By Kelas Lloyd

Paramount+ brought together what they’ve learned over the years and, teamed up with 15|40 Productions, created a stand-out activation this year. Guests to The Lodge can participate in activities from several Paramount+ properties, though SpongeBob SquarePants is just a photo op, Pet Semetary is a more-interactive photo op, and the CBS sports portion is items on the wall next to a shuffleboard table.

The busiest portion by a significant factor is the Star Trek: Lower Decks caricature corner, where three artists quickly draw attendees with (reportedly) an animation of it then involved. The line during press preview got extremely long very quickly, and from what I could tell is going to be the chokepoint of the entire activation; everything else moves at a faster pace and/or is simpler. If you want to participate in this, make it your first priority.

While in last year’s Ten Forward activation the upstairs portion was inaccessible, this year the team took the time to have an ADA lift on hand with an attendant ready to wheel it into place. The turf that was at the outdoor portion last year that was awful for wheelchairs is gone and replaced by a carpeting that’s far easier for wheels to handle, so they’ve made significant upgrades on the accessibility side. There’s also a lot more room to navigate; last year’s issue where you could easily get stuck in a small portion of the area and not get anywhere else has been solved. There’s also a separate ADA line for entrance to the right-hand side of the lodge if you’re facing it head-on which will ease the strain SDCC puts on a lot of our bodies. The only thing someone using a wheelchair might be unable to participate in is the SpongeBob photo op.

The portion that will probably move second-slowest for general admission is the interesting Special Ops: Lioness portion. Three guests can sit at the table at a time and take a shot at solving three puzzles in under a minute each for a character card that purports to match their aptitude. It’s entertaining, and due to the time limit it moves steadily.

Ink Master has a decent amount of airbrush tattoo selections and it takes seconds to spray them on, so if this develops a line, expect it to move really fast.

Attendees get two drink tickets and one food ticket upon entry, and every beverage requires a drink ticket. The beverage options are cold brew or iced tea at the Transformers section (that has a very cool mural,) an excellent cocktail or root beer in the 1923 section that also contains an old-timey photo op, and then a bar in the wider, more open Good Burger 2/ Star Trek: Lower Decks / Ink Master / Pet Semetary section that has the cocktail, a mocktail,and presumably other options. The sliders come in cheeseburger, hamburger, or vegan options, and they’re decent little burgers, especially for the price of free.

Last but not least is the Yellowjackets portion of the activation. While early reports made it seem like there was a puzzle to be solved to get the playing cards, it’s actually very quick and straightforward. If you want the cards, you’ll walk away with them. I also received a small jar of honey from that section though it’s unclear as to whether or not that will be available outside of the press preview.

The entire activation itself is a really creative modular structure that’s already been used in three previous locations, including SXSW. It’s good to know that this isn’t a build that’s used once before heading straight to the landfill the way many do, and 15|40 Productions did an excellent job in clearly delineating the various properties’ areas as well as making them feel unique. The flow isn’t straightforward, but that works as a plus since it means people are free to prioritize what matters to them or easily skip sections where they feel a wait is too long. I did hear of the caricature line being capped a few times though, so again, make that a priority if that’s something you want and expect to spend a bit of time standing in a line as Good Burger employees slide around you with trays of sliders.

Craig Waldman, president and Chief Creative Officer for 15|40 Productions, was present for the opening of The Lodge this weekend and seemed very pleased by what his team had put together and how it’s been used. While they most often do red carpet/premiere set ups, they’ve worked with Paramount in the past and seem to have a good working relationship there, so maybe we can continue to see deeper activations coming from this collaboration.

I’ve got to say, in terms of what I saw Wednesday night, The Lodge is ranking pretty high when it comes to the best activations this year. It’s hindered by the fact that Paramount still hasn’t delivered a fully accessible activation, and that might be the thing that keeps it from being my top pick. We’ll see as this year continues.

Miss any of our earlier SDCC ’23 coverage? Find it all here!

(Updated 7/21 9:45 PM Eastern with updated information on accessibility.)