Dark Ride Coasters - August 2014

If there’s an overriding theme to the new rides and attractions debuting in 2014, it’s this: Something the whole family not only can do together, but something they want to do together.

Nowhere is this more apparent than a new crop of projects that combine the seemingly disparate design elements of dark rides and roller coasters. These new rides blend storytelling and theming with thrills to create their own sub-genre of attraction. Here Funworld looks at three such rides making their debuts this year.

Arthur— In the Minimoys Kingdom, Europa-Park, Rust, Germany

This summer Europa-Park opens an attraction unlike anything it’s ever offered before. “Arthur—In the Minimoys Kingdom” is a dark ride/roller coaster combination that features an all-new ride system from Mack Rides themed to a story by French filmmaker Luc Besson (creator of the “Arthur” -movies).

“Arthur” is an inverted coaster that Europa-Park’s Michael Mack says uses the same track system as Mack Rides’ well-regarded “Blue Fire” looping launch coaster. The three vehicles on the train seat four abreast; each vehicle can rotate 360 degrees independently of the other two, allowing the ride to turn guests to face show elements throughout the dark ride experience. Electric motors that run the entire track give Mack Rides the ability to control the speed of the trains throughout the course, accelerating or decelerating as required by the story scenes.

Most of the ride is indoors, save for one section that takes guests out into a forested area for a more traditional coaster experience. There is also a variable finale scene based on how riders push buttons mounted to their individual seats, giving the ride a repeatability factor, Mack says. The coaster stretches 550 meters (1,805 feet) and reaches a top speed of 31 km/h (19 mph). Of note, Mack says there are no block brakes on the track because the entire course is controlled via RFID zones that communicate between the trains and with the station.

The breakthrough for the park, Mack says, is offering an attraction not too -intimidating for children (the ride is open to those as young as 4 years old and a minimum height of 100 cm/39 inches) while still providing a thrilling experience for older

“I think that’s the trend—providing family entertainment for every age group without being too crazy, but still giving a little extra thrill, which you don’t expect from a dark ride,” he says.

The ride is one portion of a broader “Arthur”-themed indoor land at the park, featuring a children’s drop tower, a carousel, a restaurant, and more, all inside a 3,500-square-meter (37,674-square-foot) domed building.


—Funworld Contributing Editor Juliana Gilling interviewed Michael Mack forthis report.

Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World, Orlando

The largest expansion in the history of the world’s most popular theme park is finally complete. In May, the construction walls were finally down from around the “Seven Dwarfs Mine Train” at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, completing a five-year project to create New Fantasyland outside the gates of the iconic Cinderella Castle.

Walt Disney Imagineering’s Chris Beatty calls “Seven Dwarfs Mine Train” the “crown jewel” of the new land, as it is the centerpiece attraction both literally and figuratively. If you think of New Fantasyland as a big circle, “Mine Train” is in the middle, with all the other attractions in the land around the perimeter.

The inspiration for “Mine Train” came from two different sources, says Beatty, who was the senior creative director in charge of overseeing New Fantasyland for Imagineering (WDI). The ride combines a “swinging bucket” vehicle themed to what’s seen in “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” where the train car sways back and forth as the coaster maneuvers around its twisty track. The trains are comprised of five vehicles total, with four guests to a car sitting two abreast.

At the same time, Beatty says, WDI wanted to retell the story of Snow White in a new dark ride that focused more on the colorful dwarfs: “It was the marriage of those two ideas that drove us to develop the ‘Mine Train,’” where in the middle of the coaster the ride slows down for a traditional dark ride scene.

The interior portion of the ride shows the dwarfs working in their mine, with the characters rendered in next-gen animatronics that create a lifelike illusion when the dwarfs speak. Beatty is mum on the details of how these new figures were created, but he says they are the latest iteration of pieces seen in such attractions as “Enchanted Tales with Belle” next door in New Fantasyland and “Radiator Springs Racers” at Cars Land in Disney California Adventure.

“Walt Disney was always driven by technology to enhance storytelling. I feel strongly we, as Imagineers, carry some of that DNA with us today. Anytime we create a new attraction, we are trying to better ourselves in the technology we use,” Beatty says.

At the end of the mine scene is a second lift hill that takes the trains up and out of the dark ride portion back into a final coaster section to wrap up the ride. On their way back into the station, guests are treated with a peek into the dwarfs’ cottage, where Snow White dances with her diminutive band of friends.

Beatty is pleased with how the overall vision of New Fantasyland comes across now that all the construction is finished and the new attractions are open. “It’s the placemaking, the rock work, the color palette, the stories we crafted,” he says. “Everything holds together and they’re all in support of each other in an amazing way. I’m really proud of that. It’s great to see everything living together.”


Wonder Mountain’s Guardian, Canada’s Wonderland, Vaughan, Ontario, Canada

Officials at Canada’s Wonderland have wanted to bring a new dark ride to the park for years, but they just couldn’t make the numbers work. Norm Pirtovshek, vice president and general manager for the Ontario attraction, says the amount of investment to do a dark ride the right way was simply too expensive for a regional theme park’s budget.

It’s funny what a difference a decade can make.

Due to the advancements in digital technology in recent years, Canada’s Wonderland was able to bring a new type of dark ride to market with 2014’s “Wonder Mountain’s Guardian.” It blends a roller coaster, a dark ride, and interactive gaming into a 4-D experience that Pirtovshek says is a pioneering attraction for Cedar Fair parks.

Wonder Mountain is Wonderland’s iconic structure, covering two acres of ground in the middle of the park. It is already home to two roller coasters, but there was still a lot of unused space on the inside of the mountain now inhabited by “Guardian.” Guests ride two abreast back to back in two four-person vehicles and head up a lift hill as they exit the mountain. “Guardian” offers a little dip as it shoots along the exterior of the structure before the trains plunge back into the dark for the main portion of the ride.

The vehicles then rotate 90 degrees so riders are now facing sideways, looking at 13-foot-high movie screens that stretch 500 feet long. Here the 3-D film fires up and “follows” the train as it moves along a flat track through the mountain. “You’re trying to get a still effect in a moving vehicle,” Pirtovshek says. “That was a bit of a challenge.”

Wearing 3-D glasses, guests use guns mounted in front of them on the car to “fire” at characters and targets on the screens, earning points as they go. Eventually they end up in a dragon’s lair for a surprising climax that won’t be spoiled here. As the train returns to the station, riders see how their scores stack up against one another.

The interactive and animated portions of “Guardian” were created by Triotech, based in Montreal. Because the entire story element is digital, the ride film can—and will—be swapped out for special events, such as Wonderland’s “Halloween Haunt.”

Pirtovshek has worked at the park for 34 years, and he says “Guardian” is a landmark attraction not just for Wonderland, but the entire Cedar Fair chain. “This is the first of its kind,” he says. “We prototyped it here to see how well it works and how it’s received.” If the initial response to “Guardian” is any indication, don’t be surprised if you see similar attractions at the company’s other parks in the years to come.

Yes, Cedar Fair seems to have figured out how to create a lavish dark ride on a regional theme park budget.