PLEASE NOTE: This post was originally written in 2016. While it should still give you a great idea of the overall experience, it is also possible that it may contain some outdated information. Please visit their website for the most up to date information, especially for details like hours and pricing. If you notice something in this post that needs to be updated, please feel free to leave a comment with the updated information, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be happy to make the updates. Hey, it takes a village, right? 🙂
Thank you to the Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center for giving my family complimentary admission to the Museum. All opinions are 100% my own.
Here in New England, we like to celebrate our deep American roots and the role that this little region played in the early days of our nation’s history. We take great pride in admiring and preserving our historical buildings and artifacts. We carry on colonial traditions with gusto. And we have a somewhat bizarre but mostly endearing obsession with historical reenactments 🙂
But the truth is, what most of we New Englanders consider historical, could more accurately be thought of as the modern chapters of a story begun long before those first British colonists ever set foot on North American soil.
It is the story of the native peoples of this land–a story that dates back thousands of years, and it’s being told right here in Connecticut at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center.
Nestled into the landscape of the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in southeastern Connecticut (not far from the Foxwoods Resort Casino), the Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center has been tribally owned-and-operated since it opened on Aug. 11, 1998. This 308,000 square foot complex:
“brings to life the story of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation. It serves as a major resource on the histories and cultures of Native Americans in the northeast and on the region’s rich natural history.”
A few weeks ago, my family decided it was high time we paid a visit to this important destination. Even though the Museum’s website is quite comprehensive, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect–specifically I wasn’t sure how we’d fare at such a “serious” museum with an almost 6-year-old and an almost 3-year-old in tow, but it sounded like the kind of challenge we jump at here at Out and About mom 🙂
Sure, we love those activities that are specifically geared towards children (such as bounce arenas, children’s museums, mommy & me classes), but we also pride ourselves on being able to find outings that, though they may not be designed specifically for little ones, are still great places to have a family adventure (and hey, don’t we grown-ups deserve to get top priority at least once in a while?!). And the Mashantucket Pequot Museum had been on my list for quite some time.
As it turns out, the Museum is extremely family-friendly–from the stroller-ready ramps and elevators to the multi-sensory exhibits and delicious cafe. So visitors of all generations could take away something meaningful from the experience.
Our day there started out as most outings do…in the parking lot. On the plus side, the parking lot is gigantic, so you’ll have no problem finding a space. On the “you’ll want to be prepared for this” side, the parking lot is not all that close to the Museum’s entrance. So expect a bit of a walk. Like I mentioned before though, the Museum is super stroller-friendly, so you are definitely able to bring your wheels along. (Plus, if you really need to, you can also drive up to the entrance and unload some of your party right there at the door.)
Once inside, there is a desk to your left where you’ll purchase admission, get a sticker badge to wear (which, if your kids are anything like mine, will be very exciting– yay stickers!), and also pick up a very helpful map and Museum guide.
On your right is the elevator to the observation tower. More on that later.
Just around the corner into the Museum is a breathtaking, light-filled atrium.
This area is kind of like the hub of the Museum. From here, you can get to all the places you’ll want to go. On the near side, you’ll find the stairs/elevator that lead up to the closest restroom and the restaurant.
On the far side it starts to spiral down into the main exhibit areas (most of the museum’s exhibits are actually underground!).
And in between you’ll find an open, inviting seating area just outside the gift shop (for resting, reflecting or enjoying your own packed snack or lunch).
We were super lucky the day of our visit to be treated to a private, guided tour by a lovely and knowledgeable staff member, Ms. Spears, who escorted us through the entire array of exhibits and offered tremendous insight (not to mention answered my approximately 1.2 million questions). A mom of little ones herself, she was also indispensable in helping me to see the family-centric nature of the Museum.
So to begin our tour, we descended into the first level of exhibits.
This tour starts in the present, with a current look at modern day tribal life and customs.
I always love these interactive 3-D maps where you can light up different locations. This one really helps you get your bearings. Plus, the kiddos like to see things light up 🙂
The only trouble with bringing small children like mine to a museum like this (where not every single thing is designed to captivate the attention of a 3-year-old 🙂 ), is that sometimes you just have to recognize that even if you aren’t fully ready to move on to the next room/exhibit, you may just have to let go and follow their lead. But that’s okay. I’m happy to get even just a little bit of grown-up brain stimulation!
Fortunately, the next few exhibits were chock full of multi-sensory experiences, so both hubby and I and the kids had plenty to keep us entertained.
At this point, the Museum takes you back many thousands of years to a time when this continent was beset by an ice age. Here, you get to “descend” into the glacier. It’s pretty neat, especially for a 5-year-old.
At the bottom, you even get to see the glacier “melting” as water runs through a channel at the back wall.
This exhibit examines what the landscape may have looked like all those thousands of years ago.
My kids really enjoyed the next part, which focuses on some of the prehistoric creatures that lived in these parts.
This room also contains a life-like diorama of a caribou hunt. It realistically depicts the different stages of the hunt, from pursuing the animals to treating their pelts. I will caution those of you with young children that some of the scenes are quite graphic. But hey, if you’re looking for an opportunity to open a dialogue with your child about where their food comes from (not to mention how lucky we are that we can now just go to the grocery store and pick up our dinner!), this is a great conversation starter 🙂
Moving on to the next room, both my children were captivated by this exhibit showcasing a forest habitat. Here, they could interact with a touch screen to see live videos of the creatures they were spotting in the display.
This area was definitely one of those spaces where the whole family could interact and enjoy learning together.
Before I forget, I want to mention that for those who can take a more leisurely pace (we seemed to be playing “beat the clock” as we neared lunchtime) or have older children, there are so many side rooms and areas that you can duck into along the journey. For example, you’ll find theaters (like this one) with continuously running films spaced throughout the main exhibits. Most are appropriate (though perhaps not particularly compelling– no surprise there!) for young children, but there is one video on the subject of the Pequot War that is not recommended for children under 12 due to the violent and graphic nature of that historical event.
Thanks to my antsy little crew, I could only look longingly at the theater titles, only managing to duck in for one showing. This one had a more interactive feel with sounds and lights, so the kids had other things to look at.
But back to the tour…
Our next stop was The Pequot Village, which is a stunning recreation of a pre-European arrival setting complete with replica landscaping and life-like inhabitants. Because there are no signs or plaques in this exhibit (so as not to detract from the realism of the scene), an audio tour is available–you can pick it up before you enter and drop it off as you exit.
We did not take the audio tour because, as I mentioned, we were lucky enough to have our own guide for the day, but the simple handheld device would be straightforward enough for a child to handle (you know, a child old enough to use it properly and not as a hammer or an airplane or an object to play “hide and go seek” with–please tell me it’s not just my children who do these crazy things!) and there are easy to spot numbers on the floor that correspond to the different recordings.
You could really spend a lot of time in here exploring all of the vignettes and the landscape. There are so many unspoken “stories” being told here, from the farming, weaving and cooking women and children, to the men and young boys preparing for a hunt or enjoying recreational activities.
And later, it was kind of fun to check out the bird’s eye view of the village from a seating area upstairs.
The tour continues to move towards the future with the arrival of the Europeans and an exploration of the changes that resulted from the introduction of these foreign people and their ideas, customs and technologies. It continues to track the passage of time and changes in circumstance through to the present day.
One of our favorite parts was the outdoor 18th century farmstead that, though it wasn’t quite growing season yet and so much of it looks dormant in these photos, gave us a glimpse into the agricultural history of this region and its inhabitants. It was also a nice break from all the indoor activities to be able to stroll around outside for a bit. To access the gardens, you exit the Museum through this charming cabin.
This area is also the site of the popular annual event, the 17th Century Encampment reenactment (taking place on June 24th & 25th for the 2016 season), which visitors can explore at no additional charge. Visitors are encouraged to participate in a variety of activities including wampum making, cooking, militia drills, cannon drills, basket making, potter, archery, lacrosse, children’s games and much more. There will also be live cooking demonstrations, a stone tool workshop where visitors can make their own arrowheads and special food dishes available in the museum restaurant. In July, there is also an annual Educational Powwow (for 2016 it will be on July 7th). So the summer months are a great time to plan a visit to the Museum and take advantage of some of these other exciting activities. (You can find a full listing of special events here.)
Now back to our tour…
The kids also got pretty excited about our trip up 18 stories in a glass elevator to the observation tower.
I was not so sure about this.
And I was even less thrilled when we got to the elevator and saw this sign.
Great. Eighteen stories in an elevator with my two jumping beans over here. But up we went! (Look what I do for you, my lovely and loyal readers!)
At the top is a small “room” that is glass on all sides, offering spectacular 360 degree views of the region.
I’ll be honest. I lasted all of about five minutes up there before my head started swirling (heights are not my thing, apparently). But the kids loved it. Totally mesmerized by the experience of being so high “in the sky” as they said. They probably could have stayed up there much longer.
Somewhere between the indoor exhibits and the ride up to the observation tower/stroll around the outdoor garden, we stopped in at the onsite restaurant, The Pequot Cafe, for a quick lunch. Actually, it’s more like a self-service cafeteria than a restaurant (or at least what I picture when I hear the word “restaurant”), but that was great news for us because sit down & be waited on meals can be difficult with little ones– I’d much rather be able to grab my food and go so I can make a quick getaway if tantrums flare up 🙂 There are even high chairs!
But the amazing thing about this cafe, is that it serves an original, seasonal, tribal-inspired menu of unique dishes. You’ll find items like Quahog Fritters, Corn Chowder, Whipped Butternut Squash (hello! perfect for a baby, right?!), Turkey Quesadillas and an array of burgers, sandwiches, salads, soups and snacks. There’s even a feature of the day!
We opted to let the kids split a giant Cheddarella (grilled cheese) sandwich, I sampled the corn chowder and hubby tried the North Woods Turkey sandwich. We also picked up some animal crackers for the kids, plus some pink lemonade that was a real treat for them. And of course, I couldn’t resist ordering the Corn Nuggets from the Appetizer Menu. That was my treat 🙂
Everything was delicious, and the laid back atmosphere was just perfect for our can’t-sit-still-for-more-than-a-minute crew.
After refueling, we decided to check out the gift shop.
And then we circled back to see some of the exhibits that we had bypassed during our tour due to the mad dash to get the kiddos to lunchtime on time 🙂
We spent nearly three hours at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum, and that was only to scratch the surface! Plus, I discovered that there are some easy walking paths nearby that would have made a great outing extension if we had had more time that day.
I know this is going to sound crazy, but I can’t help but be a little disappointed that I did not find this place when I was still at home with a baby because let me tell you, this would also be a fabulous destination for those of you with infants still small enough to enjoy being nestled in a Baby Bjorn (or a stroller) for a few hours. I mean, rather than wear them around the house to empty the dishwasher and sort the mail (or take that 27th walk around the block), you can bring them to the Museum and get to enjoy yourself while the little one stays cozy. There are plenty of benches and quiet corners throughout the Museum that are great for resting or nursing, a spacious cafe with delicious food, and even outdoor areas for sitting or strolling.
As my guide on this visit said to me, for Native cultures, it is always assumed that a baby will be with its mama (or dad), and so it is completely expected that children of all ages will accompany adults though the Museum. I found that to be such a refreshing perspective in a world where too often I suffer the piercing stares of onlookers when my children are crying a bit too long or laughing a bit too loud. It was wonderful to come to a place where visitors of all ages are welcome, accepted, and even honored.
I hope you too will pay a visit to the Mashantucket Pequot Museum so that you can see just how rich in history our New England region really is.
110 Pequot Trail
P.O. Box 3180
Mashantucket, CT 06338-3180
GPS directions to the Museum are not always reliable. You can find written directions to the Museum on this page.
MUSEUM HOURS: The Pequot Museum is open to visitors Wednesday – Saturday from 9:00 am until 5:00 pm with the last admission at 4:00 pm.
RESTAURANT HOURS: Open from 11:00 am until 4:00 pm and no reservations are necessary.
Seniors (65+) $15
College Students (with ID) $15
Youth (6-17) $12
Child (under 6)/Member FREE
Guided Tours $5
- Stroller Friendly: YES. The Museum is fully accessible with ramps and elevators.
- Coffee Mug Friendly: Yes and No. You could bring in coffee if you are planning to stay in one of the seating areas or the cafe, but you cannot bring any food or beverages into the exhibits. They do sell coffee at the cafe in case of a coffee emergency 🙂
- Baby Changing Station: YES. We used the restroom near the cafe and there was a changing station in it. I’m not sure about any other restrooms.
- Restrooms: YES.
- Parking: YES. But the lot is a bit of a walk from the entrance so be prepared for that (you can also drop off some passengers in front of the Museum before parking). There is handicap parking in front of the Museum in designated spaces.
- Food for Sale: YES. There is a cafe serving a full menu of meal and snack items.
- Outside Food Allowed: YES. You can definitely bring your own lunch and/or snacks to enjoy there. If you ask at the front desk, they will even hold onto your bags/cooler for you so you don’t have to lug them around the Museum!
- Cash Required: NO. The only thing you may need cash for is the binoculars in the observation tower (the sign said 25 cents).
- Dress Code: Nothin’ special. Shoes made for walkin’, of course.
- Age Recommendation: This is a very family-friendly museum. You can come here with any age children. Obviously, since this is not a venue designed for little ones, the older the child is, the more he or she will understand (children under age 6 are FREE). But there was plenty to keep even my almost 3-year-old occupied while I got to enjoy the exhibits and learn something new myself (for a change). This would also be a great outing for parents of infants because they can enjoy themselves in the Museum while easily bringing their baby with them. Hey, sometimes it’s ok to do grown-up things too, right 😉 For those with small children, please note that some exhibits feature violence and/or partial nudity in a historical context.
- Evening/Weekend Hours: YES.
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