Since we don’t usually travel during spring break, I try to find some fun, local things for the kids and me to do. This year, we had a few things on our “to do” list, but we wanted to also try to plan a sort of day trip as well. We decided on Milwaukee: nearby, inexpensive, and a lot of fun activity options for the kids!
Mitchell Park Conservaroty – The Domes, Milwaukee WI
Editor’s note: This is a personal review written in 2015. Please be sure to check with the attractions website for updated hours, rates, and admission information. Your experience may vary.
We had plans to be in Milwaukee all day, so we needed a few different things to keep the kids busy. We were also faced with the task of doing things that appealed to all the ages of our kids, which range from 4 to 10. My husband and I got to planning and decided that our first stop would be the Mitchell Park Conservatory, also known as “The Domes.” This attraction got its nickname because you will notice it as soon as it comes into view on your drive. The conservatory is located inside three large glass domes that are visible from quite a distance away. It upped the excitement factor for my kids because we spotted them from the highway, and they became curious about what sort of adventure lies ahead.
The Conservatory is a piece of vibrant history for Milwaukee and its residents. Milwaukee County Parks opened the conservatory, and an attraction was born in 1898. While this first attempt was just flowers in a greenhouse setting, it was deemed unsafe and demolished. A new design was accepted: three beehive-shaped glass domes that would house three different plant displays. The three that were decided on are the three that remain today: the desert, the tropical dome, and the floral show dome. The construction was completed with the final dome in 1967. The attraction has been open since then to the public for all to enjoy.
We decided on this attraction to start our day because we wanted to make sure we could go somewhere that our little one could roam around and not be sitting the whole day. We also loved that it opened so early, with our early risers, this was a huge plus. The older ones were sure to find interest in the plant life, and the price enticed us! Parking was plentiful, right in front, and it was FREE. Admission was entirely affordable for a family of 5.
The people working the desk were friendly, and there was no line. This could be because we visited on a Tuesday morning, and I believe that our spring break did not line up with most Milwaukee school districts. We shared the whole place with only a few other guests, so it was a perfect place for us to stop with no crowds. The attendant handed us a scavenger hunt as well, and the kids loved being on a hunt for some cool plants.
When we arrived, we were disappointed to see that the show dome was under construction, so we could not explore that area. We quickly stopped in the very clean and bright restrooms before we headed off to the tropical dome. Walking into the dome, the air felt warm and wet, and the kids could see the temperature on a thermometer right by the door. They checked that and the humidity and marked it off on their scavenger hunt paper. A balmy 80 degrees! I was very comfortable, considering it was barely reaching 30 degrees outside that morning!
The kids loved looking at all the interesting trees, flowers, and plants and had fun marking things off on their paper when they found it. There was a neat waterfall in this room, too, with a little bridge that they could stand on too. Looking down, they noticed a huge pond with many koi swimming around. That kept their attention for quite a while! Their favorite in this room was the “sausage tree.” Check it out! You will agree it is seriously the strangest plant life I have ever seen!
The desert dome was just as remarkable, with some of the most unique plant life that we are unaccustomed to seeing here in the midwest. My kids especially loved looking at all the cactus plants. Running around was a big draw for my son, who needed to MOVE. Lots of fun paths for him to explore was a bonus! The girls loved all the flowers, and the bright warm sunshine coming through the glass dome helped me remember a time when the weather was warm!
Our last stop? The gift shop, of course. I planned not to purchase a thing, but the kids were so interested in looking around. The shop was small but filled with some cool finds. Books, decorations, and textiles lined the walls while shelves held jewelry and toys. The biggest draw for the kids was the big carts filled with small, potted succulents and cactuses. At only $4.95 each, we couldn’t say no. The girls walked away with a succulent peach, and somehow our four-year-old talked us into buying him a sharp, prickly cactus. Probably not our best parenting move, but we were in the spirit.
Overall, the trip was really great. I would definitely visit again. The cons? Just a few. We were upset that the show dome was closed, but the price remained the same, and they didn’t tell us about it at the admission desk. Not that we wouldn’t have entered, but it would have been nice to know about it.
Another con would be the timing. This should definitely be one of your stops on your Milwaukee day-cation. It is definitely not a place you would consider spending all day visiting. We were there for probably a little over an hour. With the other dome open, we might have been there a little longer, but it really is a short visiting place.
Finally, although my kids had a blast and the scavenger hunt really helped, I would have loved to see some activities for older kids as well. I think that this is a place that babies through about 11 years old would enjoy. Any older than that and you should do some research before you arrive to give them something extra to learn about the plants while they are there.
All in all, a great place to visit with the family. Wanting to visit, but not sure what to do afterward? We visited the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum and had dinner at The Safe House, a must-see! There are a variety of other things to do there too, such as Discovery World, the zoo and the Art Museum. If it is nice out, there are plenty of beautiful spots to walk around and enjoy the outdoors.
If you are planning on visiting, please call ahead to learn about any special programs or events going on and to check on construction or projects planned.
By: Heather Williams
Heather is a busy mom of three who loves exploring Lake County with her kids. When she, her husband, and kids are not embarking on new adventures, you will most likely find her cooking and posting some great family-friendly recipes at Girl and Her Kitchen.