Believe It or Not!: Ripley’s Orlando Odditorium

Lisa Fritscher July 2, 2014 No Comments

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Odditorium Sinkhole

The Orlando Odditorium appears to be falling into one of Florida’s famous sinkholes.

Ripley’s Believe It or Not! is a worldwide attraction brand specializing in the strange and unusual. As I pride myself on being strange and unusual, I have been a big fan of Ripley’s since childhood. Today, I make it a mission to visit Ripley’s wherever we go. The Orlando Odditorium, opened in the early 1990s, is a worthy member of the Ripley’s family.

About Ripley’s Believe It or Not!
Robert Ripley was an explorer, artist and collector who lived from 1890 until 1949. At 13, he was  a semi-professional baseball pitcher. At 14, he sold his first cartoon to Life magazine, and by 15 he was a working newspaperman. In his 20s, Ripley began writing and illustrating a new sports column for the New York Globe called “Champs and Chumps.” With an expanded focus on strange happenings around the world, the name soon changed to “Believe It or Not!”

“Believe It or Not!” was syndicated in 1929, and its immense popularity soon led to a long-running radio show. The show sponsored Ripley’s adventures around the globe and, in exchange, he recorded episodes from snake pits, caverns and other exotic locales. He collected unusual artifacts everywhere he went, eventually amassing enough pieces to open his first Odditorium at the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago. During World War II, Ripley took a hiatus from foreign travel, instructing his listeners to “See America First.”

Radio led to short films and eventually to television, and Ripley resumed his exotic adventures. He also continued to operate short-lived Odditoriums at various fairs and events. In 1949, during the filming of his 13th television episode, which happened to feature death rituals, Robert Ripley had a massive heart attack and died at the age of 58.

Ripley’s estate was sold at public auction, and circus producer John Arthur acquired the exhibits and artifacts. He opened the first permanent Odditorium in St. Augustine, Florida, just a year later. It is still open today. The company has undergone many changes, including expansions that added haunted attractions, wax museums and other entertainment venues to the roster. Despite all the changes, however, one thing remains clear: the focus is still on the strange and unusual.

Our Experience

Headhunter Sword

The headhunter sword is really cool, if you don’t think too deeply about its history!

As seasoned Ripley’s Believe It or Not! fans, Dad and I knew generally what to expect. However, the Orlando property, like all Odditoriums, still surprised us with its secrets. The 10,000 square foot museum is designed to appear as if it is falling into one of Florida’s infamous sinkholes. The 16 galleries are packed with strange and interesting memorabilia from all eras and all corners of the globe.

The Odditorium was only moderately crowded on a weekday afternoon, but its location on International Drive virtually guarantees large crowds during evenings and weekends. We waited in a short line to pick up our tickets and enter. The tour is self-guided, and the staff recommend allowing roughly an hour and a half. We spent closer to three hours, in part because we took quite a few pictures. Photography and video recording are encouraged.

Tips for Parents
Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditoriums are fun for all ages. There is nothing inherently scary, although some of the artifacts, such as the shrunken heads and headhunter swords, have a rather gruesome history. Consider steering your kids quickly past those displays, which encompass a fairly small portion of the collection, if they are easily frightened.

Wall-E

The recycled parts Wall-E was fun.

The Odditorium borrows some classic funhouse design tricks. Different rooms have slanted floors, optical illusions, loud sounds and unusual lighting intended to throw off the senses a bit. Again, this is meant to be fun rather than frightening, but children or adults with sensory issues could become a bit overwhelmed.

Overall, Ripley’s is a great choice for families of all ages and interests. From famous literary works carved on a grain of rice to masks from around the world, Ripley’s houses artifacts that will get your family talking. Newer items, created long after Robert Ripley’s demise, are also a part of the collection. Look for the Wall-E made from recycled car parts and the Abraham Lincoln portrait in duct tape!

The Orlando Odditorium is located in the heart of the International Drive tourist strip. It would be easy to pair the Odditorium with another nearby attraction to create a full day of family fun. Shops and restaurants are also plentiful within the immediate neighborhood.

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Lisa is a full-time travel writer. She lives in an RV with her disabled father and writes about their experiences. Although she has no children of her own, Lisa loves being an Aunt to her own relatives and the children of all her friends. You can follow her adventures on her blog, Travel Confessions.

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