It’s crazy to think just how big a juggernaut that Netflix’s excellent horror series, Stranger Things, has become. I remember shortly after the first season debuted, when it was so new and beloved that they were yet to even produce merchandise. I ordered a custom-made Stranger Things tee online at the time and wore it to a convention, and an obscene number of people told me they loved the shirt and were curious where I had gotten it. Now, Stranger Things: The Experience opens in Brooklyn, culminating in a huge free-roaming gift shop/mall food court teeming with photo opportunities and stunning exclusive merch! Think: a Disney or Universal-quality walk-through ride teeming with plenty of surprises.
As soon as one enters the massive warehouse housing this unique “experience,” the immersion begins. Hawkins is conducting a “sleep study,” and they are currently taking volunteers in three distinct groups: red, blue, and yellow. We were part of the yellow group, which is focused around “intuition.” At Hawkins International Laboratory, we are invited to participate in this opportunity to allegedly contribute research for mending the general restlessness of Hawkins residents. This being Stranger Things, any fan of the show will know to expect otherworldly terrors from what lies ahead. The focus story-wise is on unlocking the powers within; utilizing a combination of energetic live actors and impressively projected and recorded performances from the show’s cast, Stranger Things: The Experience weaves a fun tale consistent with the established mythology.
Attending as part of the soft open rather than press day, I received a fun window into the immersion and audience reactions to the various tricks and treats in store for “members of the sleep study.” Tongue is firmly in cheek with the show’s signature humor coming into play big time. What is so impressive about this production from top to bottom is the attention to detail. An opening queue where you are ushered into separate groups is surrounded by “electric fences,” and a VHS-style introduction keeps perfectly close to the flagship show’s tone. The “sleep study” part is structured almost like an escape room. A section where one must literally push through to the upside down is immersive and spectacular, and a huge-scale 3D element near the end of the 45-minute run is jaw-dropping.
The biggest draw for the Instagram generation will be the section after you finish “The Experience,” titled “The Mixtape.” At first, it may appear to simply be a glorified gift shop. However, the details extend to this facet as well. Photo ops are plentiful, and include posing next to a massive Demogorgon, the Byers living room, Family Video, Scoops Ahoy, Palace Arcade, and an old-school phone booth. Themed food and drinks with a full adult drink menu and Broadway-style souvenir cups should keep the party going well after the initial fun, accompanied by banging themed music that adds to the appeal. I tried “The Hopper,” which was delicious and tasted like a minty White Russian. Keep an eye out for season 4 easter eggs, like Surfer Boy Pizza and a whole section on the Hellfire Club. This area is very open, and easily evokes season 3’s Starcourt Mall. Be sure to talk to Scoops Ahoy Brian for a free cookie, and don’t miss a fun game where one has to hunt down 5 separate QR codes around the area to answer trivia questions for free 80’s-themed treats. Look out for others, including a reporter and a drifting freelancer for the Hawkins Post, to add to the atmosphere.
As far as downsides, the experience itself is very much out of the way for your average tourist, deep in Brooklyn. Signage is not clear, and trying to find where to go is significantly confusing. Bathrooms offered are situated inside “trailers,” which although clean, I am sure many will be averse to using. Being freshly open, I think a few kinks are still in need of working out in regards to queuing up, communication between employees, and rules and regulations. They could use better non-alcoholic drink options. For the Covid-conscious, masks are not required to attend which may deter some. In spite of any minor issues, I had an amazing time.
With three locations currently opening in New York, San Francisco, and London, and an option to “nominate your city” for a future Experience site, it is quite clear this stellar brand will not be going away anytime soon. I can see this being a big draw for those visiting NYC who are fans of the show, and it is also accessible for a younger crowd (though maintains the Mature-rated tone of the Netflix series). I’m still counting down the days until I can binge the hell out of Stranger Things 4, but until then, Stranger Things: The Experience is a terrific reintroduction to its universe.
Stranger Things: The Experience is now open at Duggal Greenhouse in Brooklyn, New York. For more information, including pricing and hours, please visit the official website.
Stranger Things 4 goes upside down when it debuts exclusively to Netflix on Friday, May 27th.