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Hands-On Discovery and IMAX movies on tap at Fort Lauderdale museum

A tryannosaurus rex skull built  to scale is located in the dinosaur exhibit  just outside the IMAX movie theater.
A tryannosaurus rex skull built to scale is located in the dinosaur exhibit just outside the IMAX movie theater.
Jill Zima Borski

Museums in South Florida are an attractive option for keeping kids busy, especially those offering hands-on activities and special events. Fort Lauderdale’s Museum of Discovery and Science features two floors of hands-on exhibits, and everything from otters, snakes and aquariums to weather forecasting, health science and astronomy. Additionally, a spacious IMAX theater inside the museum offers three to four movie choices a day. A Subway adjacent to the museum makes economical meals easy.

Fort Lauderdale Museum of Discovery and Science promotes hands-on exploration for children.
Jill Zima Borski

Simulated 6- to 8-minute rides to the planet Mars and aboard an airboat through the River of Grass are worth the wait, for the exhilaration and discovery they enable. Hands-on sifting through sand for fossils, creating a steam cloud, cranking a pedal to manufacture energy to power a light bulb, and a four-person recycling game are additional sources of fun.

Special events such as a recent Polynesian Festival which featured surfing lessons, hula dancing, tastes of a traditional dish, po'e, that was like a banana bread pudding and a lengthy island paddle vessel also known as an outrigger canoe were all on hand to coincide with the unveiling of the 3-D movie, “Journey to the South Pacific,” which focused on an underwater snorkeling adventure among the islands near Papua New Guinea. Additional IMAX movie offerings include a tale related to The Hobbit, a train ride aboard the Rocky Mountain Express and butterflies in flight. The five-story-high screen is the largest in all of Florida.

It may be necessary to spend three hours at the museum to see it all, so a good plan would be to prioritize according to a child’s interest. If the snakes, reptiles and aquariums will delight, a visit there will showcase native species as well as freshwater and saltwater denizens. The energetic play of the North American river otters also are sure to delight as they entertain above and under the water.

Prehistoric Florida is hard to miss as it showcases an enormous megalodon, the precursor to the shark, with its massive mouth open to expose several rows of teeth. An Imperial Mammoth being challenged by a saber-toothed cat shows the large-scale beasts that roamed in the years before man.

The weather area lists the different types of clouds and encourages kids to become a news broadcaster. They can see themselves projected on the nearby TV gesturing and relating news of hurricanes and fires. A display in the aviation area on the second floor allows one to test the wind force of hurricanes.

Dinosaurs’ skulls, teeth and bones – many found in Florida; how volcanoes erupt and geological specimens of semi-precious stones, minerals and lava also are on display.

For my 10-year-old, the Mars Rover experience was the coolest part of our visit. Traveling through space to the red planet, navigating over its caverns and craters and overcoming an engine malfunction to narrowly make it back to earth before running out of fuel shared the excitement of space exploration.

A schedule of events at the science theater and learning center offers additional options to those yearning for knowledge. Live animal shows, films or presentations by community experts are possibilities. Some exhibits are temporary so check the museum website to catch the latest information.

A special event at the museum in February is Goosebumps! The Science of Fear. The traveling exhibit opened Feb. 1 & 2 and is on-site Feb. 8 & 9 and 22 & 23 from noon to 4 p.m. Fun activities suitable for the whole family are promised during Fear Factor weekends.

An Asian-Pacific American Heritage celebration scheduled May 3-4 will be similar to the Polynesian celebration. Dance shows, cultural demonstrations, food tasting and surfing lessons are scheduled.

The museum’s hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday – Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday.

Admission prices range from $12-$14, depending on age, and IMAX entry is $7-$14 depending on film. Children one and under are free. Located at 401 S.W. Second Street in Fort Lauderdale, nearby parking during your museum visit may set you back between $3-$12. See for more information or call 954-467-6637.

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