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Great Lakes Children’s Museum

February 2, 2017

  • 13240 S. West Bay Shore Drive
  • Traverse City, MI 49684
  • (231) 932-4526
  • Website

Our big plans for Saturday in Traverse City was checking in to Great Wolf Lodge.  L couldn’t wait, but we had a few hours between lunch and when we could actually get in.

In past trips up north, we have always found a lighthouse on our second day.  The first year we went, we went out to Mission Point Lighthouse.  Last fall, we headed out to Lealanau State Park to check out the Grand Traverse Lighthouse Museum.  It was pretty warm for being the  middle of January but we still didn’t want to be out in the cold, so we found something else to do.  A children’s museum.

The Great Lakes Children’s Museum over looks the West Arm of the Grand Traverse Bay in Elmwood Charter Township just outside of Traverse City.  It’s a short drive from downtown north on M-22.  The building is on the Discovery Center – Great Lakes campus in an old boat supply store and repair shop that was donated to the museum in 2006.

We pulled in to the parking lot just before 1:00 on a Saturday afternoon.  The small parking lot seemed pretty empty, but the “open” sign was lit up in the window.

The first thing you notice when walking to the building is the replica “Mighty Mac” on the outside of the building. It’s part of the Building Bridges exhibit which would be more fun in the summer time.   L wanted to run across the bridge a few times even though it wasn’t between us and the front door.  We let her because who wouldn’t want to run across that bridge.  

There’s a mural on the side of the building that works as the back drop to the bridge.  On the other side of the entry way, the sky is filled with children’s hand prints.

The first thing you come to inside is the small Power of Play gift shop and admission counter.  The price for everyone over the age of one is $7 per person.  B just turned one not too long ago so it cost the four of us $28 to get in and play for a couple of hours.

The museum itself isn’t that big, but they have packed a lot of neat stuff in to the small space.  The first thing we tried to tackle was the water table known as Fluids 101.  We know that B loves splashing in the water and thought he might like that.  He’s still a little too short and not good enough on his feet to stand on a step stool by himself.  We took turns holding him up and splashing water, but he didn’t have much interest.  L was kind of the same way.  She played with me for a while redirecting the water and pushing the boats down the chutes.  She used to love the water tables at children’s museums, but didn’t have much of an interest in this one.  We kept coming back though thinking B would warm up to it.  He did for a while once we showed him the boats and how to move the channels, but he’d play with it for a few minutes then find something else.

The big winner for the day for my kids was a slide near the water table.  B liked it for the stairs.  He just wanted to go up and down the stairs.  He wasn’t really into the tubes that connected the stairs to the slide.  I had to go in and fish him out once, but he loved the stairs.  L was having a blast running up the stairs and chasing the other kids to the slide.  This area also has a couple of boats for the kids to play on.  One of them, Row Row Row, is a small row boat with magnetic fishing poles and large stuffed fish with magnets in the noses.  Both kids played with that for a while, but the one L tried to really take control of was the Welcome Too.  I know nothing about boats, but it’s described “as our authentically reproduced, single-masted, gaff-rigged sloop fashioned after “Welcome.”  L called it a “Moana Boat.”  She pulled that sail up and down and pretended she was sailing out in the ocean for as long as we’d let her.

We got both kids over to the other side of the wall for a little while where they have a couple of larger structures dealing with Coast Guard and Great Lakes maritime history.  There’s a replica of a Great Lakes freighter to play on, but the hit on this side for my kids was the Coast Guard Helicopter with a blade you could turn from the inside and the Lighthouse and Keeper’s Quarters.  The helicopter and lighthouse are constructed so they can be accessed by a single staircase large enough for an adult to climb up.  I chased L up and down the stairs and did my best to keep B out of people’s way as he tried to chase us.  The lighthouse overlooks the whole museum and out in to the bay.  The Keeper’s Quarters are underneath the lighthouse.  There’s dress up clothes, a kitchen, and play area.  B really liked this.  He got to playing with one of the other kids with some of the plastic food.  No one dressed up, but the Quarter’s are just big enough that J and I could duck our heads down and get in there and play with the kids.

My favorite part of the museum is the Lilliputian Puppet Theatre.  They have a really cool space set up with a number of different puppets and backdrops.  There’s also a camera pointed at the opening in the theater and a feed of that camera into the “backstage” so you can see what you’re doing without putting your head into the window.  L and I crawled back there to put on a show for B and J.  B loved it.  He was so intrigued by the puppets and kept reaching out to grab them off our hands.  L didn’t quite get the concept of how to do a puppet show, but we did our best to provide a little entertainment.

There are a few more areas that are more on the educational side that I tried to get L interested in, but she’s still at the age where she views it as a play area and not so much a learning area.  Le’ts Go Sailing is an area that focuses on the physics of sailing that I found interesting.  There’s also a Living River exhibit near the entrance which is projected on to the floor from the ceiling and actually reacts when you step on it.  There’s a toddler area that’s totally enclosed, but B was not a fan at all.  As soon as we set him down, he was trying to get out.  He really didn’t give it much of a chance though…he just wanted to play on the stairs.

The Great Lakes Children’s Museum was a really good way to spend an afternoon.  It’s not the biggest children’s museum you’ll ever come across but there’s a lot to do and a lot to keep the kids happy.  We’ve driven by this place on the nice sunny days we’ve been in Traverse City in the past, but on a cold winter day, this was perfect for an afternoon before heading to the water park.

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