Auto museum brings Jurassic world alive with new exhibit
Once past the towering T-Rex at the entryway, visitors to the new Jurassic Gardens at Volo Auto Museum walk into a green-fronded world thick with the pounding footfalls and piercing cries of dimetrodons, pterodactyls and triceratops.
Dozens of iguanodons, ceratosauruses and velociraptors dot the gloam-lit landscape.
"With the background sounds, the lighting, the foliage, the movement, it pulls you into dinosaur times," said Brian Grams, director of the Volo Auto Museum, now also home to Jurassic Gardens.
"We paid a lot of attention to detail to make this an immersive experience."
That experience is now open with more than three dozen animatronic and several static dinosaurs on display, as well as a dino-themed playground outside. Tickets are available on-site at 27582 Volo Village Road or at volocars.com.
The new and permanent exhibit is the culmination of an idea that sparked in 2019. Transforming what formerly was the mercantile mall took nearly a year, including a few seven-day work weeks to stick to the mid-May opening plan.
During the COVID-19 pandemic closure, crews gutted the 13,000-square-foot space that the creatures now inhabit.
Along with carefully building each mechanical, metal, moving frame beneath the animatronic dinosaurs, they installed greenery, a pathway, a theater-quality sound system and stones plaqued with dino descriptions and era information.
Instructive world maps, an incubator lab, a small theater, a fossil dig for budding paleontologists, a mining sluice, an expansive arcade and a gift shop are all part of the educational fun.
"It's a dream come true for kids," Grams said. "We expect to see a lot of school field trips come through in the fall. We're already getting calls."
A soft opening the weekend of May 14 drew about 1,600 visitors, including Tamara Cialabrini of Crystal Lake, who wrote on Facebook: "We took our son today and he was obsessed! We'll be visiting many more times."
While Jurassic Gardens may be the most dramatic new draw at the reopened Volo Auto Museum, it is certainly not the only one. A restored, fully functional 1920s Herschell Carousel and surrounding grand music hall also is open to the public for the first time.
The museum's vintage tractor display is expanded, more movie cars are on view and a streamlined ticketing terminal is in place to reduce wait times.
With pandemic mitigations loosening, the ShowBiz Pizza Place is on pace to reopen in June. Grams also plans to bring back summertime train rides that offer a guided tour of the property, recently expanded by about 60 acres to the north.
"Now, more than ever, there is so much to do and see," Grams said. "We're looking forward to showing off what we've accomplished."
The museum is following state COVID guidelines. Currently, visitors who have been vaccinated are not required to wear masks. Those who have not been vaccinated are urged to mask up.
Tickets to see Jurassic Gardens are $15.95 for ages 5 and older, free for those 4 and younger. Auto museum tickets are $19.95 for adults or $12.95 for children ages 5 to 12. Combo tickets -- which provide entry to both attractions, plus a second consecutive day's entry for free -- are $31.95 per adult and $24.95 per child.
Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily for both attractions. For other information, find Volo Auto Museum or Jurassic Gardens on Facebook, visit volocars.com or call (815) 385-3644.