When it comes to travel, toddlers are a trip. They run, they grab, they try to lick the dinosaur at the Museum of Science. They log more miles per day than a Fitbit fanatic. That crazy energy and wild curiosity is also what makes them so much fun.
As every parent knows, entertaining these tiny humans is a breeze in summertime. Find ’em a playground or a beach and they’ll be happily engaged. (One of our kids spent an entire day digging a sandy grave for a crab carcass at Crane Beach). But being stuck inside for days with a toddler when it isn’t beach season — that’s no day at the beach. There’s only so much Play-Doh creation and Duplo construction one can tolerate. And all that cupcake baking is fun, but ultimately too carbohydrate-heavy. Consider these fun, out-of-Boston escapes when you and your little folk have gotta get out of the house already.
Nobody’s blue (except the whales) at this museum
We hear you saying, “Huh?” but truly — the New Bedford Whaling Museum was a (sea) monster hit with our 18-month-old test kid. The giant figureheads are definitely cool, but toddlers go ga-ga for the 89-foot-long, half-scale model whaleship Lagoda, suitable for climbing aboard. There are also five whale skeletons, including a 66-foot skeleton of a juvenile blue whale, one of only six blue whale skeletons on display in the world — impressive, especially if you’re only 2 feet tall yourself. On the gallery floor is a model of an adult blue whale heart that’s so big, small fry can climb inside it. Little ones can have a go at hoisting sails and other maritime activities at the museum’s Casa dos Botes Discovery Center. Adults $17, children $7; age 3 and under free. www.whalingmuseum.org.
Wet and (not too) wild
Got a supply of pool-friendly diapers (or a potty-trained tot?) You’ll both enjoy this quasi-tropical escape. Attached to the Cape Codder Resort, the indoor-outdoor Cape Codder Water Park is open all year. Day passes are available, and rates go down in late afternoon on weekdays — perfect if you’re visiting with a tot, since little ones tire out after a couple of hours of this. A spouting humpback whale and a giant pirate ship mark the kiddie play pool. Pretty much everything squirts water, including a sit-upon lobster and a crab, but in a gentle way. The water slides in the tot area are tame, too. Plan to get into the act yourself (you’ll get wet anyway), and see if you can coax your little one into joining you for a ride on the adventure river. Lifeguards are posted everywhere, hooray. Even on the coldest days, this colorful, beach-themed place is humid and warm — and cheaper than a flight to Florida. Day pass: $40; child under 48 inches tall, $30; age 3 and under free. After-school discounted pass, Mon.-Thurs. 3-8 p.m., $25; child under 48 inches, $15 (available only when school is in session; not valid on holidays.) www.capecodderresort.com.
Who loves the Wenham Museum more — grandparents or their grandkids? It’s a tossup. But the sweet appeal of this “social history museum” is ageless. Chock-full of dolls from around the world, fanciful dollhouses, 19th- and 20th-century classic toys, textiles, and model trains, it’s retro in the best possible way. Kids can push buttons to make the trains go, a huge hit with the toddler demographic. Check the calendar for programming targeted to tots from 18 months to age 3 (Poppet’s Playdates) and kids who are 3-plus (M is for Museum). Starting on March 22, the museum’s Family Discover Gallery will host “The Very Hungry Caterpillar in Your Backyard.” Co-curated by the Caterpillar Lab of New Hampshire and tied to the 50th anniversary of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle, this interactive exhibit highlights native New England caterpillar species that may live in your own backyard. $10; age 1-16, $8; www.wenhammuseum.org.
Little ones gotta run — so why not set them loose in a place where you can enjoy outdoor art as they unleash energy? At any given time, approximately 60 pieces of sculpture grace the hilly lawns and forests of 30-acre deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln. Will early exposure to pieces like Fletcher Benton’s “Donut with 3 Balls” and (on loan) Jim Dine’s “Two Big Black Hearts” imprint on your tot, and inspire creativity? Only time will tell but, for now, you’ll have a good time. Should you choose to venture inside the museum, check out a Family Activity Kit, and explore two interactive family galleries, The Lab and the Process Gallery. Events specifically for tots (ages 2-5 and their caregivers) include ARTfull Play, featuring art and stories. Adults $14 for adults, kids age 12 and under free. www.decordova.org.
I spy the first signs of spring
Looking and listening for those first signs of spring — a jonquil sprouting from the mud, the “Peter, Peter, Peter” call of a tufted titmouse — is especially fun with a toddler in tow. Close to the ground, they’ll notice things that you won’t. Nearly any Trustees of Reservations property or Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuary is a dandy choice for this. We especially like the Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary in Topsfield because it’s got a long boardwalk trail over the marsh (ideal if the ground is squishy during mud season) and a short path that leads to the Rockery, an intriguing pile of boulders. On Tuesdays and Thursdays in spring (and fall), they host “Terrific Toddlers” for tykes age 2 to 3 and a “favorite adult.” Spring themes this year include fabulous frogs, spring birds, cool colors, butterflies, and wetland wonders. Members free; non-members $6; ages 2-12, $4. www.massaudubon.org.
Butterflies are free
Warmth and color — sadly missing during winter months in New England — are two primo reasons to flee to Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory & Gardens in South Deerfield. The other 4,000 reasons: Some 4,000 free-flying Lepidoptera that flutter amid the lush greenery and blooms. It’s always about 80 degrees in this 8,000-square-foot greenhouse. Butterflies fill the air and sometimes land on you; factor that in as you consider a visit here. Our little buddy (age 2) was disconcerted at first, but quickly adjusted to the myriad colorful flying things and didn’t want to leave. A 5-year-old in our party declared it a fairy tale garden. Inside are tanks with frogs and lizards; there’s also a food cart. $16, ages 3-17, $10; under 3 free. www.magicwings.com.
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.