Not too far from home is an internationally renowned museum. The kind that gets into the Guinness Book of World Records (seriously!) Yet we rarely visit the Strong National Museum of Play. Why? It’s not for lack of interesting exhibits – you can spend hours in that place and never be bored. The problem is the admission price. $13.50 per person over age 2 is just too much for my entire group for a few hours of fun on any given day. So when the company that two members of the group work for donated enough money to the museum for the museum to offer them and their immediate family members free admission, we jumped at the chance. After all, we hadn’t been there in over five years!
We visited the Strong National Museum of Play on a rainy Saturday evening (the museum is open until 8pm on Fridays and Saturdays). I can now say three things for certain: 1) don’t go on a rainy day, 2) don’t go on a Saturday, and 3) unless your attention span is about 30 seconds per exhibit, you need a lot more than 3 hours to experience the museum – there’s just so much to see!
There’s free parking behind the museum, so that’s no issue. Walk through the doors, past the carousal and gift shop entrance, then turn left near the glass windows to get to the admission desk (by the way, if you’re thinking about visiting the museum more than once or twice in a year, consider the membership options). After the admission desk, to the right, is one of my favorite rooms – the Field of Play! Climbing walls, dance games, funny house mirrors, kaleidoscope fun, balls rolling around on wires over your head, rooms that make you look taller or shorter depending on which side of the room you’re on, just way too much fun! (For kids and adults alike!) This room alone is worth at least 30 minutes.
You can then go upstairs or continue through the downstairs. The first time I visited, 10 or 12 years ago, the upstairs was filled with antique dolls and some US history of toys and fun. It was intended for adults, and that was fine. In fact, it was one of my favorite parts of the museum. So, I was a bit shocked this time to find out that they’ve turned the doll cases into a pay-per-play video arcade and a play house for children. Although some dolls were still on display, Mrs. Strong’s doll collection – the entire reason the museum was created – is more or less gone. You can’t blame the museum; they make their money on families with children coming to the exhibits, so they might as well use their limited space to that effect. But still… I miss the dolls.
So if you’re limited on time, you might just want to skip the upstairs.
Downstairs again are a variety of exhibits, including a play airplane / ship (Kit to Kid) and a Victorian-type house (One History Place). Given the number of children making “dinner” on the wood-burning stove, I’d say this is a popular attraction! There’s also a Sesame Street exhibit. I suppose I didn’t grow up on Sesame Street, so it doesn’t mean as much to me as a lot of kids. However, in this area is a really cool place – you dance in front of a screen, and the screen lights up with colored lights showing silhouettes of what you’re doing. Way cool!
If you keep walking past the train, you will come to Reading Adventureland. This is a great exhibit with history of books, secret tunnels, and all kinds of fun, but we never got there this time. (There’s also the Berenstain Bears exhibit in this area – I’ve never been there.) Instead, we went to what I think is probably most kids’ favorite part of the entire museum; a miniature Wegmans Grocery Store.
Never heard of Wegmans? Well, you obviously don’t live in New York State, nor likely Pennsylvania, nor New Jersey, nor Maryland, or Washington DC, or anywhere else where Wegmans has a store. The place has an outright cult following. I think it’s due to the outstanding service, clean stores, and “low price guarantee”. Personally? It’s quite nice. But so is Aldi 🙂 I know, I know, heresy.
At any rate, there are miniature shopping carts and baskets. Children can wander through the small “store” and pick up five (or a few more) items, take them up to miniature checkouts, place the plastic and cardboard “food” on the belt, then scan the items. Pressing a few keys on the cash register prints a real receipt. Then the children put away the food and pick up more to go through the check out again. How much fun is that? Parents all around us were having trouble getting their kids out of there. I myself have always said it was one of my favorite parts of the museum!
Between everything, that’s how we spent our three hours. They flew by in an instant. We could easily have spent a couple more hours. But I suppose we’ll have to wait and see if the company has their little donation again next year!
Hours: Monday-Thursday, 10am to 5pm; Friday & Saturday, 10am to 8pm; Sunday, noon to 5pm.
Facilities: Quite a number of restrooms; food court (Pizza Hut Express, Taco Bell Express, Subway, Louie’s Sweet Shoppe, vending machines); gift shop, elevator, etc.
Fees: $13.50; children under 2 are free (Note: if you decide to buy a membership after paying the admission fee, at least some of your admission fee is credited toward the membership price.)
Ease of getting there
Price for experience
Would I go 100 miles out of my way for this?
Getting to the Strong National Museum of Play
If coming from the east: On I-490W in downtown Rochester, NY, take Exit 16 toward Clinton Avenue (if you go across the impressive bridge over the Genesee River, you’ve gone too far). The exit will merge straight into Chestnut Street. Take the first right onto Woodbury Blvd; continue straight around the Museum of Play into the parking area behind the building. Follow the signs and you can’t miss it.
If coming from the west: On I-490E, just after crossing the impressive bridge over the Genesee River in downtown Rochester, NY, take Exit 15, signed for the Inner Loop. Keep right following the signs for Monroe Avenue rather than the Inner Loop. Turn left at the first light (Chestnut Street). Take the first right onto Woodbury Blvd; continue straight around the Museum of Play into the parking area behind the building. Follow the signs and you can’t miss it.
This Week’s Featured Product!
Love old dolls? This book features American-made dolls from the Strong Museum’s collection. It’s quite complete, with dolls from many different eras.
Thu Aug 17
Partly cloudy this morning, then becoming cloudy during the afternoon. A stray shower or thunderstorm is possible. High 82F. Winds ESE at 5 to 10 mph.
Fri Aug 18
Intervals of clouds and sunshine. A stray shower or thunderstorm is possible. High 84F. Winds WSW at 10 to 20 mph.
Sat Aug 19
Partly cloudy. High 78F. Winds W at 10 to 20 mph.
Sun Aug 20
A mainly sunny sky. High 81F. Winds WNW at 10 to 15 mph.
Mon Aug 21
Mainly sunny. High near 85F. Winds W at 5 to 10 mph.