Located 3 hours northwest of Nashville in Union City, TN, the Discovery Park of America is a great two-day adventure. There are several ways to drive there from Nashville including a straight shot north on I-24, west on I-40 and then north or on smaller roads through smaller towns. We choose the scenic route and stopped in Paris, TN on the way to see their Eiffel Tower. There is also a playground next to it which was great for a 15-minute break in the car journey.
The Discovery Park of America
We arrived at Discovery Park at lunchtime and bought 2-day tickets. The main building is 100,000 square feet with nine permanent exhibits plus a gallery for traveling exhibits. You can also explore the grounds covering 50 acres and 2 miles of paved trails. We visited in January and it was cold, so we didn't explore much of the grounds, but we still filled 2 days enjoying the main building and attractions.
Three Stories of History and Science Exhibits
As soon as we walked in, my kids wanted to head to the ground floor to check out the dinosaurs.
After walking through the skeletons, we headed back up to the entrance for a quick lunch in the Cafe. It had a lot of choices including burgers, pizza and soups and salads. After re-entering, we spent the afternoon starting on the second floor in the Tennessee gallery which winds through Native American history and then moves on to the Discovery Park's large military gallery. The exhibits continue downstairs through tanks, helicopters, and other military vehicles. Then you enter a tribute to race cars, classic cars, and motorcycles.
Religious History and Medieval Times
Following the vehicles, you arrive in a room centered around religious history. You can see a reproduction of the Rosetta Stone, a suit of armor and model of the Ark of the Covenant. There is a room connecting to this gallery with no signage displayed. It is an exhibit of torture devices including a guillotine and a stretching table. My son found it interesting (he's 11) but my 5-year-old daughter was frightened. If you have young children you may want to send an adult in first to make sure it's ok for your family.
Science, Space, and Technology Gallery
The third floor houses the Science, Space, and Technology Gallery. You can see the history of communication including a model of a Gutenberg press, and computer technology I'm sure you will remember (floppy disks, anyone?) but your kids may have never seen. There is a great section about space and exploration of the galaxy and then you move onto the Energy Gallery which explains the various sources of electricity and power. on science with exhibits on space and energy.
Don't miss the Children's Exploration Gallery with an interactive water table area, tables to build with Keva blocks and a few other interactive science demonstrations. This is also where you can go down the human slide.
On our second day, we took advantage of the $9.95 attraction deal. We started by going up in an elevator to see The Tower, an observation platform at the back of the Center. You can see miles of countryside on all sides of the Discovery Park. There are sections of the floor with glass panels so you can look down and see the ground below you as well. We spent 15 minutes exploring and then headed back down to the next attraction.
For us, it was the Starship Theater, a small IMAX type experience with a twist. You don't just watch a movie, you get to participate creating a “choose your own adventure” journey through the galaxy. The adventure lasts 45 minutes but we were all so engaged it flew by. Our last experience was the earthquake simulator. This 10-minute movie and moving platform immerse you in the earthquakes that occurred in Western Tennessee during the winter of 1811/1812 that created Reelfoot Lake.
Explore the Outdoor Exhibits
Outside there is even more to explore. At the back of the building is a dome that looks like the moon. Inside, you will find examples of satellites, space pods, and a helicopter simulator.
American History and Trains
Access the main grounds through the ground floor. On one side you will find trains, a 100-year old church and Freedom Square with reconstructed buildings representing life in the early 1900s. Here you will also find Liberty Hall where you can see reproductions of the Mayflower Compact, the Declaration of Independence and even a full-sized replica of the Liberty Bell.
On the other side, you can explore a working gristmill, a Settlement from the 1800s and a Barn featuring farm equipment and tractors. You can also see a Japanese garden, a European Garden and a maze made of hedges. As we visited in the winter this area was not as beautiful as it would be in bloom in the spring or summer.
If you do make a weekend of it, we found a nice Quality Inn less than 10 minutes from the Discovery Park. There is an outdoor pool and free breakfast. We also had dinner at Boyette's on Reelfoot Lake, which was a 25-minute drive from the hotel. It was recommended to us by 3 different people in 3 separate conversations. If you like catfish or meat and 3 restaurants, you will like Boyette's.
A Word about Backpacks…
When you walk into the Discovery Park there is a large sign with their rules. This includes “No Backpacks”. Now, when I think backpacks, I think large bags that kids take to school or one that you may take for a day at an amusement park. The Discovery Park of America means any bag with straps that allows you to put the bag on your back, which I quickly found out as I was surrounded by security, included my small backpack purse (this also includes diaper bags).
I was not allowed to enter unless I surrendered my purse or put it in my car. After a conversation with the head of security who explained further I could have a large tote bag, duffle bag or any other type of bag as long as there were not straps on it that allowed me to put it on my back. My purse has a handle and I offered to only carry it by the handle and not put it on my back. I also offered to detach the straps and put them inside my purse but it was still not acceptable. He went on to explain that the rule is a mandate from the CEO to prevent the need for bag searches. So, the next day I left my bag in the car.
I did have conversations with another Mom who is local and goes to the Museum on a regular basis. She puts her backpack diaper bag inside a large tote bag and she is allowed to go in. So, fair warning – do not bring any type of backpack to the Discovery Park. You will not be allowed to enter.
Family Fun Facts
Hours: Tuesday – Sunday, 10 AM to 5 PM
Cost: Single Day: $14.95/Adult, $11.95/Child (ages 4 to 12 yrs), $12.95/Senior (64 and over), 3 and Under are free
Two Day: $19.95/Adult, $14.95/Child, $16.95/Senior, 3 and Under are free
Earthquake Simulator, Starship Theater, and The Tower are $3.95 each per person or $9.95/person for all 3 experiences (must be done in one day)