The Houston Museum of Natural Science has become a wonder, a gem for us all to be very, very proud of. First they unveil a paleontology hall that is unbelievable in its breadth and scope, and now they've done it again with an Egyptian exhibit that is a marvel. This in addition to some already first-rate permanent collection. Any money spent visiting the museum is money well-spent indeed.
That said... I go a lot because it's a good way to get the kid out of the house while my wife studies on Sundays and it has air conditioning. Having been through the doors at least ten times this year, I feel there are some definite places that the museum could improve upon.
Offer A Food Option Other Than McDonald's: This is not a knock on the Golden Arches. I love me some Mickey D's, but it's weird that it is the only thing you can eat at the museum. For starters, it's hardly the most international menu in the world. You never really understand how diverse a city Houston is until you spend a day at the museum or the zoo. People from all over the world live and visit here and in our bastion to high thought all we have to offer is hamburgers? I'm not saying that the museum needs a full cafeteria or anything, but adding at least a Subway or making a deal with some of the food truck operators would add some affordable variety to the museum-going experience.
Build a Patio: So fine, you've got your McDonald's. Now to find a place to sit down and shovel it into your food hole. The front hallway at the museum is never going to be praised for its width. If something like the orchid show is happening it becomes downright cramped. All the tables and chairs for eating are claustrophobically arranged in a tiny space that offers pretty much no room to anyone. It would be nice if there was a few covered places outside the entrance to spread out and picnic at.
Replace the Carpet in the Gem Hall: My daughter's favorite part of the museum is the Gem Hall, and I have to admit it is a damn impressive room. The rocks and jewelry hang in the blackness shining magnificently. It's dazzling, but eventually your eyes do adjust to the gloom. As we're leaving the exhibit it never fails to amaze me how there are easily millions of dollars worth of gems on display but the carpet is going downright ratty because no one really sees it except after they've gotten used to the dark.
Stop Hiding the Horseshoe Crabs: Right outside of the Gem Hall is the malacology exhibit full of a wonderful collection of shells... Sorry, I nodded off there for a minute. I'm never going to really be into the shell collection, which is probably I never knew that way in the back is an aquarium full of horseshoe crabs! If you've never seen one, horseshoe crabs are awesome! They're the size of a soccer ball and look like video game monsters. The museum's crabs are lively, too, running around their enclosure at full tilt boogie. Move those bastards out into the middle or the front of the exhibit instead of shoved into a corner where no one can see them.
More Non-Slip Surfaces in the Butterfly Center: I've been going to the Cockrell Butterfly Center since literally the day it opened. It is beautiful. A three foot waterfall cascades down a rainforest greenhouse full of butterflies as guests walk down a stone staircase. I honestly cannot believe that I have never seen someone take a tumble down those steps. Everything is stone and wet, and my heart skips a beat every time my daughter tries to navigate them. I know that you're trying to preserve the majesty of a jungle cave, but a few rolls of skateboard tape wouldn't hurt. Speaking of the Butterfly Center...
Update the Play Area in the Butterfly Center: There's a little kid's activity alcove at the top of the Butterfly Center. It looks impressive. There's a honeycomb stage area, some block puzzles, tables and chairs... and that's about it. It's literally an almost empty, bug-themed room. Come on guys, go get the Children's Museum people to lend you some more games or puzzles to put in there. Every time I walk past it it's like being in an abandoned day care. At least get yourself a box of bug costumes for the kids to play in the honeycomb with.
Fix the Earth Forum in the Basement: The basement of the museum has often been the red-headed stepchild of the museum collections, but the Earth Forum stations are just embarrassing. Half of the computers don't work, and a few even sport the blue screen of death. There is some fun stuff like an earthquake simulator and the sand dune creator, but for the most part it's like the museum even forgot it was down there. NASA and Rice University were behind this thing. The least we could do is make sure the computers can boot up.
Add Kid-Sized Bathroom Fixtures: I know I harp on kid-centric aspects of a museum visit, but it would be really nice if there were a few low sinks, water fountains, and potties. I will say this, though. The museum bathrooms have always been immaculate when I've visited, which is doubly amazing when you consider how messy it is to hold a toddler over a sink so she can wash her hands.
How About a Texas-Based Permanent Exhibit: Aside from the really first class native people's of the Americas exhibit on the third floor and a look at the energy industry, there is surprisingly little in the museum that focuses on Houston or Texas. There's no real look at the space history of the city anymore, though that's understandable. The museum doesn't have a space exhibit for the same reason our zoo has kind of a crappy aquarium; someone else locally has done it better already.
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Still, there's plenty of history in the state that isn't space to explore. What about a hall of famous Texan inventors, or a history of hurricanes and how they've affected us, or legends of the Big Thicket. Give us something homegrown to show off to the rest of the world.
Seriously Guys, The Price is Ridiculous: Did you know that you can visit the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. for absolutely free? It's true, but it costs an adult $20 just to get into the general exhibit hall at our museum, and that doesn't include the butterfly center, the planetarium, or any of the other special things that are going on that day. Sure, you can visit it for free... provided you show up during the three hours on Thursdays that that deal is offered. Because that's exactly when poor working people have the ability to take their kids to the museum.
Look, I love our museum, and the things they're adding boggles the mind. And I realize that those things cost money, but for just one person to spend a day experiencing all our museum has to offer would cost more than $70. It would actually be cheaper to visit the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, and when you throw in the difference in the cost of living between the two cities that fact looks even more like Houstonians are getting rooked out of their money. Going to the museum isn't supposed to be a luxury. It's supposed to a chance for everyone to learn something new, and it shouldn't cost a week's groceries to do that.