Too bad the Orlando Science Center doesn’t have a different name – Discovery World, perhaps, or Harry Potter’s Great Scientific Adventure. It could use a public relations boost. Kids actually learn something; they don’t realize they’ve learned something; it’s located in the heart of Orlando’s cultural park; and it doesn’t cost a lot of money. Other cities have educational science centers, which perhaps explains why Orlando’s doesn’t rate high on most tourists’ lists. Still, it’s a great trip for anyone who doesn’t have a science center back home.
The hands-on things to do inside the Orlando Science Center make it stand out. There is no lecture on aerodynamics or gravity beyond, perhaps, a sign. But kids race cars down a one-story hill, and learn that the shape of the car dictates wind resistance and, consequently, speed. Some kids will simply have fun; some will remember the lesson when they study wind resistance in school later in the year; and one might design the top automobile of 2020. The same accidental learning happens when kids (and adults) see the effect of sound on air movement, (speakers and dancing Styrofoam balls) and air turbulence (steam, a hand-powered fan, and resulting fake tornado). Out-of-state residents can also see Florida snakes, turtles, and alligators swimming in a lifelike pool.
And that description is severely limited. Most of the good times occur around a simple hands-on exhibit, such as a scale that shows how much each family member weighs on Mars and Pluto.
What to know
• The Orlando Science Center is in Loch Haven Park on the northeast side of Orlando, 900 E. Princeton St. For those traveling in I-4, it’s exit 85 and head east. (Turn right if coming from the theme parks.) It’s less than a half hour from the parks, though try to avoid rush hour traffic.
• Loch Haven Park has other good museums and attractions, though none quite as kid-friendly as the Science Center: Orlando Shakespeare Theater, Orlando Repertory Theatre, Orlando Museum of Art, and Mennello Museum of American Art. For more park info, visit the City of Orlando website.
• Parents usually enjoy the Science Center more than expected, but it’s ideal for kids. Separate areas focus on different age groups, but the span is generally age 3 through 16.
• The Science Center is usually open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. five days per week. It closes on Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.
• Ticket costs can vary if you select optional programs, such as the planetarium. But adults currently cost $17, seniors and students cost $16, and kids cost $12. Children two and under are free, and the four-story building is handicapped accessible. Strollers and wheelchairs are available and free with a photo ID or credit card.
• Some exhibits change. A Star Wars exhibit is slated for fall 2012, for example.
• Parking costs $5.
• There’s a nice gift shop but, unlike Disney and Universal, they don’t make you walk through it if you wish to exit. It is, however, hard to miss on the way out.
• For more information, visit the Orlando Science Center website.