When the CBS television series "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" was in expansion mode, it was fun to think about a potential "CSI: Orlando." Surely, the writers could work up murder mysteries using distinctive elements of The City Beautiful, such as the Lake Eola swans, half-empty condo towers, roundabouts, curiously dressed tourists and Colonial Drive traffic.
The new CSI: The Experience — located where Carrier Drive dead-ends into I-Drive and adjacent to the Titanic, The Experience — is housed in a bright white building with lime trim and yellow crime-scene tape accents. That is either cleverly alarming or alarmingly clever. (Crime-scene tape is for sale in the gift shop.)
I was braced for extreme realism inside because the TV show is prone to wince-worthy graphic re-enactments and scientific demonstrations. Although actors from the show and "CSI" creator Anthony Zuiker make taped appearances, CSI: The Experience has an educational vibe. That's probably because its roots are in a CSI-based exhibit developed, in part, by the Fort Worth (Texas) Museum of Science and History in 2007. The I-Drive attraction is operated by EMS Exhibits, an Austria-based company that has licensing rights from CBS.
At the International Drive attraction, participants are given cases to investigate. I was assigned the scenario called "Who Got Served?" and directed to a crime scene with poor dead Penny Golden, a not-too-gory mannequin representing a waitress/actress.
The instructions are to examine the crime scene and to sketch the evidence. There are expected items such as a cellphone and a purse. Other clues are more dramatic, including tire tracks over Penny's abdomen, a substance in a baggie and her publicity photo, ripped in half.
Penny is found near a dumpster, so some items might not be evidence at all, such as a pizza box or a very still, very large fly on her arm. I noted all of these, although some would-be investigators whipped out their cameras to capture the moment.
There are two other crime scenes in the vicinity: "A House Collided," where car meets living room (and there's more pizza. Pepperoni-based crime spree?) and "No Bones About It," a swirling desert scene with a skeleton — but, alas, no pizza.
From here, lab space is shared with those cases, although different steps are taken at each station. In the "digital evidence" area, we could click through Penny's last text messages, and we could finger who had left prints on the torn photo.
In our case, we observed a screening test that identified the contents of that baggie, used blowflies to determine time of death and utilized DNA to find out Penny's true identity.
Side fact presented: "Maggots can consume 60 percent of a human body in less than a week." Thankfully, CSI: The Experience doesn't pipe in odors.
The exhibits are educational and cover topics such as blood-spatter analysis, chain of custody and "re-creating the lost faces of the dead."
The morgue area featured a cool touch: Projections on plain, prone mannequins, along with videotaped pieces, walk you through the process without being too icky. One cause of death: "Gunshot to the head." Yeah, that'll do it.
In the end, there's a quiz about your findings. It was a little more difficult than I expected and a bit anticlimactic. Working at a leisurely pace (while peeking at other cases' displays), the experience took about an hour — just like the TV show.
Although we were immersed in the CSI lingo and atmosphere, there isn't much of a show by Orlando attractions standards. It was fun when my receipt was handed to me as "your evidence," and I like the white-coat garb of the workers. More of that and maybe some rock 'n' roll — like the show's opening credits by The Who — could inspire repeat customers.
CSI: The Experience is expected to be in the space through at least the end of 2012, manager Dave Walker says. It will soon be joined in the building by the EMS-licensed Star Trek: The Experience, a version of which was based at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex last year.
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CSI: The Experience
Where: 7220 International Drive, Orlando
When: 9 a.m.-9 p.m. daily
Cost: $19.95 general, $12.95 ages 5-12 (Additional cases can be assigned for $5).
Not from CBS yet
What if other CBS shows were turned into attractions? With tongue firmly in cheek, may we suggest:
•The Good Wife: The Experience — Decode the look on the face of Alicia (Julianna Marguiles) before Kalinda (Archie Punjabi) takes a sledgehammer to you.