by Karen Staley, Sally Dark Rides
Creativity is an asset to businesses in every industry. In the attractions industry, however, creativity is a requirement. Without creativity, park guests remain wanting, dissatisfied, and at home. That’s when theme parks are forced to close attractions—or worse—close altogether.
However, by offering guests new experiences, theme parks can stay relevant, exciting, and in business. These experiences can include new foods, shows, coasters, flat rides, or—our personal favourites—dark rides.
Extending the life of dark ride attractions
Today, especially as parks are reopening after extended periods of closure due to COVID-19, a new dark ride can be an intimidating investment. Instead, theme parks are entertaining the idea of refurbishing existing guest favourites. By refining, reimagining, refreshing or repurposing a dark ride, parks can revive a classic attraction.
Whether it’s a subtle improvement or a total recreation, extending the life of a dark ride is a cost-effective way to draw new interest
Dark rides tend to hold guest attention longer than most other attractions. However, they are not immune to eventual disinterest. This means that theme parks must evolve to keep their guests interested, excited, and advocating.
With some creativity, a 10 or 20-year-old dark ride also has the potential to “be new again” in the eyes of guests. Whether it’s a subtle improvement or a total recreation, extending the life of a dark ride is a cost-effective way to draw new interest.
A properly operating ride is the foundation of a good experience. There are simple solutions that a park operator can initiate to improve the ride.
- Clean the ride
- Ensure the sound and lighting are functioning properly
- Test the functionality of special effects, props, and gags
- Ensure that all targets respond appropriately to interactive devices
When conducted regularly, these solutions can extend the life of a dark ride.
In instances where the story and integrity of the attraction remain beloved, but the technologies have expired, park operators should consider a dark ride refresh.
- Reskin or replace the vehicle system
- Add/replace media or upgrade projectors
- Add onboard sound system or seat vibrators to the ride vehicle
- Improve the lighting, sound, expression, and movement of the show
- Enhance the story with new characters, animatronics and modern special effects
Interactive dark ride attractions
When dark ride attractions have a targeting system that is inaccurate or ineffective, guest experiences are drastically affected. So, consider reviving outdated interactive components to increase guest satisfaction.
- Develop a new interactive design
- Upgrade or replace the interactive devices and targeting system
- Add targets to enhance the game
- Incorporate different point formats and bonus targets
Today’s technology makes it easier than ever for guests to track and hit their targets within a dark ride. Park operators no longer need to choose between a ride’s functionality and a guest’s experience.
If a dark ride’s technology is up to date but guests are disengaged, theme park operators may benefit from reimagining the ride’s storyline and theming.
- Review the ride, one scene at a time
- Revisit the creative approach
- Consider altering or adding a new twist to the existing storyline
- Introduce a new character or visual element
- Develop a fresh musical score
- Repaint the props and walls
- Clean, repair, or refurbish existing animatronics
- Rearrange elements for better visualization throughout the ride
By keeping the intent of the original attraction but reimagining the story with a modern approach or fresh perspective, guests will have a seemingly new and exciting experience.
Repurpose—for the season
As seasonal events become more important to the park’s overall income, implementing a Halloween or Christmas overlay to an already existing dark ride could be a game-changer.
Supplementing existing dark ride attractions with a holiday-themed story, lighting effects, soundtrack, media overlays, and new props and gags will make them feel completely different. In addition, repurposing a dark ride for seasonality and relevance offers theme parks a new marketing opportunity and generates greater seasonal attendance.
This repurposed ride can be promoted as a new short-term experience, engaging guests to enjoy the exclusivity of the attraction.
Benefits – extending the life of a dark ride
Dark rides are durable, sustainable, and immersive attractions. Their value is long-term and ongoing, drawing guests back for generations. Their stories, sights, sounds and smells also speak to the senses and create memories that hold a special place in people’s hearts.
This kind of nostalgia has shown to have a profound impact on park loyalty and repeated visitation.
By refining, refreshing, reimagining or repurposing, parks can extend the life of a beloved existing attraction, and make an old ride once again new and marketable. From simple enhancements to more complex theming, as well as overlays, interactive, and technological upgrades, a park operator can revive a dark ride to surprise and delight guests for years to come.
To read part 1, an exploration of the history of dark ride attractions, please click here.
Header image courtesy of Disney