The Union Terminal complex in Queensgate, which is home to Duke Energy Children's Museum, Cincinnati History Museum, Museum of Natural History & Science and the Robert D. Lindner Family OMNIMAX Theater, offers kids of all ages an unlimited number of opportunities. From pounding sand in the aptly named SandPlay area to programs that peel open the mysteries of the universe, the Museum Center is a one-stop shop.

Visitor is the boss

The beauty of the design "” in addition to the building's gorgeous physical presence that strikes people when they enter the Rotunda "” is the freedom to script your own journey. Whether it's exploring the many nooks and crannies of the venue with only a parent in tow or attending a program with others, the visitor is truly the boss.

This is by design, says Tony Lawson, director of the Children's Museum, which is most likely to be first stop for the youngest through the doors.

"We have different activities scheduled every day of the week," Lawson says. "And we don't repeat those programs, so if the kids come every week, they are always going to get a different program.

"We have things to do for kids as young as six months. We don't want to wait until they're eight years old."

Fun in a Bucket

James DesRochers, who brought daughter Rosalee, 3, and son Ellis, almost 2, to the Museum of Natural History on a rainy Monday morning recently, is a believer.

"We're trying to limit the amount of media for them," he says, then laughs as he talks about checking his smartphone while the kids are playing in the old-fashioned Candy Store located in a corner of Nature's Trading Post.

One of the striking things about a visit to each of the museums is the reminder that kids don't need a digital connection to play and laugh. Sometimes fun can be found in a bucket of water.

Chelsea Keith of Salt Lake City brought daughter Payton, 3, and son Carter, 2, to the Children's Museum during a visit to relatives who live in Cincinnati. While Carter wandered around the stainless steel tub at Water Works, Payton focused on the task at hand: filling the bucket, raising it by pulling a rope through a pulley, then pouring the water into a funnel.

Simple? Certainly. Fun? Oh yeah. The little blonde laughed loudly each time the bucket reached the apex and the water splashed when she tilted it to the funnel.

Those sounds made Mom smile. "This is fun on a rainy day, they're having a great time."

David Colliton knows those sights and sounds well as anyone. He has worked in the Children's Museum for 12 years.

"I work with kids (who are volunteers) who I met when they were little who are teenagers now. It makes me feel old," he laughs.

Actually, that last part isn't true. No one feels old at the Children's Museum.

History at Hand

That's not always the case at the History Museum. However, it might be better described as "experienced" rather than old. And you don't have to be either to appreciate the permanent displays that include "Cincinnati in Motion," a stunning miniature re-creation of the Queen City that includes a replica of Crosley Field and four of the six inclines that once ferried passengers from hilltops.

"We research and present programs that make history fun for the kids," say director Vanessa VanZant. "But they enjoy the exhibits too, especially the trains, the full-size streetcar and the steamboat. When they see that steamboat, their eyes get really big."

Although many of the Museum Center programs are geared toward kids, it helps that there are interesting attractions for parents "” and grandparents "” as well.

"I've heard many conversations in the Children's Museum where the grandparents are talking about the time they came through here on a train," Lawson says.

Memories have been made at the Art Deco landmark for 80 years. The folks in charge these days take that legacy seriously, and they feel the best way to pay homage is for every visitor to have fun.

"If kids know they're going to have fun when they come here, they want to come back," VanZant says.

Lawson seconds that emotion.

"If we do enough to whet their appetite with dinosaurs for instance, when they get older they can see the really big dinosaur in Natural History. Or trains. Who doesn't love trains? Maybe we've made a visitor for life."

And someday that child will tell his or her grandchild about the fun they had at Museum Center when they were little.