When I was offered passes to visit the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Odditorium in Baltimore in order to facilitate a review, I was pleased, intrigued… and a bit skeptical. I wasn’t skeptical of the quality of the museum, but many outings with my kids have proven that they are the ULTIMATE litmus test for how family friendly an activity is. If it’s not going to hold a kid’s interest or there is some major flaw in the execution of the activity, my kids will be the ones to exploit it and take the whole thing down in (hopefully metaphorical) flames. And this is the part where some internet know it all usually chimes in to say I’m a terrible parent and that their children are perfectly lovely in every imaginable situation. I shall consider various responses, such as “yes I am,” “so what,” and/or “liar, liar, pants on fire”… And then discard them to point out that surely anything that has been tested and approved by my rowdy outlaws will be perfectly safe and lovely for any nonexistent paragon of ideal childhood. (Not that YOU would ever tempt fate by smugly pointing out that YOUR children of course are well brought up and would never embarrass you by misbehaving… because I know that you have met Karma and are too smart to fall for her wily ways.)
I’m going to have a hard time not telling you about EVERY single thing that there is to see and do in the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Odditorium, but part of the fun is turning a corner into the unexpected. And I despise spoilers. So I won’t do that to you, but I will tell you that the museum starts pulling the kids in from the very get go. The Oddities begin out in front of the museum, and the front of the building is open to pull you into the experience. I loved the wooden automobile, but the dudes predictably went for the giant transformer made of old car parts. Ripley’s obviously had their number from the word “go,” and there was never a point where the kids lost interest, got bored, or otherwise wanted to go home. In other words, they didn’t flame out. We spent two hours exploiting the triple combo option to the fullest, and although we had several tired and hungry children on our hands when it was over, they were also smiling and cheerful. Our favorite highlights of the visit were Hogwarts (that’s all I’ll say…), the psychedelic dance room, the secret passage, and the mirror maze. The mirror maze is available as an add on or a stand alone option, and is closer than I ever thought I’d be to feeling like I’d been set loose to wander around inside the TARDIS. That’s only scraping the surface, so if none of those sound like your family’s cup of tea, never fear.
For help in planning your trip, let me talk about strollers. I have taken some variety of stroller to and into almost every place that they are allowed over the course of the last seven and a half years, and I can tell you that this is NOT a stroller friendly museum. I assume there must be an elevator somewhere, and I’m sure they conform to all the clearances specified by the ADA. I cannot find anything that says they are actually forbidden, but we went without our stroller and were glad we did. This was our first major expedition as a family of four with no stroller along to serve as a bag minder and emergency nap location. I was nervous, but we rocked it! Potty training may have scarred me for life while we were doing it, but there is no denying that it frees you up to travel light, at long last. All of which is to say, I cannot tell you what a visit to this museum would be like with a stroller, but my extensive stroller experiences lead me to recommend you go without it. If you can carry or wear younger ones, you won’t miss out on things like the musical staircase or worry that your parked buggy is blocking the traffic flow for other visitors. Part of the museum’s charm is that, since there are many “touch me” activities, there is very little “dead” space on the exhibit floors. And since you are continually pulled forward to the next fun surprise, you won’t want to backtrack to collect your empty stroller. And it WILL be empty, because even toddlers will want to be out and able to explore here. Stroller free is the right call here for most people.
The movie experience was the perfect finish to this adventure. Two animated shorts take you on a simulated 3-D “ride” along with kid-friendly cartoon characters. Sensitive kids may find this too stimulating, but be aware that if you want to try it out, there is nothing to prevent you from leaving at any point, and there is an intermission after the first (and shorter) segment to allow anyone who needs one a chance to exit.
Lastly, I feel like I should mention is that this experience is loud. I don’t mean rock concert or industrial manufacturing level of loud, I just mean that it’s pretty much always noisy. This is not a hushed, reverent museum experience. It’s very much a “loud thing” approved kind of place. Check out the slideshow for more highlights, and if you’ve been, let me know what your family thought!