Exploring the Amazon Spheres with kids
Ashley Breckel Anderson
The Amazon Spheres are one of the hottest attractions in Seattle right now. Seattleites have watched them being built over the past five years and everyone wants to know what it’s like inside those giant glass orbs. If the tourists and selfies being taken outside the buildings are any indication, it’s definitely the new place to sightsee in Seattle.
With four levels of gardens and plant specimens, the Spheres are meant to explore the value of conservation in an urban environment, and are home to more than 40,000 plants from the cloud-forest regions of more than 30 countries. Intended to be used as a workspace for Amazon employees during the week, there are public-visit days two weekends a month when you can make a reservation to stroll through the indoor gardens.
There are two ways to get into the Spheres — and both are going to require some patience since tours and reservations fill up quickly and are booked a couple months out.
The first option is to sign up for a 90-minute guided tour of Amazon’s Seattle headquarters. Tours take place on most Wednesdays from 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. and are cool because they also include visits to buildings such as the Doppler and Day 1 (two big Amazon buildings), a trip to Amazon Go, the new automated grocery store where you can buy things without a cashier, and of course, a visit to the Spheres. The only catches: You must be over 6 years old, and you have to register online ahead of time.
The second option is an unguided visit on a public Saturday. The timed tickets are free, but have to be booked in advance. Reservations happen between the hours of 10 a.m and 6 p.m. and once you are in, you are free to stay as long as you like. You will receive a wristband at the check-in desk and after that, you can even leave and come back. So, if you want to take a lunch or snack break during your visit, you could grab a bite at the Amazon Go store next door and eat in the courtyard between the two buildings on one of the oversized bean bags.
What to see
Rubi: The Spheres’ largest resident is nearly 50 feet tall, 22 feet wide and weighs almost 36,000 pounds. Named for her scientific name, Ficus rubiginosa, Rubi is a tree that made a 1,200-mile cross-country trip to reach her new home in the Spheres. Upon arrival, the tree was lifted in by crane through the roof of the Seventh Avenue Sphere.
The Canopy Walk: This wraparound wooden walkway is made to give the feel of walking on a rope bridge, something kids love for its unexpectedness and the fun of feeling it shift beneath their feet. Here you’ll also find the “birdcage," an innovative enclosed sitting area that feels like a treehouse in the jungle canopy. The Canopy Walk also looks down on the forest and Rubi, the largest plant in the Spheres.
The Living Wall: With more than 25,000 plants woven into 4,000 square feet of wall, these are impressive and stunning structures. Assembled by Horticulture Program Manager Ben Eiben and his team, the walls are made up of mesh panels covered in plants that grew in a warehouse in Woodinville before being transported to the Spheres. The Living Wall on the fourth floor has pitcher plants — a carnivorous species that kids will love learning about.
Understory: This free public visitor center is an exhibit that is actually separate from the indoor gardens of the Spheres, but it’s a great spot to learn about Amazon and the Spheres. This self-guided, museum-like exhibit has interactive features about the flora and design that will give you some good background information before heading into the Spheres themselves.
General Porpoise Doughnuts: Beyond the awe-inspiring indoor forest and architecture, doughnuts from Seattle’s famous chef Renee Erickson are available at General Porpoise. The filled doughnuts come in classic flavors like vanilla custard as well as peanut butter and jelly, roasted lemon curd, apple butter and chocolate marshmallow. There is also coffee and gelato available, making it the perfect place to stop halfway through your visit for a snack.
Tips for your visit
Come prepared with patience and plan ahead. The Spheres are busy and bustling. We suggest writing your phone number on your kid’s wristband at check-in just in case you get separated — there are four floors and lots of people milling around, so if you have a runner or a bolter, it’s an especially good idea.
There are Amazon ambassadors on site in blue shirts — make use of them! They roam the building and are available for answering questions about the building and the plants, which can be really helpful.
Touching the plants is strictly forbidden, so if you have a kid who just needs to touch everything, keep a close eye or consider skipping this attraction until he or she is a bit older.
With so many floors, even though it’s busy, there is plenty of space to move around and seating areas to check out. Our toddlers loved running free, exploring the different nooks and crannies, trying the different kinds of chairs and recliners, and of course, the doughnuts. Older kids will have fun checking out all the different and sometimes odd-looking plants. You could even make a scavenger hunt out of it all!
With the waterfalls, towering specimens and winding paths through the dense foliage, you will feel like you’re in a real jungle — something kids will have fun pretending with.
As long as you are prepared for it to be busy, and to wait a few weeks for your reservation to come up, you’ll love checking out the Spheres and their innovative and unique construction. It’s an outing that should be interesting and fun for everyone in the family.
Visiting the Amazon Spheres
Where: 2111 Seventh Avenue, downtown Seattle
When: Select Saturdays between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., or by tour Wednesdays between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Cost: Timed tickets are free, but reservations are required
Parking: Parking downtown can be expensive and hard to find; consider public transportation.