It would be hard to find a family who hasn’t been touched by Hallmark Cards in some way. I mean, who hasn’t ever received or sent a Hallmark card, watched a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie, or colored with a Crayola crayon (one of Hallmark’s subsidiaries)? So, it probably doesn’t come as a surprise that this family owned company has developed the area surrounding their corporate headquarters in Kansas City, Missouri, into a family friendly travel destination. Crown Center is an 85-acre complex with hotels, restaurants, theaters, shops, and attractions.
I’ve had the opportunity to visit Crown Center three times: twice with my kids and once without. There was one attraction that I visited all three times that is a must-see: the Hallmark Visitors Center. This free attraction helps you understand the history of the 104-year-old company (did you know that Hallmark invented gift wrap?).
Spend as much or as little time as you’d like exploring this free attraction that has exhibits which include cards, Christmas ornaments, Christmas trees, Hallmark Hall of Fame movies, and more. Kids will especially enjoy seeing cardmaking equipment and the bow-making machine.
Adults will enjoy posing next to a life-size statue of the character Maxine. Older kids and adults will enjoy meeting an artist or writer, held from 1-2 p.m., Monday through Friday. It’s fascinating to hear about the creative process.
One exhibit that I found surprising was a display of paintings by Winston Churchill. I had no idea he was an artist. Near the end of Visitors Center is a theater where you can watch a film about the company. You may need to ask a staff member to start the film. The 11-minute film covers the first 100 years of the company’s history and is worth seeing. I think it took us about an hour to explore the Visitors Center.
Another free attraction at Crown Center is a must-see for kids ages 8 and under. Although my youngest child was 11 at the time, I took all of my kids to Kaleidoscope anyway. Kaleidoscope is a free art studio that allows kids to make creative masterpieces using scrap materials from Hallmark’s manufacturing processes. Although it’s free, you must sign up for a session. Each session lasts 40 minutes and there are many different projects from which to choose. What makes Kaleidoscope so cool is the funky decor that is sure to get the creative juices flowing.
One fun project is making your own puzzle. Color your own picture on a blank piece of cardboard, then put your creation through the puzzle-making machine, turn the wheel, and voilà!
There are stations for drawing, painting, and creating mixed-media pieces. The one thing I noticed that was missing was glue, but that’s probably a good thing. Tape was available for assembling projects. Don’t miss the glow-in-the-dark room where you can color with markers and paint with melted crayons. The art stations are designed to be kid-height and these preschool aged children had no problem reaching anything.
Although Kaleidoscope was designed for ages 12 and under, most of the kids we saw were 8 and under. My 11 and 14-year-old daughters were good sports and had a good time. (No comment about my 16-year-old son.)
Other attractions at Crown Center include the LEGOLAND Discovery Center and SEA LIFE Aquarium. I had the opportunity to tour these attractions on a trip without my kids, but we just didn’t have time to fit them in on our family vacation. Although my son is a teenager now, I am certain he would have loved LEGOLAND when he was younger. Everything in LEGOLAND is all about LEGO, of course, but not just about building. Of course, you would expect to be able to build with LEGO bricks, and you can, but there is also much more. I enjoyed seeing a LEGO model of Kansas City.
You can also watch a 4-D movie with 3-D glasses and special effects that include snow and wind. The movie lasts 15 minutes. There are a couple of rides, including one in which you shoot laser guns at targets to score points.
Your kids can also build cars and race them, and burn off some energy in the indoor playground. If you think you might also want to visit the SEA LIFE Aquarium, then look into the combo tickets to save money.
SEA LIFE Aquarium is a fun and educational attraction with over 5,000 sea animals. You can see both freshwater and saltwater fish, tiny seahorses, and pulsing jellyfish. In the touchpool, you can touch a starfish or hold a horseshoe crab. Small children will enjoy the indoor play area. Everyone will love the ocean tunnel where sharks and stingrays swim over your head.
Outside LEGOLAND and the Aquarium is a plaza where seasonal events are held. Summer brings festivals and performances. In the winter, you’ll find a Christmas Tree and an ice skating rink. You’ll also find one of Kansas City’s many fountains on the plaza. On our first visit to Kansas City, several years ago, kids could play in this fountain. Unfortunately, that is no longer permitted, but you can still enjoy watching the dancing waters.
Across the street from the plaza are the Crown Center Shops where you’ll find about 60 shops and 20 restaurants. You can shop for everything from gifts to apparel, then have a quick bite to eat or sit down to a full service meal. We found Einstein Bros. Bagels a convenient spot to grab a quick breakfast before heading out for a day of sightseeing. Train enthusiasts absolutely must have lunch or dinner at Fritz’s Railroad Restaurant where you order your meal from a phone in your booth, then await its delivery by an electric train that travels around the room near the ceiling. The paper hats are a cute touch. My kids enjoyed this, but not nearly as much as when they were younger.
When I visited Crown Center with a group of travel writers last year, we had lunch at the Crayola Cafe. This family friendly restaurant pleases both kids and parents with its fun and healthy menu. They’ve done everything possible to make it family friendly, even designating a spot for stroller parking. Drinks are served in crayon-shaped cups. And of course you’ll be able to color with some Crayola crayons as you wait for your meal.
Wherever you eat, save some room for dessert, then head to Chip’s Chocolate Factory which makes 45 different flavors of fudge. Their special recipe doesn’t include any butter or marshmallow cream, but gets its creaminess by mixing air into the fudge. And how do they do that? They throw the molten fudge up into the air. It’s fun to watch and delicious to smell. They tell family friendly jokes and engage the customers during the demonstrations which are held once an hour and last about a half hour.
Crown Center is also home to two theaters, a cinema, and a Showplace that houses family friendly temporary exhibits. The Coterie Theatre offers family friendly performances for ages 5 and up and often features world premieres of shows that include dramas, comedies, and musicals, often literature-based.
If that isn’t enough to keep you busy, Crown Center is within walking distance of other attractions, including the World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial and Union Station. (Compare this picture of Union Station to the LEGO model above.)
I can’t imagine a more convenient hotel than the Westin Kansas City at Crown Center. It connects directly to the Crown Center Shops. How nice it is to be able to park your car and walk to most places. We were thrilled to discover that the World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial was right outside our window. This was the view from our room.
Another neat feature of the Westin is the waterfall in the atrium area. it was carved from the limestone hill on which the hotel was built.
We also enjoyed the outdoor pool and the spacious rooms at the Westin. The Crown Center complex also includes a Sheraton Hotel, but I didn’t have time to check it out.
Ready to Visit?
2450 Grand Blvd.
Kansas City, MO 64108
Westin Kansas City at Crown Center
1 East Pershing Rd.
Kansas City, MO 64108
This attraction appears in my e-book, How to Visit All 50 States in 12 Trips.
Many thanks to the Kansas City Convention & Visitors Association for coordinating our trip and to the Westin Hotel for providing complimentary accommodations.