Five years and $305 million after the groundbreaking, Miami’s Frost Science Museum finally opened Sunday, and Isabella Dunham’s 4-year-old face was solemn as she pondered the question: Was it all worth it?
“I saw a shark, and a staircase, and then I saw a big thing biting down,” she reflected. “So, yeah, it’s pretty cool.”
About 4,000 members — including, it sometimes seemed, 10,000 kids — got a sneak peek at the museum on Sunday before its official grand opening on Monday. And after sampling the hurtling asteroids, flying dinosaurs and smarty-pants robots, they pronounced it a big hit.
“I can’t believe we’ve only been here an hour,” exclaimed 10-year-old Tiberius Buckley of Miami. “It seems like we’ve seen a million things.”
Tiberius and his twin brother Markus were standing at one of the most popular exhibits, a pool in which a dozen or so stingrays raced through the water and occasionally got close enough to the surface that the audience could actually touch them. (Two other stingrays lay about the bottom like sullen killjoys, but it turned out they were merely pregnant and feeling lazy.)
Markus was determined to pat one of the stingrays to atone for his youthful folly of several years ago, when “I had to opportunity to touch one, but I was young and chicken and didn’t do it.”
This time, he vanquished his ichthyophobia and got two fingers on a stingray as it passed. “It was kind of slimy and hard at the same time,” he explained. “I was expecting something scaly like a fish. But it was very smooth.” It was also distinctly unstingy, the tail stingers having been removed by the Frost people in an attempt to keep the casualty count down.
The stingray tank was one of the most popular exhibits among the open-day crowd. Also a hot ticket was the virtual-reality shark helmet, in which Isabella Dunham saw that big biting thing that impressed her. The line for the two helmets sometimes stretched 10-deep.
The most exuberant visitors were found in a part of the multi-segment River of Grass exhibit. At a large tabletop model of the Everglades, kids (and, sometimes, their stealthy parents) could manipulate the water flow to see how smart water management can avert ecologically catastrophic flooding.
The kids, however, seemed more entranced with hurling (wooden) baby deer, cougars, and even automobiles to a dire fate in the briny deep. It also appeared that wooden flamingos were faring badly at the hands – well, jaws – of wooden crocodiles.
At a slightly more sophisticated and much less bloodthirsty exhibit nearby, kids could perform experiments in fluid mechanics. Cesar Romero, a construction engineer who lives in the Design District, was watching patiently as his 8-year-old daughter Leilani did vaguely Frankensteinish things with water and smoke.
“She loves science,” he said. “I don’t know if we’re going to be able to get to leave.” He called her: “Leilani, come tell this reporter how much you like science.” Her impatient reply, fired over her shoulder: “I’m doing science.”
The least-visited exhibit was probably the home of a box turtle, who as soon as the museum opened, crawled to the rear of the container, pointed his butt at the spectators, and contemptuously fell asleep. The most controversial was one intended to help kids make good dietary choices, which instead revealed an epic generation gap.
As a reporter watched, three consecutive parents brought kids age 6-ish to the mock kitchen table, where they could choose between a collection of foods that ranged from a carton of yogurt to a box of day-glo colored breakfast cereal. Each time, to the dismay of the parents, the kids went for the cereal.
“But what about this?” asked one dad, futilely gesturing to a can of kidney beans.
“I want that one,” his daughter, imperiously pointing to the cereal.
“But that one is loaded with sugar and calories,” the dad pleaded.
“That one,” the girl repeated, her voice rising ominously as she pointed again at the cereal.”
However inadvertently, the museum also allowed visitor to experience the downside of technology when an elevator broke down, trapping about a dozen passengers between the first and second floors. Nobody was hurt, though several museum publicists nearly suffered strokes while attempting to drag news-media photographers away before they could get any shots.
If you go
What: Grand opening is at 11 a.m Monday.
Where: Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science, 1101 Biscayne Blvd|Miami, FL 33132; 305-434-9600
Hours: 11 a.m to 6 p.m.
Tickets: $28 for aduly, $20 children 3-11