Hold On to Your Butts: Discover the Dinosaurs

January 8, 2013 — I hate, hate, hate starting a post about a dinosaur attraction with a Jurassic Park reference, but that’s kind of what it felt like. That scene where Sam Neil jumps awe-struck out of the jeep and, just like the audience, gapes at a tableau of the best-realized dinosaurs that cinema has ever given us, even now, months away from the 20th anniversary of the movie’s release.

And it’s not totally my fault for being so shallow with my pop culture references. Discover the Dinosaurs wants you to think Jurassic Park when you walk into its venue. From the massive entrance gates outlined in fire pots and headlined “Jurassic Journey” to the red and yellow font of the Discover the Dinosaurs logo, they want you to feel like you’re visiting a dinosaur zoo.

And I think they were mostly successful in that.

Discover the Dinosaurs is a traveling exhibit of animatronic dinosaurs. I caught it recently during its three-day stop at the Seaport World Trade Center on the Boston waterfront. The place was basically a large tradeshow floor, divided up with curtains into rough sections for the displays.

It’s hard for me to be disappointed by anything saurian or robotic, so take my Sam Neill thing as the hyperbole it is. Still, like the old paleontologist joke, I really dug ‘em. They were life-sized, detailed (museum-quality was how they marketed them), and grouped into twos and three for more naturalistic scenes. Only stanchions and ropes kept us from pulling Fred Flintstones off their tales, and we got within just a few feet of the monsters.

And while the terrible lizards weren’t mobile, they did move their heads, jaws, eyes, and necks randomly so that just for a few moments you could convince yourself that something had really screwed up the time-space continuum. At one point, a sauropod dipped its head down close enough for us to rub its nose.

Visitors were actually controlling some of the movements of the creatures, so the animatronia acted according to the whims of whatever kid got his hands on the small, simple control panel set up at some of the exhibits.

The dinosaurs only took up about half a quarter of the floors space. The rest was dedicated to a dinosaur-themed fair, with a gift shop, bounce houses, mini-golf, face painting, and various photo-ops, among other activities.

The best thing in the fair by far was that you could ride a robot T-Rex. That’s right. Dinosaurs with saddles. I should’ve started this article with a Valley of Gwangi reference. Of course, by “you” I mean kids (because I’m exquisitely aware of my audience). There was a triceratops mount for the smaller kids, but the T-Rex was pretty awesome and made me pissed at my adulthood. Well, more pissed than usual at my adulthood.

These dinosaurs were just as realistic as the exhibit versions, but scaled down to a smaller size. The T-Rex was still large, though, about seven or eight feet tall at its highest point, and some 20 feet long. When they turned it on it gnashed its terrible jaws and wiggled its funny arms and moved its head and back like it was, I don’t know, trying to knock annoying hangers-on off its back. The saddles had seat belts, though.

For your $17 adult or $12 child ticket you get to see about 60 animatronic and stationary dinosaurs. I don’t remember there being that many, honestly, but that’s what the website says. A lot of the fair stuff at the end costs extra, including the dinosaur rides, so it could get pricey for a family.

But you get to see robot dinosaurs. And your kid gets to ride them.

Oh, and you should be warned about crowds, if this thing comes to your city.

We got there right when the attraction opened, and it was already kind of crowded, although less than you’d expect for something in a major city with just a three-day window of opportunity. However, by the time we left an hour and a half later, it was less Jurassic Park and more like the rampage scene in The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. Just people running and jostling everywhere.

And while that’s a much deeper movie reference, it’s not the ideal way to experience a dinosaur zoo.

In fact, so many people showed up that the fire marshal made the event owners stop selling tickets online.

So I could see how somebody could have a terrible experience there.

But we didn’t.

We got to pet giant robot dinosaurs.

I'm buying myself something cool that she can't have.

Like dinosaur attractions? We should be friends. Here are some more OTIS visits to dinosaur-themed oddities:

Dinosaur Land (White Post, Virginia)
Field Museum (Chicago, IL)
Harvard Museum of Natural History (Cambridge, MA)
Dinosaur State Park (Rocky Hill, Connecticut)
Haddonfield Hadrosaurus (Haddonfield, NJ)
Toys "R" Us Times Square (Manhattan, NY)