The age of Legos is just dawning in our house (2 and 4 year-old boys), and trains are already a mainstay, so the Stamford Museum and Nature Center's latest exhibit seemed to be on the PERFECT track for us. Its title, 'ALL ABOARD with Bill Probert & Friends III' is a bit of a mouthful, but it's also an eyeful -- of what the imagination and an unknown amount of time can do. We're talking a miniature city block -- made of Legos ... and that's just the beginning. Unfortunately, the exhibit will leave you impressed and wanting at the same time. There is nothing interactive about it ... but Mommy Poppins is going to fix that for you with a tip or two on how to make this worth the trip and admission price.
First off, logistics. This was our first-ever visit to the SMNC. We parked where the attendant advised, at a parking lot right in front of the Museum building. Our mistake was in not asking about stroller/wheelchair access. Strollers are NOT permitted into the 'All Aboard' exhibit, or neighboring 'Visions of Gingerbread' display -- the only two exhibits in the museum ... so you may want to forego the stroller altogether. That being said, there's a pretty steep hill between the parking lot and the Museum building (parking lots at the top of the hill were off limits for some reason). If you've got a non-walking, heavy and/or unruly toddler, you do NOT have to forge through the grass next to the stairway with your stroller because you couldn't find a ramp! There is a paved driveway to the far left of the Museum building (if you're facing it) that leads to the main entrance of the building. Phew!
Once inside, almost everything is to your right. To get to 'All Aboard' you have to pass through the 'Visions of Gingerbread', which doesn't disappoint. Take a look around now or on your way out ... then vote on your favorite.
Keep moving to the right, and you'll see a small display of Lego creations done by children for a Museum contest, and then to your left: the motherlode. A cityscape of Legos greets you -- bright, colorful, and buzzing with the activity of more than one moving Lego train. Visitors (and curious little hands) are separated by a short plexiglass wall and those elastic crowd control dividers, which wind around the L-shaped room past Star Wars scenarios, an Arctic town, a farm, pirate ships and more. How do they DO that?? It's incredibly detailed, and obviously a labor of love. I only wish I could tell you how much labor -- there was precious little information on the exhibit. How long did it take to build? How did they develop the 'blueprints' for each landscape? Where was it constructed? In how many stages? And the bazillion dollar question -- how many Legos did it take to build the 'ALL ABOARD with Bill Probert & Friends III' exhibit?? Instead, you're left to simply gawk, which is fun*, but it's a missed opportunity for a lesson on diligence, planning and architecture. It also would have been a lot of fun for the Museum to make a scavenger hunt out of it, with a checklist of things to 'find.' Otherwise, you miss so much trying to take it all in. If you have the advantage of two adults on your visit, perhaps send one in in advance to create your own hunt, while everyone else checks out the gingerbread!
And what about the torture of seeing thousands of Legos, but not being allowed to touch them ... or tap into the creativity it undoubtedly inspires? I asked if there was anything we missed in the Museum ('All Aboard' and 'Visions of Gingerbread' had taken all of about 20 minutes). The young lady said the only other thing was the Children's Center on the opposite side of the building -- which is STOCKED WITH LEGOS!!!!! A-haa! Someone HAD been thinking about this! But again, no information or signs pointing you in that direction. My boys were thrilled, and we spent a good 40 minutes building (and destroying) ... until a diaper change called us off. Two other families wandered in while we were there-- certainly a small percentage of those visiting. I wonder how many more there would have been had they known!
We wrapped up our trip with an outdoor stroll/romp over to and through the otter pond and animal farm. We spent two hours on the expansive grounds -- and never even made it to the cool-looking playground, so I felt like we got our money's worth out of the day ($10/adult; $5/children 4+). If it had been raining, or the husband had been along, too, I doubt I would have felt that way. It boils down to a) your financial position and b) how badly you need to get the kids OUT of the house! 'ALL ABOARD with Bill Probert & Friends III' runs through January 27th, 2013.
*unless you have an un-strollered toddler who keeps having a go at the plexiglass. As uncrowded as it was, the no stroller rule really didn't seem to make much sense on this Sunday afternoon.
Stamford Museum & Nature Center
39 Scofieldtown Rd., Stamford, CT 06903