Just 2-1/2 hours away an incredible family adventure awaits at the Strong Museum of Play in Rochester. As noted on their website, "The Strong is a highly interactive, collections-based museum devoted to the history and exploration of play. It is one of the largest history museums in the United States and one of the leading museums serving families. The Strong houses the world's largest and most comprehensive collection of historical materials related to play. The Strong's multifaceted array of research, exhibits, and other interpretive and educational activities serve a diverse audience of adults, families, children, students, teachers, scholars, collectors, and others around the globe."
They certainly aren’t kidding when they say it’s one of the largest museums! We spent 4 full hours there and we didn’t see and do it all. The museum is divided into exhibits and collections that are suitable for just about every age. We decided to start on the second floor with the “eGameRevolution” exhibit and work our way down. This section of the museum included things like traditional arcade games and pinball, classic console games, giant size games like Connect 4 and Lite Brite and so much more. We could have spent hours just in this area! Good to know – tokens are required to play most of the arcade style games. There are machines which dispense 5 tokens for $1.00 and each game is just one token, so it’s not a bad value at all. Just don’t get stuck without any cash!
We made our way through “America At Play”, a look through the past with a specially curated exhibit of toys and play from the last 300 years as well as some hands-on games such as toy trivia and a touch-screen concentration game. Next we headed to “Build, Drive, Go” where Oliver could have spent hours creating a custom track to race cars, building a vehicle out of Magformers, creating a tower with oversized building blocks and so much more.
By this time we were hungry and there were a few options to purchase lunch at the museum. There’s a food court with Pizza Hut, Subway and Taco Bell Express, but we chose the 50’s style diner in the main entrance hall for burgers and fries while seated on stools at the counter (pink vintage style booths also available!). While outside food isn’t allowed in the food court or diner, there is a lunchroom where you may enjoy snacks from home. Good to know – coolers, picnic baskets and parties aren’t allowed here. There is a playground and park right next to the museum, so pack a picnic and enjoy it outside if you like! Each person receives a wristband when you enter, so you can go in and out.
After lunch, we explored the first floor of the museum which is about three times the size of the second floor! “Reading Adventureland” (mystery mansion, adventure island, wizard’s workshop - Harry Potter fans will like this - and fairy tale forest) was just amazing. Everything is larger than life, hands-on and gets kids not only using their physical bodies, but also their brains. One of Oliver’s favourite areas was definitely “Imagination Destination” where he could command a futuristic spaceship, get into an emergency helicopter with working controls, put on a costume and perform a skit (complete with a soundboard with laugh track, applause, etc.), show off his moves in the dance lab, and climb a rocket ship, go down a tube slide and go through a ropes maze in a small jungle gym.
One of my favourite parts of the museum was Sesame Street. My heart was so happy to see the characters and set from my childhood. It was a really sweet dose of nostalgia for me. Oliver enjoyed serving us the most realistic play food I’ve ever seen from a food delivery cart, getting into a yellow taxi with Cookie Monster and Elmo as his passengers, playing hopscotch, chess and checkers and working at the theatre to give us tickets to a show (Sesame Street episodes!) that you can sit and enjoy when your feet need a break!
Towards the end of the day we realized we still hadn’t seen the “American Comic Book Heroes” exhibit, the “Toys Hall of Fame” and “One History Place” so we spent some, but not enough, time in each of these exhibits which were all worthwhile. We ended the day with a visit to “The Berenstain Bears: Down a Sunny Dirt Road” which we all absolutely loved. Oliver worked at Mama Bear’s Quilt Shop, used Papa Bear’s woodworking tools in his workshop and fixed some pipes in a sink, served lunch in the very realistic Bear Family restaurant, and played with vegetables and clucking chickens who lay eggs at Farmer Ben’s Farm. What a delight this area was!
There were several exhibits and areas we didn’t have time for like a Wegman’s grocery store set up just like a real one with carts, checkouts, food, etc. but all kid-sized, a butterfly garden (extra charge), The Strong Express Train (extra charge, $1.00 per ride), Women in Games, Pinball Playfields and Field of Play – a large, interactive and creative one-of-a-kind play laboratory.
Other interesting things to note about the museum is that there are reading nooks throughout with bookshelves stocked with stories for all ages. When you need a break, you can sit down and read to your child, or let them read quietly on their own. Hand sanitizer dispensers are everywhere too. These are super important given that everything is hands-on. I also noticed a really neat sign in the bathroom – if your child soils their clothes, they have extra clothing from baby to kid-size, you just have to ask a staff member.
Will we go back to the Strong Museum? Absolutely! It was well worth the drive and Rochester is a pretty interesting city with many other things to see and do.