Words by Megan McDonough, The Washington Post
Just when you thought Times Square had it all – monster LED billboards, Broadway shows, roaming cartoon mascots, a grown man crooning in his underwear – four new themed attractions have opened near Manhattan’s main tourist drag, all vying for your attention, selfies and dollars.
While the Big Apple is known for its cultural landmarks – the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art, to name a few – these pricey newcomers hope to cash in on the city’s record numbers of visitors with immersive and interactive exhibits, engaging and educational virtual displays and, yes, loads of Instagrammable content.
But which, if any, are worth the cost of admission? I spent two afternoons crisscrossing midtown Manhattan to find out. Thankfully, all four sites are within a dozen blocks of each other and each takes two hours, at most, to explore.
A model of Grand Central Station at Gulliver’s Gate, a new attraction in Times Square. Image: Handout courtesy of Gulliver’s Gate
It’s a small world after all – or at least it feels that way at Gulliver’s Gate, which bills itself as “the most technologically advanced and interactive museum of miniatures on the planet.” Inspired by Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels,” the whimsical wonderland includes 300 miniature displays of world landmarks and cities, scaled down to 1/87th of their true, towering size. I was mesmerized by the remarkable precision, care and artistry displayed by more than 600 model makers in molding this tiny, but expansive, 3-D universe.
The 50,000-square-foot exhibit space, which is divided by region, is a labour of love inspired by Israeli entrepreneur Eiran Gazit. It cost a whopping $40 million and took 10 years to complete.
At NFL Experience Times Square, fans get in on a Super Bowl celebration. Image: Handout courtesy of NFL Experience Times Square
NFL EXPERIENCE TIMES SQUARE
Opened last December by the National Football League, in partnership with Cirque du Soleil, this $40 million, 40,000-square-foot attraction isn’t a football museum so much as a tribute to the sports juggernaut and its 32 teams. Fans on the first floor flock to a sea of memorabilia, which includes jerseys, signs, helmets and some questionable fan headgear. The fictional Rod Tidwell jersey in the Arizona Cardinals section – a tribute to the “Jerry Maguire” character – prompted me to whisper a quiet but impassioned “Show me the money!”
Visitors to National Geographic Encounter: Ocean Odyssey look at the sting rays swimming beneath their feet. Image: Handout courtesy of National Geographic Encounter: Ocean Odyssey
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ENCOUNTER: OCEAN ODYSSEY
You can hang up your shell bikini for this underwater voyage. The virtual aquatic adventure makes a splash – but not a literal one – by bringing the sights, sounds, and scenes of the ocean to life with cutting-edge technology, including 3-D animation, authentic soundscapes and video mapping.
Visitors, especially young ones, will enjoy the site’s interactive elements, including the friendly, fluorescent sting rays that dart beneath your feet and the playful sea lions that respond to hand gestures. Floor-to-ceiling screens, touch-sensitive floors and 3-D imagery elevate the experience.
Housed in the former New York Times pressroom, the mission of this expansive and educational 60,000-square-foot exhibition is driven home in its finale. There, guests can participate in hands-on activities that encourage positive environmental practices.
At Spyscape, visitors are immersed in the world of espionage, with galleries for hacking and six other aspects of spycraft. Image: Handout courtesy of Scott Frances for Spyscape
Have you ever wondered whether you missed your true calling as a spy? Maybe you grew up on the James Bond series, or “Harriet the Spy.”
Whatever international intrigue or clandestine forces bring you to Spyscape, it’s highly unlikely that you will leave this state-of-the-art interactive museum disappointed. The 60,000-square-foot labyrinth was thoughtfully designed by David Adjaye, the architect of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and is divided into seven galleries: deception, encryption, surveillance, hacking, intelligence, cyber warfare and special ops.
Feature Image: The Taj Mahal is one of the iconic sites from around the world represented at Gulliver’s Gate. Image: Handout photo courtesy of Pascal Perich/Gulliver’s Gate