When I was growing up in small-town Illinois, a trip to Chicago was one of our family’s special treats. We ate lunch in a fancy (by our standards) restaurant, then took advantage of big-city amenities like department store Christmas windows or the natural history museum.
Living so far away from my hometown, I won’t be able to share this experience with my son. But I’ve discovered something that’s just as good and will supply my family with special daytrips for several years.
The Play’s the Thing
ImaginOn is a joint library and theater space, sponsored by the Children’s Theatre of Charlotte and the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. In addition to two theaters and kid-oriented library facilities, ImaginOn holds play areas and interactive exhibits. It’s the fun of a children’s museum with the resources of a library or theater — and it’s free.
For our most recent trip, we saw a play in one of ImaginOn’s theaters. (This is the only part of ImaginOn that isn’t free; ticket prices vary by production and start at $12.)
The play we saw was Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, based on one of my son’s favorite books. It was held in a casual, non-stuffy theater space. The play is recommended for ages 4 and up, but we heard plenty of squawky babies and no one seemed to mind. (There’s a cry room available in case your little one has a meltdown.) This was my son’s first theater experience, and I wasn’t sure how he would do. But we talked about how the theater would be dark so everyone could see the stage, and we got there early so he could adjust to the surroundings. And as the story unfolded, he was thrilled to point out parts that he recognized from the book. His final verdict: “Really cool!”
Feeling peckish after the show? There are plenty of kid-friendly lunch options near ImaginOn. 7th Street Public Market, at the train station, offers local and regional foods. Queen City Q is about a block away, serving both North Carolina and South Carolina barbecue. Down the street, EpiCentre offers options for burgers, sandwiches, pizza, Mexican and sushi, among others.
If your child is train-obsessed like mine, there’s an add-on to the trip that makes things extra fun for him or her, and easier for you — win-win.We take the LYNX light rail from south Charlotte (the station is not far off Interstate 77) to the 7th Street station, which is just half a block from ImaginOn. The trip takes about 30 minutes, and trains come every 15 minutes, so you’ll need to allow for some extra travel time. A round-trip train ticket is $4.40 for adults and $2.20 for children ages 5-12; children under 5 are free. Depending on the day and how many in your group, this could be cheaper than paying for parking in the city, and it’s definitely less stressful. And my son loves the train; he loves the people-watching, the chance to see the city from above, the novelty of the rocking train. Sometimes I think he loves the train ride more than whatever we see in the city.
Our trip made for a long day, but I was thrilled to be able to give my son the type of experience my parents gave me: a visit to a bustling city and a glimpse at something new. ImaginOn’s shows are appropriate for kids up to about age 12, so I see many more visits in our futures.
- Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse, through February 15. Ages 5 and up.
- Jackie and Me, February 27-March 15. Ages 7 and up.
- The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Other Eric Carle Favorites, March 15-22. Ages 3 and up.
- Interrupting Vanessa, March 21-29. Ages 8 and up.
- Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat, April 10-May 3. All ages.
- Pocket, June 2-6. Birth-3.
Have you been to a play at ImaginOn, or do you have another favorite daytrip? Share your experience in the comments.