We decided to celebrate the end of summer and the beginning of the school year all in one fantastic, long weekend by exploring Decatur, Alabama. Only two hours from Birmingham, Decatur is home to the brand new Cook Museum of Natural Science and the fantastic Point Mallard Park, the perfect combo for a long weekend. The water park at Point Mallard is now closed for the season, so be sure to put it on your bucket list for next year. But there is still lots to do at the park for Fall weather fun, and of course, the museum is open year-round.
Point Mallard Water Park - One Last Summer Hooray!
When I read that Point Mallard Water Park is home to the nation's first wave pool, I have to admit I was a little concerned. When it comes to theme parks, forty plus years old is not always a good thing. But there's a reason Point Mallard is still in business after all these years. You absolutely cannot tell how old it is. We found the park to be very well maintained, with gorgeous lake view surroundings. It has all the usual water park amenities: an awesome wave pool, long lazy river, decent-sized toddler sprayground, baby and toddler splash pad and water slides (though not as many slides as some parks). But it ALSO has an Olympic size pool with an additional diving pool and some hair-raising heights for the diving boards. Sometimes the wave pool can be exhausting, so it was nice to have a place to retreat to just to relax. Of course, the lazy river is a great place to relax as well. And there were plenty of tubes available for floating.
Tip: The park is spread out over quite a bit of acreage, so be sure to bring your umbrella stroller if you have little ones. Also, bring toddler water wings or a puddle jumper for walking babies, as the lazy river goes around the splash pad. It is roped off to keep kids from running off the edge, but a determined toddler could still climb through.
|I've never seen diving platforms like these at a water park!||Cole gets a sprinkle in the lazy river.|
Tip: Don't miss Point Pizza. I'm not usually a fan of theme park pizza, but the family meal deal was too good to miss (it was about $20 for a large pizza and four drinks). Expecting the usual gummy, barely edible pizza, we were pleasantly surprised instead. We got a steaming, freshly baked pizza with an unusually thick and delicious layer of cheese. It was SOOOO good. I wish we had a pizza place like this one near us. Seriously good.
|Yes. It really was that good.|
Cook Museum of Natural Science - We Kick-off the School Year by Playing Like It's Summer!
If you can't get away for the weekend, this museum is worth a day trip from Birmingham all by itself. My guys LOVED all the interactive exhibits, and the technology involved in some of the exhibits was super impressive. I guess that's what happens when you visit a brand new museum in 2019!
Our favorite exhibit was hands down, a kinetic sand table that had different, rotating biomes projected onto its surface, and sensors that would react to what we were doing. For instance, if you built a tall mountain of sand and then indented the top a little, a volcano would bubble up lava! WHAT?! And if that's not cool enough, the lava would actually respond like real liquid. So it would trickle down and over the lowest side of the rim. And if you pile more "mountain" into your caldera, the lava would overflow over the sides. Basically, this exhibit allows you to become Vulcan (Birmingham's mascot god of fire, in case you are wondering). This is some majorly cool technology! Besides creating volcanoes and oceans in your own personal world, you can also create weather by holding a circle over the table. Wherever you hold the circle over the table, a thunderstorm forms.
|Playing Vulcan, god of fire, in their very own world.|
Another exhibit we really liked was the interactive solar system, where you can change parameters of the planets and sun and find out what happens. Like did you know that if you put the Moon too close to Earth, it will break apart and become a ring?!
|Evan plays around with the interactive solar system exhibit.||Evan talks to museum docent, Katrinka Corry, while Cole feels how heavy a meteorite is.|
Besides impressive exhibits, we noticed at least two more things that are special to Cook Museum that you should know about. Number one, this museum staffs a docent in each room to interpret exhibits and point out things you might otherwise miss! We learned so much more with them telling us cool facts and drawing our attention to certain things. Everyone was so friendly and knowledgeable. And number two, good food in the museum cafe. Plenty of options for kids and not too expensive. Everyone knows inexpensive food in museums is a rarity, so I always take note when we find it.
Camping is always a great option for traveling on a budget, and Point Mallard Park has a large campground if you need (or prefer) to camp. I was really surprised to get a staff tour of the campground via a golf cart to pick out the perfect campsite. That is a level of service I've not experienced anywhere else! During this tour, I got the scoop on places for the kids to play and activities going on in the park. For instance, we happened to be there during a corporate event that was planning a fireworks show! That was a nice bonus. My guide helped me choose a site with lots of green space in the "back yard," which was also close to the park's soccer field. And not just any old soccer field either. This was one of the most beautifully maintained soccer fields I have ever seen. It was a really nice place for the guys to run around in bare feet on the perfectly maintained grass lawn, toss a ball, watch some teams practicing and see an amazing sunset while waiting for the fireworks.
|Beautiful sunset over the Point Mallard Park soccer fields.|
The campground is best suited for campers with RVs, since there are lots of full hook-up sites. There is a small tents-only section though.
Tip: Make sure to bring the kids' bikes. The campground is made up of several long, flat loops perfect for exploring on bikes. There are a couple of small playgrounds to discover. If you have a bike too, the campground is connected to a nice bike trail that goes along the river around the park.
Click HERE to read more about the campground and its amenities.
|Our campsite's "back yard" view from the hammock.|
Disclosure: We received media passes to the park and museum to facilitate the writing of this review. All opinions are my own.
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