The 2000s were the decade of the roller coaster. Can dark rides come back in the 2010s?
By Robert NilesIt wasn't until I dug into the numbers from this year's Best Theme Park Attraction Tournament that I really understood how much more exciting the roller coaster side of the theme and amusement park industry has been than the dark ride side over the past decade. (Hey, I am a numbers geek; I need numbers to fully understand things.)
Published: April 8, 2010 at 2:04 PM
Let's take a look at the attractions that you nominated for this year's Best Attraction Tournament, by your high average reader ratings. Except let's restrict this list to attractions that debuted in a year that started with the number "2."
1. Cedar Point's Millennium Force [Intamin Giga/Mega] *(whoops - forgot this one initially)
But only six dark rides from the 2000s made that bracket. That averages about one ride every other year:
3. Universal Studios Florida's Revenge of the Mummy
Take a closer look, and picture becomes even more lopsided. The top two of the recent rides in the Best Themed Ride bracket are based on roller coaster ride systems. They were included in the Themed Ride bracket due to their animation and story elements, but each has been criticized for non-functioning animation elements. And in the case of Everest, the non-functioning element is the Yeti that's supposed to be the heart of the ride. Not good times.
DarKastle's taken lumps for occasional break-downs, as well, even as uptime on roller coasters has been increasing over the decade, at least according to what I've heard from people in the industry. (The highly popular Bolliger & Mabillard models have outstanding uptime records.)
So what's left on the dark ride side?
Soarin' Over California - an IMAX-style movie with a mild ride element to move viewers into place in front of the screen.
Toy Story Midway Mania - a fun 3-D video game, but one that reduces to a spinning cart moving you from one giant TV set to the next.
Men in Black Alien Attack - a truly immersive, interactive dark ride, but that hits its 10th birthday this year.
Sure, we've got some fun rides here, but, frankly, I'm not surprised that they failed to generate the excitement that their roller coaster cousins delivered. Perhaps that's why the winner on the Best Themed Ride side was a 40-year-old Omnimover ride (Disney's Haunted Mansion). And that ride got slaughtered by Holiday World's The Voyage, which endured much tougher battles in the roller coaster bracket than it did with Mansion or the winner from the Show side of the tournament (Disney's Fantasmic!)
What's a dark ride fan to do? Well, like many of us, I'm looking longingly at the impending opening of Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey at Universal's Islands of Adventure, hoping that its blend of an immersive walk-through, Kuka robot arm technology and high-definition film-making will reinvigorate the dark ride side of the industry, inspiring more companies to invest in this form of theme park storytelling.
Help might be on the way from Disney, too, as the company invests in major new dark rides at Disney's California Adventure, including The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Adventure and Radiator Springs Racers in the park's new Cars Land.
Let's face it - the 2000s were an underwhelming decade for themed dark ride fans. Here's hoping that the 2010s turn out much, much better.
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