Let your teens imitate Michael Jordan and your little ones play with the Cat in the Hat–all in Springfield, Massachussetts.
Regular readers know that Massachusetts’ Connecticut River Valley is one of our favorite regions for family car trips, largely because its rural roads are still so, umm… rural. Here’s a look at some of the Big City quality attractions that have opened up in the area; both are worthy of a weekend’s visit.
The new Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (413/781-6500) opened with a bang in 2002 in Springfield, and its geodesic glass dome (yes, it looks like a basketball) gleams at night from the side of busy Rte. I-95. According to local press reports, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and the Harlem Globetrotters kicked off the huge grand opening of 80,000-square-feet of interactive exhibits, memorabilia and basketball programs spread over three levels. Many basketball notables continue to visit.
Look, I’m not a big round ball fan, nor is my 9-year-old Madeleine. But when we visited the old Hall of Fame building down the street just before the grand opening, we both really got a kick out of the place. And at twice the size of the previous facility, the new Hall of Fame has much more advanced exhibits and more interactive activities and video programs — just look for the massive illuminated basketball dome on top of the 136-foot spire out front.
Young M.J. wannabees can check out Kids’ Courts, a miniature shooting gallery with adjustable height hoops. What little one (or adult) wouldn’t get a charge out of comparing their own hands, feet, wingspan and vertical leap to some of basketball’s legends? Seasoned hoop fans can test their refereeing skills or try sportscasting by calling play-by-play in the Media Gallery. Down at Center Court, visible from all three levels, the full-size basketball court dares you to try your luck at Dribble Challenges, Buzzer Beaters and other interactive games. At least you can comfort yourselves knowing admission for kids 5 and under is free.
When you tire from all of the action, take a stroll through the nearby Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden where life-sized statues of Dr. Seuss himself (Theodore Geisel) and his favorite characters memorialize Springfield’s most famous resident.
My Madeleine was in awe of Horton Court, where a 14-foot Horton the Elephant steps out of an open book accompanied by Thing One and Thing Two, Sally and her Brother, Sam-I-Am and Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose.
I had some major Kodak moments posing her by the 10-turtle tall tower in Yertle Gardens, Grinch and his dog Maxx and our all-time favorite: the Cat in the Hat.
Downtown Springfield, where the state governmental buildings are, is not the most fun area of town. We stopped short to stay at the Clarion Hotel & Conference Center (413/781-8750; 1080 Riverdale Street, West Springfield, MA 01089), located just off I-91. The Clarion, host to visiting basketball teams and families visiting local area colleges, has an incredibly imaginative tropical style atrium with a latticed gazebo covered in flowers in the middle — the Red Parrot Cafe. The indoor coffee shop has an “outdoor” cafe from which you can watch the crowd nursing their rum punches at the Hoops Sports Bar, or kids splashing in the indoor pool. Chaise lounges and big sun umbrellas add to the Caribbean flair of this indoor fantasy, making it a popular place for local weddings.
Rooms are spacious, with two queen beds accommodating many families, and decorated in a tropical palette using polyester and motel style furnishings. And, to make the family stay even more enjoyable these rooms have a coffeemaker, mini-fridge and ironing board setup. Other hotel facilities include a pay laundromat, business center, hot tub and exercise room and a video arcade. Quite a steal at less than $100 per night.
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