Prepare for a digital underwater dive right in the center of Manhattan.  A brand new National Geographic immersive experience takes visitors to the ocean’s darkest depths and back in a 90-minute marine adventure that’s part education, part entertainment and perfect for families. We dove in — here’s our report!

photo: National Geographic Encounter: Ocean Odyssey

Exploring the Oceans
Enter through a cascading waterfall of dry ice into a submarine world. Once the offices of The New York Times, the space is now a permanent exhibit celebrating the exploration, science, and conservation of the world’s oceans.

A collaboration between leading explorers, photographers, biologists and conservationists, the experience is a mix of oceanic storytelling and cinematic visual effects.

This is Nat Geo’s first foray into an entertainment space and visitors are greeted by the kind of footage the brand is known for: beautiful shots of the colorful waters from the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific to the kelp beds of North America’s west coast.

photo: National Geographic Encounter: Ocean Odyssey

Pioneering Entertainment
After this real-footage intro, the immersive experience begins, and visitors are steered into different galleries where the walls fill with stunning underwater scenes.

In the first room, the floor appears to shift as the seabed moves. Spotted rays dart underfoot, dolphins navigate the coral reef, and sharks scan for prey.  All this is accompanied by the clicks and pops of a submarine soundtrack put together by Academy and Emmy award-winning creatives, cameramen and sound recordists.

photo: National Geographic Encounter: Ocean Odyssey

Murky Depths
Subsequent galleries take visitors deeper and darker underwater, through coral reefs into a midnight realm where sharks and killer whales can be glimpsed in the shadows.

The state-of-the-art sound system magnifies the night-time chatter of marine life until you reach a simulated depth of 300 feet and meet the Red Devil a.k.a. the Humbolt Squid with 40,000 teeth in their ravenous mouths. Little ones might find all this a bit intense; the recommended age for the experience is three years old and up.

Interactive Animation
Neither aquarium nor documentary footage, the visuals are actually animated — taken from real footage, edited into a narrative and digitized into a high-resolution animation that can withstand the demands of this kind of immersive entertainment.

This becomes evident standing on a sensor pad in front of a digitized kelp bed, where visitors can conduct the movements of friendly sea lions on the screen in front of them.

Soon, it’s time to head back towards the surface, through a kelp maze into a dome-shaped room for some 3D fun where a 50-foot humpback whale feeds on bait balls, and penguins join in the feast.

Marine HQ
Visitors sinew their way back towards what looks like a marine spy HQ. The submarine soundtrack is replaced with a score that cues up our revelations about the incredible marine life of our planet.

Monitors play interviews recorded with explorers, scientists, and conservationists talking about their passion for the ocean.  This is the place where you pledge never to use plastic bottles and the kids get engrossed in the gaming experiences, with the screens challenging them to clean up the ocean, play with holograms and use flashlights to discover the hidden world of bio-fluorescence.

Good to Know
If you purchase anything in the store, you’ll be offered the option of rounding up your total amount to the nearest dollar, with the donated money dedicated to conservation projects.

Strollers aren’t allowed in the space so you’ll have to check them in before entering the galleries. There’s also no cafe on site, but you’re in midtown so you’re well served with eateries outside the Nat Geo experience.

National Geographic Encounter: Ocean Odyssey
Tickets: Adults $39.50, Children 12 and under $32.50
Hours: 10 a.m.- 10:30 p.m., Sun. – Thurs.; 10 a.m. – midnight, Fri. & Sat.
226 W 44th St.
Times Square
646-308-1337
Online: natgeoencounter.com

Do you plan on visiting the Ocean Encounter? Let us know in the comments below. 

-Emily Myers

photos are the author’s unless otherwise credited