Staff Picks: The New Children’s Museum and Theater of Maine
I took my son to the Grand Opening of the Children’s Museum in Portland and we really enjoyed our visit! My children and I frequented the former Children’s Museum over the years and we have such fond memories from those visits. It’s been exciting to watch the new museum spring up on Thompson’s Point in Portland, and we have been very curious about the new space. It’s clean and bright and colorful, and I found it to be thoughtfully designed for a decent span of ages. While we were visiting, we saw children ranging from babies and toddlers to about ten years old, and everyone seemed happily engaged.
When we arrived, we headed up to the third floor and planned to work our way down. Our first stop included an aquarium space with fish and turtles and an expansive touch tank filled with starfish. Some popular features from the old space are also on display on the third floor – most notably the beehive and the camera obscura. There’s also a darkened area featuring some fun, hands-on projects like a stop-motion animation station, a giant lite-brite installation, and a crystal and light table. There’s also a spectacular series of water tables and a fun new twist on the popular ball and ramp installation.
The second floor includes a fun “our neighborhood” play space complete with a refreshed fire truck, an Amtrak train, air traffic control tower, lobster boat, fish market, and lobster shack restaurant. There’s also a contained toddler play space on this floor. Further back, there’s an interactive display of “Beautiful Blackbird” by Maine author Ashley Bryan where kids can become an avatar in the story. Tucked in the back, we found our favorite spot – the Maker Space. Kids can explore everything from simple crafts to woodworking options. The saws, hammers, and drills are real – and there’s helpful staff standing by to provide safety equipment and helpful advice.
The first floor includes an impressive stage area for theater performances. There’s also a wonderful climbing structure that seemed appropriate for all ages. It’s always fascinating to watch and listen as children make instant friends helping one another through the climb and indulge in pretend play in the “clubhouse” tucked at the top of the structure. There’s access to an outdoor play space complete with a CedarWorks climbing fort and a massive sandbox. We did not venture outdoors, but it seemed like a popular spot for folks looking for a little fresh air and those transitioning back to the outside world.
As an aside, the museum overlooks the Portland Jetport, so there are aircraft coming and going – adding to the “wow” factor. The views are spectacular. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit and hope that you will, too!
A Few Things to Know Before You Go:
- Parking is not free – it’s a “Pay and Display” lot. Staff asked us several times upon entry if we had paid for parking. You will need a credit card to pay for parking. ($2 per hour)
- The timed entry process means that everyone shows up at once for their entry. We waited in line for 20 minutes before getting to the reception desk to show our tickets. This was the first day and I’m sure there are kinks to work through, but be prepared to wait.
- Masks are required for everyone over the age of 5. Masks are provided if you do not have one.
- Perhaps this is obvious, but there are A LOT of communal materials at the museum. All the hands-on materials are shared by everyone. There are many safety precautions (limited entry, masks, numerous hand sanitizing stations), but after the heightened awareness of surface contact during the pandemic, a communal museum experience might feel surprising.
- There are picnic tables available to eat on the museum grounds. It’s such a beautiful spot – next time we’ll bring some snacks or a picnic to extend our stay!
Review by Emily Read, Development Director