AN OFFBEAT DAY OUT IN ORLANDO ripleys florida kids

I have never had a particular desire to see a dead cockroach that has been transformed into a miniature Michael Jackson but if it had been on my bucket list, I could now tick it off.

This odd item is one of thousands of weird and wonderful things that are crammed into Ripleys Believe It or Not! in Orlando.

For the uninitiated, the Believe it or Not! story began in California. LeRoy Ripley was born there in 1890 and by the age of 14, Ripley was selling cartoons to Life magazine. Moving to New York, he began drawing sports strips for the New York Globe and one day drew a strip, called Champs and Chumps, featuring nine odd sports. The cartoon became hugely popular and expanded beyond sports to bizarre stories of every sort from around the world. He travelled extensively to find his stories and picked up many unusual souvenirs on his travels which became the core of the collection that is shown in 90 attractions in ten countries around the world today.

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Ripley was a bit of an oddity himself. He had a 28-foot-long pet boa constrictor and allowed chipmunks and squirrels to run around him while he drew. His dress sense was unconventional for the times too – a combo of Eskimo parka, pith helmet and bat-wing tie for example.

michael jackson cockroachEach Ripleys “odditorium” today is part museum, part interactive science experiment and part entertainment complex as testified by the dizzying range of more than 500 exhibits, including two dozen interactive ones spread out over 10,000 square feet. You get a phone book that has been carved to reveal the face of John Lennon and a Mona Lisa crafted from toast squares. In another room, you might find a Beyoncé portrait made with sweets and a shrunken head from Africa. And, of course, there was a dead cockroach painted to look like Michael Jackson.

What I particularly enjoyed about the visit was that it provided a welcome relief from a diet of Orlando theme parks. We just spent a couple of hours in Ripleys, grabbed a burger at a nearby Fridays and then spent the rest of the day by the pool.

20-month-old Reuben was in his element. He is at the age where he loves pressing buttons, making noise and opening and closing doors. Ripleys is his dream destination. His particular favourite was a 1963 VW Beetle that had been transformed into an art installation called Pico de Gallo. This is no ordinary Beetle since every surface of the car is covered with musical instruments, including several working keyboards, guitars, drums and ukuleles. You can see his efforts at making music at the top of this post.

The other two also had their favourites. Seth’s was a contraption where you put your hand in a hole to try to grab a diamond. He couldn’t stop laughing when I put my hand in and a blast of air on my hand made me jump out of my skin. Lola liked a spinning tunnel of neon lights that you had to walk through without falling over. I couldn’t bear to open my eyes in here and had to walk around the edge allowing Lola to laugh at me as she wandered through with no ill effects.

orlando florida ripleys neon tunnel

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