The official OWTK review of the new and improved Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia was written over the course of two full-day visits to the kiddie pleasure dome within it's first full week of being open to the public.
If you've never been, you should know that the old center city location of the Please Touch Museum was a stuffy, heavily-worn space that was unable to compete with other major metropolitan childrens' museums. While the exhibits there, Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are, the Septa bus, etc. showed ingenuity and used the tiny space as best it could, such cleverness couldn't help on a crowded day when the bevy of strollers, misdirected little feet and frustrated parents was more than unbearable. Additionally, parking downtown could be pricey and was at best 3-4 blocks away. Philadelphia needed something better.
The elongated, expensive project to move the museum to Fairmount Park was started years ago and just this month was officially completed when the doors swung open for the first time on October 18th. Memorial Hall, the grand old holdover from America's Centennial bash in 1876, is the site of the palatial childrens' fun house that is sure to become the crown jewel of America's kiddie museums. The venue is gargantuan, the exact opposite of the old place, and is remarkably striking inside and out. Memorial Hall lends itself very well to the new home-away-from-home to children everywhere. And the parking is only $5 (free for members and out front on the Ave. of the Republic) and the lot is right next to the massive building.
With numerous exhibits to see and touch, the best moments we experienced inside the Please Touch Museum were:
- The Please Touch Playhouse - an intimate theater seemingly carved out of 130 year old stone. The show running through December is called Pinch Bear and is absolutely terrific (shows at 11am, 1pm and 3pm daily). We saw it twice, once on each visit, performed first by Alice Gonglewski and then David Hutchmen; both actors were wonderful. The show is a perfectly enticing blend of imagination, humor and water (yes, you get just a bit wet. Your kids will love it!). David informed me that the Playhouse shows rotate about every two months so up next in December will be a Holiday show. We can't wait!
- Alice in Wonderland - as if the old Alice exhibit received a shipment from BALCO and beefed up like Barry Bonds. Pardon the pun, but the new Wonderland space is a grand slam home run. It's big, beautiful and exciting for kiddies while also nostalgic for grown ups.
- Fairytale Garden - an area ideal for the littlest visitors with a gated entrance and an attendant watching over the area. Right next to Wonderland, and a nice spot to let the children roam free while watching from a distance.
- City Capers Medical Center - a cute hospital/nursery with lab coats, cribs, baby dolls, blankets and a variety of doctor's equipment allowing your child to become a mini-M.D.
The Fairytale Garden has what appears to be the entire Smurf village encased in glass at eye level for toddlers and there are two cool found-art/toy projects in Memorial Hall. One is a large elephant and the other, a towering replica of the Statue of Liberty's torch that greets visitors as they enter the Hall. The Torch was displayed here in 1876 before the Statue was completed in NYC.
There is something inside the Please Touch Museum for adults as well. The 1876 Centennial exhibit is wonderful and is everything I hoped it would be the day I read that they discovered a full scale replica of what Fairmount Park looked like in 1876 during the preparation of the space for Please Touch to move in. It's amazing to picture the city at that time with so many long-gone architectural wonders dotting the landscape. (Even in this "adult" exhibit there is hands-on stations for children to explore - cool stuff like an old telephone, school house and wooden doll house furniture).
All is not perfect however. The serpentine line to enter the museum can be foreboding and when multiple kids are in tow, can be extremely off-putting right off the bat. One of the big reasons for the long lines is that there are a mere 4 cashiers to assist with tickets/memberships and although the menu of choices, if not at all complicated, still takes some time for each museum guest to finalize their ticket purchase. And being a member doesn't have it's advantages when it comes to entering quickly. Members, too, must stand in the general line for paper tickets in order to play inside.
The other undersized area is the one where you might feel the most frustrated, especially with too-hungry little ones tugging on your pant leg. The food inside the cleverly named Please Taste Cafe is quite delicious and reasonably priced but the dining area is way too small for such an expansive new museum. They need to find more seating, I would recommend something outside during the warmer months and maybe inside the carousel house during chiller days. I imagine that enjoying lunch while watching the Dentzel carousel spin would be a lovely time. That being said, the lunch choices are quite good. We sampled the cold Grilled Chicken Sandwich with fresh mozzarella, roasted red peppers and a pesto mayo and the Pesto Pizzsand, which is a warm gyro-like sandwich with grilled chicken, sun dried tomatoes, marinated red onion and garlic mayo. It was fantastic, filling and only $5.75. The Please Taste Cafe also has a pasta station (see picture) where you can make your own pasta meal by selecting 1 of 4 types of pasta and a bevy of veggies and other mix-ins and 1 of 4 sauces. That is a mere $4.75. Very nice choices all of them. Also offered are yogurts, cereal, milk, super pretzels, drinks and a variety of snacks and frozen ice cream treats.
The Please Touch Museum Memorial Hall is a glorious place to spend a day as a family. OWTK cannot encourage you enough to come to Philly and see this marvelous place with your kids. Tickets are $15 for adults and kids over 1. A spin on the magnificently restored carousel (a pretty short ride for the price, to be honest) will cost you an extra $3 per person riding (you can stand with your child for free). Plan your visit to the Please Touch Museum today.