A few weeks ago I discovered parts of the city for the first time and seeing them through the eyes of my 9-year-old nephew, Zach, made the trip even more special.
We set off early on a Friday afternoon following 50 Highway through Sedalia, as that’s the route my parents always take, and by the time Zach woke up from his nap, I had pulled into the Sheraton Kansas City Hotel at Crown Center.
Our room on the 18th floor offered an amazing view of downtown Kansas City but it’s the hotel’s proximity to Crown Center, a mall with shops and restaurants, that’s the draw. The Link, an indoor walkway from the hotel to Crown Center, is very convenient and Zach loved being able to see out to the streets and neighborhood below.
We headed across the street to Legoland Discovery Center where we spent the next three hours — so definitely plenty of time to explore the different exhibits. Zach loved the play land, and the area where kids can build race cars and test them on two speed tracks and watching The Legend of Chima in the 4-D Theater. He also loved the factory area where only children receive a small lego brick.
After grabbing some food at Z-Teca Fresh Mexican Grill in Crown Center, we called it a night and watched a movie in our room. The next morning the large lobby was packed with the teenage girls in town to attend the ASICS Show Me National Qualifier for volleyball. We headed out to Sea Life Aquarium, located beside Legoland. Upon entering, we encountered the Interactive Rockpool where we could touch live starfish and other crustaceans and creatures. The ocean tank area with large glass panels allowed us to watch the small sharks, colorful fish a cow nose stingray who seemed to be smiling at us and a strange looking bow mouth guitar fish, all seemingly swimming right over us. I had visited Grand Cayman and Stingray City, where I snorkeled and fed the creatures so I loved this attraction as much as Zach.
Back in Crown City, lunch at Fritz’s Railroad Restaurant was really fun. Food is ordered by telephone table side and delivered via a small train on tracks near the ceiling and a pulley system. I figured this feature was the draw and that the food would be so-so, but Zach and I both loved the hamburgers, which feature grilled onions and pickles. Refreshed, we returned to The Link to walk to Union Station.
We could see the majestic statue of the Egyptian deity Anubis erected in front of the historic train station, heralding the North American premiere of The Discovery of King Tut exhibit, which opened on April 4 and runs until September 7.
The largest exhibit ever presented at Union Station, The Discovery of King Tut includes 1,000 specially created replicas of all the treasures found by Howard Carter in 1922 in Pharaoh Tutankhamun’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings. It brought back memories of seeing those artifacts in the The Egyptian Museum of Antiquities in Cairo, during my trip to see my brother who lived in Cairo and worked at the American Embassy. I also saw King Tut’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings in Luxor.
Union Station, which is celebrating its 100th birthday, is also home to a the Planetarium and Science City. My mother, Judy Bochard, told me about coming to Union Station as a teenager with her mother, Opal, and younger brother, Bobby (Zimmerman) who lives in Independence, to greet my grandfather. He worked for the Missouri Pacific Railroad and he would arrive from wherever he had been working in Kansas, and the family would take the train back to California, Mo.
A trip to Union Station and Crown Center could be done via Amtrak from Jefferson City. The other attractions are all within walking distance so a car wouldn’t be necessary. Since we were headed to a different hotel the second night and going to other attractions farther away we needed our own transportation.
Back in Crown Center, we had mango smoothies at Sheridan’s Lattes & Frozen Custard, which we enjoyed while driving to Moon Marble, an off the beaten path find, at the intersection of Highway 32 and Highway 7, in Bonner Springs, Kan. Owner and artisan Bruce Breslow happened to be demonstrating marble making that day. The cool shop contained hundreds of different types of marbles, toys and contemporary and retro games. Zach chose a small bag of cat eye marbles for his Grandpa and black panthers for himself.
Then we arrived at Great Wolf Lodge, near the Legends Outlet and the Kansas Speedway. There were no bellmen and it’s all do it yourself, but this is a destination hotel and definitely a kid’s playground. Before we had fully unpacked, Zach had his swim trunks on and we were headed to the large indoor waterpark. Being a Saturday afternoon, it was packed, humid and noisy. After a while there, we were starving. If we had wanted to move our car, we could have headed over to Arthur Bryant’s Barbecue and T-Rex Cafe, which I’m sure he would have enjoyed. But we chose to walk across the street to Famous Dave’s, and “wolfed” down our barbecue chicken slathered in Rich & Sassy sauce and corn muffins with just a hint of sweetness.
Back at the lodge, we hit the Arcade and watched the story time going on in the lobby. The next morning we ate our dinner leftovers for breakfast and then headed to The Kansas City Zoo, located in Swope Park, next to the Starlight Theater. I took the Blue Ridge Cutoff exit off of Interstate 70 East, which goes right by the Royals’ stadium, where people were already arriving for the baseball game that day.
I have been to two of the most highly ranked zoos in the country – the San Diego Zoo and the Saint Louis Zoo – so wan’t sure what to expect. Our first stop was the Polar Bear Passage where we watched the famous Nikita, known for his aerobatics who delighted us with back flip after back flip. Nearby was Helzberg Penquin Plaza, opened last year, with space for both warm and cold weather penguins. In the Australia/Asia section, we walked along paths where the kangaroos roamed without any wires or fences containing them. While riding the tram to the start of the Africa section, we saw a small herd of elephants and then rode the African Sky Safari, similar to a ski-lift, which crossed over acres of land below and dropped us off by the chimpanzee exhibit. Zach loved the Meerkat exhibit, and it’s easy to see why the people-like animals had their own television show on Animal Planet. We walked over a swinging bridge to see the gorillas in The Congolese Rainforest. I could have stayed for hours but Zach and I were very tired and ready to head home.
It was a great weekend and along with all the fun we had we made some great memories that I hope he will remember for a long time. I know I will.
Sheraton Kansas City Hotel at Crown Center
2345 McGee St., Kansas City, Mo.
Great Wolf Lodge
10401 Cabela Drive, Kansas City, Kan.
2450 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Mo.
Fritz’s Railroad Restaurant, 816-474-4004
Sheridan’s Lattes & Frozen Custard , 816-421-5151
600 E. Front St., Bonner Springs, Kan.
1320 Village West Parkway, Kansas City, Kan.
The Kansas City Zoo
6800 Zoo Drive, Kansas City, Mo.