Jurassic Park-ing lot: Where dinosaurs star in an epic drive-through for kids
My family has spent the last 308 days together in the house. What’s another 60 minutes in the car? This was my reasoning when I scheduled us a slot at the drive-through attraction “Jurassic Quest” at the Pasadena Rose Bowl.
I began to rethink the simplistic arithmetic of my decision about 10 minutes into the experience as we inched into the Triassic Period behind a line of at least 100 cars. Night had fallen and a sea of red brake lights illuminated the lifelike dinosaurs we had come to see.
In a pre-pandemic world, before so many shared experiences were transformed out of necessity into drive-through events, “Jurassic Quest” staged indoor walk-through tours featuring the same 70-plus animatronic dinosaurs, which have been created with the help of paleontologists to appear realistic. There was a dinosaur-themed playland, crafts, face painting and more.
The pandemic version of the event, like everything in the COVID-19 world, surely pales in comparison. This does not mean I am upset that it exists. I’m desperate to make my kids smile, to give them some diversion, to break us out of the daily routine that we use to mark time in the unsettling limbo of stay-at-home orders.
And so we are out in the world, tourists of another time, hoping for a bit of semi-educational fun.
Each group of prehistoric reptiles in the Jurassic Quest tour occupies its own patch of asphalt in the stadium’s sprawling parking lot. My 4-year-old daughter squeals with delight. My 12-year-old daughter sighs, broadcasting boredom. On the audio tour downloaded to my phone, Safari Sarah tells us about the mass extinction that led to the Jurassic Period.
“I’m hungry,” the 12-year-old says.
“I have to go potty,” the 4-year-old says.
“Girls, simmer down,” my husband says.
“Isn’t this fun?” I ask.
The minivan ahead of us comes to a full stop. A river of cars has merged behind us. There is no way out but through.
A pair of brothers in the SUV behind us pop out of the sunroof, grinning madly. I know this because they are not wearing masks. My kids clamor for me to open our sunroof. I instead make extra sure all the windows are rolled up tightly.
The 4-year-old unbuckles her car seat and is suddenly beside me, her hot breath in my ear.
“Hi, Mama!” she exclaims.
“Moooovvvve!” the 12-year-old shouts. “I can’t see.”
She too has freed herself of her seatbelt, and now both girls crane their necks to look at the dinosaurs through the windshield.
“Can everybody please sit back down?” I ask, feeling claustrophobic.
“Isn’t this fun?” my husband asks.
I say to no one in particular that there is tequila waiting for me back home. Then Safari Sarah continues her audio tour: “After the end of the Jurassic we find ourselves in the early Cretaceous Period.”
We stop talking to look at an iguanodon. His muscular body and small beady eyes are impressive, as are his strange hooded fingers and spiked thumbs. Framed against the velvet gray of the sky, the creature almost looks real. The 4-year-old shrieks and presses her nose up to the glass. The 12-year-old appears interested despite herself.
As we continue our snail-paced trajectory through the dawn of history, I find myself watching the children’s faces in the cars around me. There is joy in them. Relief, even. There are grins and sparkling eyes. In the seat behind me, my girls are laughing. For a brief moment, my semi-permanent pandemic anxiety lifts.
“Can we get In-N-Out on the way home?” the 12-year-old asks.
Silence falls over the car. We haven’t gone to a restaurant in 10 months, not even a drive-through window.
“No, sweetie,” I say.
“I’ll make pizza,” my husband says, squeezing my hand.
Suddenly, I am aware that we are approaching what looks like a giant shark. It is a 50-foot-long megalodon with vicious black eyes and two massive rows of razor-sharp teeth.
“Oh my gosh, Mama, Mama, a shark! A shark!” the 4-year-old screams.
We all agree that the megalodon is awesome. The tour is over. Even in a pandemic, we exit through the gift shop — rolling along through dinosaur-themed toys tied with wire to posts, and past a cashier in a face mask and face shield.
A man in a Tesla in front of us buys two light-up T. rexes and two stuffed triceratops. As we pass by empty handed, my husband makes a joke about how the guy in the Tesla can’t say no.
Within minutes we merge onto the deserted Friday-night freeway, speeding toward home and our regularly-scheduled movie night. We feel good. I sing along to a Billie Eilish song on the radio. The 12-year-old scowls. All is right with the world.
That night, when I tuck the 4-year-old into bed, she kisses my cheek and whispers in my ear, “Can we go to the dinosaur place again tomorrow?”
Where: Pasadena Rose Bowl, 1001 Rose Bowl Dr., Pasadena (It will move on to Costa Mesa and then Pomona in Feb.)
When: 9 a.m.-8 p.m., Wednesdays through Sundays, through Jan. 31. (The attraction moves to the OC Fair & Event Center in Costa Mesa and the Fairplex in Pomona in February, then the Del Mar Fairgrounds in March.)
Tickets: $49 per vehicle; limit eight passengers
Running time: Expect to spend at least 30 minutes waiting in line and 45 minutes driving through the attraction.
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