A TRIP TO THE JOY STORE: Whimsies (and selfies) abound at Mandalay Bay’s Happy Place
There was only one moment when I felt anywhere close to my age during my journey through Happy Place at Mandalay Bay.
That moment came as I struggled to extract myself from the Rubber Ducky Bathtub of Fun, a yellow tub full of plastic balls in which I had willingly — if foolishly — submerged myself.
“It’s deeper than it looks,” a chipper Happy Place staffer said sympathetically as she leant me a hand.
Luckily, Happy Place is a space beyond embarrassment. Indeed, the interactive, immersive exhibit full of larger-than-life installations and sensory-themed rooms is a magical place, like Disneyland or Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, minus the exorbitant entry fees and the Oompa Loompas.
And so, for the rest of my visit, I felt like a kid again, enjoying an hour-long infusion of childhood innocence and joy in spaces such as the Candy Room (featuring 7-foot stilettos made of a million candies) and Super Bloom (an elevated indoor meadow filled with 40,000 handmade flowers). And that’s exactly the point. Billed as “a mission to spread happiness across the world,” Happy Place aims to induce photographable smiles and laughter in people of all ages.
The pop-up playland, produced by Faculty Productions in partnership with Live Nation Las Vegas and MGM Resorts International, has already enjoyed successful residencies in Los Angeles, Chicago, Toronto and Boston, and is currently also playing in Philadelphia. It opened at Mandalay Bay in August, on a six-month engagement with the possibility to extend.
Described by publisher Urban Daddy as “the most Instagrammable pop-up in America,” the 15,000-square-foot experience offers 12 vibrant rooms in which to pose for countless colorful selfies. A staffer told me it draws a lot of teenagers who are into social media, and plenty of families, but the demographics vary.
Happy Place “exists to provide an oasis for people of all ages and backgrounds to come together and embrace moments of happiness in their everyday lives,” said Jared Paul, the exhibit’s founder, in a news release earlier this year.
During my weekday visit, the crowd consisted of people ranging in age from toddlerhood to (ahem) middle-age. I played my way through with a vacationing couple from Iowa, a conventioneer from Washington, an ecstatic 4-year-old named Jude and his parents — the effortlessly cool Alex and Susie Grullon, in town from Miami for the Latin Grammys. Our soundtrack consisted of such feel-good toe-tappers as Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” and Neil Diamond’s “I’m a Believer.”
“Don’t be afraid to make a mess,” a staffer named Rob told us in the Confetti Room. Jude proceeded to lay in a pile of confetti, toss handfuls of it overhead and throw it directly at his mom’s cellphone camera.
The Grullons had been on the lookout for family-friendly Vegas activities.
“We went last night to Circus Circus,” Alex, a songwriter, said. “And this is great, too.”
Then he and Jude pretended to hang from a chandelier in Upside Down, a room in which you can literally dance on the ceiling. Meanwhile, Susie, a choreographer, snapped photos. It was hard to tell which Jude liked more — the decor or the free snacks. (Tropical Gummy bears in the Candy Room, chocolate-chip cookies in the Cookie Room.)
Carolyn Cramer, an engineer in town for a data conference, had previously enjoyed a food-themed pop-up called Cheat Day Land in California. So, during a break from the conference, she followed the signs to Happy Place.
“I really like it,” she said while snapping selfies against a wall bedecked with flowers. Then she posed for photos — taken by a helpful staffer — atop a life-size, inanimate unicorn named Cornelius.
Having gleefully worked our way through the rooms, we landed in a broad “backyard” area where the fake grass feels real and the playground equipment includes a Confetti Dome (in which confetti propelled by fans flies through the air), adult-size slides and a giant Pot of Happiness full of … more of those plastic balls. (I took a twirl in the Confetti Dome but abstained from the ball pit after the bathtub incident.)
By now, little Jude’s dark hair was literally standing on end, full of static electricity from either the ball pit or the Confetti Dome. None of us could stop smiling.
The Grullons told me to look them up if I’m ever in Miami.
Written in neon at the Happy Place exit: Did we just become best friends?
Why, yes. Yes, we did.
Two hours later, back at home, I found a stowaway piece of blue confetti in my hair.
If you go: Happy Place is open from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily. Tickets start at $23 for children ages 4-12 (younger children get in free) and $30 for adults, plus fees. They can be purchased at HappyPlace.me/tickets.
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