An Omega Mart employee entering a grocery store through a facade of a fridge
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Credit: Kate Russell / Meow Wolf

Theme Park News: A trip to Meow Wolf's bizarre 'Omega Mart' and much more

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May 25, 2021, 1:19 PM EDT

Hello, theme park people! We're taking a detour past Fantasyland this week and focusing on something you're bound to enjoy but may not know much about yet. If you want to enjoy Meow Wolf's Omega Mart spoiler-free, never fear! We've put a cutoff in the story below so you can still read a good chunk of it while retaining the surprises of the experience. (And, if you're itching for this week's theme park news, jump to the bottom for a roundup of all the links that are fit to print — or at least publish online.)

A VISIT TO OMEGA MART

This week we're stepping "outside the berm," as one might say, to discuss something both similar and different: Omega Mart. It's the latest immersive outpost from the experiential design firm Meow Wolf, an artist collective-turned-entertainment group whose House of Eternal Return in Santa Fe put immersive experiences on the map when it debuted in 2016. Now, with their second permanent installation, they're bringing the whimsy and otherworldliness of yet another slowly-unfolding story to a 52,000 square foot themed expanse just minutes from the Las Vegas strip.

Credit: Meow Wolf

The exhibit is not a theme park, gift shop, jungle gym nor museum, but somehow, it channels each throughout the experience. Omega Mart, after all, is a grocery store where everything from the produce to the dish soap is distinctly unique and nearly all of it is actually for sale. Unlike their first location in Santa Fe, Las Vegas' outpost is a twist on consumerism where, in the end, you'll be even more tempted to go home with a psychedelic seltzer water or air freshener scented like "forbidden wisdom." (Seriously.)

Nothing in Meow Wolf's arsenal of experiences is at it seems, so naturally, there's more to be seen beyond the storefront facade's deli department and beverage fridges. (More on that below.) Each Meow Wolf space is an interactive playground for the senses, but what sets it apart is an underlying story that ties its unexpected elements together. Disseminating the details of each narrative is wholly up to each guest, meaning you can choose to parse through the varied plot points or simply just peruse the art exhibits that unravel through every turn — perhaps through secret portals and unexpected passageways, of which there are plenty.

Here in Vegas, though, Omega Mart fills a necessary void for people looking to have transportive experiences far from the debaucherous norm of the city's more commonplace attractions. With the pre-pandemic proliferation of "Instagram museums" or exhibits that purely serve as social media fodder, Meow Wolf's art-filled creation is further proof of how much fun can be had when an experience — one often imitated, but never duplicated — makes space for it. After Santa Fe's House of Eternal Return, Elitch Garden's Kaleidoscape ride and another permanent, immersive installation coming to Denver later this year, Omega Mart simply delivers, solidifying Meow Wolf's place as the industry leader.

If you want to experience Omega Mart without knowing anything in advance, heads up!

But, before you go, take note of current operating procedures: Meow Wolf is currently open to 80 percent capacity and requires masks throughout the experience. For a certain portion of Omega Mart — semi-spoilery — please mind the very specific dress code that must be adhered to in order to participate in that bit. (It's worth clicking to know what to wear!)

SPOILER WARNING: OK, from here, you're entering in the great beyond. Spoilers below!

Located at Las Vegas' AREA15, which reads like a blacklight-tinged investor's daydream after a childhood spent at Spencer's Gifts, Meow Wolf's permanent installation is easily the space's biggest draw. In total, Omega Mart is home to 60 "unique environments," where over 300 creatives crafted colorful, immersive experiences. You'll enter through the bizarre grocery, but quickly come to realize the store itself is just a series of portals into something much bigger. Travel through one of the many fridge facades or hidden entrances and you'll discover what's really going on here, why the lights keep flickering, and why it seems like all these snacks may bite back.

Turn one way and you'll encounter an office hiding more than one secret, go another way and you'll find yourself making improvised music alongside strangers with beams of light serving as the instruments. Omega Mart's backstory is tied to real-world issues — corporate greed, food additives, colonialism — and best-discovered day-of, but there's plenty to chew on for wannabe gumshoes and completionists who enjoy crossing tasks off a list. Here, you make your way through the exhibit by way of "boop" cards, or plastic credit cards that track your progress and unlock elements of the story throughout the entirety of the installation. (Or if you, like me, are mostly here to be awed and delighted, there are plenty of opportunities to simply revel in the colorful artwork while waiting for one's turn to blast down the "wormhole" slide into another dimension.)

Credit: Kate Russel / Meow Wolf

It's increasingly rare to experience something of this scale without intellectual property attached, but here there are no Minions, no Avengers, no Stormtroopers, nothing. Still, Meow Wolf's secret sauce is something special. Unlike Instagram-focused experiences that lean on the necessity for selfies, which seem to have gone by the wayside, this entertainment and art group's creations are distinctively different; here, I posted nothing of its deeper interiors to preserve Omega Mart's secrets for others. At times, it can be jarring to explore freely when most attractions these days hold your hand through detailed storylines tied to blockbuster films, but whether or not you find yourself wandering into a room where the best way out is to grab a rope and climb, you'll be glad you dove in.

In the end, my only complaint would be accessibility. The Las Vegas location has been, as I lovingly call it, "lawyered," with posted warnings on the ground and walls and even a wildly detailed dress code just to zip down the metal slides, but while walking up the steepest of staircases more than once, I found myself concerned that anyone with even a knee strain may not be able to enjoy the full extent of the space in the same way others can.

Regardless, there's nothing like emerging from another world back into Omega Mart's grocery store — a true exit through the gift shop — to drive home what this place is all about. At first, a storyline rooted in grocery stores, whose employees were quickly elevated to essential workers in the midst of a global pandemic, felt somewhat off-base. Now, on the far end of a year spent inside with vaccinations at long last available nationwide, it's shockingly refreshing to be in a store and be allowed to peruse freely, lapping up antibacterial goo in order to squish tangible objects like pillowy bags of chips and abnormal canned food. It's high time to enjoy one's self, and there are few better places to do that than right here at Omega Mart.

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