I’m starting a new feature this week called MidAtlantic Wednesdays, where I will feature new or updated posts about things to do and see with kids in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, and New Jersey. If there’s an activity or museum that you’d like to see featured, please don’t hesitate to drop me a line and let me know!
At the beginning of October I had the pleasure of spending a weekend in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, which I would definitely recommend as a great place to get away for a few days with the kids, with restaurants, shops, and museums that will interest the entire family. On our first morning I drove about 25 minutes to Two Rivers Landing in Easton, home of the National Canal Museum and the Crayola “Factory.” (I’ll explain later why I’ve put this word in quotation marks). One large building, right at the center of Easton, houses both.
The boys wanted to see the canal museum first. We started our visit in the waterworks room where there is a 90-foot model canal complete with working locks and inclines. The volunteer working there spent a lot of time explaining the physics of the various mechanisms to Tommy and also talking about the history of the canal. He showed the boys how the mules would work to pull the boats, what happened when the boats went through tunnels, and how they came in to the dock. Tommy was fascinated to learn that a boy his age would likely be working as a mule tender and sending home the handsome sum of five dollars a month!
Travel-With-Kids Tip: If you are bothered by wet kids, bring a change of clothes. They don’t have smocks or any other protective gear in the canal play area.
The rest of the museum is dedicated to explaining the history of transportation in the Lehigh Valley via train and canal boat and it’s really pretty interesting. One room has a large model train display, a train to climb in, and a railroad scale where the kids can weigh themselves. There is a life-sized model of a canal boat, mule, and a lock house. Kids can stand on a moving platform and work a rudder to actually feel what it would be like to steer the boat. Another exhibit demonstrates how pulleys and levers work to lighten loads by allowing kids to lift barrels. There are stations that contain various building toys to play with, cool models of bridges, and lots of historical information about what life was like along the canal – I really feel like I had a full picture of the entire economic and social system it created by the time we left. The boys learned a lot too and definitely understood that the canal boats were a way to move things from place to place and that entire families were involved in making this happen.
Travel-With-Kids Tip: If you can, visit on a school day (as opposed to during the summer or on a holiday) and be at the museum when it opens at 9:30 a.m. We had the place to ourselves for the first hour and not only did the kids get to really play with the interactive exhibits, they got lots of individual attention from the kind volunteers working in each room. By the time we left to go get lunch, it had filled up considerably.
After we finished in the canal museum, we moved onto the Crayola exhibit. If what you’re expecting is a factory tour, you will be disappointed. There is one small area dedicated to the production process, but it is hidden away and seems to consist mostly of a video. My kids weren’t interested at all and refused to go back there. The rest of the space is primarily dedicated to different stations where kids use Crayola products to make things. The activities are almost identical to the Kaleidoscope space at the Crown Center in Kansas City, but without some of the cooler features (like free admission for instance). The boys liked making leaf rubbings, “painting” with hot wax, and creating paper-bag puppets, although honestly those mostly things we could do at home. And they didn’t learn anything about how crayons are made, which makes me think that perhaps they should change the name. I know I would love a chance to visit a real Crayola factory and watch the molds and machinery in action – this is a poor substitute.
Travel-With-Kids Tip: Your dining option at Three Rivers Landing is limited to McDonald’s. However, a block away on 3rd Street you’ll find Mex-Tex Trio, where we had an affordable and delicious lunch. There are a wide range of tacos, enchiladas, and quesadillas on offer, as well as vegetarian plates and lunch specials. Despite the fact that there was only waitress working, the service was fast and friendly, the food fresh and hot.
Admission to these two attractions isn’t cheap – you’ll pay ten dollars a person for everyone in your family who is 3 and older. If the canal museum weren’t there I’m not sure I’d feel like this was a good deal, but it alone is interesting and interactive enough to warrant the price.
You’ll want to allot about a half day for this outing. In the summer and early fall you could make it a full day by visiting nearby Hugh Moore Park and riding on a canal boat (although the boat rides are also run by the museum, there is a separate fee to ride).