Living in the Dallas area, I am fortunate to have many dinosaur and fossil themed activities close by me. I am particularly happy to have discovered the Dallas Paleontological Society, a local community of fossil enthusiasts and experts through which I have discovered many other cool things (such as Fossilmania at Dinosaur Valley State Park), and met many cool fellow dinosaur nerds.
Having recently found out that Jurassic World: The Exhibition would start its national tour at the Grandscape shopping center right here in the Dallas area, several of us from DPS began talking about all going together, including Diane from the Billings Dinosaur Company (who I also visited Jurassic Quest and the Heard with), Beau of Dino Bo, and Laura, who many of my readers doubtless already know as Clever Fangirl. Laura had actually already connected with the tour company, and got us all invited to the press preview night, one day before its official June 18th opening!
Just to clarify, Jurassic World: The Exhibition is not to be confused with the Jurassic World: Live Tour, with the latter being a sit-down arena experience, typically set up in local sports stadiums. For those of my readers who have visited either similar attraction, I would compare JW: The Exhibition to Jurassic Quest, while the JW: Live Tour is basically a Jurassic Park themed clone of the now-retired Walking With Dinosaurs Arena Spectacular.
The whole experience aims for a significant degree of immersion, starting nearly the moment guests enter through the front door. Groups of guests are ushered into a “ferry” en route to Isla Nublar. After a brief orientation video, the ferry arrives at its destination, just outside a recreation of the park’s main gates. I couldn’t help but feel a rush of glee as the music swelled and we saw a Brachiosaurus peering at us from the other side. Guests have relatively free rein to explore this initial herbivore exhibit and the subsequent dinosaur creation lab, with plenty of informative panels and interactive activities (including park rangers who introduce guests to that heart-stealing star of Camp Cretaceous, Bumpy the baby Ankylosaurus). From there the exhibition takes on a much more directed experience. The rangers allow a certain number of guests at a time in to see predator behavior demonstrations starring Blue the Velociraptor and the genetic hybrid Indominus rex. After a brief break in an area with an interactive fossil dig pit and various photo opportunities, there is a step up in the sense of immersion when (in typical Jurassic Park fashion) an “urgent situation” arises and rangers rush to escort guests to safety in a surprisingly tense finale.
Overall, I found the experience a surprisingly mixed bag. The initial herbivore and laboratory areas pretty much exactly matched my preconceived expectations going in: free roaming interactive exhibit spaces which were sufficiently immersive and genuinely enjoyable. Lots of fun minor details keep guests exploring and reward an observant viewer.
The raptor behavior demonstration, unfortunately, turned out to be quite a dud. The whole presentation had a surprisingly low energy to it. I can appreciate that movement may be limited for the actors in the raptor suit, but I felt they probably could have worked within those limitations a little better. It certainly didn’t help at all that the speakers on Blue the Velociraptor were apparently turned way down, turning her snarls more polite than threatening. Multiple people also commented on how distracting it was that the raptor trainer was clearly lip syncing to a pre-recorded script, rather than delivering the spiel himself like the park rangers in other sections of the exhibition. Someone clearly did not consider sight-lines when placing the vegetation along the bottom of the fence, either, as it comes up to a height that would block the view of a majority of children under the age of eight. While the press event consisted of mostly adults, I have to imagine that more typical operating crowds will include far more children, meaning an even greater portion of the audience will have difficulty viewing the presentation.
The Indominus rex feeding improved on things somewhat; while the guide actually spoke his own lines in this area, we couldn’t really hear him as he was not wearing a mic, and the ambient noise drowned him out. Fortunately, the Indominus itself proved very impressive; the floor beneath us shook as it approached, and it moved incredibly realistically. I’m particularly struck by the innovative use of the animatronic as I believe it is only half of a body. Its movements really sold me on the idea that there was a whole creature taking thundering steps, just out of sight behind the bushes.
After the Indominus rex feeding, there was a small area with a baby dinosaur interaction and a fossil dig pit, and a gyrosphere… for display only. This felt like a obvious missed opportunity. The gyrosphere is one of the cooler aspects of Jurassic World other than the dinosaurs themselves, so most guests will want to sit inside it, especially to take pictures. I know our kids would be very excited to see a ‘real’ gyrosphere after watching Camp Cretaceous, and would be sorely disappointed that they could not touch it or climb inside. However, the fossil dig pit in this section was a cool high-tech version of a more typical dig pit, which had projected targets on the sand which would glow green when a fossil was revealed and could be scanned and recognized on a nearby screen. This was a fun activity for the kids, and helped them not only find fossils but identify and connect them to the animal to which they belonged.
When the next gate opened, our group was informed that there was a “situation” and we needed to stay in a gated area for our safety, but that “everything should be fine.” What happened next was a show-stopping finale that was the true highlight of the experience! I don’t want to give too much away, but I’m reminded of the quote from Jurassic World: “Think it’ll scare the kids?” “The kids? This’ll give their parents nightmares!” Maybe I exaggerate, but the child next to us was actually crying, and it made us think twice about the possibility of bringing our four-year-old later (which I mention not as a negative, simply a word of advice)!
We successfully made our escape into the gift shop, which offers plenty of cool Jurassic Park merch to satisfy any fans’ desire. I couldn’t resist a “Life Finds a Way” pin (#JeffGoldblumFanForLife) and also snagged a couple of postcard-versions of their JW posters, which hit me right in the nostalgia due to their similarity to vintage Disneyland attraction posters.
The high points of the experience were fantastic, but were not enough in their own right to overlook some of the disappointments of the experience. For Jurassic Park fans and the dinosaur-obsessed, I would characterize it as an experience you would likely enjoy seeing once, though I would not necessarily describe it as a “must-see”.
My thanks to Laura of Clever Fangirl for her part in getting us into this exhibit! I would also like to express even greater appreciation for my wife Jacy, who not only agreed to spend her birthday evening date here with me, but also helped in writing this review, and indeed has provided support and inspiration for this hobby of mine since the very beginning.