Scottsdale

The UFO Experience at Arizona Boardwalk in Scottsdale Asks, ‘Are We Alone?'

Eighty million Americans believe UFOs are real, and 10 percent have reported seeing one personally. This replica at Arizona Boardwalk is not one of them.
Eighty million Americans believe UFOs are real, and 10 percent have reported seeing one personally. This replica at Arizona Boardwalk is not one of them. Geri Koeppel
The UFO Experience, the newest attraction at Arizona Boardwalk in Scottsdale, explores reports of UFOs, alien abductions, extraterrestrial depictions in Hollywood, and more. And it’s already is attracting crowds of the alien-curious as well as gung-ho enthusiasts: In fact, the first person through the door at the official opening on December 13 wore a full latex alien head throughout the exhibit.

With two-thirds of Americans believing intelligent life exists on other planets and more than 6,000 UFO sightings reported in the country each year, UFOs is a topic that Ran Knishinsky, managing partner of Arizona Boardwalk, expected would resonate with guests.

"I think that there’s more of an openness to the subject matter” than there was even a decade ago, he says, “and people simply want to understand, and they want answers as far as the unexplained mysteries that surround us.” Knishinsky asks, “How do we account for so many mysteries that just befuddle?”

Because the government recently allocated money to officially investigate the phenomenon, he says it’s an especially relevant time to introduce this attraction, which will run one to two years.

“It’s a very interesting time to ask ourselves the question, ‘Are we alone?,’” says Knishinsky. And on a personal note, he adds, “Statistically speaking, I find it credible to believe we’re not the only ones in our universe and that there are other forms of life.”

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Look for the little green men to signal you've arrived at the UFO Experience on the second floor of Arizona Boardwalk.
Geri Koeppel

The experience starts with a roughly eight-minute film giving an overview of the exhibit. The galleries include videos and recordings, from the classic Alien Autopsy film released in 1995 to 911 calls reporting UFOs and the May 2022 Congressional hearings on UFOs.

Some galleries display information about historically notable sightings, including the Phoenix Lights, a 1997 phenomenon in which thousands of Arizona residents reported a string of lights in the sky. One gallery explores the possibility of aliens in ancient times, while another deals with hard science, such as space propulsion.

Still other galleries showcase Hollywood’s take on aliens, with replicas from the lovable creature from the film E.T. to the nightmare-inducing xenomorph in the Alien movies and a photo opp with the Men in Black. Surprisingly, no real estate is given to more recent pop culture hits like the series Resident Alien.

Much of the exhibit is placard-heavy, requiring spans of reading and/or watching videos. Acacia Towers, who saw the UFO Experience while visiting the Valley from Boston, says, “I learned a lot, and I read up on UFOs and aliens frequently.” It included many photos and videos she’d never seen, she says, adding, “I probably could’ve spent 10 more hours in it.”

However, it’s billed for all ages and includes goofy, kid-friendly activities like a “moon surface” bounce house and an alien dummy with gooey guts for kids to touch.

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Karin Korpowski-Gallo, director of public relations and social media for Arizona Boardwalk, and Ran Knishinsky, managing partner, pose with the Men in Black.
Geri Koeppel

Arizona Boardwalk worked with a production company to make the content and is in talks to partner on special events with MUFON, the acronym for the Mutual UFO Network. Founded in 1969, it’s the world’s largest reporting agency for UFO sightings and looks into those reports with its own certified field investigators.

Stacy Wright, director of Phoenix MUFON and state director of MUFON's Arizona chapter, says 92 percent of UFO sightings are eventually explained. “It could be a planet; it could be a star they’re seeing,” she says. Or, it could be a commercial aircraft, satellite, balloon, or even a bird that unexpectedly showed up in a photo.

Those and the other 8 percent of reports that remain a mystery keep the field investigators busy. “Thousands of reports come in to MUFON each year,” Wright says, with about 300 in Arizona alone.

Wright saw the exhibit the weekend after it opened with four MUFON field investigators and says while it was a little more commercial and Hollywood than she expected, “They covered a lot of historical data, too,” from a supposed alien spacecraft crash in 1947 in Roswell, N.M. to present day.

Overall, Wright says, “They did a great job,” specifically mentioning that the gift shop, with its alien T-shirts and plush UFO toys, was “wonderful.”

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In contrast to some of the scarier elements of the UFO Experience, the gift shop is awash in cuddly spaceship toys, cute T-shirts, and other souvenirs.
Geri Koeppel

However, Wright was taken aback at the “alien shooting gallery” game, even though she says she understands it’s supposed to be fun. “To be taking potshots, basically, at another species we share the universe with seemed a little more warlike than I would have expected,” she says, adding that there’s no evidence that aliens are benevolent or malevolent.

On the upside, Wright is happy that the UFO Experience might start more conversations and make people aware of MUFON, which has monthly meetings in Tempe that are open to the public. “Exhibits like this, of course, they’re educating people to the fact that we are not alone,” she notes. “One of MUFON’s roles is to educate the public that we are not alone.”

To be clear, though, Knishinsky says, “I think it’s important to be critical in one’s thinking and not be easily swept up in a lot of the fervor around aliens.”

He also notes, “We’re not seeking to change anybody’s opinion or push people to believer status. We’re just taking the information that’s out there and sharing it in a way that’s easy for guests to learn, but also fun and entertaining.”

The UFO Experience. 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, with the last entrance 45 minutes prior to closing. Arizona Boardwalk, 9500 East Via de Ventura, Suite E250, Scottsdale. Cost is $19.95 for adults and $16.95 ages 12 and under, with combination tickets for this plus one, two, or three other Arizona Boardwalk attractions — OdySea Aquarium, Butterfly Wonderland, and/or Pangea Land of the Dinosaurs — available at a discount. Call 480-291-5083 or visit theufoexperience.com.
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Geri Koeppel is a professional writer, voracious reader, devoted traveler, and an amateur cook, wine drinker, birder and tennis player. She's lived and worked in Detroit, San Francisco, and Phoenix.
Contact: Geri Koeppel

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