CP's Conventioneer Discovers the Dinosaurs

The Maryland State Fairgrounds play host this weekend to Discover the Dinosaurs, a display of over forty animatronic dinosaurs from the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous periods, wagging their tales and snapping their jaws behind black insta-barriers like the kind that tell you where to stand in line at the movies. The exhibition bills itself as an educational experience, and technically it is that. Each dinosaur is accompanied by a sign sharing some facts about when it was discovered and by whom, what it ate, why its legs and arms are the size they are (those tiny T-Rex arms could lift 400 pounds each!), how big it was compared to today's standard-sized human, and more. There's a scavenger hunt that requires kids to at least read the names of dinosaurs to get the prize at the end. But the real selling point for the kiddos, if my visit was any indication, probably won't be the learning.Visitors enter the Cow Palace to get tickets and wristbands and then follow the roars past Walter, the animatronic paleontologist who welcomes visitors. Jake, my behind-the-scenes guide, emphasized how much kids can learn, but no, there isn't really a staff paleontologist, and no, they don't actually work with scientists or universities to put on the show. Then official photographers take your picture against a green screen that will turn into a scary dinoscene you can purchase later in the tour. The exhibit space is then divided by curtains that guide visitors past the various dinodisplays. Jake's favorite are the longneck dinosaurs, because they were the largest animal to ever walk the earth; their models aren't that big, though, because they have to get on a truck and go to Chicago next week. The figures are definitely cool, and the part where you can push buttons to make them move—I'll take it.And then you can buy that picture they snapped of you for the bargain price of $15, and you might start to realize you're going to need a whole lot of cash if the kids start getting grabby. Just a few more dinoscenes later and you're all done, shuttled into the gift shop that is selling stuffed dinosaurs, plastic dinosaurs, dinosaur figurines, and dinosaur-themed everything: board games, t-shirts, hats, lunch boxes, socks, and just about everything else you can imagine. Then there's the snack bar where a quesadilla will run you $10. After snacktime it's all about the rides and the digs and the facepaint and the mini golf and the inflatables, most of which cost extra. Tickets are 12 for $20, and each "attraction" will cost you 3 tickets. The inflatables are included with your ticket price, but don't forget your socks—they're required, and they'll run you $1 for rental.Kids are going to have a great time at this thing, especially if they meet the ride requirements (2-13 years old and under 175 pounds—this visitor didn't qualify to ride the T-Rex, on either count) and their hosts bring deep pockets and something to read. Because the most popular place for the grown ups is probably going to be the long row of chairs in front of the inflatables. Tickets are $16-$22, but hey, parking is free and the kiddos are going to lose their minds. Just make sure you head to the Cow Palace, because the Exhibition Hall is hosting the Maryland Gun Show this weekend, and that might be a whole lot less fun in the hands-on department for the youngsters.

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