2021 New Rides & Attractions: Dark Rides, Family Rides, and Shows Roundup
Godzilla the Ride
Seibuen Amusement Park
Some 45 years after the end of the initial series of Godzilla movies, thrillseekers in Japan find themselves caught in the crossfire of an epic Godzilla-Ghidorah battle at the recently renovated Seibuen Amusement Park in Tokyo.
While Godzilla theming has been used at a zip line on Japan’s Awaji Island and in temporary attractions elsewhere, “Godzilla the Ride” is the world’s first permanent Godzilla dark ride. The visuals of the five-minute ride are projected onto curved screens that place riders in the center of the battle. The computer graphics were created by Takashi Yamazaki, two-time Japanese Academy Award winning director and screenwriter.
Founded 71 years ago, Seibuen is embracing its history. The park features a nostalgic 1960s era shopping district. At the end of the street is a retro-style theater that is the home of “Godzilla the Ride,” which is delighting a new generation of parkgoers and Godzilla fans.
Knott’s Bear-y Tales: Return to the Fair
Knott’s Berry Farm
Buena Park, California, United States
Knott’s Berry Farm rebooted one of its classic attractions in 2021, “Knott’s Bear-y Tales,” more than 35 years after the original family dark ride closed to make way for more modern fare. (The ride was initially succeeded by “Kingdom of the Dinosaurs.”)
The original “Knott’s Bear-y Tales” was designed by the famed animator and designer Rolly Crump during a hiatus from his time as a Disney Imagineer. The dark ride had an 11-year run starting in 1975. Adults who visited Knott’s Berry Farm as children in the 1970s and 1980s will appreciate the nostalgia of its modern incarnation, “Knott’s Bear-y Tales: Return to the Fair,” while young and old alike are certain to enjoy the interactive, 4D game elements deployed by Montreal’s Triotech.
Triotech provided animation, scenic theming, and the game system. Ernest Yale, the company’s CEO and founder, says the attraction is his company’s largest project to date.
Launched to coincide with the resort’s 100th anniversary, the ride’s storyline follows Girlsen Bear and Boysen Bear as they travel to the Country Fair to earn a blue-ribbon prize for their famous boysenberry pies. From the get-go, though, they encounter Crafty Coyote and his mischievous pups, who want the pies for themselves. Passengers can smell the scrumptious pies as they use jelly blasters to fend off the coyotes and compete for the highest score.
Lego Factory Adventure Ride
Legoland New York Resort
Goshen, New York, United States
Imagine being magically shrunk to the size of a Lego Minifigure. That’s the premise of the “Lego Factory Adventure Ride” at the new Legoland theme park in Goshen, New York, about one hour north of Manhattan. Halfway through the new dark ride, the vehicles created by ETF Ride Systems spin passengers until they are face-to-face with a screen.
Enthralled guests watch transfixed as, first, their vehicles appear to be transformed into Lego elements, then they see themselves as Lego Minifigures in the virtual space. Each recreation is unique and based on a proprietary facial detection platform developed by Holovis. On-ride motion tracking enables the mini-avatars to move in tandem with the guests. Gigantic scenery, including a 20-foot-tall bed, reinforces the impression that riders have shrunk.
The Ring, Chongqing
Visitors who enter Hongkong Land’s The Ring in Chongqing, China, may be forgiven for thinking they have walked into a rainforest, albeit one with restaurants and retail stores. The centerpiece of the 154,000-square-meter development is a 7-story indoor botanical garden that stretches nearly 42 meters from top to bottom. Amid the thousands of plants, divided into three distinct themes—the Soul Tree, Aerial Forest, and Riverside Hills—is a 24-meter airborne waterfall that is the backdrop for a changing light show to engage visitors. The O’ Garden also features replicas of dinosaur skeletons discovered in the region.
One of the mall’s lower levels features a cardboard city for young visitors and a Kidzplorer family entertainment center (FEC), designed by Star Group and Cincinnati-based JRA. The nine-zone FEC promotes science, technology, engineering arts, and mathematics.
The Chongqing development is Hongkong Land’s first wholly owned development in southwest China and the first in a series of “Rings” that it is planning to roll out in cities across the mainland.
SkyFly: Soar America
The Island in Pigeon Forge
Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, United States
As is fitting for a new attraction in the heart of country music, an orchestra of 70 musicians gathered in a studio on Nashville’s Music Row to record the soundtrack for “SkyFly: Soar America.” The $20 million flying theater opened this summer at The Island in Pigeon Forge, a 23-acre family park in eastern Tennessee.
Located adjacent to the 200-foot-tall “The Great Smoky Mountain Wheel,” “SkyFly: Soar America” features a 15-minute journey that involves a wacky professor who takes his daughter on a ride in an early 20th century airship over some of America’s greatest natural wonders and iconic landmarks, including Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains, Alaskan glaciers, the Grand Canyon, and Niagara Falls.
The Island in Pigeon Forge, which opened seven years ago, wanted an attraction “that really would allow people to have this first-class experience without needing to go to Orlando or Las Vegas or LA,” recalls SkyFly co-owner Clay McManus.
It is co-owned by Dynamic Entertainment, a sister company of Dynamic Attractions, which created the 39-seat attraction.
Snake River Expedition
Sandusky, Ohio, United States
When Cedar Fair’s planning and design team began imagining a new ride for Cedar Point’s sesquicentennial summer, they dug into the park’s 150-year history. Inspiration led to the return of a cherished boat ride designed for the entire family.
Four years in the making, “Snake River Expedition” is an entirely new adventure on the water, with nods to the retired “Western Cruise” (1961-1986) and “Paddlewheel Excursions” (1987-2011) boat rides that previously navigated the park’s lagoons. To create the next generation attraction, Cedar Point’s ride operations department partnered with the park’s live entertainment team: Park operations hired and trained the boat drivers—who actually pilot their crafts (no underwater tracks here), while live entertainment auditioned and hired the actors on board, who occasionally crack jokes like the captains found on the previous rides. The cast of live characters mix with animated scenes and woodland creatures (beavers, bears, and snakes) created by Weber Group to enhance the 14-minute experience.
An elaborate preshow invites guests to look for treasure among props before boarding their boat. Once on the water, not everything goes as planned, as boats are briefly hijacked by outlaws trying to profit from Trapper Dan’s (a character from the previous rides) gold smuggling operation.
Stunning Nighttime Projection
Jiangsu Garden Expo Park
Nanjing, Jiangsu, China
China State Construction Engineering transformed an abandoned cement factory and a brownfield site of old mine pit in Nanjing, China, into a beautiful, mountainside horticultural wonder, with meticulously manicured gardens, traditional Chinese pavilions, promenades, rock formations, and a lake.
At night, the sprawling Jiangsu Garden Expo Park is bathed in yellow, red, and blue lights amid a spellbinding show of stunning hillside projections rendered by four Christie DWU2022-HS 1DLP laser projectors. The projection canvas is 600 square meters.
Xinwei He, the park’s project manager, notes that the Zhongqing Yingye Group, which installed the projectors, had to “strike a delicate balance” to optimize scale while maintaining visual quality.
A fanciful underground world opened inside Liseberg’s Rabbit Land with the launch of the park’s first new dark ride in 50 years, “Underlandet.” A lift takes visitors underground where they journey through the rabbits’ secret subterranean home. The rabbits and their visitors must also fend off their adversary, Måns Tråk.
The SEK 150 million ride, whose name means “Wonderland” in English, is part of a SEK 200 million renovation of Rabbit Land. It is the largest and most expensive attraction investment for families with children in Liseberg’s history. The concept was created in-house by David Schofield along with a team that he leads in the U.K. at Quarry Fold Studio. Liseberg engaged Italy’s Gosetto to provide the ride system and The Netherlands’ P&P Projects for theming. Cincinnati’s LifeFormations produced the animatronics.
Liseberg also rolled out a tailor-made virtual queuing system for “Underlandet” so children can enjoy more time on the playground or visiting other attractions in the park. Visitors without the app can sign up for a place in line at the ride’s entrance. The total experience, from virtual queue to exit shop, is 10 minutes.
- Michael Switow is a Singapore-based writer who covers the attractions industry for Funworld. Scott Fais contributed to this report.