Since moving to Iowa from Massachusetts four years ago, my family and I have tried to visit one major midwestern city each summer. Our first trip was to St. Louis, but we have also had brief visits to Minneapolis and Chicago. This week, we visited Kansas City and had a fantastic time. This family-friendly city had a lot to offer, and we took full advantage of it for three and a half days.
I started on Priceline by bidding a ridiculously low rate for three nights, and it was accepted! We ended up with the Holiday Inn Express in the funky/historic neighborhood of Westport. I was a bit concerned after reading a few bad reviews on my favorite travel review site Trip Advisor, including some about leaks, crime, and bad service. Fortunately, our trip was fantastic, and we got a nice hotel for just $65 a night. The only drawback was that it didn’t have a pool – but we made up for that by a visit to the nearby waterpark.
After driving for five hours from Iowa City, about all we had the energy to was to find a nice place for dinner, and the front desk recommended McCoy’s Public House, which indeed was a great choice. After dinner, we stumbled upon World Market, right next to our hotel, which is an import store that carried everything from kites to coffee, and patio furniture to exotic toys and snacks. They were having a clearance sale, so we got a few bargains including a Chinese dragon kite and some Italian coffee.
Our first morning, we got a surprisingly good free hot breakfast at the hotel, bought some beach towels, and headed to Oceans of Fun. We got there early enough so that parking and lines were not much of an issue, and stayed until the early afternoon when a thunderstorm swept in. The pools and rides were great, especially Aruba Tuba (a slide inside a darkened tube which thrilled my 7-year old daughter but terrified me) and Hurricane Falls, which we rode twice.
Country Club Plaza is a chic area in Kansas City full of high end shops and restaurants. We ate at Cheesecake Factory and window shopped along the streets, since most places were closed except for the Sharper Image store, which was having a huge sale.
The Kansas City Zoo is the best zoo I have ever visited, mostly because it sprawls out over acres, and has a very natural feel to it. They had a new baby zebra (with brown stripes) and an impressive array of animals from Africa and Asia. After the zoo, we had a bit of bad luck with an alternator belt, and dropped it off for repairs in downtown Kansas City, while we took a taxi to nearby Crown Center. We ate at the colorul (pun intended) Crayola Cafe, and took in the shops. They have a fantastic youth theatre there, but were sold out, and a traveling exhibit called Moneyville, which is one of several free rotating exhibits for kids. We learned of the history of money, and my daughter got to play pretend at several role-playing educational set ups including a mock bank. You can even print fun money with your child’s own picture on it. We salvaged the evening with a home-run by goint to T-Rex Cafe for dinner. It is actually over the river in Kansas City, Kansas at a huge shopping center called Legends. They had very good food and drinks, but it’s the pre-historic atmosphere and activities for kids that make it special. We once went to a Rainforest Cafe in Massachusetts, which is owned by the same company, that had a tropical theme, jungle decor, a dancing fountain and jungle sounds piped in. The T-Rex cafe takes that idea, and reworks it in a big way. They had two floors, and multiple “rooms” with themes like Ice Cave and Fern Forest, filled with animatronic dinosaurs, huge aquariums, and faux plants and trees. Even the bathrooms had real fossils imbedded in the tiled walls. The best part is that for a modest extra fee, kids can “dig” up fossils in a huge sand pit, pan for gems they get to keep, and sand blast a plastic dinosaur fossil free from its clay brick. They even had a mock mining cave and computer games to fill the time between activities. They say that they are opening up a new one in Orlando soon, so we look forward to this experience again.
On the final day of our trip we checked out Union Station, which is still a functioning train terminal and is filled with shops, restauraunts, and museums. We bought our tickets for the 3-D movie, never even got to Science City, because we went back to the Crown Center, owned by Hallmark, and our daughter enjoyed an hour of craft activities utilizing Hallmark greeting card remnants at Kaleidoscope. They also have an excellent visitors center displaying the history and products of Hallmark. Kids can push the button on a bow making machine, interact with live workers operating printing presses and preparing dies, and get a free cardboard crown.
If you get the chance to enjoy Kansas City with kids, don’t miss these places. We are already talking about returning soon.