10 Things the Houston Museum of Natural Science Could Do Better

Categories: Museums

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The Houston Museum of Natural Science has become a wonder, a gem for us all to be very, very proud of. First they unveil a paleontology hall that is unbelievable in its breadth and scope, and now they've done it again with an Egyptian exhibit that is a marvel. This in addition to some already first-rate permanent collection. Any money spent visiting the museum is money well-spent indeed.

That said... I go a lot because it's a good way to get the kid out of the house while my wife studies on Sundays and it has air conditioning. Having been through the doors at least ten times this year, I feel there are some definite places that the museum could improve upon.

Offer A Food Option Other Than McDonald's: This is not a knock on the Golden Arches. I love me some Mickey D's, but it's weird that it is the only thing you can eat at the museum. For starters, it's hardly the most international menu in the world. You never really understand how diverse a city Houston is until you spend a day at the museum or the zoo. People from all over the world live and visit here and in our bastion to high thought all we have to offer is hamburgers? I'm not saying that the museum needs a full cafeteria or anything, but adding at least a Subway or making a deal with some of the food truck operators would add some affordable variety to the museum-going experience.

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Build a Patio: So fine, you've got your McDonald's. Now to find a place to sit down and shovel it into your food hole. The front hallway at the museum is never going to be praised for its width. If something like the orchid show is happening it becomes downright cramped. All the tables and chairs for eating are claustrophobically arranged in a tiny space that offers pretty much no room to anyone. It would be nice if there was a few covered places outside the entrance to spread out and picnic at.

Replace the Carpet in the Gem Hall: My daughter's favorite part of the museum is the Gem Hall, and I have to admit it is a damn impressive room. The rocks and jewelry hang in the blackness shining magnificently. It's dazzling, but eventually your eyes do adjust to the gloom. As we're leaving the exhibit it never fails to amaze me how there are easily millions of dollars worth of gems on display but the carpet is going downright ratty because no one really sees it except after they've gotten used to the dark.

Stop Hiding the Horseshoe Crabs: Right outside of the Gem Hall is the malacology exhibit full of a wonderful collection of shells... Sorry, I nodded off there for a minute. I'm never going to really be into the shell collection, which is probably I never knew that way in the back is an aquarium full of horseshoe crabs! If you've never seen one, horseshoe crabs are awesome! They're the size of a soccer ball and look like video game monsters. The museum's crabs are lively, too, running around their enclosure at full tilt boogie. Move those bastards out into the middle or the front of the exhibit instead of shoved into a corner where no one can see them.

More Non-Slip Surfaces in the Butterfly Center: I've been going to the Cockrell Butterfly Center since literally the day it opened. It is beautiful. A three foot waterfall cascades down a rainforest greenhouse full of butterflies as guests walk down a stone staircase. I honestly cannot believe that I have never seen someone take a tumble down those steps. Everything is stone and wet, and my heart skips a beat every time my daughter tries to navigate them. I know that you're trying to preserve the majesty of a jungle cave, but a few rolls of skateboard tape wouldn't hurt. Speaking of the Butterfly Center...

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Houston Museum of Natural Science

5555 Hermann Park Drive, Houston, TX

Category: General


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24 comments
MalG
MalG

"Did you know that you can visit the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. for absolutely free?" The Smithsonian Institution is owned by the federal government and while both the Smithsonian and HMNS are funded by private and corporate contributions, membership dues, and retail sales; HMNS relies on visitors. The Smithsonian on the other hand receives federal funding. If you want to keep a world class nonprofit institution alive like HMNS it "pays" to support it. :) 

KDBY
KDBY

Why did they put bungie cord "barriers" around the dinosaurs if they don't want my toddler to touch them? 

How about freshening up the signage for the animal displays? Very faded back-lit panels are looking sad.

Tangyjoe
Tangyjoe

Bring back the shrunken heads!  That was always the first display case my brother and I would run to when we were kids and was our favorite thing at the whole museum. 

 Well, except maybe that lung capacity measuring thing.  It's been gone for decades now probably.   Boy I'm showing my age here but you would put a penny in a slot and it would dispense a cardboard mouthpiece to stick on the end of a hose and you would take a deep breath and blow as hard as you could into the machine and it would measure your lung capacity or something like that. 

Oh yeah, and pushing the button that would make the rattlesnake tail rattle.

And on school field trips all us 4th graders would giggle when "Tammy the Transparent Lady"'s boobs lit up.   

Sorry, went off on a nostalgia trip but wanna improve the musuem, bring back those shrunken heads!

hannah.kight
hannah.kight

Great article! I too LOVE the museum, but those little things could definitely be worked on. (I've always wondered why McD's is the only food option!)

Andrew Sutton
Andrew Sutton

I didn't even know there were horseshoe crabs!!!!

Jef Withonef
Jef Withonef

Seriously, I stumbled back there and they com running up like damn headcrabs from Half-Life! They're awesome!

Jef Withonef
Jef Withonef

I never get to use the elevators. My daughter thinks stairs are fun. Sigh...

Jef Withonef
Jef Withonef

I think I may have to do a followup article looking at just prices. Thanks for the tip!

Judith Cruz Villarreal
Judith Cruz Villarreal

free admission like they have in Washington DC would be great! ALL of the dc museums are free!

drusilla.grey
drusilla.grey

Much of this can be said for the Smithsonian museums as well :/

Sounds like yours has a better butterfly center and kid attractions.

Ours have somewhat better food. But the only one with decent food is the American Indian Museum.

Does your museum offer a membership? I'm a Smitshonian Resident Associate member. Yeah, the museums are free but the membership gets me discounts on IMAX tickets, gift shop items, special event tickets, butterfly tickets, and the monthly Smithsonian magazine (which I love)... The frequency with which you attend your museum sounds like you'd benefit from a membership.

Wesley Burnham
Wesley Burnham

My kids and I go all the time, and to avoid the high cost, I buy a membership package annually. If you go three times over the course of a year and just stick to the general admission exhibits, of which there are a lot, the membership pays for itself. It's purely speculation on my part, but I'm willing to bet the reason many upgrades are needed is simply because so much capital got tied up building the new world-class paleontology wing. In my opinion, it's worth waiting a few years for improved exhibits in all the newly freed up space to have that. Of my three biggest gripes, two you've mentioned: the McDonald's and the basement are embarassments. The third is the elevator by the Foucault pendulum is almost perpetually out of order. Is this the height of elevator repair season and no one is available for maintenance work?

John Bat
John Bat

definitely agree with all of these

Douglas Mangum
Douglas Mangum

Overall the HMNS is a great resource. But the last 5+ years the special exhibits have been deeply disappointing. I've been to any number that had bad lighting, poor arrangement, as well as grammar and spelling challenged interpretive signs. What's more, the signage was sometimes misleading or outright wrong; just pitiful. Considering what we pay to see such special exhibits I'd think they could do better than that. Even more annoying was that I've several times written to the museum to comment on these problems and never once, not once, heard anything back from anyone. It is almost as if they only care about the money such exhibits bring in and not the quality of the exhibits themselves. So, if I had a wish for the museum it would be that they have more quality control over such special exhibits and to be more responsive to comments/complaints.

Jack Winkler
Jack Winkler

For my part, I think that is a great list. However, I would appreciate it if you put up a sign that says: "40 year olds should not eat chicken McNuggets. You will feel like poo for 3 days afterward.". Thank you.

ktdohe
ktdohe

A more balanced look at the energy industry would be nice, too. I know that's the hand that feeds the museum, but they could at least make the kids' videos look a little less like propaganda. They don't even acknowledge anything besides coal for electricity generation.


Jack Winkler
Jack Winkler

You may be dreaming too small. No where in your plan is there a mention of cats napping and playing with string. Robotic combat napping kittens!

Janie Ruiz
Janie Ruiz

Great list. I will also mention the AMNH in NYC is a suggested retail price, they will admit you with any donation you have. I paid 5 dollars last time I went.

Chris Watkins
Chris Watkins

-more robots, especially combat models. Also, an interactive installation on "Breakfast Tacos: Throughout the Ages" would be a surefire winnar

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