“I’m a pirate! I’m a pirate!” yelled a kindergartener, making his way from the spacious hull to the upper deck on the newly installed Megan D vintage schooner at Olympia’s Hands On Children’s Museum.
The Megan D, nestled into a bed of sand that’s just right for digging, is the new focal point of the museum’s outdoor play area. The ship was salvaged from the Port of Olympia’s scrap pile and painstakingly refurbished for young museum visitors to enjoy. The museum's outdoor play area also includes a watchtower and tricycle track.
Taking advantage of a day off from school, my kids and I went to check out the Megan D. We went in expecting a crowd, especially as it was a beautiful, sunny fall day, but we found the museum easy to navigate and offering plenty of seating for parents to lounge on. I saw toddlers to tweens exploring the boat, checking gauges, navigating voyages and using their imaginations.
“This place is actually really cool,” said an older kid in our group, who spent his time climbing up and down the ship, pretending to be a parkour champ. Meanwhile, toddlers piled into the crow’s nest, a roped net that hangs into the lower deck.
Designed for exploration, the Megan D has 56-feet of play area, including lots of ropes and ladders to climb, a walking plank and countless gadgets and toggles to push and pull. The museum plans to incorporate the vessel into special events, such as the Haunted Ship scavenger hunt at the annual Boo Bash, Oct. 26–27, 2019.
In addition to sparking young imaginations, the ship serves as a historic exhibit. This vintage schooner has a special connection to the Puget Sound; at the turn of the century it was one of the region’s main transporters of fish, timber, grain and other materials. Learning opportunities abound; I overheard one grandma proudly teaching her grandson nautical terms.
Kids can learn about wind power, follow the ropes to the upper and lower decks and genuinely get a feel for the boat. No items are hands-off. My kid’s favorite activity was poking his face through every window, porthole, and net he could find.
Inside the museum, there are many play areas to explore: There is a fire truck and helicopter in one area; a climbing tower with slide; a scream room where kids can use their outdoor voices to measure their volume in decibels; and a maker space that hosts different crafts and projects.
During the warmer months, take a break from the boat and splash in the interactive 250-foot East Bay Plaza stream right outside the museum. Next door to the museum is the WET Science Center, which is free and great for school-age kids to learn about water use in the Puget Sound.
The Hands On Children’s Museum has been an evolving destination in Olympia since 1987, but always enticing to kids and families from around the South Sound and beyond. Now, the museum feels even more inviting and adventurous — grab yer mates and swashbucklers, the Megan D is open for fun.
If you go...
Hours: Open daily from 10 a.m.–5 p.m.; the museum stays open late on the first Friday of each month.
Cost: Admission is $14.95 for ages 18 months to 64 years. Toddlers 17 months and under are free, and seniors, military with I.D. and foster family members are $12.95. Memberships start at $165 per year, per family. For a family of four, a membership can pay for itself in as few as three visits.
Admission discounts: The first Friday of each month, the museum stays open from 5–9 p.m. During this evening session, the first two guests in a family group are admitted free and each additional guest in the group is $2. EBT cardholders can access this same pricing any time: first two family members free; additional $2 each. Check online for more special events and pricing.
Parking: Lot parking is available for $1.50 an hour. Street parking is metered during weekdays and free after 5 p.m., on weekends and on holidays.
Sensory sensitivities: The museum offers special play hours, events and rates for families of children on the autism spectrum, and with sensory sensitivities and other special needs.
Fuel up: There are tables and a café in the museum. You can bring your own food or the café offers a little of everything, from healthy snacks to grilled sandwiches. Nearby, family-favorite dining includes the Olympia Farmers Market, King Solomon’s Reef (famous for its fried chicken) and Old School Pizzeria, known for its cheap, giant slices and a 70s and 80s throw-back atmosphere.
More maritime fun: Another South Sound spot highlights the maritime history of the region and offers hands-on experiences for families — for free. Check out Gig Harbor's kid-friendly Harbor History Museum.