National Geographic Encounter: Ocean Odyssey

It doesn’t get any more bright lights, big city than Times Square. Yet in the heart of the Broadway theater district, just around the corner from where the famous ball drops every New Year’s Eve, visitors are oohing and aahing at a massive whale, vicious squid, playful sea lions, and other marine life.

They are not at an urban aquarium. They are at National Geographic Encounter: Ocean Odyssey. Instead of bringing live animals to Midtown Manhattan, the unique entertainment experience transports guests to simulated deep-sea realms.

Opened last October, Ocean Odyssey uses digital media, technological trickery, and concepts borrowed from theme parks, live theater, museums, video games, and other disciplines. The fun begins even before visitors purchase their tickets. They enter at street level and take an escalator down to the lobby. The walls and ceiling along the escalator are bathed in blue light, and guests pass through a fog screen onto which underwater scenes are projected. It’s a simple but satisfying effect that marks the transition from the hustle bustle of the street to a hushed aquatic environment.

More complex effects are featured in the series of ten scenes that visitors navigate in the attraction. For example, after a brief introductory video, guests move into a room whose front wall, floor, and ceiling are covered in projected media. Meant to depict the shallows of the Solomon Islands, dolphins, manta rays, and other animals swim towards the human interlopers. The screen curves at the bottom to meet the floor and, rather astonishingly, the creatures continue their journey by swimming off the screen and underfoot along the floor. It gets crazier: The floor is interactive; visitors can stomp on it, and the fish scurry away.

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