Busch Gardens gives up on its award-winning Curse of DarKastle
Busch Gardens Williamsburg has announced that it has closed Curse of DarKastle, the 2005 winner of the Theme Park Insider Award for Best New Attraction.
A 3D motion-base ride in the style of Universal's Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, Curse of DarKastle was the most ambitious attempt at that time by a regional park to create a multi-media dark ride attraction to rival those found at the Disney and Universal theme parks. Set in a frozen castle ruled by the mad King Ludwig, the ride took visitors on a tour of the castle in golden sleighs, during which they encounter the mad king and narrowly escape the traps he has set for them.
Busch Gardens today posted a ride video to its Facebook page, as a farewell to the attraction.
This is the first time that a park has closed a winner of our Theme Park Insider Award for Best New Attraction. Maintaining the complex (and expensive) ride and show systems that Curse of DarKastle required proved too much for Busch Gardens and its parent SeaWorld, which were spun off from former parent Anheuser-Busch (and its deep corporate pockets) in 2009. The attraction also was hampered by the dark tone of its narrative and its original storyline, which many visitors found incomprehensible, as it did not reference any familiar entertainment franchise. All that didn't help drive the attendance that might have allowed the park to justify the ride's operational expense.
But the ambitious original story that frustrated some Busch Gardens visitors also thrilled many theme park fans, who had been waiting for a regional park to take on an original dark ride project to challenge Disney and Universal. Now that cause rests with Six Flags' Justice League Battle for Metropolis rides, which won our Best New Attraction award a decade later, in 2015.
Busch Gardens will replace DarKastle with a special events venue. The park is asking fans to comment on its Facebook page to choose the name of the new venue, from the options Gartensburg Castle, NewKastle, and Oktoberfest Palaste.
Our opening review of Curse of DarKastle:
Rate and review the park:
Budget cuts like this are why Merlin should purchase the Busch Gardens parks (and most likely their respective water parks, too).
Getting rid of attractions is not how to bring in more customers.
I'm sadden and disappointed that Busch Gardens has decided to close Dark Castle. My grandkids and I visit quite often and they enjoy riding this attraction. There are limited rides for kids with height 42-54 inches. You remove this ride and that is one less ride for them. I'm at a loss Busch Gardens. I truly hope you made the right decision.
This does not bode well for those of us hoping that not every new ride at Disney and Universal will be based on their IP. I wasn't very optimistic about any of them coming up with something original before.
Utterly terrible. Busch Gardens Williamsburg was a park I used to dream of visiting. Now it's turning into another coaster park. In that case, I'd rather just visit Cedar Point (at least they have more than a day's worth of rides).
It was always fun to take a break from the Heat and go into the Dark Castle and ride it
Jorge Arnoldson actually Merlin is having a bad time at some of its parks, especially Alton Towers, and it has been closing some rides (Charlie and the chocolate factory) and reducing park hours (next year).
The writing has been on the wall for some time now. Outside Fridays and Saturdays, there was never more than a 10 minute wait. The graphics and imaging are so out of date, and again patrons just didn't care for it.
That's unfortunate, the attraction looks really cool (never been on it). I actually like it when an attraction has its own storyline, makes you step into a new world and not into something you already know. Also makes me wonder how lazy(?) some people can be, the story seems pretty clear to me from the video after all.
I thought the narrative was hard to follow. It was hard to hear the characters talk. Also, the ride made me and others sick to their stomach.
Amazing, every time I visit the park, lines are 45 minutes to an hour. Should have realized something was up when they put in another event in the castle for Christmas town. We will see with the new Fairy ride coming this spring, but it appears the park is going down hill.
I will miss that ride. It was the only one that I could ride.
It's sad. The ride and queue had really amazing theming. I remember standing in line forever to ride. But in years past, the queue house was almost always empty. The original story made no sense and was hard to understand .... and i can enjoy a good narrative. The one in the video above is the one they changed to in its second season. It was fun but hokey. Im eager to see what they do with the space. Hope they keep the theming!
This is very sad, as a pass member holder for over 12 years, it makes me think why. As this ride seem to be the one that always had a waiting line compared to the coasters. Then the concerns of Christmas town children area being closed to the little ones. I may give up my passes and do so thing else worth the money I pay for 6 passes.
It's really a shame to lose Curse of DarKastle. We've been BG pass members for years and we always made time to go on this ride. The story didn't really matter; the special effects were cool. I had a bad feeling about the future of DarKastle when they turned it into a Santa meet-and-greet during Christmas Town. I just wish BG would have given us one more season to ride before closing it.
This had been rumored after the attraction was converted for a Howl-O-Scream maze in the fall. I was hoping it was just speculation, but the reality of this announcement is extremely disappointing. I'm personally very connected to this attraction since it was the first major media event I covered on behalf of Theme Park Insider. Nothing I've covered since has come close to matching the excitement or anticipation that was palpable when DarKastle opened. No North American park outside of Orlando or SoCal had attempted such an ambitious project, and while the final product was not without flaws, it was still a landmark for theme park fans searching for immersion outside of the Disney and Universal parks.
It's hard to imagine BG without Dark Kastle. The story was part of the adventure. Must everything be for the faint of heart? Many of us "Boomers" still enjoy the thrill of the ride.
big mistake! That ride was awesome!!! It also gave visitors who don't like to ride coasters something else to go on. Very sad. I hope they re think this!!
This is really, really terrible. BUSCH GARDENS . . . WHAT IN THE WORLD ARE YOU THINKING?? Why not just close the whole park. . . this really stinks to high heaven. . .
They can still turn it into a shooting attraction. Maybe the attraction is much less popular and people aren't riding it much.
I don't think that's a possibility at this point Anton. Converting an attraction like DarKastle into a shooting-gallery attraction ala Men in Black or Justice League would not only require retrofitting all of the rooms with targets, but a complete revamping of the ride vehicles to including the guns and scoring systems. If the park was having trouble fitting the current operation and maintenance costs into the budget (the rumored reason as to why it needed to close), then where in the world would they find the money to not only perform the conversion but to also maintain an even more complicated attraction? The ride, while not drawing massive lines anymore, was still relatively popular, so I doubt simply refreshing it would achieve the desired affect from park bean counters.
You broke my heart when you said that guests being confused by the story line was a reason they are removing this attraction. I can understand how expense of maintenance, or lack of popularity could be a drivers to remove an attraction. I don't think many would argue that one reason Jaws "bit" the big one was the high cost of keeping that attraction going. I just think it is so sad that presumed ignorance of the audience should be a reason to remove or change an attraction.
I don't think Robert cited the story line as one of the reasons why the ride is being closed, just that it was one of the common minor complaints cited on an otherwise highly-rated attraction. Every attraction has its warts, and unfortunately DarKastle suffered from a difficult to understand story arc (so much so that some of the scenes were modified to simplify the narrative after the attraction's 2nd season), but also lack of accessibility to characters and locations not widely known through a popular IP. Ultimately DarKastle is being shut down because it was costly to operate and maintain, and the park managers did not see the value in keeping it open. They were spending more running the ride than it was theoretically bringing in revenue (i.e. attendance and in-park spending), so it had to go. However, what looks like simple math on a balance sheet is not so simple in the eyes of guests, and what may seem like a minor attraction with a major cost was drawing far more interest than was reflected at the turnstiles or register tapes.
Another one bites the dust to corporate greed. Added to the list of greats gone; The Big Bad Wolf, and Drachen Fire. If the story-line was to hard to follow maybe the pre-show or narrative should have been added. Soon The Sea World Parks will be EventSpaceLand. Sad story to say the least. The same thing is happening at Busch Gardens in Tampa. What was once a great park is now a midway with slight themeing in Tampa, I hope the same does not happen in Williamsburg.
Let's not compare this to BBW or Drachen Fire. As much as I loved it, Drachen Fire was not popular, and was a liability to operate with several guests attempting to sue the park for neck and back injuries supposedly caused by the Arrow coaster. Big Bad Wolf is a better comp, but that coaster had not only fallen out of favor, but was growing exceedingly expensive to maintain, exacerbated by Arrow's bankruptcy. The park was having to custom machine parts to maintain the suspended coaster, and was one of only a handful still in operation in the world. DarKastle had not reached the point BBW had gotten to in terms of O&M, but the park appears to just be looking to cut back on overall costs, and DarKastle was a big ticket item that was probably viewed as easy fat to trim.
Russell: I was thinking more like the Knott’s Iron Reef or Legoland’s Ninjago screen based shooting attractions. All screens. Just add guns.
I am sad to hear this news, as DarKastle has been one of our favorite attractions since it opened. I sort of thought maybe something was up when the haunted maze went through the actual ride path during my visit in October but I didn't think they were removing it! Such a shame as it is a unique ride and it made an impression from the midway. I love the themed queue. This is a total disappointment to me.
Anton - Those screens still have sensors behind them (or sensors in the vehicles that communicate back to the projectors for a shooter like Ninjago), and the guns in the vehicles still require on-board controls to manage the scoring. You're suggesting BGW add something (and maintenance costs) to an attraction they already cannot afford to operate for a minimal bump that a shooting-gallery gimmick has to make up for. Not only would it be a huge cost to retrofit the systems to accommodate the shooting elements, but you're adding to the complexity of maintenance to an attraction the park has already deemed too costly to run without shooting elements.
It would be obvious it is too costly because it is no longer the draw it used to be. If they can attract new customers, the cost to add the equipment would be worth the expense as it has been proven in other amusement parks. Plus, the expense to retrofit a proven technology is much less than it used to be. I would expect Busch to just wait and see, but it would be foolhardy to rule it out entirely.
The problem is that there's zero chance of a retrofit now. The park has already announced that they will be using the attraction as an events space, which means they will likely be pulling all of the track and sets down to create a usable space (had already pulled some of the track out for the seasonal attractions, which I thought at the time was just temporary). Once that track comes up and you take all of the original artwork and sculpture down, you're eliminating any chance of bringing the attraction back in ANY form.
Since I said putting in new equipment is the retrofit, of course replacing the track with new vehicles is what's required. So if they removed the track and décor, nothing's been lost that would have been kept except for the castle exterior, show buildings, and signage.
It seems that Disney and Universal are the only ones who can really compete in the category of heavily themed rides. They cost a fortune to build and maintain.
Anton - What you're suggesting is not a retrofit or a conversion, it's a completely new attraction. Iron Reef is a completely new system in an old building, not what I would call a retrofit/conversion. The same could be said for a few of the Justice League installations where Six Flags re-purposed old dark ride buildings or queue buildings to house the new attraction.
I'm disappointed that I won't get to ride DarKastle again when I visit the park in a couple months, but I'm probably more disappointed that SeaWorld Parks as a chain has fallen this far. Ten years ago, they were the leaders among regional parks, with offerings far superior to what could be found at Cedar Fair and Six Flags properties. Now, the parks offer little that can't be experienced elsewhere, and given the price point it's probably going to be difficult to increase their visitor count with fewer attractions than regional thrill parks. I really hope the chain can figure out how to make the parks work, but when major attractions continue to close with no planned replacement it is not a good sign.
It's a retrofit since you're putting the new ride system into the old DarKastle building and using the same screens in the exact same locations.
Anton, what you're describing is definitely more along the lines of a brand new attraction. A retrofit would be something more along the lines of the Tower of Terror to Guardians of the Galaxy conversion, where some new hardware is added but the majority of what was there before is still used. For Iron Reef, the only thing from Kingdom of the Dinosaurs that remains are the roof and four walls of the building. Everything inside was completely removed, new hardware was installed, and the current layout of the attraction is actually very different from what it used to be. It would be like calling USH's Revenge of the Mummy a retrofit of E.T. Adventure...they're completely different rides that occupied the same space.
"A retrofit would be something more along the lines of the Tower of Terror to Guardians of the Galaxy conversion"
Sticking by my previous statement that Sea World will be apartments and condos in 10 years (BG parks will still be around).
Good riddance! If Busch Gardens wants to compete with the big boys, then they should consider a live orchestra to accompany a broadway-style spectacular in their new (and probably awesome) event space. One big advantage is that there would be no age restriction or height limitation. 2-year olds who are 18 inches tall could participate, making it a true family attraction, unlike these dark rides that scare the little ones and tear families apart.
Anton, perhaps a better example would have been the conversion of Superstar Limo to Monsters, Inc or the addition of new trains to the Matterhorn Bobsleds. There may be a little too much of Tower of Terror remaining to truly call it a retrofit.
I think it’s no coincidence that this closure comes right before the opening of the new VR attraction at BGW. That one will be costly and complicated to maintain and operate.
@Anton - You seem to misunderstand the term "retrofit". You also seem to think that they can in some way use the existing screens, and by that token makes a replacement attraction a retrofit. Screens are just pieces of fabric or painted walls/surfaces to allow for projected images to be seen by the riders. In the case of a standard dark ride versus a shooting dark ride, the latter actually requires a lot more technology and ofttimes a completely different design in terms of how screens and projectors are placed (many shooting gallery attractions have rear-projected images - projector placed behind the screen, while all of DarKastle's images are front-projected). They most likely wouldn't even be able to keep the fabric or wall-pained screens because they would have to be replaced with a different material to allow for sensors to be placed behind them to facilitate the shooting technology. Having been behind the scenes of DarKastle before, I know that at least 4 of the screens have no space behind them or are just paint on walls, which would require significant modification to reuse in a shooting gallery attraction (either by pulling the screens away from the wall to facilitate sensor placement or removing the wall behind the screen - which in turn would affect the acoustics of a given room requiring additional modifications). Also, the entire projection system would need to be replaced to allow for the system to communicate with the vehicles and shooting equipment to provide feedback to riders (not to mention the new ride vehicles that would also be needed to facilitate your concept). So, what you describe as a simple retrofit or conversion would actually be a brand new attraction that would have to be designed and built from the ground up. Certainly, they may be able to use the existing building and may be able to salvage a few parts here and there to save a few bucks along they way, but what you're describing is a full turnkey attraction, and would likely have a significant budget to boot.
I like the orchestra idea, but Busch Gardens used to have a live marching band, belly dancers, and snake charmers. The budget cuts laid them off and never replaced them so I doubt they will create more jobs even to help the local economy with an orchestra.
Russell: Did you know you introduced the word Retrofit into the discussion? You said "retrofit" several times before you changed your tune and call it an "all new attraction" and not retrofit. For all the denial, you're make a pretty good case of it. Whatever term you rather use like retrofit or all new attraction, it will still be an ALL NEW ATTRACTION because it's a "shooting gallery ride".
AJ: "In my mind, a retrofit means that enough is preserved that the old attraction is functionally identical to the new one."
"They can still turn it into a shooting attraction."
It's not absurd. It's completely possible.
"I won't notice because I never visited the park and unlikely to ever."
I was honest and you somehow found it worthy of writing hundreds of words to show your ignorance of how it can't be done. That's a laugh.
Those hundreds of words were to try to explain in a reasonable and logical way how outlandish and impractical your initial statement was, that you continued to double, triple, and quadruple down on. I noted that anything was possible, but you fail to recognize the lack of plausibility or feasibility in your suggestion, the way you presented it, and continued to delude yourself into thinking was worthy of defending despite numerous lines of evidence to counter it. I merely retorted to the absurdity of your suggestion, backed up with facts and experiential evidence, yet you chose to drag the discussion down the rabbit hole because of your now obvious ignorance. You had the audacity to post..
Russell: Your arguments are lost in a bunch of ridiculing and snark. You immediately jump on my throwaway comments with "Men in Black or Justice League", which is a ridiculous leap of incoherence as if you don't even know what DarKastle was, which is a screen based ride. I know more than you just from your rebuttal. Many shooting gallery rides have nothing to do with physical targets. Just use the screen, yet that didn't occur to you.
All of this from someone who forms an opinion of a 3-D motion based simulator attraction from a twice-viewed YouTube video. Please. You've demonstrated your stupidity on more than one occasion, and can't help but proclaim your ignorance over and over for all to read.
Adding to my previous comment on this thread, I was basing it off the fact that Merlin is making bank here in the States from their rapid expansion. Maybe buying or building a non-Legoland park would help bolster the bottom line.
Once you form a coherent thought, try again. You'll take another hundred words. Even with your lamest response yet, it is quite illuminating that any such technology wouldn't be difficult to put into an existing building unless if Russell has decided to rule it out for you.
I've always wondered why they never thought about routinely changing the story (and animation) every two years or so. It is a ride that was fun the first five or so times. But then, it's just the same old same old. If they could change out the story but keep the mechanics... that would give everyone a reason to go back and ride it every two years or so.
They did make a pretty significant story change 2 years in, tightening the plot, and fleshing out the Mother character. It's really not as simple as it seems. While changes to the animated sequences could be made remotely, the changes to the motion bases and had to be made on-site, and getting the motion synchronized with the visuals can be a difficult task. There's also the complexities involved with keeping the transitions between the screens smooth (the last 3 screens are all integrated, requiring tight tolerances between the 3 different projections). Note that not even a park with significantly more resources like Universal has made changes to their motion base rides since their inceptions. Transformers is identical to when it debuted (both coasts), and Spiderman, while getting upgraded projection systems a couple of years ago, hasn't changed its story and sequences a lick since 1999, granted Spiderman has a number of practical effects that would have to require some serious reworking to change the story significantly. It seems like a pretty simple task, one that could be marketed as a new attraction on a seemingly lesser budget, but it's far more difficult, and billing a revamped motion base ride doesn't carry the same draw as an all new attraction - plus it sets up an expectation from guests that it get revamped every few years.
This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.