June 16, 2024
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June 16, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

The Garden State Mall is quietly ascending towards becoming a premier spot for entertainment ventures. Activities there include AMC Dreamscape (see February 17, 2022 Jewish Link), AMC movie theater, Sunday’s Farmers Market, The Floral Escape, Me in 3D, the circus (seasonally), a NERF Action Xperience coming in 2023, and its newest interactive experience, Arena STEM. My wife, Ahuva, and I received an exclusive tour of Arena STEM from the store’s owner, Sergei Manevich. The store features eight STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) activities and challenges.

Walking into the location, we were greeted by a friendly employee who took our names for our appointment. He told us to wait while he notified Sergei of our arrival, and that we were free to roam around. Curious, Ahuva and I wandered, soaking in the store’s impressive setup. A large shallow pool on the left side had numerous remote-controlled boats in the blue water. Straight ahead was the checkout counter selling various animatronics such as remote-controlled cars, drones, robots, toy models of castles and buildings, and other interesting gadgets.

After a few minutes of waiting, Sergei arrived and introduced himself. He shared how he was originally from Moscow. In the past, he owned a few hobby shops selling merchandise and games. After extensive research on the latest trends for fun family activities, he founded Arena STEM. Initially, the location was supposed to be at the Palisades Mall in New York, but due to COVID complications, it was switched to the Garden State Mall. The store officially opened in January 2022.

First, Sergei took us to the back right room where the virtual reality (VR) setup was located. On the floor was a clear space with tape outlining a grid for VR gameplay. We chose not to play on the VR machine because we wanted to focus our time on the other play areas. Sergei introduced us to one of his employees, Arnaz, who was our leading guide for the remainder of our tour.

Arnaz brought us back to the front of Arena STEM to try the station at the stunning pool. The pool was so clear that we were able to see our own reflections. In the pool were six remote-controlled boats, which Arnaz told us could reach speeds of 30 miles per hour. Several floating buoys stood on the inside of the pool, mapping out a lap lane for boat racing. There were also mini-soccer goals on both ends of the pool and a floating mini-ball for water soccer, which operates by using the boats to push the ball into the opposing nets to score goals.

Ahuva and I didn’t attempt either game; instead, we chose freestyle play in the water. Each boat was connected to a remote-control device. The control had a joystick spinner for steering and a side trigger that could be pulled down to make the boat go faster or pulled up for breaks. We enjoyed operating it for a few minutes and then headed to the next station.

On the side of Arena STEM was the designated aviator room called the “Flying Field.” Dangling from the 22-foot ceiling were rows of lit-up circular and diamond hoops where our task was to fly remote-controlled drones through each shape. The drones had a blue plastic ball around them to protect users from the propellers and to prevent the drones from breaking when they dropped to the floor. Sergei came back and let us fly the drones around. I had never flown a drone before and enjoyed navigating it and doing special maneuvers with it, such as making it do a flip. There were also landing platforms that Sergei explained were used for races. He was working on a drone soccer game, using the hoops as goals and a flying ball.

Next, we headed to the vehicle stations, where we tried the On-road, Off-road and Crawlers courses for remote-controlled cars. The On-road course looked like a mini NASCAR track with lanes and a windy path. The vehicles drove up to 30 mph and required a remote-control device similar to the one for the boats in the pool using a spinning joystick. For children, they also had Mario and Yoshi cars with a more straightforward remote control that just had buttons for left, right, backward and forward. I liked using the kids’ car more because it felt similar to playing the Mario Kart video game in real life and was easier to navigate. We were told that the cars were delicate, so we had to be careful not to crash into walls at a fast speed to avoid damaging them. Customers can also bring homemade remote-control vehicles to race on the track. A large whiteboard displayed the leading times and the names of individuals who raced the fastest lap on the course.

The Off-road course utilized more rugged cars, reminding me of mini monster trucks. They could climb over the course’s walls and go on ramps to do cool stunts, such as flipping over and jumping. We didn’t have to worry if these cars crashed because they are highly durable and difficult to break, even when traveling at 25 mph. I enjoyed this course more because it was fun doing tricks without worrying about breaking the machine. However, the On-road course was better for those seeking to compete because it was a more real race track course.

Last, the Crawlers section was a rocky formation course with remote-controlled vehicles with two motors for front and back wheels. The vehicles reminded me of the ones from the Off-road cars, but the Crawlers cars were much larger and had proportionally much bigger wheels that took up more than half of each one’s size. These giant wheels and the two motors allow the cars to climb up on rocks, enabling them never to get stuck, unless they accidentally flip over. There were even several wooden bridges to steer the Crawler cars over, making us feel like we were Indiana Jones crossing the dangerous bridge in the “Temple of Doom” film.

There were several other stations that we didn’t get to visit. First was a battlefront station allowing users to fight robots controlled by computers. There was also a slot cars course at the entrance and an archery area near the VR station, but both were under maintenance during our visit. Finally, there was a 3D printing section that could bring generated designs to life.

Arena STEM offers STEM-related classes to schools, scouts, friends and families to enhance children’s learning. Field trips to Arena STEM are both fun and educational. Additionally, one can host birthday parties where participants can play at each station for 30 minutes. In fact, Sundays are entirely designated for birthday parties, so make sure to call in advance if you want to book an event!

Overall, Ahuva and I had a wonderful time checking out all of the different stations at Arena STEM. We especially enjoyed the competitive aspect of many of the activities and the challenge of navigating the vehicles through the various terrains. My favorite part was the Flying Field because I had never flown a drone before, and it was thrilling to feel like a pilot.

Especially considering its proximity, I recommend Arena STEM as a must-do attraction. Walk through the store and see which exhibits excite you the most, then try them out. For those looking to save money, Arena STEM also has group discounts on Groupon.

I look forward to revisiting Arena STEM and the other fun attractions at the Garden State Mall soon.

Admission: Starting at $25 for 20 minutes, bundle options are offered at a reduced cost. See website for details. Also, be sure to look for group deals on Groupon.

Hours: 11a.m.-7 p.m.; On Sundays by appointment only.

Address: 1 Garden State Plaza Blvd, Paramus, NJ 07652

Location: Level 2 (by H&M and Neiman Marcus)

Phone: (201) 301-8144

Website: www.arenastem.com

Unique Feature: Seven STEM-related stations that are fun for everyone!

Zachary Greenberg is a health and benefits consultant at Mercer and is the TABC track coach. In 2014, Zachary helped the TABC History Bowl team take first place in the regional championships. Additionally, he recently watched the new comedic horror film “The Menu,” in theaters now. If you have any recommendations of fun places for Zachary to cover, please email him at [email protected].

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