Blending Science with Fun at Tampa’s Museum of Science and Industry

Lisa Fritscher May 23, 2012 No Comments

Museum of Science and Industry, Tampa Florida

MOSI has come a long way since I was a kid!

When I was four years old, my father got out of the Navy and went back to college to finish his BS in Industrial Engineering at the University of South Florida in Tampa. While he was in school, a small science museum opened up directly across the street from the university. Known as the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI), it was one of the first hands-on science museums in Central Florida.

My dad sometimes took me to campus with him, either to sit in on a class or attend a fair or festival. Most of the time, the campus visit began or ended with a trip to MOSI. I still remember Dad explaining various scientific concepts to me as we worked together to solve a problem or activate a mechanical device. MOSI was our special place, where we spent a large portion of our daddy-daughter time.

In 1996, my then-husband and I enrolled at USF to pursue degrees in psychology. Many of our classes were on a branch campus an hour away in Lakeland, where we lived at the time. But twice a week we headed for Tampa for a Research Methods class. It’s a wonder we ever passed, let alone both got an “A” in the class, because we rarely attended! We bought an annual membership to MOSI and spent the vast majority of our class time there.

Museum of Science and Industry, Tampa Florida

Expansion has more than doubled the size of the museum

By that point, the small science museum had grown into a major powerhouse. A $35 million expansion that opened in 1995 more than doubled the size of the museum, adding dozens of exciting new exhibits. MOSI offered a wonderfully blended mix of activities for both children and adults, and took good care of its members with after-hours parties and other special events.

In 2001, I divorced and moved to New Orleans. In 2004, I became a full-time RVer, traveling with my father. Although we thought about it several times over the years, Dad and I did not get around to going back to MOSI until January 2012. We were extremely excited to see how the old place was doing.

About MOSI

We almost didn’t recognize our old hangout at all! Even the parking was different, with a new entrance and a daily fee. As of 2012, the parking fee is $4. Members and IMAX-only visitors receive free parking. But the new lot was well-marked and convenient, and we quickly got our bearings.

Today, the Museum of Science and Industry is the largest science center in the Southeast, at more than 400,000 square feet. The 74-acre property is home to the only IMAX Dome in Florida, the longest high wire bike ride in the United States, the only planetarium in Tampa, the long-running and highly popular 75 mph winds of the Gulf Coast Hurricane, and the 40,000 square foot Kids in Charge, which is the largest children’s science center in the United States.

Museum of Science and Industry Box Office

You might spend awhile selecting the best ticket option

As of 2012, the standard admission fee is $20.95. Seniors aged 60 and above pay $18.95, while children aged 2 to 12 pay $16.95. Kids under age 2 are free. Unlike many science museums, the basic admission fee includes not only all standard and special exhibits, but also the Saunders Planetarium and one hour-long IMAX film. Additional standard IMAX films cost $8.95 for adults, $7.95 for seniors and $6.95 for children. Full-length feature films in IMAX format cost $11.95 for adults, $10.95 for students with ID, $9.95 for seniors and $8.95 for children. MOSI also offers an extensive ropes course at an add-on fee of $7, or $10 for those who are not visiting the museum. Discounts are available for museum members.

If you have a larger family or will visit more than once, a MOSI membership may be the right choice for you. A variety of annual membership options are available from a $45 individual membership that includes the museum galleries only to a $199 family membership that includes unlimited standard IMAX films and rides for five people. MOSI membership also includes free or heavily discounted reciprocal admission privileges at more than 250 science centers throughout the United States.

Museum of Science and Industry Historic Trees

The historic trees are worth a closer look

The Museum of Science and Industry is open from 9 to 5 Monday through Friday and 9 to 6 on Saturday and Sunday, 365 days per year. It is frequently home to special events and festivals, from the Bay Area Renaissance Festival to the Festival of Chocolate. Monthly “star parties” are held on Saturday nights, allowing visitors to examine the night sky through one of several telescopes provided by planetarium staff.

Our Experience

Although it was cold, rainy and windy on the day of our visit, we couldn’t resist stopping by the Richard T. Bowers Historic Tree Grove on our way in. This collection of 17 trees was taken from the seedlings of historically important trees from around the country. A map of the trees is on a sign post at the entrance, and most of the trees are individually labeled.

Inside, the first order of business was to warm up with a hot meal! The MOSI Café serves traditional but excellently prepared museum foods such as burgers and wraps at reasonable prices.

Museum of Science and Industry Disasterville

Disasterville is a definite highlight

Due to the weather, we opted to skip the ropes course, but were eager to see everything else. We began our adventure on the second floor of the main building, home to Disasterville, a 10,000 square foot exhibit space that focuses on natural disasters. Covering nine different types of disasters from tornadoes to fires, the exhibit uses a combination of news footage, games and activities to build awareness of proper disaster preparedness and response procedures. This area is also home to WeatherQuest, where kids can band together to deliver the weather news in a simulated studio. The MOSI Amateur Radio Club operates out of this part of the museum as well, so stop by to see the equipment and say hello to the radio operators!

By the time we finished, it was almost time for our planetarium show, so we made our way to the other building, home of Kids in Charge, where the planetarium is housed. Kid-focused and adult-oriented planetarium shows are offered throughout the day, so be sure to choose the type of show that meets your family’s needs. Kids are welcome in the adult shows and vice versa, but the level and type of information presented are different.

Museum of Science and Industry Kids in Charge

Kids in Charge was designed by an advisory board of kids

The Saunders Planetarium was a lot of fun. Redesigned and upgraded in 2008, the planetarium features comfortable seating, a state of the art projector and an enhanced projection dome, making it one of the best planetariums we have visited in our travels.

After the show, we spent some time checking out Kids in Charge. Opened in 2005, this fantastic exploration area was designed under the guidance of an advisory board. Not unusual, right? But this particular board consisted of 26 kids aged 10 to 17! Needless to say, the space is child-friendly in every way, and manages to teach without ever sounding preachy or talking down to kids. The exhibit is divided into four areas, each with a different theme. In Fields to Meals, kids learn about the process of growing, packaging and distributing food. Activate is filled with hands-on mechanical devices designed to teach lessons on gravity and momentum. Kids Create offers a variety of creative, team-based activities, while Investigate provides the opportunity to analyze data and solve mysteries. The area is well worth checking out even for adults, while those with kids should plan to spend at least a couple of hours exploring the different sections in depth.

Next up was the IMAX Dome, the only one of its kind in Florida. While most IMAX theaters utilize an over sized traditional movie screen and stadium seating, an IMAX Dome is a literal dome. The seats recline to a nearly flat position to provide a clear and comfortable view of the overhead screen. The sound system is fantastic, and the projection entirely engrossing. I just love IMAX Domes, regardless of what film is being shown!

Museum of Science and Industry The Amazing You

The Amazing You is frank but extremely sensitive

Our final stop for the day was The Amazing You. This 13,000 square foot exhibit space is truly mind-boggling. We only had about an hour left before the museum closed for the day, but we could have easily spent half a day exploring the area in detail. The interactive displays walk visitors through the seven stages of human life from conception through old age. Each stage is visited in a frank but compassionate way, including a look at end of life issues and the grieving process. Although the exhibits are handled in an extremely sensitive manner, parents of small children may want to use discretion. Expect plenty of questions and use the displays as a jumping-off point for family discussions.

Due to time and weather constraints, we did not make it to the butterfly garden, which I had seen before, or the Gulf Coast Hurricane, which used to be one of our favorite activities. The butterfly garden is home to hundreds of brightly colored free flying butterflies, while the Gulf Coast Hurricane is an enclosed wind booth that exposes visitors to 75 mph hurricane-force winds. Both are well worth seeing if you have the time.

Tips for Parents

Museum of Science and Industry Employees

The employees are friendly, helpful and eager to demonstrate science principles

MOSI was a very important part of my life as a small child, and it remains a favorite destination as an adult. Although younger kids may want to spend the entire day at Kids in Charge, try to make time to see the other exhibits as well. The entire museum is extraordinarily well-designed and well laid out, and museum staff goes above and beyond to make visitors of all ages feel welcome. The MOSI experience is multi-layered, providing a wealth of information for adults and older teens with a heavy interest in science while remaining entirely accessible to younger children and those with a more passing interest in the topics. Allow yourself and your kids to become absorbed in the experience, and you might be surprised just how much you all learn!

avatarAbout the Author:

Lisa is a full-time travel writer. She lives in an RV with her disabled father and writes about their experiences. Although she has no children of her own, Lisa loves being an Aunt to her own relatives and the children of all her friends. You can follow her adventures on her blog, Travel Confessions.

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