In a battle of entertainment venues, the only true winner is those of us who wish to be, well, “‘tained”.
What is WonderWorks and Beyond the Lens?
In one corner stands WonderWorks, the venerated Pigeon Forge attraction of the upside down facade, an attraction aiming to educate and entertain.
WonderWorks bills itself as an amusement park for the mind with more than 100 hands-on exhibits.
The WonderWorks brand of edu-tainment mines the world of science and brings visitors to space, explores extreme weather and invites them to test the boundaries of their own imagination.
And it has a really cool four-person Pac-Man game.
In the other corner, is the relative upstart Beyond the Lens Family Fun, which aims for a different slice of the entertainment pie.
Beyond the Lens explores pop culture with interactive games, photo-ops and something called techno-tainment.
No, techno-tainment will not require you to Pump up the Jam, but it will celebrate questionable decision making, such as allowing attendees to pose like Kim Kardashian under an arc of champagne, jump into an adult-sized bubble pit and pose like they were in a police line-up.
After all, who doesn’t want to come on vacation and reenact scenes from the Law and Order franchise?
The fact is on a larger level, all attractions in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg are in competition. The pursuit of the tourist dollar rules all.
But, within that larger arena are smaller ones that pit restaurants against each other, music houses, go-kart tracks or mini golf courses battling for their existence.
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The same is the case with indoor semi-educational “museums” like WonderWorks or Beyond the Lens. The latter of which has broken branding ties with the National Enquirer.
What is Beyond the Lens and what’s inside?
In 2019 a perplexed executive explained to the Branson News that visitors weren’t connecting with the original concept based on the “very rich, 80-year history of one of America’s favorite tabloids.”
“It seemed to be a stumbling point for some of our guests, and it was a misrepresentation of what was actually inside the attraction, so it was creating a disconnect between what they were expecting, and what we were delivering. We feel like Beyond the Lens is much more indicative of what they’re going to find when they come inside.”
In response, a spokesperson for the Gullion household said “LOL. No duh.”
Setting aside the decision of tying your new attraction to an ancient printed tabloid known to embrace kayfabe and in-depth reporting on Michael Jackson’s attempt to purchase the remains of the Elephant Man, Beyond the Lens is actually pretty fun.
If your kids like thrills, there’s the FlyRide where they can soar over America in motion seats with effects to make the experience feel real. And there is the Flip Zone, which is like bumper cars in an anti-gravity chair.
There are several exhibits that hint at the attraction’s tabloid past. The Search for Bigfoot is an interactive experience that explores the myths of the mighty ‘Squatch.
Here’s a hint, he’s going to be in Townsend later this spring.
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There’s also a chance for families to Walk the Red Carpet and get a feel for what it’s like to be the focus of the paparazzi.
In what is the museum’s most “educational” but also kind of creepy exhibit there’s a deep dive into the crimes of the previous century. Included is tabloid fare like OJ Simpson, JonBenet Ramsey, Laci Peterson and more.
There’s a part of me that wants to mock the celebrity mugshot trivia challenge, but I aced it. So you know … something about glass houses and throwing stones.
What is there to do at WonderWorks? How does it compare?
At WonderWorks, the pretense on education is a little more serious and the exhibits, in my opinion, are a bit superior.
However, the WonderWorks facility in Pigeon Forge is showing its age, and when we went a couple of months ago, there were some things that weren’t working or not working correctly and it needed a good sprucing up overall.
WonderWorks bills itself as “edu-tainment” and while there is certainly quite a bit of “edu”, there’s far more “‘tainment”, including laser tag, a 4D XD simulator ride and an indoor ropes course that goes up into the upside-down buildings’ rafters.
Of the attraction’s six zones, we enjoyed the Extreme Weather, the Physical Challenge, the Light and Fun Zone and Space Discovery best.
Maybe it was an off day, but the art gallery was just something to take up space and walk through.
WonderWorks or Beyond the Lens: Which is better?
Ultimately, I can’t tell you what is best for you and your family. But here’s my two cents.
There are positives to both, I just feel like the “tainment” level at WonderWorks is higher. Having recently taken my family to Pigeon Forge and chosen between the two, I chose WonderWorks and will likely next time do the same.
Well, at least until I can go through the museum without taking 15 minutes to rehash the grassy knoll and the murderous rampage of Scott Peterson with my 8-year-old.
How much are tickets to WonderWorks and Beyond the Lens?
Beyond the Lens tickets, at the time of this writing are $26.99 for adults and $16.99 for kids ages 5-12.
Occasionally you can even save a couple of dollars on admission by booking online using Tripster ahead of your arrival. But the best Beyond the Lens deals are usually found on their Groupon page (up to 38% off general admission).
WonderWorks tickets, at the time of this writing are $28.99 for adults, $22.99 for children (ages 4-12) and seniors (60 and up).
Discounted WonderWorks tickets are also available when booking using WonderWork’s Tripster page.
Both attractions are located on the Parkway in Pigeon Forge.
Which do you think is better? WonderWorks or Beyond the Lens? Let us know in the comments.