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. 

See further down this page for some key examples of genre-defining dark rides. 

Technologies used in dark rides:

MORE INFORMATION COMING SOON

Animatronics

Illusions

Lighting

Motion Vehicles

Enhanced Motion Vehicle (EMV) introduced on Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye (1995, Disneyland Resort)
Kuka Robotic Arms used on Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey at Universal parks

Projection

Pyrotechnics

Smell

Sound

  • Highly localised, often built into the ride vehicle. 

Track / Ride System

  • Floor Rail – Early Dark Rides used a fairground-type floor-mounted rail which provided a single route through the attraction and also provided electric power to drive the motors in each vehicle. 
  • Water – Log flume rides and boat rides (e.g. Pirates of the Caribbean / Jurassic Park the Ride) use a combination of underwater guides, conveyer belts, roller-coaster type steel track and flow control in the water (using pumps to move the water and anything floating on it) to move the vehicles through the attraction. 
  • Slot 
  • Overhead
  • OmniMover – Patented by Disney and first used on the Haunted Mansion (see below)
    Links: 1968 Patent
  • Trackless – Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) using LPS (Local Positioning System) technology, each vehicle is autonomous and follows through a sequence of scenes.
  • Rollercoaster (e.g. Revenge of the Mummy)

Controlling an AGV-Based Amusement Ride (December 2015)
[External Website]

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

Haunted House (1992)

Alton Towers, Staffordshire, UK

Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye (1995)

Disneyland Resort (1995)

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 (1999)
  • Universal Studios Japan (2004)

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

  • Disneyland Resort, 1995
  • Tokyo Disneyland

Revenge of the Mummy (2004)

Indoor rollercoaster / dark ride combination featuring a groundbreaking ride system. 

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey (2010)

 

Transformers: The Ride (2012)

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

Ratatouille (2014)

  • Disneyland Paris (July 2014)
  • Walt Disney World: Epcot (October 2021)

Ride Cost: US$270 million (from Wikipedia)
Ride System: LPS Trackless Motion Vehicles

Trackless ride vehicles move through a beautifully themed environment at the scale of a rat, while the adventures of Remy play out on a series of 3D digital projection screens. 

Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure (2016)

Shanghai Disneyland (2016)

Na’vi River Journey – Pandora (2017)

  • 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

The Enchanted Tale of Beauty and the Beast (2020)

  • Tokyo Disneyland (2020)

Stunning animatronics along with fluid motion from the trackless LPS ride vehicles and a jaw-dropping transformation make up for the somewhat breakneck pace of story development. 

The transformation scene uses the best example of Pepper’s Ghost seen yet. A triumph of lighting (demonstrating the importance of precision in what is lit and what is left dark). 

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