The promise of treasure has been luring people to California for centuries. From the Spanish conquistadors to the gold-seeking 49ers, Dust Bowl refugees, would-be movie stars and now the tech bros of the modern era, millions of people have come to California to seek their fortune.
Including one infamous pirate.
For six days in 1818, Hippolyte Bouchard sacked Monterey, flying his adopted Argentina's flag above what was then California's capital. His real-life story has inspired Treasure Hunt: The Ride, a new attraction on Monterey's Cannery Row that imagines what might have happened to the treasure that legend claims Bouchard plundered from the Spanish colony.
Okay, I get it. If I'm talking now about a stand-alone attraction inside an arcade mall on Cannery Row, you might ask what's next on Theme Park Insider - reviews of county fair carnival rides? But this is the latest production from Sally Dark Rides, which has established a well-earned reputation among theme park fans for fun, interactive attractions. And for Treasure Hunt: The Ride, Sally has joined forces with Daniels Wood Land, which has delivered perhaps the most impressively decorated immersive environment I've yet seen on a Sally dark ride.
Or any ride, anywhere, for that matter.
So let's give Hippolyte a chance, shall we? Perhaps there is something worthwhile lurking there underneath the street on Cannery Row.
Anyone familiar with pirate lore knows that one must dig to find a treasure. And that's what the team at Daniels Wood Land had to do here, literally. The low ceiling in the basement space available for the ride forced them to dig a nine-inch trench through the concrete foundation to clear enough room to fit the ride's track and vehicles. That turned out to be 200,000 pounds of busted concrete that needed to be hauled out from the basement of an occupied retail building, in wheelbarrows.
Yet what could have been a liability became an asset. Daniels Wood Land has filled this cozy, 8,000-square-foot space with hundreds of thousands of "gold" coins and various scavenged treasures, all to help sell the story that this former wax museum space is indeed the cavern within which Hippolyte Bouchard stashed his riches more than 200 years ago. Then Sally turned many of those physical treasures into targets, which when blended with ones on multiple high-definition media screens, has provided visitors with wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling gameplay.
"We've done over 70 dark rides, and I've got to say we threw every single trick of the trade down into this 8,000-square-foot space," Sally Dark Rides Creative Director Rich Hill said. "It has interactivity, animatronics, media, practical sets and scenery, practical targets, media targets... there's a power-up gameplay advantage that we're doing for the first time, where you can buy a token that will give you upgraded gameplay, where basically your blaster instead of being a single-shot blaster, every pull of the trigger gives you 12 shots. And there's bigger graphics on the screen with the more scoring. We threw everything at this attraction."
Let's talk about that gameplay advantage, the Power Up Token that is available for an extra $5 on this pay-per-ride attraction. It definitely boosted my score, up about 30% from my previous high. But I found an even bigger advantage for no extra charge by sitting in the front row rather than the back. That low ceiling prevents Treasure Hunt: The Ride from placing its back row significantly higher than the front, where shots down at practical targets on the floor in front of the ride vehicle are much easier to hit.
And as for graphics, even on regular mode, Treasure Hunt crams your field of vision with more stuff to look at than your eyes ever could process in a single trip through the caverns.
As I mentioned before, Treasure Hunt: The Ride is a stand-alone attraction and not part of any fixed-price theme park. That means you have to pay each time you ride Treasure Hunt, with adult prices ranging from $20-25, depending upon time of day, and same day re-rides available for $12 each. (*Update: Prices have changed since opening. See the "If you go" section below.) That price point likely will elicit some pushback from theme park fans, especially those not used to California prices for, well, everything. But I think that every theme park fan ought to do the math now and then to divide what they spent on a daily theme park ticket by the number of rides they went on that day. That answer might provide some context for judging the worth of something like Treasure Hunt: The Ride.
Another consideration - a CalOSHA representative reportedly told DWL's Ron Daniels, while inspecting the ride, that Treasure Hunt is the only California attraction north of Los Angeles with a preshow. (I think he's right, but correct me in the comments if I am wrong - as you all tend to do!) And this is a great preshow - a simulated elevator ride with media, a motion platform, and even smell effects, leading up to a surprise appearance by a couple of very convincing animatronics, representing the town drunk kidnapped by Bouchard, and his burro. (They'll be our guides through this adventure.)
And don't overlook the short post-show scene in the stairwell after exiting the ride. It's a cheeky bit, suggesting that the conflict we witnessed inside the ride might not have been quite as dire as it seemed. And that the real treasure Bouchard has claimed was our admission money.
Here's a video of the full experience, including my ride with Rich Hill.
Treasure Hunt: The Ride delivers what its name promises - abundant treasure, in the forms of jaw-dropping visual detail, a fun script, and immersive gameplay, all to create a rewarding pirate adventure just steps away from where the real Hippolyte Bouchard came ashore two centuries ago. So join all those other treasure-seeking Californians. Be like Bouchard, and go get that bag.
Treasure Hunt: The Ride is located at 700 Cannery Row in Monterey and is open daily. Young riders must be 36 inches tall, or 52 inches if not accompanied by an adult. For nearby accommodations, please see our partner's Monterey hotels page.
Update: As of August 2023, unlimited re-rides now are available for the rest of the day for a $5 upcharge after your initial ride.
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