Story and photos by Don Price
The Arizona Science Center in downtown Phoenix opened in 1997. I remember that grand opening and the excitement that I felt as I waited in line to enter the brand new “museum.” I wasn’t disappointed; the Science Center was fun, innovative and informative, with hands-on exhibits clearly designed for youngsters, or those of us young-at-heart.
Despite that enjoyable first experience, I hadn’t been back to the Center in well over ten years, so I decided upon a return visit to see if it still held the same magic I remembered from earlier days. In short, the answer was both “yes” and “no”.
The Arizona Science Center is located in Heritage Square, 600 E. Washington Street, Phoenix, a short walk from the light rail stop at 3rd Street and Washington. If you prefer driving, there are pay parking structures nearby. The Heritage Square parking structure, just north of the Science Center, offers discounted parking with a validated ticket from the Center.
As a wheelchair user, I remember, in the past, entering the Arizona Science Center via a long, outdoor, switchback ramp that was not exactly a great first impression maker. That has changed. Today, the Center is accessed via the north side (power door opener available) and a wide, indoor ramp guides visitors to the lower level in air-conditioned comfort-a big improvement from the past.
The general admission fee is a bit steep, in my opinion: $16.95 adults; $11.95 kids (ages 3-17); and $14.95 seniors (62+); or free for Members of the Science Center (membership is $75 per year for an individual, or $95 for a couple, and includes numerous perks). There is an additional fee to view the “featured exhibitions”- in this case, an additional $5 to tour the feature “Grossology: The Impolite Science of the Human Body”. Finally, I plunked down another $9 to view the IMAX film entitled “D-Day 3D: Normandy 1944”, a 45-minute documentary about D-Day, narrated by Tom Brokaw. Total cost of my Arizona Science Center visit: $29.95.
First, let me say that if you don’t like children, you won’t enjoy the Science Center-they’re everywhere, and they’re having fun (i.e. out of control). This museum is designed for youngsters, so expect bright, cartoonish colors, stimulating signage and engaging exhibits in seemingly every direction. The Center is divided into learning areas entitled such things as “All About Me”, “Solarville”, and “My Digital World”. Each area is broken into numerous learning stations and each station is designed to teach children a scientific principle – how the heart works, or what magnets do – through fun activities. Some of these activities are truly ingenious, while others are a bit humdrum.
If you’re looking for the most fun activities, just follow the children – they seem to know immediately.
The activities seem to be set up for maximum inclusivity. I was able to experience most of the museum using my wheelchair. One of my favorite exhibits allowed children to experience sitting in side-by-side manual wheelchairs and “racing” each other by propelling the chairs in a video game.
The Featured Exhibit, “Grossology”, was definitely worth the extra $5 admission. I won’t go into detail here, but suffice it to say that this exhibit explains in scientific terms every gross function, fluid or flatulence, that the human body creates. In other words, kids and those of us with an immature streak love it. The faint-of-heart should avoid “Grossology” (you’re in luck: it ends on Labor Day).
The best part of my Arizona Science Center fieldtrip was the IMAX Theater film about D-Day. This well-made documentary featured amazing aerial footage, eye-popping animation and an excellent narrative that explained the events of June 6th, 1944 – WWII’s “longest day” – in crisp, clear terms. It was an engaging film; I only wish it had been longer than 45 minutes.
I made a point to check the restrooms for accessibility: they get a thumbs-up from me. The electric door-opener to the cafeteria, “The Lab Café”, was not functioning, so I pointed this out to the staff. The snacks in the cafeteria seemed to be excessively priced, but the staff was friendly and helpful. I didn’t have time to check out Awesome Atom’s, the Center’s gift shop. I might have to go back for that.
If you have children, the Arizona Science Center is a surefire winner, albeit an expensive one. As an adult, I found enough to keep me interested, but I don’t feel a burning need to return again for a few more years. If you’ve never been, indulge your inner-child’s curiosity and give the Arizona Science Center a try. One last recommendation: be sure to make use of the numerous Purell dispensers scattered about inside; after viewing “Grossology”, I know what those children are spreading around!
Early Intervention Coordinator
Don Price is Ability360’s Early Intervention Coordinator. As a person living with a spinal cord injury–sustained in a diving accident at age 18—Don mentors those with new disabilities by offering information, resources and an empathetic ear. Don lives in Tempe and enjoys fishing, reading, writing, listening to music and spending time with friends. He’s also a proud Sun Devil.