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.
The newcomers hope to cash in on the city’s record numbers of visitors with immersive and interactive exhibits, engaging virtual displays and, yes, loads of Instagrammable content.
But which, if any, are worth the cost of admission? I spent two afternoons in midtown Manhattan to find out.
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 size. I was mesmerized by the remarkable precision, care and artistry displayed in this tiny, but expansive, 3-D universe.
The 50,000-square-foot exhibit space, which is divided by region, cost a whopping $40 million and took 10 years to complete. While professional model-makers from around the world were tapped to build their respective regions, a small team of in-house professionals maintains the displays and develops new components.
As I moved from room to room, I was transported from the icy-cold foothills of Sochi, Russia, to the sun-drenched pyramids of Egypt. While most displays are re-creations of historical events, others reflect current events, such as the miniature tribute to the March for Our Lives protest rally in Washington in March.
Along the way, visitors use a special souvenir sensor-enhanced key to unlock and activate moving displays, including trains, planes, parades, carousels and even a Loch Ness monster hidden in the depths of the Scottish Highlands. Fun characters are sprinkled across the exhibit: Spider-Man hangs from the Brooklyn Bridge; the Beatles cruise along Abbey Road.
For $44, I could have had a version of myself added to one of 20 scenes, thanks to a 3-D printer. The Ellis Island model is the most heavily populated by visitors’ mini-me creations, which have been plopped down steadily since the attraction opened last year.
Details: Open 10 a.m.-8 p.m. daily. $36, seniors and children ages 6-12 $27, younger free. Buy tickets online and save $5 (216 W. 44th St.; gulliversgate.com).
The “Monday Night Football” jingle is playing on a loop in the lobby, pumping me up like a rookie before gametime.
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.
Farther on, I was ushered into a mammoth “4-D” theater. It felt even larger when I noticed that there were only two other thrill-seekers in the 185-seat cinema. Despite its billing as a “thrill-ride,” I found the 10-minute training film overhyped and underwhelming. Save for a special weather event at the close of the movie, which I won’t give away, the booming audios and jostling seats were unremarkable.
Next, I tested my skills against virtual pros through drills that include blocking, passing and jumping challenges. If you’re like me and quickly discover you can’t throw a spiral to save your life, have no fear: You’ll still wind up at the Super Bowl. The last level is the champions’ floor, where you can ogle sparkly Super Bowl rings, experience a virtual Gatorade dunk (sans mess) with the help of visual effects and pose with a Lombardi Trophy replica.
On the way out, I was tempted to treat myself to a stadium snack, such as the Arizona Cardinals’ Pump Fake, a deep-fried Cap’n Crunch-coated burger topped with bacon bits, banana chips and caramel sauce. (The exhibit rotates different signature dishes from the 32 stadiums daily.)
While fair-weather fans might skip it, sports enthusiasts will enjoy this overpriced football fantasyland. It’s a lot like the country’s most popular sports league: loud, stimulating, engaging and, at times, a bit full of itself.
Details: Open 10 a.m.-8 p.m. daily. $34, children ages 5-12 $29 (20 Times Square; nflexperience.com).
National Geographic Encounter: Ocean Odyssey makes a splash by bringing the ocean to life with cutting-edge technology, including 3-D animation, authentic soundscapes and video mapping.
To reach this virtual aquatic adventure, a fluorescent blue escalator delivered me from the noisy streets of midtown to the hushed sands of the South Pacific, where I started my journey, inching my way toward the California coast through 10 different undersea environments.
Visitors, especially young ones, will enjoy the 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. Later rooms spotlight the more mysterious and rarely witnessed deep-sea fauna, including a mouthy duel between two Humboldt squids (which each have 24,000 razor-sharp teeth). Giggles erupted as our group bumped its way through the “kelp forest” mirror maze.
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. Visitors can also pledge to take different actions to help protect the Earth and its inhabitants.
Details: Open 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. $39.50, seniors and veterans $36.50, children 3-12 $32.50, younger free. Purchase tickets online for a $5 discount (226 W. 44th St.; natgeoencounter.com).
Have you ever wondered whether you missed your true calling as a spy?
Whatever intrigue brings you to Spyscape, it’s highly unlikely that you will leave this state-of-the-art museum disappointed. The 60,000-square-foot labyrinth is divided into seven galleries: deception, encryption, surveillance, hacking, intelligence, cyberwarfare and special ops.
Along the way, visitors scan their ID bracelets at kiosks dotted throughout the three-level pavilion. The kiosks assess your personality traits, risk tolerance and IQ through a series of interactive games, tests and questionnaires to determine your spy profile. (There are 10 possibilities, including cryptologist and hacker, intelligence analyst and spycatcher.) Physical challenges, which include monitoring CCTV footage and taking a lie-detector test, also help determine the role that best suits your skills.
A running timeline highlights real-life espionage trailblazers, starting with World War II codebreakers and ending with “white-hat hackers” who find and fix computer flaws or vulnerabilities. I hit my stride during the agility-testing special ops challenge, which involves ducking, darting and diving under a web of neon-green laser beams.
In the last chamber, I scanned my wristband one final time, and a robot revealed my dossier. Based on the assessments and my key spy qualities — determination, empathy and having a “team player” mentality — I was predestined to be an intelligence operative. Not as sexy as a spycatcher, but it’ll do.
Details: Open 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Friday and 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. $39, children 3-12 $32, younger free. Tickets are based on timed entry and can be purchased online for a discount (928 Eighth Av.; spyscape.com).