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COSI Columbus review

As current members of Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry (full confession--my former employer) you get free admission into other science centers throughout the nation as part of the ASTC's Travel Passport Program. So I was excited to return home to Columbus with the kids to visit family and explore my childhood science museum, COSI. But they're closed on Mondays and Tuesdays currently. 

That's your first sign of things to come. 

Now, I remember the old days when COSI was located on Broad St across from the original Wendy's. It had the glass front lobby with the dark, multi-story interior floors after you got inside. But I've also been several times to the new building across the Scioto River. It's an amazing space, architecturally. It's bright, open, shiny and easy to navigate...sort of. And when the new building first opened it had a busy-but-organized feel of plenty of things to do and explore. 

That last thing is why I left especially disappointed from our visit. It felt like there was less to do even if some of the old favorites were still there. Unlike our beloved MSI in Chicago, COSI has a planetarium to experience and a few very immersive spaces like the Oceans area. (Beware, my kids were afraid of the theming though.) But it felt a little empty. Especially for the 4-5 year old bracket. I'll forgive the lack of options in the food court since it was obviously a low attendance day. And I'll forgive that Adventure is an upcharge...most museums are switching to this kind of ticketing, including Chicago. That, however, left the travel Lego exhibit. Which was free. But really just piles of blocks to build. 

Our first stop was going to be Space. That was difficult to find since it occupies a strange corner-plus-mezzanine location and it was much changed since the last time I remembered it. It no longer has its own gallery and features a number of good (but not great) exhibits that are head-scratchers considering Ohio's long aviation history. Why isn't there an amazing display about the contribution of Ohioans to spaceflight? Where is the display about Orion and going to Mars? The first man on the moon? Nothing?! 

When we headed to the Little Kidspace area I was impressed by the supervision level. There's a check-in desk where we were questioned about being the appropriate ages, given a slip to confirm our numbers when leaving, and given a good explanation of the exhibit area. Really this is more along the lines of a children's museum than a science museum. Which makes sense to me because Columbus doesn't have a real children's museum. It's the typical playhouses, water table, blocks, dress-up items. Nice, but not as big a hit as the Idea Factory area we're used to in Chicago. 

The Life exhibit is fairly good. But the Gadget area? Basically a big empty space where some amazing robotics, physics, or technology displays could be. 

I may be a little biased coming from a world-class science museum in a global city. MSI is the largest science museum in the Western Hemisphere...but it also can be dated, poorly maintained, and lacking in "wow." That was especially true before some of the newer permanent exhibits like Science Storms, You: The Experience, etc. arrived. But I'd also say that for a first-time visitor with kids you don't need more than a general admission to spend an entire day on the property. That's definitely not true of COSI Columbus. We didn't do any movies or demonstrations and, honestly, if I'd paid $19 for the adults and $14 for each kid I'd be disappointed. We paid $10 to park two cars and a little more for a very mediocre lunch. 

I'd tell families considering a visit to choose carefully. Especially considering that the Columbus Zoo is an amazing facility...go there. I don't know if COSI is in the middle of a leadership or budget crisis or a failure of imagination, but they need to set the bar a little higher.