Attraction of the week: Knott's Berry Farm's Mystery Lodge
Published: September 24, 2012 at 11:40 AM
Knott's has been pursuing thrill seekers in recent years, with its chain-wide "Ride Warriors" ad campaign. But Mystery Lodge calls back to the park Knott's once was, before the Cedar Fair buyout, when the park offered rich themes - and a dash of education - along with its thrills.
Mystery Lodge opened in 1994, one of the last attractions added to Knott's Berry Farm before its sale to Cedar Fair. Created by Bob Rogers' BRC Imagination Arts, Mystery Lodge shares both a setting and a visual effects trick that Rogers had used in a similar show for the General Motors pavilion at Vancouver's Expo 86 world's fair.
So what's the trick? We'll get to that in a minute. But let's set the scene first, shall we? Mystery Lodge offers what might be Knott's best themed and decorated queue, a walk past rockwork and water features inspired by the Pacific Northwest, where the story you'll soon experience is set. Once inside the show building, you enter an "outdoor" scene, designed to look like the entrance to a Native America longhouse, at the magic hour of twilight.
After a short introduction by your host, you'll enter a plain theater, facing a glass wall. Behind it, you see into the longhouse, where an elderly Native America storyteller greets you. A fire burns in the middle of the room. As smoke from the fire twists into shapes, the storyteller believes he sees an owl in the smoke, which he tells us is a symbol of death. That prompts the man to share stories and reflect upon his past, which collectively help illustrate the Pacific Northwest Native American experience.
Photo courtesy BRC Imagination Arts
And then, the end of the show happens. I won't spoil it here, but even after watching Mystery Lodge countless times, I still consider its ending one of the neatest effects in the theme park business. Friends with stagecraft experience say it's a Pepper's Ghost trick, from the same family of visual effects that enabled the Tupac "hologram" that went viral after this year's Coachella festival. (Take a look back at the Mystery Lodge building from the outside sometime. Doesn't it look a lot bigger than the size of the interior theater would suggest? Is that a clue that something tricky's happening?)
But you don't need to be a theme park design geek and know how Rogers and his team made the effect to appreciate it, because the effect only adds to the warm and wonderful script that truly animates this show.
Under new Cedar Fair CEO Matt Ouimet, the former president of Disneyland, Knott's seems to be taking steps to change its recent course toward becoming an iron park aimed solely at thrill seekers. Knott's is revamping its food selections and bringing back theme-appropriate background music to Ghost Town. If Ouimet really wants to make a play for the theme park fans who are pushing the Disneyland Resort to record attendance (even after its recent price increases), I hope he finds some inspiration in Mystery Lodge. While I think this show alone merits a visit to Knott's by dedicated theme park fans, adding an attraction or two with the same level of theming and storytelling would help elevate Knott's back to elite theme park status.