I was caught off guard the first time I walked by WonderWorks while on a business trip in Orlando. It looked like the building had fallen out of the sky and landed upside down. The exterior alone made me want to check it out. I'm glad I did.
WonderWorks is a fun, over-the-top science center. It's less expensive than most local theme parks, and makes a good addition if you have an extra day, or just a few hours to fill on a vacation itinerary. It's also a good indoor option for a hot or rainy day – and Orlando has plenty of those.
Here's a rundown of what your family can expect on your visit to WonderWorks in Orlando.
When you arrive
The WonderWorks building isn't hard to spot – it's the only one along International Drive in Orlando that's upside down. You'll find a parking garage just to the south of the building, which provides easy access to the museum and the nearby shopping center – Pointe Orlando.
Look for free tourist maps or brochures around Orlando that include coupons to local attractions. I saw a $2 off admissions coupon in one of the tourist maps I picked up at the conference center.
Once inside, grab your tickets and make your way into the first exhibit area.
If you have young kids with you, it may be worth purchasing a “Souvenir Adventure Book” when you grab your tickets. It includes a series of questions and clues to help you know where to pick up a prize at the end of your tour. The casebook was $4.99 (+tax), but included coupons for the WonderWorks Cafe and gift shop.
The tickets are valid for the entire day, so you can come and go as you please. The museum is open from 9 a.m. to midnight every day of the week.
Get Started with Science
After walking through a spinning vortex – which can throw your equilibrium off a little – you enter the Natural Disasters area. You can experience a 5.3 magnitude earthquake, feel hurricane-force winds, become a human lightning rod, and see water droplets that defy gravity (which was my personal favorite).
Each of the 100+ exhibits throughout the building are hands-on, offering kids of all ages an experience that will surely keep them talking.
If you think you have what it takes to withstand cold water, see how long you can keep your hand in 38-degree water before you have to pull it out. Don't worry, there are towels nearby and hand-sanitizer available to keep your hands clean. Who knows how many hands have been in that water. Yikes!
The Wonders of the Second Floor
The interactive exhibits continue on the second floor, beginning with some amazing optical illusions.
The Bubble Lab was full of kids blowing bubbles large enough to fit their parents in, and smaller ones that floated around until another kid popped them.
Laying on a bed of nails or exploring how different pulley systems make objects feel lighter or heavier are only a sampling of what is available on the second floor.
Test your throwing arm with a football or baseball simulator, or see how “hot” or “cold” you are on the thermography screen. Think you know your 1980s cartoon theme songs? Test your knowledge – but be quick, because the longer you take to answer, the fewer points you score.
As you continue through the floor, shoot a few hoops, test your reflexes against the speed of light, or play in the sandbox and find virtual buried treasures. When you've had your fill of those exhibits and more, you'll be ready to leap into outer space.
A Leap Into Outer Space
I am a space nerd, so the next section of WonderWorks was right up my alley. I was able to sit in a Mercury capsule, pose inside a moonwalker's spacesuit, (try to) land space shuttle Discovery at the Kennedy Space Center, and I wish I could've stomached the Astronaut Training Challenge.
As I've gotten older, I've quickly learned that I don't handle spinning very well – or at least my stomach doesn't. As a kid I always wanted to try this spinning gyro thing, but I never had the chance. Now that I had the chance, I decided to pass so I didn't leave a mess in my wake.
If you want to try the astronaut gyro, you must be at least 54 inches tall and your feet must be able to touch the platform. Two riders go at the same time, and the combined weight cannot exceed 500 pounds. Do you think you can handle it?
If you don't think so, you're not alone. Maybe the Wonder Coaster is more your style. Riders must be 48 inches or taller to ride alone, or at least 42 inches to ride with an adult.
Make Your Way to the Basement
Once you've had your fill of science and wonder, make your way to the basement (remember, the building is upside down) to participate in the final adventures of WonderWorks: laser tag, a glow-in-the-dark ropes course and the 4-D theater.
Your admission gets you one round of laser tag, so be sure and have your tickets with you so they can pull the stub off when they suit you up. You won't be allowed to take any backpacks or other loose items in with you, so plan to leave them in lockers nearby.
The glow-in-the-dark ropes course has no limit on the number of times you can explore it, but each time you are limited to about 10 minutes. There are height and weight requirements for the ropes course and you aren't allowed to bring any loose items with you. There are lockers available here as well.
I was a big fan of the ropes course, but I noted many people who had a fear of heights and were a little slower on the crossings. The course towers above the arcade below, and has two different heights available. There are different types of crossing to test your skills – from hard planks to loose ropes. Wander along whatever path you would like, and when your time runs out, head back to the beginning.
The 4-D theater ride has a minimum height of 40 inches and can take the adventurers on one of three different adventures: Fly me to the Moon, Canyon Coaster or the Great Wall of China.
Overall, WonderWorks offers a full day of fun for kids and adults. The website referred to the exhibits as Edu-Tainment, because you learn as you play. Nothing wrong with hiding a little education on your family vacation to Florida, right?
Good to Know
Where: 9067 International Drive, Orlando, Florida 32819
When: Open daily, 9:00 a.m. to Midnight
How Much: Adults: $29.99 + tax; Children and Seniors: $23.99 + tax. You can add a Souvenir Adventure Book for $4.99 + tax.
How Long: Anywhere from 2-4 hours, but you can spend as much time there as you'd like
Amenities: dining, gift shop, arcade