like many others laser tag places, LaserNation has a handful of arcade games, including classics such as Ms. Pac Man, Galaga, and Ocean Hunter. Most of the games were priced between $0.50 and $0.75 so pack plenty of quarters (or dollars, since there is a change machine). Our group ate dinner prior to going to LaserNation so we didn't eat there. I saw a couple of vending machines. Sodas were $1.25 and snacks were around a dollar. The prices didn't seem outrageously high. While the web site claims that they can accommodate groups up to 200 people, I'm really not sure where those people who weren't actively playing laser tag would stand or sit. There are a couple of open areas for people to sit while waiting for their game to start. There were a few party rooms, but we didn't get a chance to look at those.
Overall, it was a fun experience. While I'm not a hardcode laser tag enthusiast, I had a fun time playing at LaserNation. It's definitely fun to go with a group of people.
A convenient, but pricey, way to get around Virginia, D.C., and Maryland
The D.C. Metro system (officially known as the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority or WMATA) is a great way get around with the metropolitan D.C. area (which includes D.C., Virginia and Maryland). While Metro includes rail, bus and accessibility services, this post will focus primarily on the subway (rail) system. Those of you who live or work in the D.C. area may want to skip to the end of this post for my tips on traveling on Metro with your family.
The Metro (or Metrorail) system serves 86 stations and covers 106 miles of track. The subway system is open from 5AM. to midnight Monday through Thursday, 5AM to 3AM on Friday, 7AM to 3AM on Saturday, and 7AM to midnight on Sunday. Metro does occasionally extend their operating hours for large public events such as the Presidential Inauguration or the Marine Corps Marathon. In addition, Metro has single-tracked trains, which causes delays, or even closed stations for emergeny or maintenance purposes. During the most recent big snowstorm in the D.C. area (December 2009), Metro had to close its above-ground stations to prevent weather-related breakdowns in service. Check the Metro web site for updated service information.
As of January 2010, regular (or peak) Metro fares range from $1.65 to $4.50. Peak fares are typically charged during weekday morning and afternoon rush hours. Off-peak fares (all other days and times) range between $1.35 and $2.35. Up to two children, 4 years and younger, ride free with each adult paying full fare. Children 5 and older pay adult fares. Everyone who must pay a fare must have his own fare card.
Metro offers a paper fare card as well as a Smartrip card, a plastic rechargeable fare card. If you're visiting the D.C. area for a short period of time and don't need to pay for parking, it probably doesn't make sense to buy a Smartrip card. Metro charges a $5 surcharge for the purchase of a Smartrip card. You can buy a Smartrip card online or at certain Metrorail stations. You can buy the paper fare cards with cash or credit/debit cards at all stations. Most, if not all, of the stations that have parking lots and/or garages sell the Smartrip card.
In addition, Metro does offer Metrorail passes, although they're not promoted or advertised much. A one-day pass, valid for one day of unlimited Metrorail travel on weekdays after 9:30 a.m. or all day on Saturdays, Sundays, and some federal holidays, goes for $7.80. Metro also offers a 7-day short trip pass and a 7-day fast pass. Check this WMATA web page for more details.
Here are my tips for families traveling on the Metro. First, please walk on the left and stand on the right on all stairs and escalators in and around the Metro system, especially during weekday rush hour. Second, all Metro trains are stopping at the front end of all platforms. Eight-car trains will fill the entire platform; however, shorter trains will have space behind them on the platform. You should wait in the middle or towards the front platform. Third, if you're going to use the paper fare card, you feed the card (the card will show what direction it should go) in the front part of the gate and the card is returned to you via a slot on top of the gate. You must take the card out before the fare gate will open. Fourth, if you're going to park in one of the Metro parking lots or garages during a normal weekday (when Metro does collect a parking fee), check to see if the Metro station where you want to park accepts credit cards. If the station doesn't accept credit cards -- some stations, like Franconia-Springfield have specific gates that accept credit card payment -- you'll need to buy a Smartrip card to pay the parking fee to exit the parking lot. Fifth, please be careful when riding Metro escalators. While it doesn't happen often, passengers especially kids, have been known to get their shoes or clothing stuck on the escalator. Also, some of the escalators, like Wheaton (Red line) and Rosslyn (Blue and Orange line), are pretty tall (long?), so you definitely don't want to play on those. Lastly, eating and drinking is prohibited on the Metro. Please help to keep the Metrorail system clean!
I hope I haven't scared you away from using the Metro. Despite the many caveats in the post, the Metro is a great way for families to get in and around the D.C. metropolitan area. Please leave feedback on my lens with your questions or tips on using Metro.
National Inventors Hall of Fame and Museum
Small museum with some fun exhibits
If you and your family are going to be in the Old Town Alexandria area and have 30 minutes to an hour to spare, you may want to make a short detour and visit the National Inventors Hall of Fame and Museum. The museum is located on the first floor in the main building of the US Patent and Trademark Office in Alexandria, Virginia. Like many museums in the Washington, D.C. area, admission is free. It's a very small museum; our family visited the Friday after Thanksgiving and we spent no more than 20-30 minutes in the museum; most of that time was spent in the museum store (which has some really neat toys).
There is a main exhibit room with a permanent exhibit called Inventive Links which describes how patents are developed using ideas and patents that came before it. There are also a few display cases that showcase unique or timely patents or inventions. When we visited, there was a Les Paul guitar that was on display. In addition, there was an exhibit describing a device that Michael Jackson co-invented, Patent Number 5,255,452, which "allows a shoe wearer to lean forwardly beyond his center of gravity by virtue of wearing a specially designed pair of shoes which will engage with a hitch member movably projectable through a stage surface." I think it was the Billie Jean video where you see Michael Jackson and the surrounding dancers lean forward without falling over.
The neatest exhibit was the Portrait Gallery. In the Portrait Gallery, portraits come to life and teach visitors a little bit about the history of the US Patent and Trademark Office in the United States.
The National Inventors Hall of Fame and Museum is open Monday through Friday from 9AM to 5PM and Saturday from Noon to 5PM. There is limited on-street parking and plenty of parking garages in the immediate area.
Ghosts of a Chance
Solve a mystery at the Smithsonian American Art Museum
Ghosts of a Chance is a multimedia scavenger hunt game sponsored by the Luce Foundation Center at The Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM). The object of the game is to save two young curators, Daisy and Daniel, that have been possessed by spirits at the museum. You help Daisy and Daniel by by sending text messages, solving puzzles, deciphering clues and following treasure maps. Most of the game takes place within the confines of the Luce Foundation Center, which is located on the third floor of the SAAM; however, parts of the game will lead you to other areas within the museum (but not the National Portrait Gallery). The clues presented in the game are linear; the solution to each clue leads you to the next clue. In Ghosts of a Chance, there are three different mini-mysteries. In the first part, you try to save Daisy, one of the two young staff members. In part two, your goal is to assist Daniel, the other young staff member that is being spooked by spirits. In the third and final part, you save the museum. While you can tackle the three parts in any order, I suggest helping Daniel and Daisy (in either order) first before saving the museum.
Ghosts of a Chance is a lot of fun. We played the game as a family and enjoyed the game immensely. It was a blast to explore different parts of the SAAM and view many of their collections. The game incorporates the use of the multimedia kiosks (located in the Luce Foundation Center) so kids get a chance to showcase their computer skills. The biggest "problem" was that each of the kids wanted to send (and view) all of the text messages. It was mildly annoying to hear them whine and complain about who got to send the last text message or how unfair it was that their sibling got to use one of the kiosks one more time than they did. Just the usual family fun... :-)
If you get stuck during the game -- we got stuck on one clue -- the enthusiastic staff was available in person (or by cell phone) to help out.
As an aside, SAAM has a series of works by Jean Shin on display. The collection is located next to the Luce Foundation Center; check it out... it's very cool. Two quick notes about the Shin exhibit if you're going with kids. First, photography is not allowed within that particular exhibit. I learned this the hard way when one of the security guards asked me to put away my camera. Second, only one of the exhibits is interactive, but several of the exhibits have overly sensitive sensors around them that go off if you get to close. The guards must get annoyed by unsuspecting visitors setting off the alarms/buzzers constantly.
There are a few, minor ways I think it can be improved. First, modify the game slightly so that each clue contributes to the overall solution. Right now, if you stumble upon a clue while playing the game (or simply exploring the museum), you can skip past several steps. Next, physically space out the clues more. In some cases, the popularity of the game leads to several teams being close to each other and inadvertantly revealing a clue. Last, offer the game more often :-)
To their credit, the creative team behind GOAC has developed a sequel called Return of the Spirits which addresses some of the suggestions raised by players. The trio of Smithsonian staff that were overseeing the game did solicit feedback from people who decided to participate in both games. In fact, they offered a prize to players who filled out a survey at the conclusion of the game.
Both Ghosts of a Chance and Return of the Spirits are presented once a month. The next two dates are Saturday, July 11, 2009 and Sunday, August 16, 2009. According to the web site, additional dates can be viewed on the online calendar; however, at the time of this writing (June 29, 2009), dates after September had not been posted to the online calendar. According to the GOAC web site, both games are suitable for ages 12 and over and each one takes approximately 90 minutes to complete. Each group that participates -- and it's a game that's a lot more fun played with a group of people -- you'll need a cell phone that is able to send and receive text messages. Unfortunately, my son found out the hard way that his pre-paid Trac phone was not compatible with the game.
If you have a group of 10 or more people that would like to play either Ghosts of a Chance or Return of the Spirits, you can contact a member of the staff to schedule an appointment at least seven days in advance. Check the web site for contact information.
ASTC Passport Program
Free Admission to Participating Museums
If your family love visiting science museums as much as mine, run, don't walk, to the Association of Science-Technology Centers web site to find a science center nearest you that participates in the program.
In a nutshell, you purchase a membership at a participating science museum and can receive free admission to numerous other science museums across the U.S. (and world). There are more than 290 museums that participate in the ASTC Passport Program. There are a few caveats though. First, the program doesn't apply to centers within a 90-mile radius of your "home" musesum. Second, the free admissions is typically just for general admission to the museum and does not include IMAX shows, planetarium shows or any other "special" activities. Third, you must bring your membership card to the out-of-town science museum to receive the benefits from the program.
We have a family membership at the Maryland Science Center in Baltimore and have used the ASTC Passport program to visit the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul, Minnesota, the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh and the Pacific Science Center in Seattle for free. It's a terrific program and a great way to save money!
Family Movie Time
In today's Washington Post, I saw an ad for Kidtoons. It's a program run by National Amusements, a company that runs several movie chains, including Cinema De Lux, Showcase Cinemas and Multiplex Cinemas. Participating movie theaters show G-rated movies for kids on Saturday and Sundays. There are two theaters that participate in the program here in Northern Virginia. They are the Fairfax Corner 14: Cinema De Lux and the Lee Highway Multiplex Cinemas. In December, they are showing The Santa Claus Brothers.
I haven't had a chance to take my kids to see a Kidtoons movie. If you have, please do leave a comment below and tell me your thoughts.
National Aquarium in Baltimore
Best aquarium in the Mid-Atlantic area
My family and I love the Baltimore Aquarium. Not only have we visited the aquarium more than half-a-dozen times, my daughter and I have participated in an overnight, "Breakfast with the Dolphins" program also. What makes the aquarium so great?
First, there's the location. The National Aquarium in Baltimore is located in the heart of Baltimore's Inner Harbor. Quick hint: The aquarium offers a $3 coupon for parking at the Inner Harbor Garage on S. Gay Street. Park on the 3rd floor landing and you'll be able to cross Light Street via the skywalk and be directly in front of the aquarium.
Second, there's the various exhibits. Right now (Sept. 2007), my favorites are Animal Planet Australia, Frogs! A Chorus of Colors and the dolphin show, Play! The dolphin shows are very popular, I recommend buying advance tickets either through Ticketmaster or directly from the aquarium's ticket center.
Last, and certainly not least, the volunteers and employees at the aquarium are top-notch. They're friendly, knowledgeable and always ready to help.
My advice: If you're in the area, check out the National Aquarium in Baltimore soon. If your family loves the aquarium as much as my family does, invest in a Family Membership. A one-year advance purchase Family Membership costs $109. A single visit to the aquarium without the dolphin show for a family of 4 with kids aged 3 - 11 will cost $70.
Click here to purchase tickets.
Minor League Baseball in Northern Virginia
We went to see the Potomac Nationals play against the Wilmington Blue Rocks tonight at Pfitzner Stadium in Woodbridge, VA. It was a spectacular night for baseball and we had a blast. We got seats in the first row of the field boxes on the 1st base side. Great seats for adults, but my kids had a tough time seeing over the yellow, plastic barrier on top of the fence. The second row provided a much better view for them. Besides the great view, another benefit of sitting in the field boxes is that there are plenty of wait staff to fetch you hot dogs, soda, candy or whatever else you're hungry for. Between the five of us, we had six hot dogs, one sausage, two Dippin' Dots (Can anyone tell me what a Dippin' Dot is?), two bags of peanuts and one box of popcorn. The hot dogs were $1 apiece. It was Dollar Night at the ballpark. Grandstand tickets and hot dogs are one dollar apiece. Last year, Dollar Night also included dollar popcorn and soda. I guess that promotion proved a bit too popular last year :-)
With three kids under 10, we decided to leave the ballgame after the 5th inning. The first pitch was at 7:35PM -- a later start than I would like, but it's understandable with the terrible rush hour traffic, even on a Monday in the summer -- and we left around 9:15 or so. There were lots of other families that had the same idea we did, so we weren't the only ones following Steve Czaban's ALE (Always Leave Early) theory.
Incredible Flying Objects
Find a job you love, you never have to work a day in your life...
We took a last-minute, day trip to a couple of places in/around the Shenandoah Valley, including the Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum, Route 11 Potato Chips and a wonderful farm with pick-your-own fruit, including peaches and blackberries. While wandering around downtown Winchester, we stumbled upon a wonderfully fun store named (appropriately): Incredible Flying Objects.
The store is located in the Bright Center on the Old Town Walking Mall in Winchester. According to their definition, the store sells "Anything that flies without a motor." This includes: Juggling Equipment, Darts, Disc Golf, Magic Tricks, Joke Toys (Hey, did someone drop that nickel on the floor?), Planes, Rockets and Yo-Yo's.
The staff truly loves what they do, and it shows in their enthusiasm and the way they treat their customers. If you're in the area, you've got to stop by Incredible Flying Objects and check it out.
Route 11 Potato Chips
Mmm... someone pass the dip!
One of the places we visited today on our day trip to the Shenandoah Valley was Route 11 Potato Chip Factory in Middletown, VA. Rt. 11 offers a glimpse, not a tour, of how they make potato chips Monday through Saturday from 9AM to 5PM. According to their web site, the best time to see the potato chips being made is AM to early PM. We got to Rt. 11 around 11:30AM on Saturday morning and were fortunate to be there when a couple of batches of the lightly-salted potato chips were being made. We even got to sample the chips minutes after they were finished. Yum...
The woman who was working the front of the store was extremely knowledgeable about the chip-making process and told us about the history of the company. Rt. 11 is planning on moving to larger facilities; hopefully, this will mean that they'll actually be able to give a real factory tour of their facilities. In the meantime, get yourself to Rt. 11 and try one of their 14 (!) types of potato chips!
UPDATE: According to the Rt. 11 web site, they have opened a new plant in Mount Jackson on June 6th, 2008. They are no longer doing any production in Middletown. The retail counter in Middletown will continue to be open Monday-Friday, 9-5. They suggest visitors call before you make your chip trek. The official opening for the new retail store in Mount Jackson is scheduled for the fall. Stay tuned for more details!
J.R.'s Festival Lakes
Nice piece of property; Could be so much more...
This past weekend, my company held its annual summer picnic at J.R.'s Festival Lakes in Leesburg, VA. The weather was spectacular, and the property that the facility is on is wonderful; however, the food was mediocre and the various activities on the seven picnic areas were disappointing.
J.R. Festival Lakes includes the following activities: swimming at the swimming lake, fishing or paddling around the fishing lake, volleyball, softball, golf driving range (more on this later), horseshoes, children's play area, wagon rides, badminton and tug of war. Each picnic areas has a few of the activities mentioned above; however, the picnic areas are so far from each other that you couldn't do most of the activities in an afternoon.
Our picnic area, Lakeside, was held in a large tent next to the "swimming lake". You'd have to be pretty desperate to swim in it. Near our area was a volleyball court (which was on uneven ground), a badminton court (on the top of a hill which dropped off quickly) and horseshoes.
I knew that J.R.'s Festival Lakes had a driving range so I took a few clubs from my car and walked to the "range". Yes, it's technically a golf range; however, the balls are terrible and the mats are even worse. A "bucket" of balls (10-15) comes in a plastic red bucket. It had to have been 1/2 - 3/4 mile from our picnic area. What a big disappointment...
On a positive note, the employees were fairly friendly and the jukebox had a few good tunes. I can't imagine there are too many places in Northern Virginia (besides J.R.'s) where you can hold a picnic for 100 - 1,000 people. It could just be so much more...
Camp Snyder / Cub World
Fun for scouts of all ages
Last Saturday, I took my nine-year old son to attend the Cub Scout Jamboree at Camp Snyder. Despite the hoardes of scouts, we had a blast. There was an area for scouts to build their own model rocket. My son (after he and I stood in line for 30 minutes) had a chance to try out a bow and arrow. There was a BB gun range and much more fun.
Camp Snyder is certainly very easy to get to from Northern Virginia. It's right off I-66 in Haymarket, Virginia. For history buffs, the piece of land that Camp Snyder is on was once slated to be part of a history-themed amusement park owned and operated by Disney.
Girl's Softball in Northern Virginia
My daughter is in her third season now with NVGSA. NVGSA is one of a handful of organizations (that I'm aware of) that sponsors girl's softball in the Northern Virginia area. She plays in the 8U league which is coach-pitch. The other age groups are as follows: 10U, 12U, 14U and 18U.
This season, there are a total of 7 teams in her age group. Each team has between 7 and 10 girls. My daughter has enjoyed softball tremendously and gotten progressively better each season. The team practices once per week and has its games on Saturday mornings.
International Spy Museum
Fun for adults, not appropriate for kids younger than 13
I took my mother and my eight-year old son to the International Spy Museum in downtown D.C. Overall, I thought the museum had several interesting exhibits, especially if you like gadgets in the James Bond/007 movies or Get Smart television show, but it's geared more towards adults and teenagers rather than middle school age kids. (As an aside, the museum does say in its literature and web site, that "While children of all ages are welcome, children ages 12 and older will gain the most from the exhibits which often include text panels and interactive displays.")
GMU Men's Soccer
We had a great time, despite the Patriots losing to Bucknell
I took my eight-year old son to see the GMU men's soccer team play Bucknell in the 1st round of the 2006 NCAA Men's Soccer tournament earlier today. It was the first time that I had attended a soccer match at GMU and we had a great time.
The GMU stadium is next to the field house, right off of Rt. 123. Plenty of parking and very easy to get to. Admission was $7 for adults and $5 for kids. There's lots of bleacher seating. Even with 1,000+ people in the stands for today's game, there were plenty of good seats.
While there is a small refreshment trailer and bathrooms in the fieldhouse next door, I would highly recommend bringing a small cooler with refreshments. The line for the refreshment stand moved v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y, and, thanks to Murphy's Law, as soon as we got towards the front of the line, they ran out of hot dogs.
I would also recommend bring stadium/seat cushions. The metal bleachers are not fun to sit on for a long period of time.
During the 1st half, we sat at the near side closest to the entrance. Lots of GMU students -- most of whom looked like they just woke up minutes before the start of the 1PM game -- sat around us. While the students were neither rowdy nor obnoxious, most of them weren't into the game and were more concerned about socializing with each other :-) In the 2nd half, my son and I sat at the far end and there were far fewer people on that end.
All in all, we had a very good time. It's too bad that the Patriots lost, but we'll definitely be in the stands next season to cheer them to victory!
National Pinball Museum
Too much body english and you'll tilt the machine
The National Pinball Museum (NPM) is located (for now) on the 3rd floor of The Shops at Georgetown Park in Washington, D.C. I am part of the generation that was first introduced to arcade games, like Space Invaders and Pac Man. I have fond memories of going to the local arcade with my friends and being giddy with excitement as I placed my crisp five dollar bill into the token exchange machine and watched 30 game tokens drop into my hands. For me, pinball machines were fun, noisy diversions usually played by older teens or adults, many of whom were extremely scary looking.
For our visit (July 2011), regular admission (ages nine and up) was $3 and credits cost $0.75 each. You can purchase an annual pass for $80 that provides unlimited entrance to the NPM, advance notice of NPM events and tournaments, and discounts on Museum Shop purchases for one full year. The cloud that hangs over the National Pinball Musesum is the fact that their lease runs out in early September. I asked the woman at the front desk if there was a possibility that the lease would be extended and she said, "No."
While there are a couple of rooms that look at the evolution of the pinball machine from the Bagatelle to modern day pinball machines, the main attraction at the NPM are the dozens (not quite a hundred) of pinball machines to look at (and play). A few of the machines are free to play. Most are display only. The rest cost $0.75 per credit to play. The NPM does provide plastic cards that you can purchase credits for (very similar to what you get at Dave and Busters). There's a dimly lit Pay-and-Play room where there are about 20 pinball machines, of various ages and types, that you can play. During our visit in July 2011, a handful of machines, weren't working. The NPM web site lists all of the pinball machines available for visitors to play. A very nice touch. My kids and I especially liked the Addams Family, Safecracker and Whirlwind machines.
There is a small theater near the start of the exhibits, but on the day we visited, the only thing being shown was the main menu of a DVD about pinball. The NPM also has a gift shop that's located at the entrance of the museum. It's got a small assortment of the usual museum fare, like pencils, pens, magnets, and t-shirts. Nothing to write home about.
There is underground parking at The Shops, but it is very expensive. The first hour is $7. Parking for two hours is $13. Three hours is $15 and the daily rate is $18. If you're lucky, you may be able to find on street parking (two hours max in most spaces along M Street or Wisconsin Avenue.
The National Pinball Museum is open Thursday, noon to 8 PM, Friday, noon to 10PM, Saturday, 10AM to 10PM and Sunday, noon to 6PM. Please call ahead or visit the NPM web site for the updated information.
Cub Run RECenter (Part 1)
Indoor water park in Fairfax County
Our family went to Cub Run RECenter on Sunday afternoon to celebrate my seven-year old daughter's birthday. It was the fourth time that I've been to Cub Run and I'm still very impressed with the facilities, and more importantly, with the friendly and conscientous staff.
Cub Run is located in the western part of Fairfax County, near the border with Loudoun County. The main attraction at Cub Run is its leisure pool. The leisure pool includes the following:
- - 30-foot high slide that goes outside the building
- - 20-foot high indoor, open slide
- - Spa
- - Vortex
- - Current channel
- - Open shallow water area
- - Tiny-tot slide.
Please note that you must be 48 inches tall to use the vortex and two water slides; however, if your child is not quite 48 inches tall but a good swimmer (like my seven-year old daughter), you can ask the Cub Run lifeguard staff to administer a short swim test to your child. If your child passes, they will receive a wristband which allows them to use the vortex and water slides.
The locker room facilities at Cub Run are brand new and quite nice. While lots of people leave their belongings in unlocked lockers, I would suggest spending the 25 cents to lock up your belongings. In addition to lockers in the locker rooms, there are giant bins in the leisure pool area for your towels, flip-flops, etc.
We got to Cub Run around 2PM on a Sunday afternoon. When we got there, both the current channel and vortex were closed. At first, I thought they were closed due to mechanical reasons. Later, I found out that they were closed because there wasn't enough lifeguards to watch those sections. Around 2:30PM, additional staff arrived, and both those stations were opened.
Cub Run RECenter (Part 2)
Indoor water park in Fairfax County
This is a good time to discuss (and applaud) the staff at Cub Run. I have been very impressed with the friendliness, professionalism and conscientousness of the staff there. There are at least four lifeguards in the leisure pool section. There's at least one staff member monitoring the entrance the both slides. Another lifeguard is watching the swimming area. A third lifeguard is constantly walking around the current channel and vortex. The fourth lifeguard is monitoring the shallow, tiny-tot area. The lifeguards don't hesitate in blowing their whistles and insuring that everyone is having fun safely.
In conclusion, while Cub Run isn't on the same scale (or as expensive) as Great Wolf Lodge (see my writeup about Great Wolf below), it's a great place to have a birthday party or visit on a cold, rainy day. I recommend it highly.
Reagan National Airport
Yes, the airport...
My four-year old loves the airport. He also loves trains, or more precisely, subway cars. Occasionally, he and I will combine both those loves and take a Metro trip to National Airport. Our Metro trips to the airport always happen on weekends, non-holiday weekends, so we're usually able to sit in the front seat in the lead car, right behind the Metro operator. My son still loves to look out the front of the train and watch the view from the operator's perspective. For us, the train ride is about 30 minutes.
Once we get to the airport, we usually go the newer terminals (B and C) and park in front of one of the windows and watch the planes take off and land. The airport is great for kids because there are plenty of places to eat, lots of things to see, and plenty of clean bathrooms to visit.
Local Sports Teams (both professional and amateur)
Lots to choose from...
The Northern Virginia area is lucky to have so many teams (and venues) for both pro and amateur sports. We've got pro teams in five major sports leagues -- Redskins (NFL), Wizards (NBA), Capitals (NHL), Nationals (MLB) and D.C. United (MLS). There are three minor league baseball teams in the area, including the Potomac Nationals, Bowie Baysox and Frederick Keys.
In addition to pro teams, there are several major college athletic programs in the area, including George Washington University, University of Maryland, American University and George Mason University.
Da Vinci Discovery Center in Allentown, PA
Wonderful, interactive museum about an hour north of Philadelphia
On the same trip that we visited the Baltimore Museum of Industry, we, along with a small group of other families with kids about the same ages as ours, visited the Da Vinci Discovery Center of Science and Technology in Allentown, PA. I enjoyed the museum so much that I actually wrote a short e-mail to the director of the museum, thanking him for the fun, interactive exhibits and the wonderful staff at the museum. More about the museum...
The museum is situated on top of a small hill near Cedar Crest College. The building has two floors. The bottom floor has a large space for several exhibits, a medium sized meeting room for demonstrations -- more on that later -- and a small eating area with vending machines (including a vending machine that dispenses hot food, such as pizza and french fries). The top floor contains several classrooms and an open area where about a dozen interactive exhibits were located. I don't recall what the theme of the exhibits on the second floor, but they were centered around the physics of motion.
My kids loved the interactive exhibits. There were lots of things to push, pull, wear, listen to, poke, prod, twist, turn, mash and build. Hopefully, they also learned a thing or two :-)
The staff at the museum was wonderful. Many of the volunteer staff appeared to be teenagers or young adults. They were great with the kids and very knowledgeable about the exhibits and the scientific principles behind them, too!
On the day that we visited the Da Vinci Discovery Center, Bob the Bike Man did two presentations. Bob (I'm sorry that I don't recall his last name) is from State College, PA and collects bicycles. Not just any bicycles, though. His collection includes all sorts of bicycles. Everyone loved his presentation. I'll try my best to describe the most impressive bicycle he demonstrated. Imagine two large bicycle wheels, maybe 8-10 feet in diameter, with a swinging bicycle seat in between. Getting on was tricky, and getting off was even more difficult!
All in all, the Da Vinci Discovery Center is a wonderful museum for kids under 13. There are lots of interactive exhibits and the staff is terrific. I highly recommend visiting the museum if you're driving through the Philadelphia area.
A Gem of a Museum in Baltimore
Baltimore Museum of Industry
The Baltimore Museum of Industry is a hidden treasure located a few minutes from Baltimore's Inner Harbor. Set in an old cannery, the BMI has lots of fascinating examples of machines and equipment from the past (and present).
We visited the BMI on a quiet Sunday afternoon in late August and had most of the museum to ourselves. Luckily, one of the volunteer tour guides noticed us wandering around the museum and offered to serve as our tour guide. She was fantastic! I would highly recommend asking for one of the tour guides to take you around the museum. Our tour guide was able to turn on and operate a lot of the working equipment. In addition, she was full of stories that truly made our visit special.
For instance, do you know what a courting candle is? During the 19th century, when courting was more fashionable than it is now :-), when a young suitor would come calling, the father would adjust the height of the candle by twisting a small lever.
Did you know that during the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904, fire engines from D.C. were summoned to assist, but, their effectiveness was limited because of incompatible couplings? As a result, the Federal Government mandated a universal size for all hose couplings?
Great Wolf Lodge
Awesome indoor waterpark!
We went to Great Wolf Lodge in Williamsburg, VA earlier this summer and loved it. The indoor waterpark is awesome! There's an area for toddlers, with two small water slides. There's also a great wave pool with plenty of rafts for everyone to use. The lazy river ride was fun, as were the larger water slides.
One bonus is that Great Wolf allows you to use the waterpark the day that you check in. In addition, you have the full run of the waterpark on the day that you check out, too.
Check out Our Kids, a great web site that lists activities and resources for kids and parents in the Washington, DC, Richmond, and Chesapeake, MD areas. Our Kids offers:
* a weekly newsletter,
* presale codes,
* fun giveaways
* and much more.
When you visit the Our Kids, please tell them that you read about them on the NovaKids Squidoo lens.
A disappointing holiday lights celebration
The National Zoo, in Washington, D.C., is offering ZooLights, from November 28th through December 30, 2007. The zoo is open from 6PM - 8PM each night. The main attraction is the numerous light displays, depicting various animals (obviously), throughout the zoo. In addition to the light displays, several of the buildings, such as the small mammal and reptile houses are open for visiting. Depending on the night of the week, there are other activities, such as a puppet show and craft stations, present.
My family went last Saturday night, and while the displays were great, we were disappointed that (a) the zoo didn't allow the roasting of marshmallows (despite advertising its availability) and (b) only a part of the zoo was actually part of the ZooLights exhibit.
The cost of the admission is $6 for FONZ members and $10 for non-members. FONZ members can purchase a family four-pack for $20. As always, TicketMaster is the most convenient option, but they charge an outrageous shipping and handling fee.
Air & Scare
Discover the spooky side of air and space!
I just received a flyer in the mail for Air & Scare, the annual Halloween event for ghosts and goblins of all ages. The event is held at the Udvar-Hazy Center, which is a companion facility to the main Smithsonian Air and Space Center in Washington, D.C. The Udvar-Hazy Center is located in Chantilly, VA just south of Washington Dulles International Airport.
Everyone is encourgaed to arrive in costume for indoor trick-or-treating. Your favorite "Star Wars" characters will be available for pictures. Young kids will be able to participate in Halloween crafts, hands-on activities and storytime. Older kids will have karaoke, simulation games and robotics demonstrations to keep them occupied. Here's my favorite event of the evening -- watch an episode of "The Jetsons" in the Imax Theater.
Air & Scare will be held on Saturday, October 25th from 4PM to 8PM at the Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. There in no cost for admission; however, parking is $10 per vehicle.