Visiting the John & Mable Ringling Museum in Sarasota, Florida with your Family
The John and Mable Ringling Museum in Sarasota, Florida is a fantastic place to take your family. There is one large piece of property with many things to do and see, all in one place, with one entrance fee, and it is truly worth the money to go.
Whether you are eight or eighty, there is something for everyone for sure. You get to see so many authentic and antique pieces from circus memorabilia to artifacts, fine art that is unbelievable, a tour of their mansion and grounds, some good restaurants and even a playground. You can easily spend the entire day and still not really see it all, so do plan for that as far as allowing enough time.
They offer discounts for homeschoolers and teachers, as well as military and seniors and they also have a membership you can join, too.
Here is a rundown to help you know what to expect and also some tips for making the visit easier on your kids, and therefore, yourself in the process.
First of all, if they have a circus show at the time, take advantage of that. They run them for sure in the summer time and the show is held right in the theater in the same building where the visitor’s center and ticket purchases are made, and it is spectacular, so if you can go during this time, you will really enjoy it and your kids will be blown away.
There are two buildings dedicated to the circus itself. The first one is the one your children will love the best and it does take a decent amount of time to tour, because there are two different miniature circus displays to see and both are amazing and full of details that you just can’t even believe until you are there in the flesh, checking them out. One is laid out like a toy train track with trains, but as you enter and begin to start looking it over, you realize it is not just a train model, it is an entire, huge layout of what setting up and running a circus entails.
There are so many little people, tents, cars, lights, and animals to see and it truly makes you see the circus in a whole new light, because you see it from the perspective of the workers and all the people involved behind the scenes, but then by the end of the display, you also get the see the circus itself, with all its spectators and tents, trapeze and animals. There is a second floor in the building as well, where you can view the entire display from the top. It also has another circus laid out in a parade form with even smaller figurines that are amazing artworks. There are tons of collectibles, artifacts and a really neat timeline on that floor, too.
One thing that impressed me was the amount of vintage circus posters and art that is in the collection, some being more than one hundred years old, but in wonderful shape. There are calliope cars, carved of wood, authentic costumes and much more props and memorabilia to see. Both this building and the second one have a lot of that type of thing and every bit of it is really cool.
For the kids, they will give them each a scavenger hunt to do as they tour the buildings and it’s a lot of fun and keeps them on their toes, too. There is a “high wire” they can walk, a cannon they can shoot, clown cars they can get into and more for them to do. There are oversized clown props and masks that are great to see. Overall just the circus buildings alone are worthwhile to see and worth the entrance fee.
There is a tour of the mansion that John and Mable lived in, towards the back of the grounds and it has a self-guided tour you can do that is included with admission. It doesn’t go on the top floors, that does cost extra, but you get to see enough of it in my opinion in the included part. Just the outside of it is breathtaking and some of the rooms and antiques inside are like nothing you’ve ever seen. It is also right on the water and the terrace out back is a must see, as well as the “secret garden” to the side of the house where they are both buried.
There is also a beautiful rose garden that is near the mansion and next to it is a nice playground for the kids to play on, so if they are getting restless, take them there to break up the touring of the buildings and let yourself take a rest while they play.There are volunteers circling the grounds on little carts that will pick you up and drive you to whichever museum you want to tour and they come around about every 5 minutes, so you don’t have to wait long. If you are getting weary, do take the breather and wait for one instead of walking everywhere, because a few of the buildings are quite a walk from the other ones.
There are volunteers circling the grounds on little carts that will pick you up and drive you to whichever museum you want to tour and they come around about every 5 minutes, so you don’t have to wait long. If you are getting weary, do take the breather and wait for one instead of walking everywhere, because a few of the buildings are quite a walk from the other ones.
Near the circus museums is a restaurant called the “banyan tree” and it has a good variety of foods and snacks for a reasonable price, like burgers, grilled cheese and hotdogs. Inside the visitor’s center is another one as well called the “muse” and it is a cooler and slightly fancier one.
On the walk to the art museum there is a neat little dwarf garden with very unusual statues and then a bridge with koi fish to see and the kids will enjoy both of those. The art museum is huge. No other way to say it. The rooms are each unique and gorgeous in their design but in the center is a very large courtyard with tons of statues, sculptures, and beautiful greenery. The museum pieces themselves date way back and are wonderful. There is a large collection of religious type art, that fills up one whole side of the museum, and they have a few changing exhibits also, plus they have just recently opened an Asian art section with some really awesome artifacts and pieces of art.
You can follow a tour through the museum that is guided or just go through it at your own pace, which, with children may be best, as the guided tour will probably be too much for them to listen to and they may get antsy. To take them over to see the art museum just for the sheer size of the rooms and the courtyard, though, is worth it for sure. They won’t believe it all.
If you love art and enjoy reading the details and descriptions of the pieces, this art museum is such a great place to visit, but for my family, it would be better without the kids in order to really get to take advantage of it all. It was too much for them and we had to do it quickly in order to keep them interested and not whining. If you have a family member who can take them to the playground for you while you go tour it, that would be a huge help and make everyone happy in the process.
The gift shop in the visitor’s center has some great collectibles, toys and games, videos and artwork for purchase with a wide variety of prices.
My family can easily go back again and we plan to do so in the Fall when it is cooler to walk the courtyards and gardens a little more.
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