If you’ve never been to the Orlando Science Center, let me tell you…you’re in for a treat! My family (plus my mom and two nieces and nephew) tried to explore every corner of the OSC so that we could tell you everything you need to know!
The first thing I have to tell you is this: It’s impossible to see everything in the Orlando Science Center in one day. The place is 4 floors of displays, exhibits, experiments and play areas. Everything is hands on. Everything is engaging. Everything is (fairly) clean and new. The place is crammed full of fun things to see and do and touch and play with. It’s awesome.
We arrived at 10:30 a.m. and stayed until just after 3. Parking is across the street in a dedicated garage and it costs $5 to park. You cross into the OSC via an enclosed bridge walkway and are greeted immediately at reception where you can buy tickets. Adults cost $19.95, seniors are $17.95 and kids over 3 are $13.95 each. (Kid age 2 and under are free). They have free strollers you can borrow when you’re there too. We borrowed one but ended up leaving it outside the exhibit halls all the time because the kids were up and active everywhere. Unless you have a little baby, you probably don’t need a stroller here.
The woman at the front desk recommended we start on floor 4 and work our way down. The 4th floor has a dinosaur exhibit called DinoDigs and an exhibit about Earth called Our Planet. The kids immediately looked over the dinosaur skeletons and then jumped into the digging pit to uncover the hidden bones. From there we wandered into Our Planet where we got to play on an earthquake simulator, inside a hurricane tunnel and watch a tornado form in a tornado tube. The kids could make waves in a small wave pool and fly things through an air tunnel. They could make clouds, roll balls in circles and launch their own paper airplanes through a small obstacle course. We got to Dr. Dare’s Lab, where they have small science experiment labs setup with personal computers and all the pieces you need to explore capillaries with coffee filters, iron and minerals in food with crushed breakfast cereal, or mix vitamin C into a starch solution to see how vitamin C protects your body from toxins.
After a quick potty break and fruit snack, we started exploring the 3rd floor. Here you’ll find the Engineer It! exhibit where they have lots of things you can build. There’s tinker toys, PVC pipes, connecting gears to assemble and turn, arches to build, and little Lego boats that you can build and load up with marbles to see how they float – and how much makes them sink. Around every corner was something new and the kids wanted to try it all. Pretty awesome considering these are all legitimate science and learning-based activities. Sometimes kids figure that out and start to complain but not one of our troupe of five ever had a complaint much less a moment of boredom.
Next we went down to the 2nd floor’s Idea Factory where kids can “Think, Make, Do.” There’s a big cardboard construction area and more tinker toys. Then we found the Science Park room which held the kids’ all-time favorite: the “potential energy” race car track. The kids pick up a car, race up the stairs and let it go down the ramp in a race against the other cars. I think each kid did this back-and-forth race at least a dozen times before we made them move on. It’s supposed to teach them about potential energy but I think it truly just shows how much energy potential these kids can have! Right nearby is a huge magnetic wall with a large variety of PVC pipe pieces also attached to magnets. This lets the kids build big tube paths for little wooden balls to travel down, turning and falling their way as demonstrations of gravity. This building wall was also a focal point for all the kids. The little ones built a ramp path lower on the wall while the bigger kids made their ramps go so high that they couldn’t reach to drop in the balls. With growling tummies we started making our way to lunch.
Downstairs on the first floor is a cafe with a Subway sandwich shop for lunch.
After lunch we visited the first floor’s KidsTown. Here the kids can build with giant foam pieces and then play in simulated waterways with boats and dams. There’s also the NatureWorks area on this floor and while I missed exploring this part I did hear a lot about the orange grove harvesting experience from the older kids who went off to explore on their own. We also caught a glimpse of the live alligators, turtles and fish in the center pond at the center of the building while riding the glass elevator back up to floor two. The glass elevator is a lot of fun as it climbs up and down the building alongside this giant tree that showcases birds and nests and other things that you’d see if you could climb a big tree somewhere in the wild.
Back on the 2nd floor we visited the special traveling exhibits. We wandered through the new Harley Davidson exhibit but our kids were more interested in the Wizard of Oz exhibit. Here the center showcases two dozen learning centers themed around the movie. The girls brushed the cowardly lion’s mane and climbed through his dark tunnel to show their bravery. There’s a soft rainbow arch that kids can build right on top of the infamous yellow brick road, and a stationary bike the kids can ride with Toto in his basket on the back. The best part of this exhibit, at least for our adventurous kids, was the rock climbing and spider-web rope wall that they could climb on the tower of the emerald city. All the kids, except the 2 year old, managed to climb across both challenges and had fun doing it over and over again.
Finally we made our way out to the All Aboard room on the 2nd floor. Here kids can play on a giant train, attempt to fix a red race car, load bricks up and down on a pulley system, push and pull parts and pieces all over the room, and play with conveyor belts and toy cranes. This is really where you can appreciate the wide-ranging appeal of the Orlando Science Center. As we ended our visit in this room we reflected on how much fun each child had. No matter what their age, there was always something to see and do in every corner of every exhibit. There was always something that appealed to every kid, every age and every interest. That’s saying a lot.
Usually when you visit science centers or similar places there are rooms that appeal to the preschool kids and rooms that appeal to the older kids. Rarely do the two meet. That’s not the case at The Orlando Science Center. Each exhibit has wide-ranging appeal and, again, across almost 5 hours, not once did even one child complain about being bored. It was great fun for all.
We didn’t make it to see a movie, of which there are three that run throughout the day. We also didn’t get to see one the Science Live! shows or really explore all of the NaturePark on the first level. We totally missed the Severe Weather Experience and the Crosby Observatory. Like I said in the beginning, it’s almost impossible to see everything here in just one day. The OSC is truly rich with experiences.
The next time there’s a rainy day or when the summer heat makes playing outside unbearable, I’d definitely recommend planning a day at the Orlando Science Center. It’s a little pricey (a few bucks per person more than the zoo) but definitely cheaper and more hands-on engaging than any of our local amusement parks. To save money you can considering buying a Family Membership for $155 and visit more than once, or you can get 10% off if you have a AAA membership. If you’re a teacher you can get in for free with your valid teaching credentials too.
To learn more about the Orlando Science Center, visit them online at http://www.osc.org.