As a mom in Chapel Hill, I don't generally make it to Raleigh. It isn't too terribly far, but it just feels like it with a child in a car seat. But I can say that Marbles Kids Museum in downtown Raleigh is completely worth it. This place is crazy fun!
Sarah C. and I decided to take the boys there during one of these super hot summer days. Our toddlers needed space to roam, explore, be entertained, try something new, and generally see someone besides their mommies. And Marbles delivered.
As with Kidzu
(which is a smaller version of this idea in downtown Chapel Hill), I am not sure what is "museum" ish about this place. There are opportunities to learn through the exhibits, but really most kids are running around frantically playing with the toys, not necessarily stopping to read about aquatic life. That said, I really didn't care much since we had so much fun.
There are a few different areas to Marbles: Around Town, Splash!, Storybook Forest, Moneypalooza, IdeaWorks, Art Loft, and Power2Play. There are also two outdoor areas, one of which is a garden, the other focuses on water. We didn't check out the outdoor spots since we were specifically trying to avoid the 100+ heat.
Each area is theme based. If you child is younger (3 and under), Splash! and the Around Town exhibits are going to the best, as recommended by staff. These exhibits have the best hands-on activities for toddlers. In the other exhibits toddlers seem to get a little under foot (as in the Moneypalooza, which is fabulous for wee ones, just frenetic as tons of older kids are in there) and/or there are serious choking hazards (especially in the Art Loft and the IdeaWorks areas).
In Around Town, they have a Baby Marbles play space. It is walled with soft, age-appropriate toys for about the 1 year and younger mark, and a "tasted toys" bin for toys that go in the mouth (note that this does not exist for the rest of the museum).
Marbles thinks of everything. For example, in Splash, they had waterproof aprons for the kids to wear as they got wet.
The museum shop here (called The Corner Store) is pretty fun, too! There is a spot to snack, with tables and chairs. And, for the parents, there is a Larry's Beans espresso bar. Hallelujah! The shop sells a lot of great toys and snack items. If you want to dine, there is a Roly Poly sandwiches
joint over by the IMAX theatre outside the museum in the courtyard. They are quite good, as well.
By the way, did you notice what I said there? IMAX. Yes, downtown Raleigh has a beautiful, fantastic, fun IMAX theatre. The IMAX shows flicks that are in the very popular 3D genre (such as "Twilight: Eclipse" and "Toy Story 3D") and also more standard education fare such as "Hubble 3D." If you definitely want to see IMAX while you are on a daytrip to Marbles, you will do best to check the showtimes (see link below) beforehand. Sometimes even the daytime shows are for more mature audiences. Or sold out (such as said "Twilight: Eclipse" film).
Marbles is very easy to navigate. We took our strollers in and, honestly, it seemed more of a pain than a help. The boys kept moving around, and we kept having to keep track of the strollers, moving them, and finding some place that was out of the way for them. There are lockers to rent for valuables.
I have to say I feel bad for the people who have to clean Marbles at the end of each day. I am one of those moms who puts every single toy away every night, and feel like I have to find every nesting cup and stacking ring before the job is done. Well, I hope that whoever cleans Marbles doesn't feel that way. Because there are toys everywhere. Around Town toys end up upstairs in Moneypalooza, and Splash toys were laying in the hallway. This place is all about free play. So no worries about toys going everywhere or your child running.
One cool little tip: near the front desk, there is a kiosk that holds a bunch of round pieces of paper. These pieces of paper are changed weekly, have a number, and are collectibles for kids. What I like about them is that they are fun yet also educational. One disc we picked up, which is #7, is called "Backyard Obstacle Course" and challenges kids at home to set up a course, complete with activity ideas such as Wiggle Worm and Hop To It.
Admission is free for kids under 1, and $5 for everyone else (including parents). They do have discounted days and specials. Right now you get $1 off on Wednesdays if you show your Food Lion MVP card, and on Tuesday nights the whole family can play for $2 per person, with the place open until 8pm. Every first Friday the museum is open until 8pm for Family Date Night (no, you don't leave your kids and get a parent date, this is an arranged activity for the whole family).
Marbles can get crowded, but it can also hold a lot of kids. Weekends are going to be the most packed. We went lunch time on a weekday and felt as though we had plenty of space.
Marbles does offer membership packages. There are different levels, from $80-$150 a year, with different benefits and add-on options for other family members. In general, membership gets you in early on Wednesdays, discounts, free admission, advance IMAX ticket sales, advanced IMAX seating, and more.
Marbles is geared towards kids 10 & under
There are summer camps offered for kids 3-13.
They do birthday parties at both the IMAX and at the museum.
Parking is downtown Raleigh parking. There are lots nearby, but you will have to pay.
Basically, Sarah C. and I agreed that this place is great for a day of indoor play. Definitely worth the trip.Marbles Kids Museumwww.marbleskidsmuseum.org201 East Hargett Street (downtown Raleigh)Raleigh 27601919-834-4040Open Tuesdays - Saturdays, 9 am to 5 pm; Sundays, noon to 5 pm (closed Mondays)IMAXhttp://www.imaxraleigh.org/(919)882-IMAX