During the winter months, my family’s idea of fun is a New York City day trip. We recently checked out two new – and very different – indoor attractions in Times Square.
With a name inspired by Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, this 50,000 square foot walk-through exhibit is a series of miniature displays of well-known sites in 25 cities across five continents. Each piece is at a 1:87 scale, so a 6-foot-tall person is only 0.8 inches. In amazing and intricate detail, you’ll see the Empire State Building, Eiffel Tower, Buckingham Palace, the Great Wall of China, the Great Pyramids, and more. You start in New York City, with its 311 buildings, 6,000 windows, 33 yellow taxis, and 47 pizzas. From there, it’s on to New England, Latin America, the Middle East, Asia, Europe and Russia.
Interactive elements make it even more fun. Everyone gets a key that unlocks motorized elements. You turn it to operate dump trucks, move trains, awaken Zeus, or get the Loch Ness monster to emerge above water. You can take your picture in front of Niagara Falls, or for a (hefty) fee, you can have a “Model Citizen” figurine made in your likeness and added to the display.
Water features, sound, light and other special effects enhance the experience, changing scenes from day to night. Signage at each section explains how many model makers worked on the exhibit, and how long it took. There’s also a “Spot Me” challenge. For example, in the Middle East, you can find Snoopy, the Obamas and the Fiddler on the Roof. In fact, the longer you spend watching, the more details you catch, like lights turning on and off in apartment windows.
If you have a train fan in your family, note that there are about 1,000 trains throughout. The longest track is 475 feet; the scale equivalent of about eight miles. Moving vehicles of all types travel through tunnels, over bridges, through countryside and cities. My daughter was particularly impressed by the barge coasting through a river’s locks. The airport – the world’s largest model airport model – is the grand finale. “Swift Airlines” jets take off into the air every 15 minutes.
All ages are welcome here, and strollers are permitted. While I think there’s enough here to interest preschoolers, the issue is the height of the displays, which sit on waist-level platforms. Plan to pick up and carry the younger members of your crew often so they can see everything.
Our next stop was literally two doors down from Gulliver’s Gate. We didn’t know what to expect before entering the National Geographic Encounter Ocean Odyssey. My best guess was that it was going to be a virtual aquarium; but that turned out to be just a small part of it. This is a walk-through experience that simulates an overnight journey across the Pacific Ocean, beginning at the Solomon Islands and ending at the west coast of North America at sunrise. Through six different “underwater” scenes, you won’t feel one drop of real water.
You begin in The Shallows, on an interactive floor that looks like you’re standing in the surf at the shoreline. As the waves roll in and out, you almost feel like you’re moving. Spotted sting rays swim underfoot. Then guides escort you through the Coral Reef, a 3D model where you learn about bioluminescence as you watch colors emerge under the black lights.
Next is an immersion into the Deep Ocean at Night, then a Squid Battle where you follow the images of two giant Humboldt squids baring 40,000 teeth. The Kelp Forest is a fun mirror maze that ends in a gallery where you “play” with sea lions on screens that react to your motions. In the Bait Ball, you stand in front of a 3D movie screen, watching increasingly larger creatures at feeding time. Spoiler alert: you end up in a whale’s stomach.
The final stop is Exploration Hall, where hands-on displays teach through hologram stations, laser games and a scavenger hunt. There’s an underlying environmental message tying everything together. The point is clear – Earth’s majority of life is in the ocean, and humans must protect it.
Through it all, amazing technology is at play. My teenager was thoroughly impressed by the underwater creature sounds, sourced from libraries all over the world, delivered through 230 loudspeakers. The life-size photos are recreated at 8K resolution at 60 frames per second.
This experience is best suited for school age children, in my opinion. The pitch-black Deep Ocean room has loud, startling sound effects. The Kelp Forest could be confusing and frightening. Strollers are not permitted, and there are stairs.
Traci L. Suppa, frequent Westchester Family contributor, writes about travel, parenting and family life. WordS
216 W. 44th St. (between 7th and 8th Avenues)
Cost of Admission: adults 13+, $36; seniors 65+, $27; children ages 6-12, $27; 5 and under, free.
TIP: There is a $5 discount on tickets purchased online, and you’re assigned an entrance time. If you buy tickets on-site, you may have to wait for the next available time slot.
226 W. 44th St. (between 7th and 8th Avenues)
Cost of Admission: adults 13+, $39.50; seniors 65+, $36.50; children ages 2-12, $32.50; under 2, free. (A portion supports the nonprofit National Geographic Society.)
TIP: Buy tickets online to avoid the ticket window. This gives you a reserved timed entrance; otherwise you must wait on-site for the next available time slot.