Sunday, October 19, 2008

I wonder how they stay open? A visit to WonderWorks

Nothing, and I mean nothing, could be a bigger waste of money than the tourist-trap "WonderWorks". Billboards along I-75, I-4 and I-95 showcase a giant museum that seems to have been flipped upside-down. Coupon books and maps tell of it's genius, and low-budget commercials on the Tourist Channel (available in most non-Disney hotels) claim it's a mind-blowing and educational experience for the young and young at heart.

Despite it's awesome advertising campaign, the quirky museum showcases nothing but disappointment. The back story behind the building is that it was once a research-facility located in the Bermuda Triangle, until an experiment lifted it from it's island hide-away and it landed upside-down on top of an old Pepsi bottling plant. Now, the institute has opened its inverted doors to the public and, for a small fee, can see the magnificient exhibits it holds within. A charming story, but paying over fifteen dollars per person for a trip through a carnival side-show is never worth it.

You begin your journey walking through an "inversion tunnel", a classic fun-house trick that makes people sick to their stomachs. Now you're walking on the ceiling of the upside-down museum. The first floor resembles an old laboratory with Earthquake and Hurrican simulators. Basically, a restaraunt booth that bounces you around and a room with a fan in it. Head upstairs (or...down stairs?) to a floor of hands-on experiments like...sticking your hands in ice water! The floor is filled with quarter-operated stregth-testers and love-meters, like the ones outside of Wal-Mart, except these are all turned to "Free Play". The second floor also boasts a room where you sit in the dark and listen to Jeff and Cindy explore a haunted-house...made out of MIDI songs and cheesy sound-effects. It's things like this that make me glad I'm a fan of The Residents. Down past the bed of nails, a bubble play-area and some broken video games is one more staircase. Now comes the pinnacle of the building. Roller-Coaster Simulators that allow you to build your own coaster and ride them. After waiting thirty minutes in line, you get to create your own ride, with a whole selection of nine track pieces that are all startingly similar. Then, strap into the cockpit of former state-of-the-art technology and ride! If you like sitting in enclosed spaces, watching a dirty and worn out projector as you hang upside-down, this is heaven. After your three minute ride through "Space Canyon", stumble through the turnstyle to a large quarter-stealing arcade and Laser Tag.

Now, I LOVE laser tag, and I often come with my friends to this arena, that offers the best deal in town to shoot children outside of Men in Black Alien Attack. The roomy black-light arena features cool music from the worst of the 1980's, and tons of cheesy sound effects. It's only worth it because of the $4.99 fee to play a fiteen minute round, and a $2.99 play-again fee. You can easily spend a little over an hour hear for ten dollars. This is the only place in the building where I had fun.

Head down the stairs painted with MC Escher styles to the first floor and gift shop. Oddly enough, there aren't many products slapped with the WonderWorks logo besides the overpriced green-screen take home photo. The main floor is also home to a Magic Show and Pizza Buffet, but I've yet to cough up the twenty or so bucks to see it.

If you're looking a cheap way to blow an hour or two, head to the Lazer Tag on the top floor, you don't have to buy a ticket to the museum to go there. Otherwise, unless you're traveling with a day-care, avoid WonderWorks quirky charms and just go to Chuck E Cheese's.