We check out three experience brands so you don’t have to, in FT Undercover
The crew tries its ax-wielding skills at the first location of FlannelJax’s.
The last time I tried a PedalPub, those two-ton wooden carts on wheels powered by customers themselves, the shenanigans were legion—most notably when my husband the birthday boy began doing reverse pull-ups with his head pointing downward using the exposed rails on top of the cart. (I regretted not upping his life insurance policy when I had the chance.) But that was before the Minneapolis-based company decided to franchise. New franchise owner Michael Carlson, who owns 10 carts throughout the Twin Cities and is working on certification training for pilots throughout the United States, is buttoning up the experience with an eye toward reducing potential liability as well as broadening the clientele beyond pub-crawling revelers whom neighborhoods love to hate. He’s installed a new, smoother-operating pedal system that makes pedaling easy-peasy, plus cuts down on the grumbling that you’re the ONLY one actually doing any work. Bikes cost $39 per seat, or $440 for private tours Friday and Saturday, $385 Sunday through Thursday.
The upshot: A more buttoned-down PedalPub experience makes the customer-powered wagons suitable for graduating seniors, corporate team-building and other fun-seekers beyond the original rowdy clientele. —BE
The promise of quality virtual reality gets closer ever year, and a new offering at the internationally franchised Dave & Busters is maybe the best in-store experience yet. The premise of a new virtual reality game follows the tried-and-true movie formula: Jurassic Park has just had yet another incident (those Yelp reviews must be atrocious). My colleagues and I have an important mission to scan dinosaurs. Why? That’s not quite clear, but who cares when your job is this fun. Within the first moments we were yelling, “OK, this is pretty sweet” over the sounds of a stomping brachiosaurus, roaring tyrannosauruses and cawing pterodactyls. Scanning dinosaurs might seem a little dull in the Jurassic universe, but among a sensory overload of lush jungle and a valley full of stampeding dinosaurs, it’s plenty. Because the seats sit atop hydraulically powered “motion chairs,” the experience becomes even more immersive. When it pitches over the edge of a bridge, for instance, you get an all too real sense that you’re about to plunge to your death.
The upshot: At $5 for five minutes, it’s a very efficient way to burn through money, but it’s well worth the cost to see how far VR has come and where it will be very soon, with or without the return of the dinosaurs. —NU
Scanning the FlannelJax’s waiver, a couple phrases jump out: “inherently and obviously dangerous,” “catastrophic injury, die or become paralyzed.” Despite the ominous words, I’m not worried. Safety is the priority, our trained Lumberjill explains as she goes over the rules and demonstrates proper ax-throwing technique in full view of the overhead camera (for insurance purposes). We’re at the first FlannelJax’s location in St. Paul, Minnesota, inside a former industrial building where 5,800 square feet are transformed into an urban ax-throwing mecca, complete with other lumber games including crosscut sawing. Group events and corporate outings are core to the business model as FlannelJax’s launches its franchise program and sessions can be tailored with a team-building focus. We, however, opt for intense competition, editors versus interns. After some embarrassing practice throws we get in the groove, hurling the axes overhand at a large, dartboard-like target. There’s a satisfying “thwack” when the ax blade meets wood—plus lots of cheers and high-fiving. Our Lumberjill keeps score as we play games such as Axe-Hole. Unsurprisingly, the editors emerge victorious.
The upshot: The land of Paul Bunyan is an ideal first market for FlannelJax’s, where two-hour sessions run $40 per person and even without a flannel shirt and beard you walk away feeling like a lumberjack. —LM