Saturday, April 18, 2015

2015 San Francisco - Day 4 - Afternoon

(Link to all 2015-April San Francisco / Berkeley trip blog posts)

After a brunch of clam chowder at Fog Harbor, I was glad to get out of Pier 39 as the late morning weekend risers had now swarmed it. I think this Saturday is where my eventual sunburn started really creeping up on me. I kept to the cool to cold shadowed areas but eventually one is forced into the bright hot sun.
Along the way, the Musée Mécanique penny arcade offered an interesting brief diversion. Curiously enough, the penny-press machines that elongate your pennies there can also be seen unexpectedly in various parts of San Francisco. Just keep your eyes open.

I followed the piers down to a busy hub of stores, including Madame Tussauds of San Francisco. I was idly thinking of going in, but The San Francisco Dungeon ("200 years of history, 9 live actor shows, and 1 dark boat ride") beckoned for some reason. I think I was initially biased by Storyeum, the failed attempt in Gastown to have a live-action museum many years back. But whereas Storyeum felt like moving from one educational vignette to another, The San Francisco Dungeon was more like a guided haunted house; certainly their the ad copy for SF Dungeon seemed to emphasize entertainment.

Especially as I was unlikely to return to San Francisco any time soon, I gave it a shot and signed up. And I still didn't look too closely at their brochures to ensure I wasn't prepared for anything (what's the point of a horror experience if you know what's coming?). No boat ride that day due to technical difficulties, so I even got a $10 discount from the already cheap price of $26! -- And this is cheap considering the facility, the FX that needs to be run during your trip, plus all the live actors involved.

It looked like a rather quiet attraction (i.e., no one going to it) and I was told it required a minimum of four persons (oops) so there was some worry that there wouldn't be enough persons to start the "ride". But fortunately a family of six (?) came back after having bought their tickets, and we were off!
The overall experience was, as hoped, heavy on entertainment, light on education. You do learn about San Francisco history, but the bits are generally very cleverly woven into the dialogue so it generally didn't feel like you were being lectured by a funnily-dressed professor.

When it was all over, and the lady in the gift shop asked me how it was, the first words out of my mouth were, "That was f---ing awesome."

I think one of the problems with The San Francisco Dungeon is that the name is very misleading. You don't go into a "dungeon" per se, but instead stop at 11 locations touching on the dark sides of San Francisco -- so stop and open the brochure, which talks about the Gold Rush, dubious courts of law, shifty saloons, China Town, and even ending in Alcatraz. For a mere $26, you get funnelled through these interesting sights in surprisingly good use of darkness, and are entertained by numerous live actors, along with many interactive scenes over the course of about one hour.

The use of darkness here can't be emphasized enough. Unless you have somehow had a lot of total-darkness experiences (perhaps something tame like dining in the dark), being effectively utterly blind is a novel experience for a lot of people. Somehow, the actors navigate it very well and that contributes immensely to the experience.
As for the scariness of the show, they are not exaggerating when they advertise, "being scared has never been so much fun!".

It is not really kid friendly, though precocious pre-teens might do okay. It is more likely that young children who may or may not obey actor instructions will end up disrupting or even worse causing harm to the actors -- remember that the actors sometimes have to move about quickly and in complete darkness, so kids wandering around at the wrong time can be disaster.

The toughest part of SF Dungeon is going alone. You are really counting on the other persons in the party to help make the time more interactive and fun. If they are duds... well, it won't be as much fun. I was fortunate that the other persons in our expedition did extend inclusiveness toward me, and I tried to reciprocate and enhance everyone's experience.

Unless you really can't come back another day, do NOT go if they are having technical difficulties and any part of the show is out of commission. Once you go through it, you'll know all about what's coming and it won't be so surprising and fun the second time around. Make sure your first time is the best and all they have to offer.

Before you go in, they take some pictures of you in specific poses in front of a screen. When you come out, those pictures will have been compiled in a souvenir book that you can purchase for $34.99 -- more than the price of individual admission! It summarizes your trip into a souvenir, and can be pretty pricey if you had gone alone. For groups, the price per person becomes much more reasonable, but for the solo spelunker like me, it was shocking and funny. There's also no time pressure if you just want to look through it first in the gift store.

It's still early days for them (not being even one year old, having opened in 2014-June) but I hope the San Francisco Dungeon doesn't sink the way Storyeum did.

I escaped the Dungeon around Noon and had no idea where to go next. I walked around the stores but shopping still hadn't grown on me. Plus the hot sun was irritating. I ended up at Tarantino's -- another (very large) fine-dining establishment for more clam chowder and was surprised to find the upstairs dining room had barely any patrons despite the thick river of people just outside all along Fisherman's Wharf and the stores. Afterwards I idly thought of Scoma's as well, but I was pretty full, no thanks to the bread bowl that came with the chowder.

Exploring the streets I again found another quiet oasis: The Cannery at Del Monte Square. There are two entrances, and serendipity would have it that I entered by the quiet Academy of Art University entrance instead of the very busy Flying Ninja Sushi entrance. A sign right at the entrance told of "award winning" Norman's Ice Cream & Freezes, compelling me to go deeper and explore the shady, peaceful, courtyard. I got my (disappointing) scoop of ice cream, relaxed and cooled down in this unexpected shelter, then out again into the sun and westward to the final stretch of Fisherman's Wharf.

Near the Hyde Street Pier Cable Car station and the start of the big park there did I first really notice that the Jehova's Witnesses (more subtly identifying themselves as JW.org) were recruiting (by standing around giving out booklets). And recruiting "aggressively" by having an almost ubiquitous presence in San Francisco. From then on I started seeing them "everywhere". Being a godless heathen sinner, I didn't bother chatting them up. Besides, I got hit on by some church group or other (JW or maybe The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) almost exactly a year ago when I was in North Vancouver, waiting for my Anatoli Souvlaki reservation. That's enough for me!

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