General

The Queen’s Ball: A Review

A couple of weeks ago, I went to the Bridgerton Experience: The Queen’s Ball! And while I enjoyed myself, I…. also have Notes.

While there are a lot of highlights, I confess that I don’t really feel like I got my money’s worth. If you’re thinking about going, well, maybe this will help you decide. I went to the DC location, and I am someone who also works in immersive theatre, so my observations are coming from that perspective. Some of the things I would do differently would also cost more money — but considering how much Fever is raking in from this, I think their profit margin would still be fine. Other things are easy fixes that would cost literally nothing.

Please note that there will be lots and lots of spoilers below. If you would rather attend the Queen’s Ball entirely unspoiled, click away now!

Location

The DC location was… not great. It’s at a sound studio in the middle of a warehouse district. When that news broke a few months ago, people questioned it, and the Bridgerton Experience IG assured us that it would be beautiful. Something about “easier to build up and create something new”.

They… sort of did that. There are lots of stage elements that look great. The wisteria walk going in is as beautiful as it looks on social media. But it’s impossible to avoid the knowledge that you are in a giant black box. The floor is unimpressive. The walls are unimpressive except for the few spots where they’d draped curtains or put up a set piece. The lighting is really not very flattering, which is odd for something where you know people are going to want good pictures of themselves.

My group paid for VIP tickets, which got you a prosecco and a special seating area. The seating area is only for the floor show, however, and they’re not actually great seats — you’re really far from the action. I didn’t use it at all. I wish we’d had access to it earlier, though, because juggling a purse, phone, ticket, scandal sheet, gloves, and drink got very challenging for all of us. Just having that little table to put things down on while we explored would’ve been great.

The location is also 15 minutes from the nearest Metro stop, through a part of town that would not be great or easy walking even if you weren’t wearing a ballgown. You pretty much had to either drive yourself — which, driving in DC, no thank you, plus we were all in from out of town — or pay for a Lyft. (They had valet parking for people who drove, but I have no idea if it was included in the ticket price or not, since we didn’t do that).

This all meant that there was not a real sense of occasion as you approached. I feel like more could’ve been done to spruce up the entry area, but really, I wish this was in a hotel like the LA and Chicago versions of the event. This just felt cheap. The moment of entry — and, for that matter, the process of re-entry to the real world — is an important component of crafting an immersive experience. This one misses the mark.

You can’t do it all

For something billed as an “experience,” I expected more time to soak it all in. I would’ve loved the chance to luxuriate in a lush fantasy atmosphere.

Instead, we found ourselves chivvied along every step of the way. We arrived about five minutes after the doors opened but ten minutes before the show officially “started.” As soon as we stepped into the wisteria walk and started trying to get photos and video, one of the event staff was trying to shoo us along. It wasn’t like we were holding up a line — the walk was plenty big enough for all the people who wanted in at the time we were there.

Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I can see why this staffer was being pushy. She was trying to communicate that there was not enough time to do everything in the room itself. But that, in itself, is a problem, and feeling rushed right at the start did not help me feel like I was sinking into the world.

A group of women in fancy dresses

One of my easy fixes would be to print the schedule of events for the evening on the Lady Whistledown Scandal Sheet that you get handed as you come in. It would be so easy and cost literally nothing, and it could’ve clued us in to the fact that you really do have a very short amount of time in the first room, which you don’t get to come back to once the floor show starts.

We got in and first decided to stand in line for another photo op. I sort of wish we hadn’t — it wasn’t that great a photo op, because the hanging beads obscure everyone’s faces, and standing in line there was time we could’ve better spent elsewhere.

Know that if you go, you will likely have to prioritize what you want to do. I prioritized the scandal scavenger hunt and dancing, which meant I missed out entirely on getting a fancy portrait, and I had no real time to look at any of the costumes from the show that were on display. I had friends who stood in line for the portrait, so I know how long a wait it was. They told me later that the set-up there seemed inefficient, too. There’s only one person taking the portraits, and then you go to an “easel” to customize it — but if you take more than one shot, like a group shot and and individual, you’re taking up two easels rather than sending both of your pictures to the same one. This is, I’m guessing, why the line moved so slowly.

As for the scavenger hunt… honestly, that was a big let-down. I love things like that, but this one felt severely underbaked. You followed a set of clues, starting with the Whistledown scandal sheet. Each clue sent you to a new card with a different symbol on it, in a different part of the room. Well. Sort of a different part of the room. Most locations actually had multiple cards at them. The idea was that you’d ping-pong back and forth, I guess?

A card with clue information on it, stuck in a false window

But by that point I was catching on to the idea that we were short on time, so I just… took pictures of all the cards at each location and was going to assemble them in my head, rather than wasting time running back and forth. Except then I figured out pretty quickly which was the last card in the sequence. It tells you to go to a certain location and give a password, which I did — and the lady there just…. revealed another card essentially saying “good job.” It would’ve been a lot more satisfying if they’d had, like, little enamel pins or something for people who got to the end of the clue-chain.

Partway through this block of time, the Queen enters and everyone has a chance to make their curtsey or bow. This is when she starts selecting potential Diamonds. Those who impress her get handed a card as they leave. I’m not sure what you’re supposed to do to impress her with your curtsey, because none of the five women in my group got a card! I even tried twice, because Lady Whistledown’s sheet suggests it! — but no dice. She was having none of me. There’s a Lady-Whistledown-esque voiceover narrating things, which is pretty funny to listen to. The Queen doesn’t speak at all, which is a bit boring for someone used to Renaissance faire interactions.

Eventually a Lord Something-Or-Other appears to show off for the Queen, then he leads a short Regency dance. Unfortunately, while I desperately wanted to participate, I couldn’t hear a word he was saying. If you weren’t one of the couples at the top of the line, you just sort of had to guess and try to follow along as best you could. This seems like an easy fix — the Queen was no longer watching curtseys at that point, so why not have the not-Whistledown voiceover give the dance instruction? Then everyone would actually be able to hear it.

After this (and I think this was about at the halfway point of the evening, so 45 minutes in that room), the Queen exits and focus shifts to the next room. We realized then that we hadn’t gotten the drinks included with our VIP tickets, so we dashed to the bar cart to claim those — and there were, again, event staff getting really pushy with us to get us into the next room. We didn’t realize until later that you couldn’t go back to the first room once you left — I guess they started cleaning and resetting for the second performance of the day then. I wonder if we would’ve felt so rushed along if we’d attended the later time.

The floor show

This is absolutely spectacular. The performers were beautiful dancers, full of life and personality.

Dancers at the Bridgerton Ball

I liked that this portion of the evening alternated between “watching” and “doing.” It was really great to watch super-talented people creating something beautiful! But I am also someone who likes doing — particularly in an immersive environment! That, to me, is sort of the point. I’m not there just to observe; I’m there to be a part of things. So I was delighted that there were group dance portions, too.

The dance was simple, more modern than Regency but still with some historical flourishes, and, this time, I could actually hear the actor calling it. No idea if people further down the line could, though, but she was doing her best. And I’ve done that, at Ren faires and special events and conventions. It’s hard. It takes a good sense of the rhythm, an ability to give directions crisply and quickly, and unflagging energy. This woman had just danced for several minutes herself and was about to dance several more, so major kudos to her for managing to also lead us through something fun.

Lady Whistledown’s sheet advises anyone who hopes to be the Diamond not to be shy on the dance floor, so if that’s something you’re aiming for, get out there! Participate in the group dances, claim a moment in the center when that opportunity arises, and look like you’re having a good time.

You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here

All the parts of the floor show together lasted about half an hour, I think? Then the Queen named her Diamond and it turned into a dance party.

For fifteen minutes.

And then the event staff were back to chivvying us. I totally understand why! They needed to clean and reset for the 9pm show. But it was still less-than-optimal. Getting pushed along by guys in black polos just doesn’t feel special, y’know? And an immersive experience should feel special.

This is another place where the location is a let-down. At a fancy hotel, you could continue your evening! Stroll through the lobby, get drinks at the bar, wind down while still feeling fancy. Instead, we were in a dimly lit parking lot having difficulties securing a Lyft driver.

In summary:

This might’ve been worth the $45 regular ticket. It was definitely not worth the VIP ticket. My biggest wish is that the event was just longer. Honestly, three hours would’ve been great. You could have music playing for more of the time but also allow for more exploration.

Honestly, I’d have loved if the scavenger hunt were more involved and more difficult, too — like if there were other actors you had to get information with, or puzzles to solve, not just following a series of cards. You could also use that, frankly, to push people to the other places to spend money! Have certain clues that you can only get by talking to the bartender or the modiste, and I bet people would buy more while they were there.

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