For those in Orlando, looking for something to do after having fun at the big parks, there’s an alternative universe at WonderWorks Orlando, about 12 miles from Disney World.
Guests walk inside an upside-down house that, as the fantasy story goes, was part of a secret laboratory and experiment that went awry in the Bermuda Triangle, unleashing a man-made tornado that carried the house here, where it landed upside-down on a brick warehouse.
As guests stand in line for tickets, an inverted staircase, balconies, paintings and lamps loom above their heads. But the real fun starts inside, after passing through a spinning tunnel that – though it has a stable platform – can leave you feeling like you’re being rolled to the right.
Inside, at one of more than 100 interactive exhibits, the enormous Google Earth map is a great place to begin – zooming down from a view of North America to the state, then county and city to the roofline of your own house. Zoom back out and start over, visiting international destinations like Colombia and Cuba, right down to the neighborhood and street level.
The hurricane simulator is bound to mess up a good hair day. An employee patiently addresses questions – “Are we going to get wet?” – before starting the winds (no, there is no water involved.) that reach up to 74 mph. That’s a Category One storm that to a Floridian may feel like a spring thunderstorm but which leaves out-of-state visitors a little disoriented.
Next is Mind Ball, where you supposedly “Win by Relaxing!” This should be an interesting contest, between a hypnotist and a yoga enthusiast. An employee instructs them to sit in chairs in an enclosed glass room. Next he attaches EEG headband sensors that flash onto a huge screen their brainwave activity for all to see. The flatter the line, the better.
When the door closes, the challenge is to breathe deeply, empty the mind of thoughts. No peeking, because that will likely set your lines spiking. After a few minutes, the buzzer sounds and the screen lights up on the side of the winner – the hypnotist.
“Don’t worry,” the employee offers as consolation to the loser while disconnecting the headband sensor. “It just proves what you knew all along – he doesn’t think.”
There are flight simulators, a bed of nails and a bubble laboratory to explore – not to mention laser tag and the suspended rope course. But those can wait. It’s time for the Outta Control Magic Comedy Dinner Show.
Inside the theater before a small, raised platform, adults and kids quickly file in to fill the chairs along three rows of tables. Waiters serve unlimited popcorn, salad, pizza, soda, beer or wine.
Getting a seat up front are Jillian Loaiza, her boyfriend, Henry Salinas, and her 11-year-old daughter Tatyanna Almodovar, all from New York. They’ve been to Disney plenty of times, but this is their first trip to WonderWorks. Tatyanna is eager to see a magic show, and as she nibbles her pizza, she gazes over her shoulder, nervous for it to begin in hopes she’ll be picked to assist in a trick.
Tony Brent bounds onto the stage from behind the curtain. His fast and zany humor, often set to music, keeps kids and adults laughing. A Pee Wee Herman dance is followed by streams of salt poured into a hat from his fist, a quick Johnny Cash impersonation and a rendition of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” in the voice of Yoda.
“I need some help!” he calls out, prompting Tatyanna to almost leap from her chair, her arm in the air. But Brent first turns to adults, this time an older woman.
“Carol, it’s not polite for me to ask how old you are so – how much do you weigh?” he deadpans.
There’s more audience participation to follow – by tourists from Minnesota, Ohio and Scotland, helping with disappearing bottles and missing cards. Now it’s the kids’ turn. In the end he picks a young boy from the back.
In a few minutes, Tatyanna and her family and two new friends will race through the laser tag – tripping over each other like crazy fools – screaming their heads off in the WonderCoaster simulator and swallowing their fear on the rope course suspended up to 36 feet in the air.
For the moment, at the end of the comedy magic show, Loaiza and Salinas are trying to iron their expressions back to normal after an hour of laughter.
“I had to slap myself,” Loaiza says, trying to relax her cheek muscles.
“My face hurts,” says Salinas. And that’s probably the best compliment a house of entertainment can get.
If you go…
WonderWorks Orlando is about 12 miles northeast of Disney World off Interstate 4 at 9067 International Drive. Open daily from 9 a.m. to midnight, its prices vary by package, from $24.99 for general admission to $44.99 for the ultimate package of general admission, a game of laser tag, and the magic comedy dinner show. For more information, call 407.351.8800 or visit http://www.wonderworksonline.com/orlando/.