The first thing one sees upon entering Odyssey SHIPWRECK is a colorful pirate cut-out where you could put your face in the hole and become a buccaneer. It’s cute in a non sequitur sort of way, especially since it’s surrounded by small cases with coins, ship parts and small “everyday” treasures (like a Victorian head band). There was also a short video; however it wasn’t working during my visit. Past the theater area was the entrance to the exhibit itself; its black curtained off area belying the colorful, almost cartoonish theme for the pirate portion of their exhibit.
The first room featured a large map of known shipwrecks, a “pirate or merchant” game (based on a series of clues about size, number of cannons, etc) and a list of fun pirate facts (cannons were avoided in battles as they could damage the valuable cargo inside the victim’s ships). Next up was the heart of this section – “The Rogues Gallery,” a selection of profiles of famous pirates (which were somewhat hard to read since the shadow of the overhanging graphic obscured the first few lines of the text) and the flags their ships flew as well as a simple “guess the treasure” game and a fun (if somewhat cheesy) “Create a Pirate” interactive. There was also a short, repetitive soundtrack of nautical music and timbers’ creaking to give a more pirate-y atmosphere, but the poorly looped audio was more jarring than effective.
The last section of this black curtained area had information about the career and final week of the merchant ship S.S Republic (a large wall text proudly stating that it was built in Baltimore ). However, this section has no interactives and nothing to do with pirates; it’s more of a standard-average-exhibit that you can see at any maritime themed museum. Yes, the recovered cups and dishes are nice to look at, but the blown up photos and tinny “19th century murmuring” made it feel more like a documentary on PBS or The History Channel rather than the “compelling story” exhibition claimed in their press release.
Upon exiting the pirate area you are immediately presented with a choice: go left for the titular submersible or right for the insultingly small “physics of hurricanes” (and the much hyped “Hurricane Tube”) Either would make excellent exhibits in their own right, but coupled as it is with the Pirates section does all three a disservice.
However, the poor layout\design choices don’t end there. Forget “Navigating in a Hurricane,” I was having enough trouble trying to figure out how I was supposed to navigate this exhibit! There were a number of interactives (“Find the Shipwreck,” operating the robotic hand, and what looked like a children’s play area), but very little direction as to how you were supposed to get around them.
Than came the lightning round (also known as the “Holy Crap, we’re running out space” section), in which they shove lots of display cases and wall texts at you in rapid succession. These cases contained children’s toys, religious items, and coins from various countries as well as cursory wall texts on conservation and storage as well as a small but detailed section on the process of “certifying” recovered coins.
I find it odd that while they have a cross promotional deal with Baltimore ’s Urban Pirates, they don’t any pirate or shipwreck themed movies in their IMAX theater (such as 2002’s “Ghosts of the Abyss 3D”).
However, as I sat at a bench near the exhibit’s exit, I saw an excited 5 year old run out of the exhibit shouting: “Daddy, can we do it again!”
*** out of 5.