MOOLAH METER: $$
GOOD FOR: 4 years and up
We took a day trip to Philly with the express intention of seeing the Star Wars exhibit before it closes on May 4. If you’re going to combine it with the Adventure Aquarium in the same day, I suggest going to the Frankin first because the exhibits are more intimate in the Franklin and require more time and space to do the activities. Because the aquarium’s exhibit and interactive spaces are so large, you can still enjoy them despite the crowds that come in later in the morning.
Coming May 31, FI will host a pirate exhibit from National Geographic and the team that designed Tutankhamun and The Golden Age of the Pharaohs. “Real Pirates” tells the true story of the Whydah, a pirate ship that was found off the coast of Cape Cod in 1984 by underwater explorer Barry Clifford. The exhibit displays more than 200 artifacts including treasure pirate treasure, weapons and a full-size replica of the ship. For more on the exhibit, click here.
BEFORE YOU GO
If you’ve got a membership to the Maryland Science Center or affiliated science museum, remember to tuck the card into your wallet. It’ll save you a bundle! If you’re not a member and you arrive at the FI after 10:30 a.m. on a weekend, you’ll be waiting in a long line, so consider purchasing your tickets for admission and the exhibit online. Also, bring quarters in case you find street parking around the museum (meters are good only for 3 hours, though).
We didn’t go beyond the 2nd floor because by the time we got there in the afternoon, my kids were pooped and just wanted to see the Star Wars exhibit. Because they time entry to every half hour, we did have some time to see some cool 2nd floor exhibits, including someone riding a bike on a high wire 18 feet above the lobby; a two-story walk-through replica of a heart; a human skeleton running on a cross training machine; a U.S. air force jet the kids could get into; and more. With exhibits on two other floors, you could easily spend an entire day just checking out the permanent exhibits.
The highlight of the visit, though, was the Star Wars exhibit. Was it worth the extra $20.50 for adults and $15.50 for kids, even the little ones? I think so, despite the crowds. We had a timed entry of 2:30, and still waited in line that looped up a ramp. We got through the line in about 10 minutes, though, and could spend as long as we liked in the exhibit space itself, which was large. There was Luke’s original landspeeder in Star Wars IV, an original Yoda puppet, life-size figures, costumes, robot-building activities, a magnetic levitation ride, and more. There’s also a separate Millennium Falcon “experience” for $5, but we didn’t do it. Once you’re done, the exit feeds you into a Star Wars mini store, which had some different products than the main store downstairs so if you’re planning a Star Wars purchase, check out the store downstairs first so you’ll know what’s there.
If you’re thinking about taking advantage of membership benefits with the FI and Maryland Science Center, buy the membership from FI. The basic membership for a family of six is $85 at FI; it’s $125 at Maryland Science Center. At those prices, the best deal is FI’s FamilyMAX membership, which gets you an additional 6 free Star Wars tickets (a value of $103 for two adults and four kids) and 8 free IMAX tickets.
If you don’t want to do the membership, another budget travel tip is to do the Star Wars exhibit after 5 p.m., when the price is cut in half. You can’t do this, though, on Mondays or Tuesdays, when the last entry is 5 p.m.
If you’re planning to stay overnight, the tourism bureau has hotel packages with about 10 participating hotels. But this gets you only 2 VIP Star Wars tickets, which allows for entry at any time, and so you’ll have to buy your kids’ tickets anyway. If you’re planning a three-day or longer stay, I’d consider the Philadelphia CityPass, which gets you unlimited rides on the trolley and admission to five attractions, including the FI and Adventure Aquarium. It’s good for 9 days and costs $54 for adults, $37 for kids. You’ll have to use at least three of the facilities/services to make it worth the cost, though.
WHERE TO PARK
Street parking is available around the museum, but like DC, it’s difficult to find after 10:30 a.m. Meters are good for 3 hours; there were some spots on Winter Street at the side of the building that appeared to have no meters and were good for 3 hours, according to the sign.
Your best bet is to park in the FI garage, which has an entrance on 21st Street. Again, if it’s later in the day, you run the risk of the garage being full and having to park in a city garage further away. That happened to me, but after circling the area for about 10 minutes, I went back to the garage and it was open again. Be sure to bring in your ticket and get it validated inside to get reduced rates; it was $12 for 4 hours with the validation, if I remember correctly. And the parking attendants accept credit cards, thank goodness.
WHERE TO EAT
There’s a bistro in the main lobby and a cafe on the second floor, but we didn’t eat there so I don’t know what the prices are like. Like the MSC, they do have a brown bag lunchroom with vending facilities.