Dark Rides

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Dark Rides are a thoroughly immersive theatrical experience based in a theme park, where the guests move through a highly themed environment, as a story of some kind unfolds around them. 

Technologies used in dark rides:

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Animatronics

Illusions

Lighting

Motion Vehicles

Projection

Pyrotechnics

Smell

Sound

  • Highly localised, often built into the ride vehicle. 

Track

Considerations when designing a dark ride:

  • Visitor Throughput – As many visitors as possible should be able to experience the attraction, with as little wait-time as possible.
  • Accessibility – The attraction must be accessible to anyone visiting the theme park, apart from height restrictions on some ride systems.
  • Evacuation – The ride system must allow guests to be evacuated from any point in the ride in the event of an emergency.
  • Reliability and Safety – The attraction should require a minimum of consumables and maintenance during operation so that it can run for long hours without needing to be serviced. Any mechanical ride system should be regularly maintained – major theme parks carry out maintenance overnight, every night.

 


Dark Ride Timeline

Here are some examples of ground-breaking dark rides. 

Pretzel Dark Ride (1928)

Early type of dark ride using a single metal track running around a flat floor, with an additional ‘hot’ power rail.

The ride system was invented by the Pretzel Dark Ride Company in the USA.

Small 2 person vehicles run around the track, being twisted and turned to look at different exhibits (often scary ones). This type of ride was usually themed as a Ghost Train or Fun House. 

Peter Pan’s Flight (1955)

  • Disneyland 1955 – present

“Fly over London with Peter Pan aboard an enchanted pirate ship to Never Land.” (Disneyland Resort website, 2018)

One of the few remaining original attractions from the original Disneyland park, opened in 1955 and personally supervised by Walt Disney.

Pirates of the Caribbean (1967)

  • Disneyland 1967 – present

Tremendously atmospheric, and still a wonderful experience after years of being open. Guests board a boat, which travels back in time (by waterfall) back to a time of pirates. Some gorgeous lighting and wonderful animatronics (upgraded to include a Johnny Depp ‘Jack Sparrow’ animatronic in a few places) complete the illusion. 
The Blue Bayou restaurant, in the show building, is a great place for a meal after the ride. 

The Haunted Mansion (1969)

  • Disneyland – The Haunted Mansion (1969)
  • Disney World – The Haunted Mansion (1971)
  • Tokyo Disneyland – The Haunted Mansion (1983)
  • Disneyland Paris – Phantom Manor (1992)

Guests take an elevator down into the bowels of the Haunted Mansion, and after passing a gallery, they take a seat in a ‘Omnimover’ which travels around the attraction on a track, hidden from view. Unlike earlier ghost trains, the Omnimovers run on a continuous track. Due to the darkness, and very careful design of the ride vehicles, guests aren’t aware of each other. 

The actual ride takes place in a warehouse-type building just outside the edge of the theme park. The elevator enables guests to travel to a level where they can go under the railroad tracks that form the boundary of the Magic Kingdom. When they’re walking through the gallery of transforming portraits, they’re actually walking under the tracks into the show building. 

The ride system, based on the Omnimover vehicle patented by Disney in 1968, was built by Arrow Development. 

The E.T. Adventure 1990

Jurassic Park: The Ride 1996

Universal Studios Hollywood (1996)
More at our sister site theStudioTour.com

The Amazing Adventures of Spider-man

  • Universal Orlando – Islands of Adventure

Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye (also known as the Indiana Jones Adventure) 1995

  • Disneyland Resort, 1995
  • Tokyo Disneyland

Transformers: The Ride (2012)

A collaboration between Michael Bay and ILM, as well as Universal Creative, headed by Thierry Coup

Na’vi River Journey – Pandora

  • Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom, Florida (2017)

A stunning new-generation of animatronic has been introduced, in the form of the Shaman of Songs. She performs with a fluidity never before seen from an animatronic figure.
Official website

Peter Pan Ride, Peter Pan’s Flight, Peter Pans Flight, Peter Pan Flight Ride