Everyone knows that February can be the worst month of the year. So once again, several Museum Row attractions have decided to cut us locals a break and offer steep discounts on their admission prices so people can spend a few hours warming up, learning up and taking a breather from the endless drear days on the cheap.
If you’re from Indiana or Kentucky, your ID will get you $5 admission to the Muhammad Ali Center, the Frazier History Museum and the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory. It will also get you $5 off any meal over $50 at the Kentucky Center for Performing Arts’ restaurant, Scene.
We decided to take the three museums up on their offer and found plenty to distract us — including the sound of lots and lots of power tools!
The Ali Center is undergoing extensive renovations so some exhibits have been shuffled around and the LeRoy Neiman Gallery has been temporarily closed. The lobby is also closed, so you have to enter through the tour group entrance on the first floor.
If you’re a first-time visitor, you’d hardly know anything was happening except for the sound of jackhammers. The visit to the museum still feels like a complete experience.
I’d venture that I’ve been to the Ali Center more than a half-dozen times, and I thought that this time would be the first I would get through the introductory film about the heavyweight champion’s life without shedding a tear. Nope. This was my first visit since Ali’s death and what set me off this time was hearing him spoken about in the present tense.
It’s a beautiful 15-minute film centered around the Greatest’s love of the Rudyard Kipling poem “If”— the poem itself is a tear-jerker — and features footage of Ali’s first fight in Louisville all the way through the humanitarian efforts of his later life.
I went on a Thursday late afternoon. There was only one other visitor in the entire center, and it was a pleasure to be able to quietly enjoy the multimedia exhibits on my own.
The Ali Center does have some kid-friendly exhibits, like the interactive boxing ring where a video of Ali’s daughter Laila instructs you on the basics of the sport. But in general, a visit to the museum involves a lot of reading and a lot of long videos, so it’s probably not the best choice for an escape with your littlest ones.
A lot of great stuff was on sale in the well-stocked museum store as well.
February is Black History Month, and the discount (admission is usually $12) makes this visit a no-brainer.
Let’s get this out of the way right at the start: yes, even though admission is just $5, you still get a souvenir mini-bat to take home with you. Score! (According to the website, the bats are a $7 value.)
In 2017, a record number of visitors — 326,595 — walked through the Slugger Museum, and when I visited, it was by leaps and bounds the busiest of the three museums. There were more than a dozen people on my tour, and they came from around the country — Florida, California, Ohio.
During in the factory tour, a knowledgeable guide takes you through the bat-building experience from log to Slugger and demonstrates the way that the bats were created when Hillerich and Bradsby, which originally made butter churns, first started producing them in the 1880s.
Along the way, visitors get to handle (not swing!) replicas of bats designed for some of baseball’s greats and are shown subtle differences in the bats that contributed to their owners’ success on the field.
Outside of the factory, there is a proper museum of about all things related to the baseball bat. There’s a machine that spits out baseballs at 90 mph, so you can experience what it feels like to have a ball rocket at you at that speed from behind the plate. If you want to actually swing a bat at the Slugger Museum, there are batting cages for a few dollars extra.
The museum store is huge and offers memorabilia from teams across the leagues, Louisville souvenirs and customizable bats.
Basically, the Slugger Museum is Willy Wonka’s factory for sports lovers.
Like the Ali Museum, the Frazier is undergoing some pretty massive updates with whole floors of the building essentially blocked off. The museum just closed its Nutcracker exhibit and is preparing to become the official Kentucky Bourbon Trail Welcome Center with a Spirit of Kentucky Exhibition in August.
But there’s still plenty to see.
Linda Bruckheimer’s “Family Gathering” photo exhibit has been held over. The two rooms of photography, largely of rural life in Kentucky, tell a story of a state with vastly divergent ideas of family, faith and prosperity.
Out of the three museums, this is the best one for little Louisvillians.
The Lewis & Clark Experience is extremely child friendly, with lots of opportunities for hands-on learning and play. (Fun fact: The illustrations for the exhibit were designed by Insider Louisville columnist Kyle Ware.)
Had I come across the Stewart Historic Miniatures exhibit as a small child, you would have been hard-pressed to tear me away. The vast collection of nearly 25,000 tiny figures represents about 140 historic makers of miniature toy soldiers and other figures.
Historic interpreters perform every few hours and bring to life the stories of Americans from all walks of life. When I went, I was the sole person in the audience, which was both awkward and wonderful. The interpreters are not only talented actors, but they have also done extensive research on the figures that they are presenting and can answer all manner of questions about that person’s life and times.
Fifteen dollars provided two afternoons’ worth of warmth, education and entertainment (although you could certainly cram it into one day). The special offer is well worth it, if only to see how visitors from out of town see Louisville’s cultural attractions.
Don’t forget, there are things to do for free on Museum Row too. KMAC and 21c charge no admission fees at all.