Little princesses and princes live hidden away in many a Connecticut castle, but luring them out in droves is the chance to take tea and a ride on a carousel with the most famous princess of all — Cinderella.
New family programming — Princess Teas, a Princess Sleepover and a Teddy Bear picnic — created by the New England Carousel Museum in Bristol, is part of museum manager Morgan Urgo's effort to better involve kids in the museum's mission.
"The first thing that came to mind was princesses. Princesses are huge!" she says, laughing. She got the idea to create two Princess Teas per month: one at the museum, the other at the carousel at Hartford's Bushnell Park, which is operated by the museum.
"We tossed it around in the wintertime and I said, 'Let's just put one out there and see what happens.' It sold out in 5 hours," says Urgo.
Thus a variety of two-hour tea parties — which began in March and quickly began selling out — were added to the museum's calendar through December. The first availability for the Princess Teas is in June, but there is a Teddy Bear Picnic in May. The teas are $5 for adults, $15 for children.
"It was amazing. The decorations were really pretty," says Shelly Knebel of West Hartford, who recently took her 9-year-old daughter Zoe to one of the Princess Tea parties at the museum.
"They had so many events for the children to do. It was very entertaining," she says. Amid tulle wrapped posts also decorated with sparkling white lights, kids make wands, listen to stories, watch a magic show and ride the carousel. The children are encouraged to wear princess costumes — "gowns, tiaras or Prince Charming garb." And, of course, there is a meet-and-greet with Cinderella.
"A table was full of beautiful treats for the children: cookies, cupcakes, some fruit, really nice tea cups stacked on the table," says Knebel. "It was a very put-together event."
The Bushnell Park teas take place in the carousel pavilion, also the site of a Teddy Bear Picnic, coming up on May 7 from noon to 2 p.m. Families can bring their own picnic, take part in a craft project and enjoy a visit from a famous bear. This event ($5 for adults, $10 for kids) includes unlimited rides on the carousel.
The museum also invites all princesses for a Princess Sleepover (for women and girls only) on June 16 at 6 p.m., which features mask making and folk dancing, a ride on the indoor carousel, a tour the museum, an evening snack and a light breakfast. They will also play La Grace, a French game that involves the tossing of beautifully decorated hoops. The overnight costs $22 per child and $10 for a required chaperone. Kids should bring a sleeping bag, pillow, towel, flashlight and warm pajamas. The event ends at 8 a.m. June 17.
The events aren't intended to be educational experiences, rather a new way to introduce families to a unique destination.
"The museum in Bristol started in 1991 as a non-profit," says Urgo. "Our collection includes about 100 antique carousel pieces that are 100-plus years old. They were all made by famous carvers from the turn of the century."
Urgo plans to expand the family programming by launching Firefighter Jamborees and Superhero parties later in the summer. She hopes these events will be met with the same enthusiasm as the Princess Teas:
"People come to either the carousel or the museum and they say, 'I didn't know this was here. It's such a great resource."
Knebel says her daughter can't wait to return: "She's still thinking about it."
There's still availability at Princess Teas on June 18, July 9, Aug. 13, Sept. 10 and 24, Oct. 15, Nov. 12 and 19 and Dec. 10. The Teddy Bear Picnic is May 7; the Princess Sleepover is June 16. Required reservations and tickets: thecarouselmuseum.org