Observation Tower – Vulcan Park, Birmingham, AL

Today we got to explore beautiful Birmingham, Alabama.  Our first stop was Vulcan Park, perched high above the city.  Why does Birmingham have this giant statue?  The quote on www.VisitVulcan.com says it best:

“What kind of city builds a huge statue of a burly, bearded, bare-bottomed man to tower over its entire population? One that never forgets its roots. Vulcan, the Roman god of fire and forge, watches over all of Birmingham as a symbol of the city’s iron origins–and the ever-present spark of its indomitable spirit.”

Vulcan, Roman God of Fire and Forge – Vulcan Park, Birmingham, AL

View of Downtown Birmingham, AL from Vulcan Park

The view of Birmingham from here was amazing!  Drake and Mia particularly liked the large swaths of grass to run around.  Our time at Vulcan was limited, missing a visit to the Vulcan Museum and the Observation Tower.  Both are now on our list for our next visit to Birmingham!

Tip: Elevators and ramps makes this attraction stroller-friendly.  Additionally, there are perfectly-placed tables to enjoy a picnic lunch with a view!

Clever Entrance to Golden Flake Factory Store – Birmingham, AL

The reason for our haste at Vulcan Park was our scheduled tour of the Golden Flake factory located in downtown Birmingham.  Golden Flake has been making potato chips and other snack products for three-quarters of a century and has been at their downtown location since 1958.   When we arrived, our tour started with a short film that related the history of Golden Flake.  We then met our guide, put on the required hair (and beard if you have one) covers and headed to the factory.

We were there on a day that they were making Golden Flake’s famous Pork Rinds.  Due to USDA regulations, we were not allowed on the factory floor, however, large viewing windows provide plenty of insight on how pork rinds are made.  Our guide pulled some bags right off the line filled with still-warm pork rinds for our group to enjoy.

They were also producing Golden Flake’s Puff Corn product; another process we watched from large windows.  We were provided bags of still-warm product to snack on.  This was the kids’ favorite!

Our tour continued to the potato chip factory floor where Golden Flake’s flagship product is made.  We were walked through the process of receiving the potatoes, washing, cutting, frying, and packaging.  Here, the guide scoops up a basket of hot potato chips right off the line for everyone to sample.  They tasted like nothing you have had before – delicious!

The last stop of the tour was where the still-warm potato chips go through the flavoring process in giant spinning drums.  We were handed bags of both Golden Flake’s Dill Pickle and Sweet Heat BBQ flavored chips.

As if we hadn’t had our fill of snack foods, we were offered a handful each of snack-size bags of Golden Flake products.  I found my new favorite potato chip flavor; Buffalo Ranch!

Golden Flake Factory Store, Birmingham, AL

What a great activity for kids and grown-ups alike!  We learned so much and getting to snack along the way kept the kids really interested.  Kudos to Golden Flake for providing an opportunity for children to see a manufacturing process in real-life.  And the best part?  The tour is free!

Tips: Reservations must be made in advance by filling out a request form.  Read the Tour rules carefully.   The major rules for tour participants are: must be 5-years-old or older, no jewelry of any kind (except wedding bands), must have closed-toe shoes (no Crocs), no personal belongings (i.e. purses or backpacks and no cameras or video equipment on the tour.  You can find more tour information at https://goldenflake.com/tours/

Click here to watch a “Twin Views” segment filmed in the Golden Flake Factory Store.  Drake and Mia share their thoughts on the Golden Flake tour, hair covers and all!!

Entrance to McWane Science Center – Birmingham, AL (Photo Courtesy of McWane Science Center)

Our next adventure, McWane Science Center, had the kids really excited.  Located in the heart of downtown Birmingham, parking was a cinch in the attached parking garage (fee).  McWane is home to hundreds of hands-on “science-learning” experiences with a combination of permanent and traveling exhibits.

Ready to watch National Park Adventures IMAX movie at McWane Science Center, Birmingham, AL

We arrived at the perfect time to catch the National Park Adventures IMAX movie.  We were soaring over red rock canyons, climbing frozen waterfalls and taking in the majesty of Old Faithful.  The movie is a celebration of the National Parks 100th anniversary and it inspired us to find our closest National Park!

Explore! Museum Collections Center – McWane Science Center, Birmingham, AL

Alabama Dinosaurs – McWane Science Center, Birmingham, AL

We exited the theater on Level 2,  home to McWane’s Alabama Dinosaur,  Sea Monster and other Natural Science exhibits.  While Drake and Mia went to explore, I took a moment to check out Itty Bitty Magic City, a 9,300 square foot special area geared especially for children Kindergarten age and younger.

“Order Up” at Itty Bitty Magic City – McWane Science Center, Birmingham, AL

Pet Vet at Itty Bitty Magic City – McWane Science Center, Birmingham, AL

Itty Bitty Magic City is an incredible space for young children to explore a “main street” with storefronts such as a grocery store, fire station and an animal hospital.  Each area is set up specifically for physical, exploratory, constructive and imaginative play.  Lots of places to sit for parents to participate or just watch their little ones having a great time.  There is also a water play area with lots of things to engage little minds and a fun climbing structure.  Have a toddler?  Tot Spot is a secured area where the littlest kids can have fun too.

Tip: Within McWane Itty Bitty Magic City, there are free programs for Kindergarten age and younger children.  Daily, they offer a Baby and Me session, as well as, an Early Childhood program that may include story time, arts and crafts, or science experiments.

I caught up with my family who were immersed in the natural science exhibits but were enticed away by a ride on the High Cycle, a high-wire bicycle that rests on a guide-wire suspended across the lobby.  It was a fun way to experience the law of gravity.  Drake and Mia loved it!

Incredible Hulk – McWane Science Center, Birmingham, AL

Next, we headed up to the 3rd level to visit the current traveling exhibit; Hall of Heroes.  As you entered the exhibit, there was a great collection of “Super Heroes” memorabilia  including TV show clips, movie props and even a BatMobile replica.  This area was very popular with the adults as well, as it sparked memories from childhood.  Next, there was an area with lots of fun experiments for kids (and grown-ups) to test their own super powers and a celebration of real-life heroes like Rosa Parks and Neil Armstrong.

Note: Hall of Heroes is open until September 5, 2016. Please go to McWane Science Center website for current information on traveling exhibits.

Bubble Fun – McWane Science Center, Birmingham, AL

Bed of Nails at McWane Science Center, Birmingham, AL

Level One of McWane’s proved to be a hit with the kids.  The bubble room provided large pools of bubble “juice” with oversized wands to play to your hearts content.  There was one man there who could put himself into a bubble!  We couldn’t overlook the “Bed of Nails.”  Drake and Mia actually got me to give it a go.  What an experience!

Tip: This level is also home to Just Mice Size – a oversized playground designed just for the little ones.

Touch Tank – McWane Science Center, Birmingham, AL

Finally, we headed to the lower level to explore the World of Water.  Here, the focus was Rivers, with tanks of fresh water animals and on Oceans, where we saw jellyfish, eels and more.  Drake and Mia were drawn to the Shark and Ray Touch Tank where they spent the majority of their time.

Click here to watch “Twin Views” segment on McWane Science Center. Mia takes the reins on this segment sharing what she loved most about our visit to McWane Science Center.

It had been a very long, fun day and we were more than ready to get back to the trailer.  Crock Pot Chili was the perfect thing to come back too.  After minimal preparation, we sat down to eat.  Later, we went back outside to enjoy the firefly light show and hang out with our camp neighbors, enjoying a fire and S’mores.