Digging Into Your Wallet
Montville (Google Maps location)
June 15, 2014
I’m wavering. Do I spend three paragraphs lamenting the prices at this place or do I celebrate the fact that Connecticut has an honest-to-goodness tourist trap? Actually, I think I can do both. And for the record, I don’t consider our few legitimate tourist attractions to be tourist traps.
A tourist trap is a place that, say, wildly appeals to kids who then convince their parents it would be a fun day out and once inside the confines, those parents realize that each “experience” their beloved children want to do is another hundred bucks for their family of four. And yes, a full day here in Montville doing a full day of things for a family of four can easily set you back three or four hundred dollars.
And this ain’t exactly Disney World. But it draws in families to this part of the state for something other than a casino and that’s great. The family and brains behind the whole Nature’s Art Village” complex has done a fantastic job with the whole thing, and if they get people to pay the prices they charge, good for them.
And it is cool. At least The Dinosaur Place piece of it, which is the focus of this page. With your admission to The Dinosaur Place, you can access the splash pad, the gift shop (of course), the cafe, and the ice cream place. You can go to The PAST Antiques Marketplace in the same “Nature’s Village” complex. And next to that? The Genius Museum, which keeps growing every year it seems.
There’s also The Discovery Depot which is a whole paleontology and geology experience for kids. Geodes, fake fossils… that whole bit. And now I see they’ve added mini-golf as well. Each main place (Dinosaurs, Depot, mini-golf) is about $26 per person. Throw in a meal, ice cream, the museum, some trinkets, and… yeah. You’ve just dropped hundreds of dollars. (Admission is a bit less on weekdays.)
So one hopes that it’s all fun and well-run and super cool, right? Right. And for the most part, it is. My boys loved the Dinosaur Place and quite frankly, this dad did too. I should note that the dinosaur stuff is continuously expanding like much of the complex. They say that “three brand-new exhibits” have been added for 2021.
They also claim that their splash pad is “New England’s largest” which… can’t be true. I don’t know if the amusement park splash pads we’ve been to at Six Flags, Lake Compounce, and Quassy call their splash pads “splash pads,” but I’m pretty sure they’re bigger.
But this one claims “a unique zero-depth water park.” I don’t know what that means, and we didn’t come prepared for splash padding – much to my sons’ dismay. But Calvin loved “Monty’s Playground” and the “T-Rex Tower.” It is a really cool playground to be sure. We did return a year couple years later in June 2016 for the playground and waterpark area. I’ve added some fairly cool pictures of that stuff at the bottom of this page.
But he understands and besides, we were here for the Outdoor Adventure Park – home to over 50 life-sized dinosaurs on pristine nature trails! Where we were going to…
… encounter over 50 life-sized dinosaurs spread among 1.5 miles of easy to walk nature trails. Encompassing 60-acres of pristine Southeastern Connecticut woodlands, this Jurassic-era exploration will deliver a fun-filled day of unplugged education, discovery, and adventure for the entire family.
Part of me wants to make the effort to look up how many of the dinosaurs featured weren’t actually from the Jurassic Period, but everyone hates that part of me, so I’ll not do that. I promise. And honestly, the explanatory signs along the path provide excellent and thorough information for anyone interested in learning about each dinosaur. They even explain the plants and some other scientific bits as well. I was impressed.
And that’s what you get for a hundred bucks for a family of four. A flat, wide trail through the woods dotted with life-sized fiberglass dinosaurs along the way. Some are somewhat hidden among fern glades and wetlands which makes it fun for kids to spot them.
Of course, it’s the big guys that everyone like the most.
Take a family photo under the belly of the 40-foot tall Brachiosaurus, large enough to drive a car under! Hug the armored Euoplocephalus, a dinosaur covered with bony plates and spikes from head to toe, including armor on its eyelids! Discover the longest fingernails ever found on Earth with the claws of the Therizinosaurus, stretching more than 3 feet long!
So! Many! Exclamation! Points! (Okay, eyelid armor deserves one.) There are some “what am I” boxes along the way. You know, the things where you and/or your child feel around some mystery items and guess what they are. Things like dinosaur teeth and seashells. Always fun for kids.
As we rounded the backside and made our way back to the beginning, we passed “Raptor Bay.” Which is not a bay, but we’re all using our imaginations here. It’s a large man-made lake with an “active” volcano. Which is cool. But “hidden” near the “bay” is Cowl Cave.
Good ol’ Cowl Cave. We had no idea what was inside the cave, so we blithely entered and got quite a surprise. No judging my wife’s parenting skills:
You know what strikes me about that video aside from the animatronic Dilophosaurus? Aside from how cute the other 3/4 of my family is? Calvin, in distress, looking out for his special needs brother imploring him not to fall in the lake. This level of care for his older brother is something that has continued as he’s grown and it’s pretty great.
And that was that. There are some nice picnic areas in which we enjoyed some snacks and Calvin came down from his fright. Afterwards, we poked around the gift shop and steered Calvin away from wanting to dig for fossils and stuff at the Discovery Depot.
I know I’ve mentioned the prices here, but hey, if you really want to spend money here, you can always buy a chunk of petrified wood for $14,500.
When we visited, there was not trampoline park or go-karting or mini-golf. The Genius Museum wasn’t yet open and the exhibits we did see were fewer than there are now. I think it’s pretty great that the owners have built this place out of nothing in an area that previously didn’t have all that much. It has become a true family entertainment destination that pretty much every kid will enjoy.
We returned two years later so the boys could enjoy the splash pad and the (by then) expanded playground area. This is what The Dinosaur Place calls “New England’s largest splash pad.” Let’s check it out.
The boys loved it. Way up at the top of this page I wondered what was meant by “zero-depth waterpark.” I realize now that it’s an anti-drowning measure. Anyway, Calvin wrecked himself with the giant waterfall splash thing over and over and Damian did his tepid walkabout the whole time. Works for us.
Onto the playground. As Calvin is part monkey, he was in his element. The T-Rex Tower here is impressive. It’s huge, tall, and super fun for kids. Calvin immediately took to it but it was a while before Damian warmed up to his own exploration.
This is a bit scary for us as Damian’s parents, because up in those tunnels and shafts and stuff, if Damian freaks out and stops, well, that’s a problem. For him, for us, and for all the other kids.
So we had a chat with five-year-old Calvin, it was his job to look out for his older brother. To always know where he is and sound the alarm if things went awry. I’d been hiking with the two of them for years at this point, and always marveled at Calvin’s ability to push Damian along – figuratively and literally. We had trained for this moment.
As it turned out, Damian knew his limits and stayed away from some of the more challenging features. But he surprised the heck out of us by crossing bridges high in the air. It was pretty awesome and it only worked because Calvin was often behind him, pushing him along. Like here, on this slide:
Damian wasn’t going anywhere until Calvin showed up behind him and just pushed him. It was great. This playscape monstrosity is fantastic. There are lots of safety measures in place and the boys had a blast.
So let’s look at a few more pictures and call it a day. (I know… this is like “Grandpa’s Family Vacation Kodachrome slide show” of every clichéd boring gathering. I’m very aware.)