It seems unpatriotic to offer any critical perspectives on the Indianapolis Children’s Museum because all the state and local promotional literature hypes it so loftily. There are, however, severe downsides that should be revealed and shared. I rated our visit of 11:00 a.m. Friday, March 31st as 2 star in order to be as positive as possible – less would be a more accurate reflection of the associated pain. The source of the many serious problems is not the quality or variety of the exhibits, i.e. what the museum offers to the public; the source of the problems is the administrative staff, i.e. their relentless and overarching poor management as it relates to policies and execution (most of the hourly service staff were very pleasant in the face of adversity). To prod the executive staff and board in making the necessary changes, this review will be posted on TripAdvisor as well as sent directly to the mayor’s office and the museum.
The following is our summary of the major downsides of the visit. Please note that we purchased our admission tickets in advance and drove six hours round trip, otherwise we would have happily aborted the event.
• We drove there and when we came within six blocks of the museum it took approximately one full hour to move that final short distance. The bumper-to-bumper congestion and confusion was beyond unbelievable – we moved one car length every couple of minutes. No city police or museum staff were present anywhere to assist! The family was going “crazy” because we needed a bathroom stop – we truncated the approach and ran into a nearby church for assistance.
• When we finally reached the parking lots and multilevel garages, they were marked full, barricaded, and we were pointed down the road with no further guidance whatsoever. We found a spot on the street in a neighborhood eight blocks away. So much for the prohibition on the museum website stating there was plenty of free parking so city streets should not be utilized.
• Once nearly inside to actually inside, lines became the activity of the day: lines, long lines, and still longer lines. The first were to simply get into the actual exhibit area – as many as three different types with very little clear signage and no staff to direct the human traffic. We wasted time by standing in several incorrect lines. Oddly, there are no security checks or scanners. I appreciate that this speeds up the process, but there are associated risks.
• Want to use the bathroom: Lines and more waiting!
• Want to find a table to eat the lunch you packed: Wait for availability or sit on the floor.
• Want to purchase a drink: Three more lines which must all be sequenced: 1) line to obtain the drink cup, 2) line to purchase the drink cup, and 3) line to fill the drink cup. Total time about 25 minutes. It is very hard to understand why someone could not conceive of a single line method. The payment area (number 2 above) was a mindlessly designed arrangement without any queuing (why no queues?) and with the three (why not more?) checkouts; each one double-sided – the cashier had to keep turning around to service both sides. We felt deeply sorry for these abused young workers. Advice: Food and drinks are expensive, so pack your own.
• The most popular general exhibit area was that of the dinosaurs. To get there, patrons had to navigate their children and strollers through a narrow section of the dining area while intermixing with the lunch crowd – more chaos and confusion.
• Want to take a trip down the central chocolate slide? Wait an hour. Once to the front, you will find a single worker – pleasant, but overstressed. Two or more workers would have been helpful and quicker. We had to skip this attraction due to the extremely long line; and we had to skip the carousel and others for the same reason.
• The museum consists of two primary sections: the traditional one and the newer sports-oriented, mostly outdoor one. To move freely between them was physically very possible and potentially easy except that the administration had created an artificial chokepoint that in turn created a wait line exceeding 100’ in length and requiring – you guessed it – another 30 minute wait. With all the time dedicated to waiting in lines, it left very little to have any of those happily anticipated and advertised experiences.
• Once permitted into the sports center, waiting and lines were still the norm.
• We waited the required 40 minutes in order to go inside the tree house. BIG mistake. The tree house is probably the single most ill-conceived exhibit in the museum – perhaps in any museum or theme park. The journey is not a pass-through. The single passageway is narrow and wide enough for only one person. The greatest difficulty is that undisciplined traffic is going up and going down at the same time on the same path – one must return the same way one came. Internally, it’s an unstaffed free-for-all with a full mix of ages engaging each other. Definitely not worth the time and disorientation.
This was our third visit to the museum over the years; and instead of improving, the operation has deteriorated. The administrative staff and board of the museum simply must immediately recognize the serious shortcomings related to their plans and their execution – and then, take corrective action at once as it is both obvious to all and well overdue. Until then, this was our final visit.
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