Crayola Factory and Lehigh Valley, PA
April 7, 2010
by Jill Rabach
For Spring Break 2010, my husband and I took our five-year old boys to Easton, PA to visit the Crayola Factory. Easton, PA is an old steel town currently trying to resurrect itself; to that end, we ate and slept well, all while keeping the kids entertained with a variety of activities and experiences!
Crayola Factory & the National Canal Museum
We were surprised to find that our admission fee for the Crayola Factory included entrance to the National Canal Museum. The latter ended up being a big hit! It's found in the top floors of the building, and is a science museum/playzone. The top two floors are bright and open, with several learning centers focused on the science of canals - pulleys, lifts, levers, etc. The train room in the Canal Museum has a large electric train behind glass, and several cute ‘scenes' for the kids to pose for pictures in. The best part of the Canal Museum is Water Works. It's a mock-up of a canal system, where the kids get a boat, fill it with cargo and maneuver it through the locks, up ramps to the landing area at the end. My kids loved this, insisted on doing it twice, and it's the part of the trip they have talked about most since we got home.
From there, we took an elevator down to the building's second floor for the Crayola Factory. We started by watching the live demonstration of making, wrapping, and packaging crayons and markers. There are cameras focused on the equipment, so it's easy to see what the guide is talking about. From there, you redeem the coins you were given at the admission desk for samples of crayons, markers, and Model Magic. The highlight of the factory is the art stations where you can try many different Crayola products. These stations are in various places throughout the rest of the Crayola space, with table and benches and bins of materials to use.
The space is designed to try and break up the sight lines and reduce the noise, but it is still a large multi-room area with lots of people angling for elbowroom to do art projects. This can be a little overwhelming. In addition to the tables, there's a dedicated area where the under-fives can interact in a more physical way (put balls down a big chute, climb through a tube) and a dance room for bigger kids to move around and have their images projected onto a screen, Color-Explosion style. There's a plexiglass tube you can walk through and write on the walls, and an oven to dry your masterpieces so that they can be safely taken home. Action and colors and children everywhere!
If I were to go to Crayola again, I would start with the Crayola part of the building, and visit the National Canal Museum last. I suspect there were fewer people at Crayola when they opened at 930am, and my kids would have been fresher and more likely to focus on playing with the art materials. The National Canal Museum is fascinating, and would have been a fine place to learn and wind down after the action of the Crayola Factory.
While the highlight of your weekend in Lehigh Valley is likely to be the Crayola Factory, we were pleased to find a number of other attractions and activities to interest the rest of the family.
Lost River Caverns
Housed in a old, musty smelling gift shop lies the entrance to the Lost River Caverns. From the Lost River Caverns website: "Geologists tell us that the cavern began forming within the last 250,000 years. Water dissolved the limestone to form these unique chambers and passageways. Seepage from rainfall and melting snow still removes minerals from the rock above the caverns, and deposits them on the cave walls creating fascinating formations."
The caves were discovered in 1883 when local mining for limestone exposed an opening to the caverns below. Our tour guide was very knowledgeable about the caves and geology in general, and showed us several different formations and an underground, crystal clear river. Bathrooms are available in the gift shop, before/after the tour. The caves may scare some children, so have a back-up plan if some in your party aren't willing to go in. No food is available on site so head towards Bethlehem for a meal.
Martin Guitar Factory
For the guitar fan in your life, this is a must-do, free activity in nearby Nazareth, PA. That said, it is designed for adults, not kids. In the museum section, all guitars and artifacts are behind glass. There's a lot to read, without the modern, interactive features of the large museums. After the museum, there's a gift shop and "Pickin' Parlor" with guitars to play. To make this a thorough visit for a guitar-playing adult, you'll need either a quiet indoor activity or good weather to play on the grass outside in order to keep the little ones happy. With some advanced planning, specialized factory tours are available.
America on Wheels
America on Wheels is in nearby Allentown. There are discount coupons in a few of the local guides; take advantage of them for the adults. Kids are admitted free at five and under, and that's a great age for this museum. The downstairs galleries are very modern, with displays showing cars, trucks, and other vehicles from the last hundred-plus years. The kids can sit in the front seat of a Mack truck and pretend to drive, as well as walk through the back of a UPS truck. Lots of interesting stuff to look at, and enough interaction and open space to excite the kids. For the older crowd, the museum has several exhibits on alternative fuels, an EV-1, as well as a second floor full of classic cars.
With more time to explore, we would have gone to the Lehigh Valley Zoo (Schnecksville, PA) and the Da Vinci Science Center (Allentown, PA).
The Practical Stuff: Eating & Sleeping
We stayed at the Grand Eastonian, just 3 blocks from the Crayola Factory. Modern, loft-style suites with full kitchens, Lots of space for a family, at a reasonable price. Indoor pool and fitness center, limited room service. Discounted passes to Crayola available at the desk.
There are several options for your dining pleasure:
- Pearly Baker's Alehouse in Easton. White tablecloth restaurant with a kid's menu and good quality food. Great burgers and beer.
- Valenca on the Square, near Crayola. Portuguese/Spanish food with excellent paella; kids menu, plus accommodating staff willing to make changes to humor the kids.
- Mex-Tex Trio. Great selection of tex-mex food, kids menu. Very reasonably priced. No liquor license, but they are amenable to patrons bringing their own.
- There's a Wegman's about 15 minutes from Easton, which helped us when the kids weren't up to another meal out (and the adults didn't want to order in a pizza).
For more information and to plan your trip, consult the Lehigh Valley Convention & Visitors Bureau.
About 2 ˝ hours from Northern VA is Hershey, PA; we stopped on our way to Easton. It's a great way to break up the journey, stretch your legs and use the clean restrooms. We chose to go to Chocolate World, which is a free tour of the ‘factory tour', you walk through the ‘jungle' where cacao beans are harvested. From there, a moving walkway appears, and guests are ushered into seats in small ‘cars'. This ride through the chocolate-making process thrilled our five-year old boys. They loved watching the equipment mix, mash and blend the chocolate and turn it into recognizable chocolate bars and Hershey kisses. There are even singing cows! The boys insisted we go twice. When done with the tour, you are invited to buy photos taken of you on the ride, then there are free samples of Hershey chocolates, then the pathway ends at a large gift shop. If you're hungry, there's a snack bar with a range of choices, plus dessert and coffee. You can read the full Our Kids Review of the various attractions.
Have you been to the Crayola Factory or any other locations discussed in this review? What's your opinion? Just drop us a note and Our Kids will add your comments to this review.