UPDATE 2016: This post was written about the Family Sundays program offered by the New England Carousel Museum in 2015. While this post will still give you a good idea of the overall experience of visiting the Museum, it may also contain some outdated information. For more information on current programs, please visit their website.
Back in 2011, my family attended Winterfest in Bushnell Park for the first time. It was also the first time that we checked out the historic Bushnell Park Carousel (which is currently undergoing renovations, by the way, with a slated reopening date of May 2015; and then the carousel will be open year-round–woohoo!). There was something so magical about watching a grinning Boo spin round and round on his very first carousel ride that I immediately knew Winterfest, and a ride on the carousel, would be a family tradition for years to come.
That was also when I first learned of the existence of the New England Carousel Museum in Bristol, CT. If visiting a single carousel was this much fun, I thought a museum filled with marvelous carousel horses must be one of the happiest places on the planet for a preschooler!
The trouble was, The New England Carousel Museum closes down for the winter months (January & February, to be exact). And as I planned out my blog outings each year, I never got around to checking out indoor activities like museums until after all the holiday hoopla of December had passed. And by then, of course, I was too late.
But last week, I checked out the museum’s website on a whim, and wouldn’t you know it? Not only were they open for the season, but the upcoming weekend they were starting their “Family Sundays” program with a cookie-decorating workshop. Well, the only thing that could be happier than a place filled with carousel horses, is a place filled with carousel horses AND cookies! We were so there!
Now in its 3rd year, the Family Sunday program is happening regularly on the second Sunday of every month (for the most part) through December. The Spring 2015 schedule is below, but be sure to check their website for upcoming programs.
Admission includes participation in the special Family Sunday activity, access to all the museum’s galleries (including the Fire Museum on the upper floor–more on that later), and a free ride on the museum’s working carousel. Yes, that’s right! There is a real, working carousel inside! What did I tell you? Happy place! (And just FYI, everyone gets a ticket for a free ride on the carousel but you can totally give your ticket to your kids so they can have an extra ride–in fact, the weight limit for each carousel horse is 165 lbs so many adults may not even be able to actually ride on it; they can accompany their children and stand next to them, of course.).
When you arrive at this destination, you can already tell from the outside that it’s going to be one of those lovable, quirky adventures that you’ll be talking about for weeks to come 🙂
The parking areas are one-way, so just look for the directional arrows on the ground. There is plenty of parking both up by the front entrance, and alongside the lower drive (and there are stairs leading up from there).
Speaking of stairs, don’t be deterred by that steep stairway up to the front door–there is a ramp there too, which makes it very easy to get a stroller inside.
Once you are in, the admission desk is right there in front of you.
Admission for this program is very reasonable at just $6/adult and $5/kids age 2-14 (under 2 is FREE). As I mentioned above, each admission includes the Family Sunday activity as well as access to all the galleries and a ticket for a free ride on the carousel (even on “regular” days admission includes a ticket for a free ride on the carousel).
So, are you ready to see this place?! I thought so 🙂
The decor vibe kind of reminds me of a cross between a Jersey shore boardwalk and a pirate ship. I love it 🙂
The special Family Sunday activity takes place in a room off to the right of the main gallery. This is also where the working carousel is located.
Today the Family Sunday activity was cookie decorating, using the ornate carousel horses as inspiration to adorn our own edible creations.
We each picked up a horse-shaped cookie, then headed to the tables where there were all kinds of cookie-decorating accessories like frosting, sprinkles, sanding sugar, mini chocolate chips, M&Ms, licorice strings and more!
The little guy just wanted to skip straight to the eating part 🙂
The Family Sunday activity is always changing, which is great because it means you can go back again and again and always find something new to enjoy. This time it was cookie decorating, but upcoming themes include music, printmaking (for Mother’s Day and moms get in FREE!), make-your-own flowerpot and tie-dying. The activities are all designed to be accessible to kids of all ages (and their grown-ups too!), so it is really a fun event for the whole family. You can find the most current schedule of activities on their website.
After we finished with the activity, it was time for a ride on the carousel. The carousel is running the entire time, so you can choose to take your ride(s) at any point during your visit. We let the kids take one ride after the cookie decorating with their own tickets, and then hubby and I saved our tickets for the kids so they could take another ride before we headed home. I’ve decided that it’s way more fun to watch my children ride a carousel than it could ever be to actually ride it myself 🙂
Finally, we were ready to explore the galleries! It was quite an impressive collection of carousel horses (and lots of other carousel creatures!) plus other fun carousel/carnival memorabilia.
Am I totally showing my age here if I make a Big reference? That movie is all I can think about when I see these things 🙂
To make it even more exciting for the kids, the museum puts together a visual scavenger hunt. You can pick one up at the admissions desk when you arrive (or go back for it later).
Boo loved this game! And of course we had to photo-document his conquests. (Spoiler alert: I’m going to show you where a couple of these are located–but just a couple!!! You’re on your own for the rest 🙂 )
There are also some hands-on activities in this part of the museum, like these wooden toys over by the workshop display.
You don’t see a sign like this every day!
How many of these carousels have you been to?
As a little bonus, there are two other exhibits to check out on the second floor: The Fire Museum and the Hellenic Museum. (There is also an elevator over here to take you to the second floor if needed.)
By the way, this big room that you have to walk through is the one that they rent out for functions. How cool would it be to go to a wedding here?!
The kids were fading fast after all the first floor activities, so we kept our tour of the top floor pretty snappy. But it’s always nice to have some extra nooks and crannies to explore.
You never know what you might find!
I just don’t think there are enough Egrets on carousels these days. How about you?
As family programs go, this one was definitely unique. A fun and educational hands-on activity. A gleeful ride on a real working carousel. And an enjoyable stroll through a gallery filled with tons of intriguing and eye-catching carousel memorabilia. Now that’s a horse of a different color! Hehe 🙂
But in all seriousness, I love it when venues like this try extra hard to create opportunities for families with young children to come together. Even just knowing that you will not be the only one there with small kids is a powerful incentive to check out a place that you may otherwise hesitate to take your toddler. I’m already looking forward to our next visit!
Pssst. Don’t forget to check their website for information about upcoming programs for the April 2015 spring break week. There will be fun family programing going on EVERY DAY from April 13th to April 17th (Monday-Friday) including movies, games, crafts, puppets and more! Admission will be the same as for the Family Sunday events.
Ph. (860) 585-5411
Please note: The museum closes to the general public for the months of January and February, reopening on March 1st. During those months it is still available to host birthday parties, rentals, and group tours.
Saturday 10am -5pm
The Family Sundays program (usually) takes place on the second Sunday of the month from 12:00pm-2:00pm (2015). Click here for more information.
Regular Admission Pricing (2015):
- Adults $6.00
- Seniors $5.50
- Children $3.50 (age 4-14)
- Children $2.00 (age 1-3)
Family Sundays Program Pricing (2015):
- Children, age 2-14: $5 (under 2 FREE)
- Adults, age 15+: $6
All admissions include one ticket for a free ride on the carousel.
Members receive FREE admission and unlimited carousel rides. (A good deal if you plan to come to many of the Family Sunday events!)
- Stroller Friendly: YES.
- Coffee Mug Friendly: YES. Coffee/beverages in covered containers are permitted, as are sippy cups for kids.
- Restroom: YES. The women’s restroom is located to the far left side of the main gallery and the men’s room is on the far right side of the main gallery.
- Baby Changing Station: I did not see one anywhere.
- Parking: YES. FREE parking is available right in front of the building.
- Food for Sale: NO.
- Outside Food Allowed: SOMETIMES. I was told it is okay to bring in little snacks for your kiddos if they need them.
- Cash Required: NO. Credit cards are accepted.
- Dress Code: NO.
- Evening/Weekend Hours: YES. The museum is open on weekends.
- Discounts: Check your local library to see if it offers a museum pass for free admission. The Bristol Public Library does.
- Birthday Party Venue: YES. They have several party options.
- Connecticut Children’s Medical Center – The state’s only free-standing hospital that offers comprehensive, world-class health care to children. Based in Hartford, Connecticut Children’s also provides services at several locations throughout the state.
- The Independent Day School – Located on a rural campus in Middlefield, CT this private pre-school, elementary and middle school serves families from over 20 communities.
- Mandell JCC – The Mandell JCC, Zachs Campus, 335 Bloomfield Avenue, West Hartford, CT, welcomes and serves families and individuals of all ages, stages, backgrounds and faiths. Our fitness, wellness and recreation, arts and culture, camp, early childhood education programs, classes, clubs and services are open to all. You Belong Here!
- Sleep, Baby, Sleep – Based out of Farmington, CT, this website is dedicated to helping babies and toddlers sleep through the night. It provides tons of great articles and information addressing the most common baby sleep troubles, customized baby sleep plans, and one on one support to help parents and babies get more Zzz’s.
Want to keep up with things to do with kids in Connecticut?
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