9/5/12 update: The dinosaurs exhibit has now been extended through September 30, 2012.
If you have a budding paleontologist in your family, here's a great last-minute summer getaway: Visit Victoria and see the Royal BC Museum’s DINOSAURS: Ancient Fossils, New Discoveries exhibit, on display through September 16, 2012 September 30, 2012.
This remarkable collection of dinosaur fossils from around the world (including many from the Northwest) is curated and designed by the American Museum of Natural History. Multimedia learning stations interspersed with the fossils appeal to all ages, especially the in-depth look at fossilized dino footprints, which have led scientists to discoveries about dinosaur behavior, movement and structure.
The collection also includes fascinating winged dinosaur skeletons with traces of color and evidence of feathers, and a large presentation about the climatic changes that led to mass extinction.
We took our five-year-old son there just a couple of weeks ago, part of a Northwest dinosaur fossil tour that kept us busy this summer. The exhibit is of moderate size, taking up three-quarters of the museum’s second floor, with several full-sized skeletons and many skulls. They’ve made great use of the space, and I had to keep reminding myself to look up to see the displays around the ceiling.
One warning: The promotions running on public television and on the museum’s website for the dinosaur exhibit lead young children to believe they’re going to see walking dinosaurs. The bio-mechanical models are small, so set expectations to alleviate disappointment.
The exhibit’s gift shop must be visited to exit, and it is filled from top to bottom with everything dinosaur: clothing, educational toys, books and school supplies. We narrowly missed expensive choices when our son chose a $2.50 “grow in water” miracle dinosaur egg.
Don't miss the Imax films and permanent exhibits at the Royal BC Museum, which were nearly as much of a hit with our son as the dinosaurs. The permanent Natural History Gallery provides a great opportunity to see local wildlife, like grizzly bears and deer, up close in well-planned dioramas. And the Ice Age exhibit, with a wall of real “glacier ice” and a mammoth, required three visits.
Nearby, Miniature World was a big hit despite the aging displays, identical to my memories from 30 years ago. The Victoria Harbour Ferry is an easy and fun way to get out on the water for a mini-tour.
Downtown Victoria is a bright and beautiful kid-friendly city and a gorgeous backdrop for a museum visit. One full day was plenty of time to take in the dinosaur exhibit, as well as the Royal BC Museum’s other permanent exhibits, leaving another full day to explore Victoria and other attractions.
Tips for families:
- By taking the Victoria Clipper from Seattle to Victoria, the journey becomes part of the vacation. We parked in the Seattle Art Institute Clipper-assigned lot, checked in, and had a bite to eat at the Edgewater’s Six Seven while waiting for our boat. While I can only speak to the bloody Mary, I hear the chocolate milk is top-notch.
- Packages are available through the Victoria Clipper and many Victoria hotels. We stayed at the Best Western Plus Inner Harbour, just a block away from the Victoria Clipper. Our room was clean and bright, and contained a kitchenette.
- Stretch your legs! Victoria’s Beacon Hill Park is just a short walk from the museum, with a playground, children’s farm, and spray park (if you’re lucky enough to have hot weather). Beacon Drive-In, to the west of the park, has an old-fashioned menu and delicious soft serve.
- Where to eat: The Old Spaghetti Factory in Victoria reminds me of the restaurant when I was a kid. It’s not the best food in the world, but taps into some great memories. We also enjoyed Nautical Nellies (a bit pricey), Soda Shoppe, and Santiago’s Café – great South-American influenced menu.
- Don’t over-plan to allow time for spontaneous fun. Even with all the fun activities and plans, one of our son’s favorite things was just playing in the giant weeping sequoia on the grounds of the B.C. Parliament Building.
- See this ParentMap article for more ideas on what to do in Victoria.
Karla Smith-Jones is a Seattle-based artist, master crafter, graphic designer, writer and mom to a five-year-old boy and dino aficionado.
Photo credit and caption of the Royal BC Museum photo: Albertosaurus at the Royal BC Museum. First discovered by geologist Joseph B. Tyrrell in 1884, this 2500 kg killing machine, Albertosaurus sarcophagus, (“flesh-eating lizard from Alberta”) was the largest predator in Cretaceous Alberta 73-70 million years ago. It was named in 1905, the same year Alberta became a province. This model was created and loaned to the Royal BC Museum by the Royal Tyrrell Museum, Alberta. Photo: ©Royal BC Museum
Photo of BC's Inner Harbor, courtesy of Wozi, flickr