My daughter Nina turned five recently, and for her birthday, her grandparents and I decided to take her to Dino World, a temporary exhibition in Brussels Expo’s Hall 2 featuring over sixty “lifelike dinosaurs”. Nina absolutely loves dinosaurs and is somewhat of an expert, at least among her peers. We had already visited dinosaur museums in Salt Lake City, and Moab, in Utah as well as in Brussels, and had spent many nights reading about them in one of her books. We can therefore categorize her as a dino enthousiast.
This is not to say that you need to be an expert to visit the exhibit. In fact, you have to go to Dino World with the correct mindset. If you are a professional or amateur paleontologist who wants to use the dinosaur models to investigate the exact speed at which a T-Rex can run up a five percent incline with a tailwind of three knots after he has eaten fifteen minutes ago, you will definitely leave very disappointed. (Besides, everybody knows a T-Rex should wait half an hour after eating before any physical activity.) To be clear, “Dino World is for children.” It is not a museum and does not pretend to be. It is infotainment.
This does not mean that one cannot learn anything at the exhibition. The first thing people are exposed to when entering is one of the great dinosaur finds in history, which happened to have taken place right here in Belgium: the Iguanodons of Bernissant. The free audioguide informed us that in the late 19th century, coal miners found the fossils of some thirty Iguanodons deep in their mines (at 322 meters or approximately 1,000 feet) in the little Belgian village of Bernissant, near the French border. The fossils, which were in excellent condition and easy to reassemble, are now exhibited in the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels, which CNN named one the top ten dinosaur museums in the world. An interesting detail is that not all fossils have been removed from the mine as it was very cumbersome and costly. One day, we might thus be able to see more dinosaurs from Bernissant in museums.
I started my review by discussing what was most interesting to me as an adult, and encompasses the first small part of the expo, but the rest of the exhibition focusses purely on its bread and butter: the more than sixty moving dinosaurs models. For the target audience (children between 4 and 13) the exhibition was terrific. The dinosaurs were presented in a dimly lit room filled with nature sounds and the occasional roar or groan with its large, at times menacing, stars in the spotlights.
One clever decision was to incorporate plenty of twists and turns in the exhibition’s path, making it impossible to see what’s waiting around the corner. This however was also problematic in my case, as Nina was so excited about seeing what would come next that it gave us very little time to listen to the audioguide, which was once again mainly geared towards a younger crowd. Reading any of the signs describing the dinosaurs was also practically impossible given my daughter’s enthusiasm. I therefore apologize for not being able to tell you more about the audioguide and infographics.
Of course it is impossible to present all of the different types of dinosaurs, but still most of the species’ all-stars were present from the ferocious Tyrannosaurus Rex and Velociraptor to the large lovable prehistoric cows such as the Triceratops, the Stegosaurus, the Brachiosaurus, and even the Ankylosaurus with its plated armor and club-like tail. I was flabbergasted that Nina actually remembered the Ankylosaurus’s name, as it is one of the pages we generally quickly skip through in her dinosaur book.
I was however somewhat disappointed by the mechanical component, especially given that this is the 21st century. The animals are indeed somewhat lifelike, but not to the extent that you could imagine them walking away any second.
Their movements were somewhat mechanical and predictable, and sometimes it would take a long time before they would actually move. Two fantastic detail however were the creatures’ moving eyes and the realistic looking skin texture. These features, the eyes and the skin, raised this exhibition’s level above for example Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean ride, where nobody could possibly claim that the puppets are lifelike. As a side note, the exhibit even took the risk of not depicting the velociraptors as they were shown in the movie Jurassic Park, but instead presented them with feathers, as seems to be the current scientific consensus.
One factor children might look over is that in some cases, the dinosaurs were significantly smaller than stated on the biographical signs in front of them. This was especially the case with the brachiosaurus, who is supposed to be 26 meters long and nine meters high. Perhaps the exhibitors took into account the height of the ceiling or did not want all of their space taken up by just a few dinosaurs. That or they just chose to present these dinosaurs in very early stages of their lives.
The kids zone following the exhibit was very disappointing, especially since it was heavily emphasized on the website. Granted, we visited the exhibit at a very slow moment, so we did not have to wait in line for anything, but there was simply hardly anything for them to do: a few sandpits to dig in, a tyrannosaurus’s mouth to sit in, or to stand in an augmented reality zone where it seems like you are walking among the dinosaurs on the screen in front of you (if you have a very vivid imagination). If there were a large crowd, children would likely have to queue and await their turn or fight their way to the front, allowing them to only do one or two things, but in our case, there was hardly anybody there when we visited, thereby exposing this weakness. Furthermore, as is almost a law in these exhibitions the gift shop had little to offer and was ridiculously overpriced.
Overall, I would highly recommend taking your kids to Dinosaur World, if your children are interested in dinosaurs or if you are desperate to find something to do on a rainy day during the summer recess. They will definitely have a good time and, who knows, they might learn a thing or two (or teach you something).
Dino World will remain in Brussels until September. Over the summer it will be open every day of the week.