While I read Marvel sporadically in junior and high school, I got REALLY into the X-Men universe in college. I flocked to anything related to Rogue, and also Wolverine, Gambit and Colossus. I left Marvel after college (mostly because of a really great web comic called Gotham Girls (Season 1 episode 1 is on here) and decided to devote myself to focusing on humans without mutant powers.
However, with the ease and functionality of the Marvel Unlimited digital comic service, as well as the engaging films and tv shows, Marvel has a new fan. When I heard about The Marvel Experience, I decided my husband and I HAD to see this once-in-a-lifetime event.
First, a note about my husband. While a self-confessed lifelong geek, Mr. Gal tends to stick with geeky things like anime, Star Wars, online gaming and web-based comics featuring Lumberjacks and Scottish Ninjas (and yet I’m the weird one?!?). While he has seen a lot of the Marvel Universe feature films, he does not read the comic books on a regular basis (Don’t worry, I bought Origin and we’re going to try to ease him in through XMen and then a few comic events, like Neil Gaiman’s 1602 and the Infinity Gauntlet before the movie). He was going in blind, apart from knowing a few of the character names and abilities.
There was very limited information about the experience until very close to the day we got our passes and schlepped to the the Del Mar Fairgrounds, just outside of San Diego (which has extended the tour). The venue is the parking lot of a racetrack. We paid a little extra for VIP parking, which meant we were not tied down to a reservation time (which Marvel uses to cut down on wait times). We also got emailed a snazzy printout to put in our car once we got there…
The Marvel Experience VIP passes allowed us to park at the front of the lot, just to the left of the far left of this picture. And they had our names, so we got special wrist bands with ease. This meant that we could touch base with any cast member and were given special attention for certain events.
VIP was $99 per person, which could be considered excessive, but while it was about $40 to get in, $15 for parking, $10 for 2 personalized badges, photos were 2 for around $20 and we also got a rubber band bracelet valued around $5, a free tshirt, sling bag and poster, which I value collectively at $25, we got a deal. We each got a free photo and a free badge, which was super cool. We also got the use of the VIP lounge, which featured a place to hold your items, comfortable couches, Marvel movies on demand and a nice selection of healthy snacks (tortilla chips, salsa, fruit and veggie cups) and water—a cash bar was also available. Now, we didn’t SEE the VIP lounge until just before we left—the signage was pretty small.
The premise of the experience is that you are being recruited for S.H.I.E.L.D. service. However, due to the nature of S.H.I.E.L.D. ’s business, you aren’t exactly sure of what you’re getting into, only that when Nick Fury asks, you do it.
The Experience does a great job of theming the main waiting area. Due to our bands, we did not have to wait in line to put together our credentials, and were whisked to curtained areas quickly. Under the curtain, you were to either sign into your Marvel account (which I already had done), or create a Marvel account, complete with a picture.
Above, you can see the Hulk and Spiderman getting helped by their Dad (who knew they were brothers?) to set these things up. The kiosks felt a little non-responsive, and I watched my husband spend a lot of time trying to get the curtain to stay in place for his headshot. Also, I had to log in (with the same password) four times for the system to take my registration. The idea was great, but shows a recurring theme within the Experience, which I will touch on later. We were whisked to photos (there was a 30 minute wait for the cleverly themed picture)—due to our bracelets, we did not have to wait, and then we were moved to the main attraction line.
This is really where the VIP came in handy. Due to fire codes, we were being ushered into the Experience in groups. People without badges were waiting between 45 minutes and an hour just to get in. While it may have been the busiest part of the day (and there was a major accident that we saw the remnants of on the way down), I was floored by how happy the families looked (even the ones with four year olds). There was someone standing at the door, issuing orders and letting us know about wait times. Also, she was slinging trivia. And I love me some trivia.
No, seriously. My alter-ego might have been on the Academic challenge team in high school… And the questions were pretty basic. Which brings me to the banner pictures above. I was really happy that She-Hulk was on the roster, but it was clear that not too many people know whom she was. I answered all of the questions about her (who she was related to, what her name was, her profession)—as well as what the acronym S.H.I.E.L.D. stands for,
We were ushered into the revolving doors (who doesn’t love a good revolving door?) and made our way into a waiting room. We were handed bracelets to put on (with the RFID, that I have heard mixed things about) in the dark and we waited for the program to begin. According to the guy at the podium, there was room for about 100 people in this antechamber.
There were two rooms that showed us the premise of why the huge dome was constructed and why S.H.I.E.L.D. is in need of recruits (that’s us!). We got to see a few characters in action on the screen, including Iron Man/Tony Stark, She-Hulk, Spiderman, Captain America, Hulk, Thor, Black Widow, Black Panther, Nick Fury, Jocasta, Vision and Wolverine! There was even alien expert Stanley Lieber! Doesn’t he look familiar?
There were also appearances by some not so great characters—the BAD guys—specifically Red Skull! (Also, why is the Hydra slogan so catchy? I mean, Avengers Assemble is great, but so many syllables.) It becomes clear we will have to help the Avenger team defeat a construct that will take the superpowers/weaponry used against it and then absorb it and use it for defense. It’s like a big BORG* (*Star Trek reference, for the win!).
Then it was time for training and research. I wish I had one of those training montages prepared, but I just ended up taking pictures of what was obviously the room with the most people (and where the backups were starting!).
There were massive groups of tech everywhere you looked. And lines. This is not somewhere where the bands did much, apart from the shooting gallery. There were banks where you could look up information about the different characters, as well as see the weapons of choice for your favorite characters. It looked like we might meet Red Skull, Madam Hydra AND M.O.D.O.K!
Here’s a few shots of the environment—including pictures of food available in the cleverly placed snack shack.
There were things going on all over the place. Amongst the crowds, there were lots of S.H.I.E.L.D. staff members willing to help, and pages for various Avengers and inside jokes. Also, there were random videos that played on the inside of the dome, with little vignettes featuring Avengers. Most of them relied on elevator-type jokes. You could train to be the Hulk or Iron Man. Additionally, there was a climbing wall and a large screen for you to pose at to ‘call’ your favorite Avenger. As the last two looked to be catered to the younger Avengers in attendance, we skipped those and went to Hulk training (it was a smaller line). The premise of the Hulk training was to run around and Hulk-smash things flying at you—it was a lot like playing on the Wii, however it felt like the units were not very responsive. I could not move to the left, and my husband could not move to the right to smash things.
The ambiance was pretty awesome, until the last part of training. The Black Widow training featured a room full of lasers that you would use acrobatics and stealth to defeat. We waited about 50 minutes for this—and ended up doing our agent training together, just to speed things along. We were able to see the people as they went through the space, via a television monitor at the front—and it was timed.
If you’ve ever seen Entrapment, you know what I mean—and it was a great idea. But at 50 minutes, we saw the machines recalibrated twice and it just took a really long time, the time waster panels seemed to stop working as well, leaving not much to do while in line. When we got into the space, my husband (whom is 6’2” to my 5’6”) went to the left hand side to press the light panel, while I pressed the right panel. If you hit one of the lasers, time gets added to your session—the trick is to go in and hit the panels as quickly as possible (to avoid extra time). There was a beam very close to the curtain, so going in tripped it for most people. Us included. The lights and a buzzer sound if you trip something, and we went with the medium sensitivity and noticed it went off twice when neither my husband or me touched anything.
What would a trip be without a look at the amenities. I needed to check out the Little Widow’s room and boy, it was lush! The trailers each had 8 cubicles and were clean and awesome. I was really impressed. I have never been in one of those trailers before, and I definitely approve.
Finally, our training was complete and it was ready for our final test—which comprised of a 360 degree theatre dome and a seat-based ride! Rather than spoil the information, let me just say that it was well done, I had to move around while watching the movie, only because I was really close to one of the sides, and I chose the non-moving seat only because I wanted to get a better look at the screen. The screen, for being something that moves around the country, is pretty high-quality. And the endgame is as impressive as I had hoped.
After the ride, we went to the cleverly placed gift shop, got our pictures and browsed the merchandise. I was looking for rubberized charms to add to the bracelet, but did not see any. There were some cool shirts and some really happy kids, their eyes wide. You could even get an action figure of yourself created—starting at just under $150.
Overall, The Marvel Experience proved to be a great afternoon diversion during a beautiful, warm day. For the VIP price, I cannot recommend it enough. If you do have patience (or patient children), the lower cost tickets may be worth it, but be prepared to wait. I was a little disappointed, but it sounds like the technical issues we faced were normal (especially if you check in the Dallas leg of the tour). But it was small frustration compared to the fun we had. It was great to see generational geekery, and parents showing their kids what Marvel was all about. I would almost anticipate a grander version of this in a Marvel theme park. It opened up a conversation about characters of the Marvel universe for my husband, which is always a win.
The Marvel Experience may be coming to you soon. Check out the following site for details!