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Road Trip: Discovery Place in Charlotte

Discovery Place is part of a collection of family destinations that launched nearly 70 years ago. You'll find a mix of exhibits here - from a rainforest and aquarium to giant simple machines where kids can test their strength.

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Discovery Place in Charlotte
Sarah Lindenfeld Hall
We only had two hours. And, when we walked through the doors of Discovery Place in uptown Charlotte, my girls and I were a little overwhelmed. There were movies, a special exhibit, programs and events. And, it was busy. Families and school groups hopped from place to place.

What should we see? What are the don't miss attractions? I asked one of the women at the front desk for some advice. (See the nail of beds, she told us, among other recommendations). My girls were anxious to look around, so we set out on what would become one of our favorite parts of our visit to Charlotte.

Discovery Place is part of a collection of family destinations that launched nearly 70 years ago as the Charlotte Nature Museum, which still exists. In 1981, Discovery Place opened inside a 72,000-square-foot building and got a complete overhaul six years ago. In 2010, Discovery Place KIDS opened in Hunterville, N.C. Another followed in Rockingham, N.C., in 2013.

The mission, Kaitlin Rogers, the director of public relations, tells me, is to inspire curious thinkers and help them discover the wonders of science, technology and nature. You'll find a mix of exhibits here - from a rainforest and aquarium to giant simple machines where kids can test their strength.

My kids walked quickly through the first floor, wandering through the aquarium and the rainforest exhibit, a giant space with a fully functioning waterfall and a collection of animals that include reptiles, birds, frogs and sting rays.

But, for whatever reason, those exhibits didn't immediately capture a lingering interest. We'd been to an aquarium the day before. And, they've spent plenty of time in the labs and exhibits at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences' Nature Research Center in Raleigh. They were ready to really do.

Then, we got to the second floor. There, they found so many new things to see, they didn't know where to start. Should they create a building in Project Build, where you'll find all sorts of materials and tools? What about the Cool Stuff exhibit with that bed of nails; an air chair that's powered by air pressure; or what seems like an impossible tug-of-war match? Or, should they test their engineering skills in the Explore More Stuff Lab?

The answer to all of those questions was, "yes!" and "yes!" many more times. Between bouncing from one place to the next, they relaxed just briefly to watch "Fired Up," one of the regular shows that takes place on The Stage, along with other popular shows like "Rat Basketball" and "Sub Zero," which focuses on how science takes place in very cold temperatures. "Fired Up" explores combustion and features some pretty loud explosions.

Once the two hours were up, I had a difficult time dragging them away. My kids, ages 6 and 11, were at just the right age for the activities and programs. And, we saw many older tweens and teens completely engaged in the exhibits.

We hit most of the must-see activities, according to Rogers. If you go, she recommends seeing:

  • Bed of nails
  • Air Chair, the vacuumed-powered airlift
  • The aquarium tour where visitors can learn about the different animals in the tanks and see how they are fed and cared for.
  • The touch tank in the Explore More Life exhibit where visitors can touch sea creatures such as starfish and horseshoe crabs
  • And, the KidScience lab, which is designed for kids 7 and younger and includes a life-sized Lite Brite, a water table, a sound wall and more.

Discovery Place also has a regular schedule of 3D movies, which are free with your admission ticket. The movies, which run about 10 to 15 minutes, are perfect for younger kids if you need a break from the museum floor. The museum also has an IMAX theater, which is screening "National Parks Adventure 3D" at the moment.

And, the destination brings in regular special exhibits, including one that's all about the Rubik's cube. That opens later this month. I'll have much more about it next week.

Admission to Discovery Place is $13 for kids, $15 for seniors and military with ID and $17 for adults. Movies in the IMAX theater require another ticket. The museum is open daily and includes extended hours in the summer. You can find it at 301 N. Tryon St. in Charlotte.

Go Ask Mom features places to take kids every Friday. For more, check our posts on parks and playgrounds, Triangle family destinations and road trips.

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