PLEASE NOTE: This post was written in 2015, and while it should still give you a good idea of the overall experience, it may also contain some outdated information. Please be sure to check The Dinosaur Place’s website for the most current information, especially about things like hours and pricing.
This post has been sponsored by the Connecticut Office of Tourism. (And many thanks to The Dinosaur Place for giving my family complimentary admission!) All opinions are 100% my own.
Unless you’ve been living under a (volcanic) rock lately, you’ve probably seen all the promotion for the summer’s first big movie sensation: Jurassic World. And if it seems like dinosaurs are everywhere these days, well, maybe that’s because they are 🙂
This is great news for my family, because with two dino-lovin’ little boys, we are always on the prowl for some prehistoric fun. So you can imagine how thrilled we were to hear about the Connecticut Office of Tourism’s recently launched “Roar Tour.” In the spirit of the new “it” movie, they have put together a monstrous list of all kinds of dinosaur-themed fun–from unique eateries to brand new attractions and much beloved destinations. So if you’re looking for a dino-mite outing, skip the theater and make tracks to the blockbuster locations on Connecticut’s Roar Tour!
Speaking of tracks, ever since I took Boo to see the famous dinosaur trackway at Dinosaur State Park in Rocky Hill, CT, I’ve been fascinated with the idea that real dinosaurs once walked on the very ground that we CT residents travel on every day. I mean, proof that dinosaurs really walked where we actually step! How cool is that?!
Now, seeing the footprints and imagining what it was like millions of years ago is one thing. But what if I told you that there’s a place where you can have a firsthand experience of what it might have been like had we been walking around with those dinosaurs many, many millennia ago? And there’s no time machine required! Just a quick trip to Montville, CT where you’ll find one of the premiere stops on Connecticut’s Roar Tour: The Dinosaur Place.
And here, instead of watching the movie, it’s like you get to be in the movie!
Truth be told, I’ve been waiting anxiously for a visit to The Dinosaur Place at Nature’s Art Village for, oh, how old is Boo now? Almost 5. So about 5 years? (Or maybe 5 years and 9 months–haha!) So this was a particularly exciting day for me.
We’ve passed The Dinosaur Place many times en route to other destinations in the southeast portion of the state, but today we actually got to pull into that parking lot under the watchful eye of “Monty” the T-Rex.
When you pull into the parking area, just head for the giant dinosaur 🙂 That white barn-like building is where you will find the admission desk/entrance to The Dinosaur Place, a 60-acre park filled with prehistoric-inspired outdoor adventures. Across the way, there are more paleontological-themed indoor activities (“Discovery Depot”), as well as shops, a cafe (the Cobalt Cafe) and more.
Today, we were just there to check out the outdoor activities though. And believe me, there was plenty to see!
In case you aren’t familiar with The Dinosaur Place at Nature’s Art Village, it’s most famous for its 1.5 miles of nature trails along which you will encounter more than 40 LIFE SIZE dinosaurs. And these are not skeletons! They are exacting replicas of living dinosaurs. How about a sneak peek? Here you go…
Honestly, if you just decided to stop reading this post and run right over there this very minute, I would not blame you. This place is wild! (Pun intended!)
But for those of you who are still with me and want to get the whole OAAM-style scoop, let’s back up to the start of our visit.
First stop, the gift shop, which is where you can pay for your admission and also enter the park. You’ll purchase tickets, but you’ll also get a hand stamp. This is important because if you would like to leave the park and come back later, you will have to have that hand stamp still visible (actually, they are smart and put it on your wrist so you can still wash your hands!).
Then it’s out the back door and into prehistory!
There happen to be conveniently located restrooms right here behind the building (with a changing station!).
And a ramp so you can easily get your stroller down to ground level.
Okay, so let’s stop and talk about strollers for a moment. The nature trails are very stroller-friendly. They are not like real hiking trails through the back woods. No roots or big rocks sticking up or anything. They are mostly a gravelly surface, and in some places that gravel is finer than others.
As you can see, we opted for our lighter duty double stroller on this visit, thinking that even a mile and a half might be more than Boo was willing to walk. And while we managed just fine with this stroller, I would say that if you have the option to bring a stroller that is a little more jogging-stroller-esque (nothing fancy, just sturdier wheels), I would go with that. As it turns out, Boo walked pretty much the whole time, so we would have been okay with our smaller but sturdier City Mini (love that thing!).
So to summarize: regular stroller=perfectly fine; jogging stroller=better. Any questions? 🙂
Happily, there is a very detailed map of the property that you can pick up at the admission desk.
It shows you all of the trails, buildings, activities, and also where you’ll find the dinosaurs (marked with footprints).
One thing to note upon arrival is that there is a “volcano” that “erupts” every hour on the hour. You can find that here:
So you may want to plan your walk so you will go by at the appropriate time. There’s even a bench right in front of it, so it makes a good place to take a break. It just sort of rumbles and steams, and it only lasts a few minutes. But the kids loved it 🙂
Anyway, I digress….
So here we are back at the start.
There’s very good signage, so it’s really easy to find the place or activity that you are looking for.
And you can pretty much tell right away what’s in store 🙂
As you can see from the sign above, there are many exciting attractions here. We decided to head out on the nature trails first (watching the clock so we’d end up at the volcano at the right time). Like I said before, the trails are very easy and totally walkable, even for a toddler.
There are meandering paths with lots of fun bridges and stream-crossings and it really feels just like you are walking around in the wild–or at least on a big-budget movie set–with giant dinosaurs emerging from the nature all around you.
You’re walking along admiring the foliage and then all of a sudden–pow! You’re looking straight at this guy.
I bet you had to take a second look to really see him, right?! It totally feels like you are catching them in the middle of their habitat!
There are really THREE kinds of exhibits that you’ll find on the nature trails.
1. The life-size dinosaurs are the main thing, of course, and you’ll find those all along the trails. Sometimes they are right out in the open and sometimes you have to look for them nestled in the woods (don’t stray off the trail though; just look). They are not animatronic or anything, so it won’t be scary for your little ones. More likely, they will be excited to spot them and, like mine, go barreling towards them for a hug!
2. There are also nicely done informational displays about the dinosaurs themselves, and also about things like the Earth’s history or the surrounding foliage.
3. And then there are these mystery boxes where kids can use their sense of touch to try to figure out what’s inside (and in case sticking your hand into a little hole in a box skeeves you or your little one out a bit too much, I will tell you that A: nothing in there is alive, and B: if you just look around the back side you can see right into the boxes through the clear plastic backing–thank goodness!).
I couldn’t possibly show you all of the photos we took with the dinosaurs on the trails (and besides, where would the fun in that be?!), but here are a few of my favorites. (SIDE NOTE: There are lots of signs telling you to “stay on trails,” but we gathered that they don’t mind if you go up to and look at the dinosaurs that are right there on the trail–just don’t climb on them please!–but they really don’t want you wandering off the trail, over a fence, down an embankment, into the woods, etc.; it’s for your own safety, so just stick to the path, ok?)
I do want to mention that there is one exception to the “they don’t move” rule. A relatively new addition to the dinosaur “residents” is this moving, hissing, growling, spitting (yup, you might get wet) animatronic Dilophosaurus. This one might be a little too scary for your little ones, but you know your kids better than I do. Fortunately, it is located in a “cave” near the “volcano”, so you won’t run into it unless you well, actually run (or walk) into it 🙂
Spoiler alert! Here it is!
Don’t be fooled though, it’s a LOT creepier in the dark (the camera flash is deceptive!).
By now you are probably already planning your visit at just the thought of watching your wee one’s eyes light up as they see these life-size monsters. BUT WAIT. THERE’S MORE! I know, right? How does this get any better?
1: There’s a huge playground.
Monty’s playground has something for every ability level, from a toddler playscape to a towering climbing web.
2. There’s a challenging maze.
You can take it as a compliment that The Dinosaur Place wants you to “get lost.” In the a”Maze”asaurus maze, that is 🙂
Just a couple extra bits of Momsense for you:
#1. The green slide in the middle of the maze is only accessible via the Observation Deck, which is only accessible from a stairway outside the maze (so don’t be like us and run around trying to find a ladder inside the maze for 10 minutes! Ha!).
#2. The exit from the maze is a dinosaur slide (cool!). Just be aware that this giant mouth is the opening to said slide, and once your kiddos go down it they are out of the maze with no barriers to keep them from wandering. So if you’ve got little ones who can’t be trusted to stay put, you are either going down that slide after them, or you better be able to sprint really fast back to the entrance!
3. They have New England’s largest Splashpad.
We love these water features here at OAAM. They are perfect for all ages, have none of the serious safety concerns surrounding swimming pools, and are a great way to cool down on a hot day. This Splashpad even has a separate area for babies and toddlers.
It wasn’t open the day we were there (bummer!) because during the off-season it’s only open on the weekends. But now that it’s open daily for the 2015 season, when you see it, it will look more like this:
In addition to being huge, the Splashpad is completely fenced-in (yay!) and there is plenty of shaded seating for adults all around the perimeter.
There are also restrooms over here (in the same building as the snack bar I’ll tell you about in a moment!). And something else that’s kind of nice is that there is also a special changing room for fathers. So if they are visiting with their young daughters (and sons too, of course), there’s no need to worry about the ladies room vs. mens room dilemma. You don’t see that every day! Kuddos to The Dinosaur Place 🙂
4. There’s a convenient snack bar with lots of outdoor seating.
Monty’s Munchies is located right next to both the playground and the Splashpad. Talk about prime real estate!
Again, this was not yet open for the season on the day we were there. It will open on June 20th (for the 2015 season) and serve up all kinds of kid favorites like hamburgers, cheeseburgers, hot dogs, pizza, and more!
5: There are lots of places for a picnic.
There are multiple picnic areas (plus lots of benches along the trails) so you can bring your own lunch or snack if you prefer.
6: There’s Ice Cream!
If the Splashpad doesn’t cool you off enough, there’s always ice cream! You can get a delicious scoop at the gift shop (the ice cream window is outside near the parking area, but as I mentioned before, you will be readmitted to the park so long as you have that all-important hand stamp; so feel free to go out for a frozen treat mid-adventure and then head back on in later).
One other attraction that we did not get a chance to experience is their Jurassic Moon Bounce–a giant inflatable, access to which is included in the price of daily admission.
There’s also a great gift shop with really nice merchandise like coloring books, stickers, fun and educational toys, games, etc. And also some cold beverages and treats (for the road, maybe?).
We couldn’t resist picking up our very own “Monty” to take home with us. He’s like part of the family now, and must go everywhere with us. Which is sometimes hard because he’s almost the size of the real one! 🙂
And just like that–we’re back where we started! Maybe I should have titled this post “to prehistory and back again” 🙂
Even though our tour of The Dinosaur Place is over, that doesn’t have to be the end of your Jurassic journey! Be sure to head over to CTVisit.com to find out more about Connecticut’s Roar Tour and all the unique destinations sure to be enjoyed by the young and the young-at-heart alike. To get you started, here are a few venues on the list that we’ve posted about in the past:
- Interact with the life-like dinosaurs at Lake Compounce’s new “Dino Expedition” attraction in Bristol, CT.
- Check out the Connecticut Science Center’s “Extreme Dinosaurs” exhibit in Hartford, CT.
- Marvel at hundreds of real dinosaur footprints on the famous trackway at Dinosaur State Park in Rocky Hill, CT.
- Explore the world-renowned collection of dinosaur skeletons and fossils at The Yale Peabody Museum in New Haven, CT.
- View the rare baby black dragon, a descendant of the dinosaurs at the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, CT.
- See the dinosaurs’ alligator ancestors at Mystic Aquarium’s new “Exploration: Wild” exhibit in Mystic, CT.
Don’t forget to check out the Roar Tour map on Pinterest, where you can see all the destinations on Connecticut’s Roar Tour, as well as where to find them. And you can also consult the CT Dino Trail for a complete list of prehistoric fun in our state.
Now get out there and have a stomping good time! Because before you know it, this summer will be extinct 🙂
1650 Hartford-New London Turnpike, Oakdale, Connecticut (although the street address is “Montville, CT,” you’ll need to use “Oakdale, CT” for your GPS)
Nature’s Art Village & The Dinosaur Place:
- Phone: 860-443-4367
- Email: Info@NaturesArtVillage.com
Hours vary seasonally and by attraction. Check here for the most up-to-date information.
Current (summer 2015) info follows:
Attractions (2015 season; all are included with general admission):*
- Dinosaur Trails: 10:00am until Dusk*
- a”MAZE”asaurus: 10:00am until Dusk*
- Monty’s Playground: 10:00am until Dusk*
- Ice Cream Shop: 10:00am until 6:00pm
- New England’s largest Splashpad®: 10:30am until 5:00pm*
Open Daily: June 12, 2015* – Sept 7, 2015
- Jurassic Moon Bounce: 11:00am until 4:00pm*
Open Daily: June 12, 2015* – Sept 7, 2015
Monty’s Munchies (2015 season):
- Opens June 20th and is open every day from 11am until 4pm (grill goes off at 4pm, drinks served until 5pm) until September 7th (Labor Day).
*Weather permitting, openings subject to change. The park closes at 6pm or earlier. Please call 860.443.4367 for more information on today’s hours.
The Dinosaur Place is open rain or shine and daily admission rates include*:
- 1.5 Miles of Dinosaur Trails
- Monty’s DINO-Sized Playground
- New England’s largest Splashpad®
- Jurassic Moon Bounce
*Please note that not all attractions are always open/available, so be sure to check their hours page for details on what you’ll be able to experience on your visit. Openings are also subject to change due to weather. Please call 860.443.4367 for more information on today’s hours.
Off-Season Admission for the 2015 season
Daily: April 9 – May 22*
Weekdays: May 26 – June 11*
Daily: September 8 – Nov 29*
Ages 2-59 | $14.99 plus CT admission tax
Ages 60+ | $12.99 plus CT admission tax
Kids under two are always free!
In-Season Admission for 2015
Weekends: May 23 – June 12*
(Includes Memorial Day)
Daily: June 12 – Sept 7*
Ages 2-59 | $19.99 plus CT admission tax
Ages 60+ | $16.99 plus CT admission tax
Kids under two are always free!
***The Dinosaur Place admission pricing is subject to change between In-Season & Off-Season pricing any day between May 23rd & September 30th. Please call 860.443.4367 for today’s pricing.***
PARKING IS ALWAYS FREE!
- Stroller Friendly: YES. The “nature trails” are fully cleared and it’s a gravel surface so there’s no problem using a stroller. If possible, I would recommend a heavier, sturdier type of stroller though. But you could get by with just about anything.
- Coffee Mug Friendly: YES. Outside food and beverages are welcome in the park.
- Restroom: YES. There are restrooms located right behind the gift shop just as you enter the park/exit the gift shop. Another set of restrooms can be found over by the Splashpad, but those will only be open while Monty’s Munchies and/or the Splashpad are open.
- Baby Changing Station: YES. I saw one for myself in the restroom behind the gift shop, but I’m betting there is one in the restrooms near the Splashpad too. This place is SUPER family-friendly!
- Parking: YES. There is a parking area right outside the gift shop/park entrance and parking is FREE.
- Food for Sale: YES. A full grill menu (hamburgers, cheeseburgers, hot dogs, etc.) at Monty’s Munchies (with outdoor seating), snacks, treats, ice cream and cold drinks for sale in the gift shop, and also a cafe (the Cobalt Cafe) across the way at the indoor areas. You can find out more about food options here.
- Outside Food Allowed: YES. Feel free to bring a picnic!
- Cash Required: NO. Credit cards are accepted for park admission/gift shop purchases and at Monty’s Munchies (no AmEx).
- Dress Code: Nothing specific is required, but I would suggest that you use measures to protect yourself from sun–like sunscreen and/or sun hats because all the activities are outdoors. Obviously you’ll want to bring bathing suits and towels if you plan to enjoy the Splashpad. (There is a place to change there.) And comfortable shoes too. There will be a lot of walking 🙂
- Age Recommendations: This adventure can be enjoyed be people of all ages. Although, you may want to wait until your little one is pretty steady walking on his/her own, just because then he/she can really get up close and personal with those life-sized dinos! (You probably don’t want them crawling on the gravel, right?) My little guy was about 22 months at the time and he had a blast! On the other hand, children under 2 are always FREE, so there’s no harm in bringing a stroller-bound little one just so you can see this place for yourself! I’m sure they will still enjoy it too 🙂
- Evening/Weekend Hours: YES.
- Discounts: YES. To be “in the know” about current deals, coupons and promotions, you can “like” them on Facebook, sign up for their email list or visit their offers & events page. You could also save on multiple visits with a season pass. Here are a few other promotions that are currently running this summer/fall (2015):
- CT Open House Day – June 13, 2015 – $2 Off park admission & a free dino-lollipop for all children guests (Valid CT ID Required).
- Father’s Day – June 21, 2015 – Buy 1 child admission and Dad gets in free.
- Scout Day – July 12, 2015 – Buy 1 admission and get 1 free for a boy or girl scout in uniform.
- Monty’s Fall Festival – Oct 10-12 – Their big fall festival with special guests including petting zoos, magic shows and more for free with paid admission to the park.
- Birthday Party Venue: YES. Get more info here.
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