Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Kids and Nintendos at The Louvre

The Louvre (You probably figured this out on your own.)

"Mom, we're going too fast," my son said as he hung back with his eyes lingering on the painting before him.

I couldn't believe my ears. Had some art-loving, fairy changeling switched places with my kids? All three of them? How else could I explain the vast difference at the Louvre versus the other art museums we'd visited in Paris? At the other places, they seemed oblivious to the masterpieces on the walls and more interested in playing the annoying game, "Squash a Sibling." In the Louvre, they stood quietly engrossed in the works of art surrounding them and were reluctant to move on to the next room.

"Honey," I said gently, "Remember the guide book said it would take nine months to look at everything at the Louvre? We don't have nine months." And I tugged him into the next gallery.

So, what was the magical element that caused this transformation? A Nintendo 3DS XL. Yes, I let my kids stroll through one of the greatest art museums in the world with a Nintendo DS firmly gripped in their hands. But it wasn't just any ordinary Nintendo. This one doesn't play MarioKart, Minecraft or any other games. It's loaded with commentaries on approximately 700 pieces in the Louvre and acts as the official audio/videoguide for the museum. Costing just  €3 (US$3.95) for people under 18 years old, it was cheap enough for me to rent one for each kid and completely worth the price

Learning about the Winged Victory

The Nintendo hangs from a handy neckstrap, so they did not need to worry about dropping it. In fact, the attendant was quite insistent that the kids keep the strap on at all times. The headset fit comfortably over their ears, and we were ready to go.

The guide offers a choice of doing the Masterpieces Tour, roaming the museum, or asking it to take you directly to one of the popular pieces at the Louvre.  An "Egypt for All the Family" tour with multimedia games is being developed that aims to be both humorous and informative.

The Nintendo has a built-in GPS. This enormous set of buildings is exactly the type of place where one could easily get lost wandering through all three wings and four levels. Knowing exactly where we were was wonderful. Beacons are posted around the museum's interior; hence, we did not need to worry about poor satellite reception inside the stone walls. The device also gave us the locations of food outlets in the Louvre and their hours of operation.

As we'd enter each room, the Nintendo would highlight a few key pieces on the map, drawing the kids towards artwork they may have not otherwise noticed. If you're on the Masterpieces Tour, it shows you the route and doesn't start playing the commentary until you reach the right area, even if you wander off for a bit. It also operates like a traditional electronic guide where you can type in the ID number on the work's plaque in order to find the particular commentary of a piece that catches your eye. Keep in mind, though, that with a collection of over 35,000 items, not every single piece has an accompanying explanation. This was a bit of a disappointment for the kids, but as I pointed out, we only had a few hours. As it stands, it would take over 35 hours to listen to what's already been recorded.

No blog post about taking kids to the Louvre would be complete without a photo in front of the Mona Lisa.

The kids could visually explore the artwork on-screen, too. Sometimes, the Nintendo displayed related or influential pieces in regards to one we were viewing. They could see Winged Victory of Samothrace in 3D, no special glasses needed, from the back without a pesky wall getting in the way. My boys also liked zooming in on sections of the high definition images, especially ones that were hard to see from our vantage point of standing on the floor. "Look mom," said my 10-year-old, "even the frame has pictures painted on it," while showing me an area he had focused in on way at the top of an immense work. They could zoom up on the details of the mountains gracing the background of the Mona Lisa, unhampered by the crowd around it, the railing or the bulletproof glass protecting it. It was like practically touching the painting with their noses.The one downside is that I had to keep reminding the kids to actually look at the real piece in front of them, not just the image on their screen. Otherwise, they may as well be sitting at a computer in some place much, much cheaper than Paris.

My mom forgot to take a photo of me in front of the real Mona Lisa, so I had to settle for posing in front of a sign.

Our time at the Louvre exceeded my wildest expectations. After earlier museum visits during our week in Paris, I had set the bar rather low by this point, merely praying that we'd be able to escape without, for example, accidentally causing the Venus de Milo  to be headless in addition to armless.

The moments when my kids would come over to me to quietly share some new insight were a dream come true.

"Mom, this room was painted by the same guy who did the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles," whispered my girl, instructing me to take a picture of the Galerie d'Apollon. Then, my younger son came over and said the same thing.

Studying how the  Louvre's Galerie d'Apollon  resembles the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles

My heart loved hearing this. I smiled hearing it again weeks later as my girl showed her grandmother our vacation photos and whenever she tells people about our visit to the Louvre.

Isn't that what we hope for both ourselves and our kids when we visit some place? That something captures our senses and makes an indelible mark on our minds that we long to share with others.

After we'd seen all the Masterpieces, my younger boy wanted to take a look at The Cheat with the Ace of Diamonds. He'd heard his dad talking about it and seen it on the iPhone app we'd downloaded. He entered the title into the Nintendo, and a map came up showing him how to lead the family there. Good thing because I seriously think that we'd been completely lost if it'd been up to me to find it!  Also, my analysis of the painting would have been, "I think that guy with the Ace of Diamonds is cheating." I am clever that way. The Nintendo, on the other hand, went into much more detail.

Listening to commentary on The Cheat with the Ace of Diamonds

The device may look like a toy, but it's an upper level textbook in disguise. The audioguides are actually intended for adults. The excellent commentaries are by the Louvre's curators, lecturers and other experts. It's full of concepts that kids may not comprehend, but they still walked away learning so much more about art appreciation than I had expected.

By the time we were deep into the museum, I wished I had rented a Nintendo for myself. Even though our Rick Steves guidebook had tons of info on the artwork, I didn't really like having to glance back and forth between the book and piece. Listening to an audio commentary while looking at the art would have been better. When I got them for the kids, I was simply hoping to buy myself some extra time before they started asking to leave. Now, I felt like they were getting more out of the museum visit than I was.

I highly recommend the Nintendo guides for both adults and children. If you want to learn more about the Nintendo 3DS at the Louvre, watch this video by Nintendo Life (and marvel at how uncrowded the galleries are) or take a look at the Louvre's audioguide information page.

Details on the Nintendo 3DS XL guide:
  • These customized Nintendos do not take game cartridges  and cannot be used outside of the Louvre. There is no worry that your kids are surreptitiously playing a game with it.
  • First, pay for the guide at one of the ticket counters, ticket machines, or at the entrance to each of the 3 wings. Get a coupon from the machine.
  • Exchange the coupon for a Nintendo at the Audioguide counters located at The Group Reception area, under the pyramid or at the top of one of the escalators leading to the 3 wings.
  • You must leave a form of ID (passport, drivers license, etc.) as a deposit to guarantee return of the Nintendo.
  • You must rent the entire device. You cannot use your own personal Nintendo for the tours.
  • Available languages are French, English, Spanish, German, Italian, Japanese and Korean.
  • Full Price €5; Under 18 years €3

Bonus: Read about a restored copy of the Mona Lisa that was supposedly painted by an artist sitting next to da Vinci as he created the original. The interactive feature reveals what the masterpiece looks like centuries ago.

This post is part of Travel Photo Thursday on Budget Travelers Sandbox and Friday Daydreamin' at R We There Yet Mom? Check them out for more around-the-world travel inspiration.


  1. What a fabulous idea! I went to the Louvre by myself after visiting the Musee d'Orsey the day before with the kids. I was completely exhausted just walking around there by myself (I totally believe it takes 9 months to see everything). Nintendo's are a fantastic idea to keep older kids engaged and informed. I imagine the added visual component would engage the kids so much more than an audioguide, plus the fact that they are 'nintendos'!

    How much of the Louvre did you actually make it around?

    1. We spent about 3.5 hours there. Earlier in the day, we visited the Musee d'Orsay, so I am surprised we lasted as long as we did. Doing the Masterpieces tour took longer than expected because the kids simply would not be rushed. We also looked at the Code of Hammurabbi and the Cheat with the Ace of Diamonds. Both of these were far from the Masterpieces tour route, and we saw a ton of artwork along the way.

  2. Technology is such a great learning tool when used well and is also very interactive....good for the Louvre for doing something well done for children

  3. The Gallerie D' Apollon looks a lot like the Munich Residenz too!

  4. See, I wish I had this when I was at the Louvre! What a neat idea, kudos to Nintendo and the Louvre, and to you too.
    I love that shot of your daughter and the caption.

  5. That is so cool! I have to admit, I usually enjoy the kids audio guides more than the adult ones. Great to know they have these as we will be visiting Paris in a few years.

  6. What a fantastic idea and when you think about it there are lots of adults who get bored in museums quickly as well so this sounds perfect for all ages. I'd just have to remember my reading glasses. You are one smart mother.

  7. Wow! Sudden urge to take the kids to paris, which, trust me, is an urge I have never felt before... mine are not the best travellers esp in cities... This is a really handy post and one to bookmark for the future, you never know.

  8. Wow, this Nintendo guide idea is GENIUS! It's not only engaging but with a museum as overwhelming as the Louvre a GPS kind of device is certainly helpful. I'll definitely get this device myself next time I visit Louvre. I'm so glad that your family had a great museum trip.

  9. The Nintendo guide would definitely be a must for me, not just my kids. I tend to get overwhelmed sometimes- too much all at once and then I zone out. Great post, and great tip!

  10. I so wish we had this when we visited a few years ago. This is such a brilliant idea and really engages kids. I'm so glad you had a great visit to the Louvre and the kids enjoyed it too. Art museums are a challenge and I'm so glad museums are turning to technology. Your captions crack me up. Love that first picture!

  11. What a great way to see the Louvre with kids!

  12. Loved your captions and I hope to visit the Louvre some day. In the meantime, your day in a museum was my chance to tag along.

  13. Nintendo at The Louvre! Despite all of the great posts on it this the first time I had heard this. I like how you told the kids to actually look up and see the real thing. I will definitely need a kid nearby to help on how to use the device since I have never done so. I completely forgot about The Cheat being there too. Terrific post as usual, Michele! :)

  14. I love that they have this for kids! It's easy for adults to get frustrated when kids don't have the attention span to appreciate museums full of masterpieces, but they just need to have the information presented in a more interactive way.

  15. That's pretty awesome! I would have never have thought of something like that, but it makes a lot of sense.

    (I love the photo in front of the photo of the Mona Lisa :) )

  16. So nice stopping by to visit with you on your lovely blog! I have perused many of your posts and really enjoyed each one. Nice to meet you :)

    Kindly, Lorraine


I read each and every comment. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. Comment moderation is on, so your comment may not appear immediately.

Web Analytics