Kids learn with all five of their senses?that's literally what puts the V in the name of Explorations V Children's Museum. Spread across three floors, the museum brims with hands-on activities in a range of permanent exhibits. And the organization's interactive approach to learning has helped it earn accolades, such as a grant from Disney's Helping Kids Shine award program.
On the lower floor, an exhibit charting the journey of the Florida orange begins with local history and ends with a look at global ecosystems. On the first floor, the exhibit Marvelous Me! teaches about the human body with an interactive skeleton and memory tests; Water Matters teaches water conservation with interactive stations. At the top of the museum, check out the temporary exhibits and the Dragon of Toys, a colorful sculpture of plastic trinkets. It's also here that instructors conduct daily programs ranging from open art studio sessions to nutritional cooking classes.
Brooke Pottery features fine ceramic crafts and a host of handmade doodads from more than 400 American artists. A glazed, tri-colored McQueeny Belt Bowl ($48) offers a fetching soup-holding alternative to cupped palms, while the Heart Coaster Set ($40) lovingly shields countertops from clammy cocktails and over-fizzed sodas. Decorate feng shui–deficient gardens with ash-wood Chi Energy Amber wind chimes ($35), or embellish tree limbs with colorful Aloha Chimes ($42). For kids, the Blues Band Harmonica ($7) provides hours of fun in the key of harmonica.
Now pack-free, the cigarette machines inside the Polk Museum of Art have been converted to Art-o-Mats, which distribute original artworks to help jump-start amateur collections. The pieces make fitting keepsakes from the nonprofit museum, whose own collection encompasses everything from pre-Columbian textiles to contemporary work by local artists. Other museum highlights include rare 19th-century Japanese woodblock prints, as well as ceramic plates made by Pablo Picasso that still bear his masterful tomato-sauce stains.
Alongside its core pieces, Polk rotates around 20 exhibitions throughout its nine galleries each year. To further foster Florida's artistic community, the museum hosts plenty of educational opportunities and events, including art classes and fairs that spotlight emerging Central Florida artists.
At Dinosaur World, guests can become working paleontologists, unearthing bone fragments and teeth in the Fossil Dig exhibit. Once they've uncovered a few ancient relics, they can frolic among full-size representations of more than 150 prehistoric creatures stationed throughout the 20-acre park. As part of the expedition, they can also visit woolly mammoths, investigate fossils in the prehistoric museum, and watch an educational film on dinosaurs in the movie cave.
Photography is ubiquitous in contemporary life and culture. The founders of the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts recognized this fact, so they sought to create a setting where visitors from all walks of life could appreciate and experience photography. As one of the few photography museums in the country, FMoPA presents exhibitions, which exclusively use this medium to explore themes that expose some intriguing or exciting aspect of history or modern, everyday life. This focus allows the museum to prominently feature pieces that other art institutions might not necessarily show, such as works of photojournalism or historic photographs.
In addition to scheduling upcoming exhibitions, FMoPA also includes a permanent collection. The collection aims to preserve particularly important images, such as those of various masters of the medium, including Harold Edgerton, Clyde Butcher, Hans Silvester, and Berenice Abbott.
After studying the museum's exhibitions?which can include images culled from national and international sources?guests can step behind the camera themselves during photography workshops for students of all skill levels. Then, budding photographers can display their latest shots at 15 Minutes of Fame, a showcase where up to six presenters exhibit and discuss their original work. They also host a photography group, the Photo League, for those photographers that want to share tips and helpful hints once a month.
After becoming a success in the railroad and steamship industries, 1800s businessman Henry B. Plant set his sights on a new venture: building a luxury hotel near Florida's cerulean shores. His vision landed him in an area that was but swampland and sand in 1889 Tampa. But three years and $3,000,000 later—including $500,000 in furniture and art—he successfully opened The Tampa Bay Hotel, a 511-room luxury destination sprawled over six acres.
Today, Henry's architectural and engineering feat serves as the home of the Henry B. Plant Museum, an institution that educates visitors on Plant's life, the Victorian period, and life in early Tampa. Among the building's groundbreaking aspects, the hotel was among the first in Florida to feature electrified rooms and pampered guests with in-house billiards, a babershop, and a telegraph office. His guests even enjoyed in-room telephones and private baths with hot and cold running water, a lofty accomplishment considering man wouldn't invent soap for another 13 years. The museum has now been restored to its former glory, showering current visitors in Victorian opulence, art, and its historic achievements.