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The New Calgary Science Center

by admin on November 7, 2011

We are huge fans of the science center. Our kids are self proclaimed science geeks…so everyone has been itching to get out to see the new one. Well, everyone but me. I hate crowds. Hate them. And, knew it would be bad. It wasn’t soooo bad until we left(at 2:00pm)…then it was unbearable(do they have a maximum capacity? Do they ever enforce it?).

There is a lot of controversy surrounding the opening of this facility. It’s too expensive–not good value…who can afford it? We’ve heard it all. But, our kids were blown away. Loved every second of the 3+ hours we spent there. We bought an annual pass(we have done this for the last few years). Yes, it was more expensive than in the past, but not that much more. So, I am going to give my honest to goodness review here. No holds barred.

Pros:

It is perhaps the most aesthetically pleasing kid space in the city. This is huge for me. I know it won’t be for some, but it helps relax me in the sea of chaos that is hundreds of kids running amuck. I think I actually gasped when I entered the Creative Kids Museum…it was love at first site.  And, the outdoor space is not complete, but it looks like it will be equally pleasing. I love the idea of mixing science and learning with design and creativity. I think often kids who are more science leaning are not exposed to enough beauty and creativity and it is my belief that the two go hand in hand…a good scientist has to be creative. Has to be able to think outside the box.

It is an extremely hands on experience. Every exhibit offers the kids(and Bob) an opportunity to explore in some way or other. It is sure to keep them busy for quite a while. There is also a lovely mix of knowledge and life. Like right next to the display on your body and how a baby is made is an interactive experience about love. You can listen to people tell the stories of their first dates and then write down your own to share. You can leave a little note about the day you were born…similar displays occur in other spots–about memories. Which memories will you remember when you are 90? Which will you forget? I thought it was a lovely way to tie a scientific idea to each visitor’s life.

Cons:

You have to pay for parking and getting out of the parking lot on a busy weekend takes a long time. Yes, you had to pay at the last place, but it isn’t well set up this time around. Perhaps, they will adjust that.

They don’t have anything in the Featured Exhibit Gallery yet. So, it kind of felt like there was a big empty space. Ditto for the  movies. No movies yet…and the movies were always one of my kids favorite things about the last center(so if you only go once a year–wait for the movies to come out). Plus, when we were buying our annual pass, they didn’t even know how much the movies would be so it was impossible to make a decision between the base pass and the ‘gold’ pass. The lovely girl behind the counter tried to upsell us to the gold pass based on the parking expense but at $5/time and a $28 price difference for each kid and a $30 difference for the adults that adds up to a lot of parking. We could never make that many trips to the science center in one year. And, since I am on the topic of the pass and it has created the most controversy…I have to add–for the price difference, I think the movies should be included not simply discounted in the gold level. If that was the case, it would have been a no brainer for us. As it is, I am saddened that my family paid over $200 for the base annual pass and now every time I visit I will have to pay for parking and movies. I think the criticism that it is too expensive is not off base. I’m not sure what they were thinking with this one…I hope it changes because of the pressure. Also, I believe it is one of the only family attractions in the city that requires 4 visits for the pass to pay for itself.

The cafe is way too small. HUGELY too small for such a large space. We didn’t have a hope of getting a seat and the line up for something to eat was at least 20 minutes. We were going to eat there, but left.

It was way too crowded. Yes, it’s new, but I think they should manage the crowds a bit better. Of course, if they opened the movies I think that problem would be solved.

There were already a few things that were broken. Here’s the difficult thing…it is super duper high tech. Now, my kids LOVED the high tech displays. Georgia’s favorite thing was the digital painting with music. It was incredible. And, Jack spent a long time exploring the multiple animation displays at the Open Studio. But, call me a cynic…I fear that these types of gadgety things do not live up well to the abuse that thousands of kids using them a month will place upon it. I guess only time will tell, but if we see a lot of broken displays in the future, we will be hesitant to renew our pass. We are hoping that they are able to maintain so many gadgets :)

Bob felt that there could have been more information available at many of the displays. There were times when we were left asking ourselves, what is this about?

So, it is new. There are kinks to work out. I truly hope that Calgarians do not turn their backs on this space. From the crowds there this weekend, I don’t think the negative press has had too much of an impact. For our kids, it is love at first site. We can’t wait to see it evolve into one of the premier spaces for families to come together in the city. I truly think it has the potential…

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Risa November 7, 2011 at 12:37 pm

Thank you so much for your detailed and thoughtful review. I very much agree with you–I do not want to see Calgarians turn their back on this place, and would love for it to become one of the ‘jewels’ of our city. But I want it to be priced in a way that it is affordable and accessible to more Calgary families–and for many, this means membership fees brought down. We too were long-time members of the old centre, and are a family of ‘science geeks’. I share your frustration at not being able to compare apples to apples as the prices of the movies have yet to be posted. I encourage you to share your review with Telus Spark. I hope they listen.

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admin November 7, 2011 at 12:42 pm

Hi Risa :)

They did assure us that once movie prices were announced we could upgrade our passes at a prorated rate. It is frustrating for sure because one of the lovely things about investing in the center should be avoiding the long line ups for the movie tickets. The Gold pass should have free parking and free movies. The Base pass should have the discounted rate…in my opinion. The one thing I didn’t mention is how the branding bothers me. But, my kids are fully knowledgable about branding so I decided to ignore it. I do feel that it should be more subsidized thanks to the Telus advertising. Thanks for your comment :)

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alisha November 7, 2011 at 12:47 pm

Thank you for that review. See, this is my conundrum…. my children are 6, 3 and 1…so a science centre full of pretty things to “look at” and gagety things to “touch” is not going to be enough for my kids. I would end up having to spend the $320 on just Creative Kids and in your opinion, would it be worth it for 3 active boys? Stir Crazy Family Fun centre has a family pass for $200 bucks and we would use that a lot more I am sure. I was also thinking that I would take the money slated for a science centre pass (that we saved up for) and just send my son to a bunch of Mad Science camps in the summer.

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admin November 7, 2011 at 1:08 pm

hmmmm…it’s not just pretty and gadgety. There is a lot to learn and experience and I think it is very well done. I’m sorry if that didn’t come across in the review. And, I guess, we have always bought a pass and the last one was just under $200…and I expected it to go up with a new facility, but I agree that it is too high for most families. My main issue is the lack of the movies being included. I want a one price for everything option. Of course, I don’t want that price to be outrageous…I just want it to be fair. And, if Telus Spark reads this, I would want them to know that we would have bought the gold pass if everything was included. Even though it is so outrageously priced. I don’t want to spend so much money and then have to dish out more every time I visit. That’s my biggest issue.

Listen, yes, it is expensive, but…well…if you pay almost $100 to take your family to see a movie in the theatre with all the fixings(popcorn, drinks, etc) it is hard to imagine a world class facility such as this being much cheaper. And, the value of spending two hours in this space over two hours sitting through the latest Spy Kids flick is 100 times greater. I’m not trying to justify it. I’m just trying to be neutral in an emotionally charged issue.

I wanted to add that I saw lots of families there with kids as young as yours. Yes, the Creative Kids space will be where you will want to spend most of your time, but the Science side has lots for them to explore as well. More than I think it used to have. I don’t think you can even compare it to a place like Stir Crazy. It’s just a decision you have to make about what is best for your family. At our kids ages, I would hands down choose the Science Center over the other.

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Alisha November 10, 2011 at 12:47 am

I appreciate the thoughtfulness of your reply. All that I was trying to get across (and not very well) is that at the old centre we only used wowtown and creative kids…and so the price increase for use to use the centre as we did the old one is not going to fly…even with the movies because my kids are not ones to sit for 30 mins (anywhere, so the theater analogy doesn’t work as we haven’t gone to a movie since my eldest was 3 – 3 years ago – and that ended with us having to leave 20 mins in and trying to unsuccessfully get a refund).
Maybe in the end they are choosing a different kind of client. The boomer, or the executive with cash to burn… I am not sure.
I think we will stick to mad science and the zoo. Thanks again or this wonderful review and conversation, leaves lots to think about.

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Jennifer November 7, 2011 at 1:23 pm

Great review. Perhaps the high price will help to keep the new high-tech equipment in good working order and keep things fresh. Thanks again, I enjoyed reading your review.
Jennifer

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Johnny Tran November 7, 2011 at 2:06 pm

Nice review. I can’t wait to check it out as well. I might even have to bring the family! ;)

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Valerie November 7, 2011 at 2:21 pm

Thanks for the review. We plan on getting passes once we can save up a bit of money for them and I am glad to hear that things sound good. We will only be getting green and forgoing the movies and special exhibits completely but I am really hoping they find a way to make it affordable to include those at some point in the future.

I am very curious about the movie costs as it seems that people keep mentioning the cost of taking a family to the movie as compared to going to the science centre but I would imagine that their movies will be a very similar cost to going to a movie theatre (not that we ever do that as it it way out of our budget).

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admin November 7, 2011 at 2:25 pm

I don’t think their movies will be that much. I think a few dollars per person, but when you have already paid so much to get in, why can’t they just be included? Know what I mean? My comparison about the cost of the movie was really About entrance cost. I would skip the movie theatre and go here any day.

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David November 10, 2011 at 12:13 am

Thanks for this review. It is tough to pay for a day visit, what I would almost pay for an annual pass at so many other similar facilities in North America. One only needs to go to the California Science Centre, which is amazing, and free, to question the high cost of ours. One side note, what family pays $100 to go to movies? I go to Costco and buy the passes for $50 for 4 of us and that includes all the snacks. Or I stay home and pay $5.99 for pay-per-view. I just dont agree with $120 million in tax dollars funding the science centre and then having the highest prices anywhere, including private profit corporations.

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admin November 10, 2011 at 7:28 am

Well, I guess I am not as savvy as you about movie going. Nor do I have the time or energy to run to Costco before I take my kids to the movies. Perhaps Costco will have a special offer for the science center.
I want to say that this is my Family’s blog. My kids read it. They author posts. There is no need to come on here and get upset with my honest review of a facility. My Kids loved it. This is our family online space and we choose to keep it a positive one. Most people who have replied here I have a feeling did not know this as they have never read the rest of my blog. This is not some public space for you to all vent. So, I now feel that there is a very balanced argument here for people who arrive here without knowing us. This is the last negative comment I will be allowing. I appreciate that many people are upset over the price increase. We are not one of those families. Nor are we executives or country club types. We are just average Albertans who enjoy spending time with our kids at the science center.

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Andrea November 10, 2011 at 8:01 am

Thanks so much for the great review and your photos are amazing! We too have visited the centre and my 3-year-old son absolutely loved it! I think it is an awesome space and am looking forward to the Dome opening in the spring… it will just add to an already great experience. Sure there are some kinks, but the staff I talked to are working through some issues and are hoping to make it better every day.
We are definitely fans!!

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Risa November 10, 2011 at 9:14 pm

I am sorry if folks have been coming here and ranting at you. I myself am at the centre of the ‘make memberships affordable for more families’ issue, and I sincerely apologize for people complaining here. I sincerely enjoyed your review; I like that you gave lots of detail about the good, and even your ‘cons’ were phrased in a constructive way that gave positive direction for how to improve the facility. I admire that, and again apologize for those that have caused you discomfort by complaining. Though our family has made at different choice this year, I fully support your family buying a membership and enjoying time together at the science centre. I do hope Spark will consider many of the helpful suggestions you offer.

And though I hadn’t looked around your blog previously, I did after discovering this review and very much enjoyed it. If you have looked around on mine, you will find that we share the same fundamentally optimistic approach to life, and love of spending time with our kids. Feel free to post this on your blog or not, I just wanted to let you know that I do not support people coming here to complain at you. There are more appropriate forums for that. Thank you for your review and patience.

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admin November 11, 2011 at 9:18 am

I thought your reply was excellent and I learned a lot about the price issue from your blog. I can truly appreciate where so many families are coming from. Even for us, it was on the verge of being too pricey. We considered it for quite awhile before finally buying. If we had any more children, it would have been a no way situation. I think they have tailored it for a family of four…which forgets soooooo many families. I’m sure that they are considering their options.

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