When you have a little one in tow, Crown Center’s kid-friendly attractions are like a poker game with a pile of gold on the table. You might as well go all in.
By SARA SMITH
The Kansas City Star
By the time you pack up all the fruit snacks and wipes, put your kid in a cute outfit, find parking and wrangle the big stroller, you’re committed. And buying the tickets that way is cheaper, too.
The toddler enlisted for this experiment, a 28-month-old named Harrison, is short for his age, about 32 inches in his tennies. His verbal skills are ahead of schedule, though, so when he rolled into Crown Center on a recent Thursday morning, he was equal parts Dennis the Menace, E-Trade baby and Stewie from “Family Guy.”
Harrison’s Nana had come with us for backup, and booking online meant a short line at the door. Because a larger group with older kids was heading into the Sea Life Aquarium, we took a right instead and entered the Legoland Discovery Center. Harrison’s eyes bugged out. “What’s that?”
He learned how Legos are made. Or, more accurately, he pulled levers and made excited baboon sounds while a nice Legoland worker explained the process.
After a short theme-park-ish ride where for some reason fantasy creatures must be killed with light guns to save a princess (really, guys?), the first magical displays came into view. Nana and I goggled at the gorgeous Emerald City in the “Oz” display.
Harrison bounced from case to case, approaching delirium. “It’s a racetrack! It’s a T. rex! It’s a train! It’s a castle!”
And then we rounded the corner to Duplo Village, where the larger, toddler-friendly blocks live, in piles within padded circles, alongside a smaller-scale bouncy house and 3-foot Lego jungle creatures. Clearly, Duplo Village is utopia for 2- and 3-year-olds, where the scale of objects finally makes sense and the physical world can be re-arranged at whim.
There were many other fun displays after Duplo Village, including a ride Harrison is too short for and a gift shop with incredibly cool architecture sets. “You want the Guggenheim or Fallingwater?” I asked Harry, who replied, “Can we go back to the Duplos?”
He repeated that question approximately once every 45 seconds as we made our way through Sea Life Aquarium, which starts with sedate catfish and builds to manta rays, sharks, puffer fish and starfish you can touch. One of the most boring fish in the building got a second look because he lived with a red Lego octopus.
Finally, we arrived at the tanks of seahorses. The word seahorse got twisted around during last year’s early babblings into hay-zoos, but you can’t easily explain that to strangers who think your kid is calling all aquatic creatures Jesus.
Snacks were being consumed at a rapid clip. Between the whining and stumbling, we could see a tantrum on the horizon. Nana and I decided it was time for lunch, but not before I ducked under a 360-degree viewing tank to goggle at the fish myself.
Technically, keeping in the kiddo spirit, we should have gone to Fritz’s and let a train bring our food. We took a left and went into Milano instead. After eating fistfuls of my cavatappi in brown butter, Harrison climbed into the stroller again for retail therapy.
A set of bath crayons and a bulldozer later, I decided he needed his caricature drawn. We got a nice picture of him on a train, but we should have requested a whirling dervish instead. Full meltdown could be prevented only by jogging in circles in front of the fudge store. We were all done.
By all means, take a toddler to the aquarium and to Legoland. Just figure out which attraction will captivate the kid and go to that one last. And when you get home everybody will need a nap.
To reach Sara Smith, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @SarawatchesKC.