Twenty years or so ago, the Phoenix area was widely considered a cultural wasteland. Those days are long gone. Today, the greater Phoenix area is home to some fantastic museums and other educational venues, many of which are quite family-friendly. This week we look at several must-see Phoenix experiences.
– Musical Instrument Museum
Humans are hard-wired for music, as evidenced by the existence of music and musical instruments in every human culture going back thousands of years. This dazzling museum's collection of more than 10,000 instruments is guaranteed to engage, entertain, and impress. It features exhibits organized by instrument (guitars, violins, trumpets, percussion, etc.), geography (Asia, Middle East, U.S., Canada, Latin America, etc. There's a special exhibit of Treasures from Central China going on now) artist (Elvis, Taylor Swift, Tito Puente, and dozens from around the world), and more. There's also a fascinating exhibit of mechanical instruments (nickelodeons, music boxes, player pianos, etc.) and you won't want to miss the Experience Gallery, where you and the kids can strum, pluck, stroke, bang, stomp, and otherwise play instruments from every corner of the world. For all ages. One-day and two-day passes available, including a self-guided audio tour. https://mim.org/
– Butterfly Wonderland
The largest indoor rainforest in the United States is in Scottsdale, Arizona, and it's truly a marvel. The experience starts with a short 3D movie about Monarch butterflies and then moves on to the Emergence Gallery, where you can watch former caterpillars emerge from their chrysalises or cocoons (for those who don't know the difference, helpful and knowledgeable guides are available to explain that – and a lot more). Then it's on to the Conservatory, where more than 3,000 butterflies and moths from around the world flutter among the lush tropical plants and flowers. Humans are asked not to touch the flying creatures, but the animals themselves didn't get that message and see us as convenient resting places, which makes for great photo ops. There are also lovely exhibits of rainforest reptiles, bees, and insects. For all ages. Prices vary. https://butterflywonderland.com
– OdySea Aquarium
Located in the same complex as the Butterfly Wonderland, this aquarium is the largest in the Southwest United States (and we'd like to meet the geniuses who had the foresight to open an aquarium in the middle of the desert). The people who run it are completely committed to conservation and education. The aquarium has exhibits that focus on geographical areas (reefs, kelp forests, etc.) as well as specific animal types (river otters, paddle fish, piranhas, penguins, giant octopi, and more), and there are several hands-on exhibits where you can touch rays, sharks (harmless ones, of course), and others. We really loved the Bizarre & Beautiful section, where we discovered the Walking Batfish. But our favorite was the just-opened OdySea Voyager, billed as "the world's only revolving aquarium experience." You sit in comfortable seats and over the course of 20 minutes, the "ship" slowly moves throughout the ocean, making stops to explore sharks, sea lions, sea turtles, and the biggest rays you'll ever see. For all ages. Family- and annual passes available. https://www.odyseaaquarium.com/
– OdySea Laser + Mirror Maze
Need a break from all the gorgeous wildlife? The Mirror Maze experience is the perfect respite. We have no idea how big the maze is, but it'll take 10-15 minutes to make your way through it. Thanks to some cool graphics, the images on the walls constantly change, and thanks to the requirement that everyone wear gloves, there are no fingerprints on the mirrors that would help you figure out whether you're walking into a wall or going down the right passage. When you're done, try the Laser Maze Challenge, where you can either duck, twist, and crawl your way through a laser obstacle course, or do Buster Beam, where the object is to break as many lasers as you can. Ages 6+. Tickets can be purchased separately or as part of a combo package with the Butterfly Wonderland and/or Aquarium. http://www.odyseamirrormaze.com/
(Armin and Samantha are the authors of the popular parenting blogs: http://www.mrdad.com and http://www.havesippywilltravel.com.
For more reviews of toys and games, visit http://www.parentsatplay.com/)