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The power of dark rides, part 2: extending the life of a dark ride

With some creativity, classic dark rides can be given a new lease of life


by Karen Staley, Sally Dark Rides

Sally Dark Rides Great Humbug Adventure
The Great Humbug Adventure

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.

Refine—the basics

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. 

Pirates of the Caribbean Disney dark ride attractions
Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean has periodically updated their 50+-year-old dark ride to adjust culturally, enhance scenes, and bring new additions, like the 2006 Hollywood revamp that brought in a Jack Sparrow animatronic based on the movie interpretation. Left: image courtesy of Disney, right: image courtesy Joshua Sudock, Orange County Register/SCNG
  • 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
Great Humbug Adventure Sally Dark Rides
The Great Humbug Adventure is a beloved dark ride at Santa’s Village, New Hampshire. Without losing the story’s essence, or interactive objective; Sally Dark Rides completely transformed the outdated attraction. Fans have fallen in love all over again with its new charm

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.

Reimagine—the story

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
Dark ride attractions disney snow white
Disneyland demonstrated the value of restoration when they chose to reimagine their tried-and-true Snow White dark ride. The dazzling special effects, smooth story sequence, and fairytale ending have created a more family-friendly experience. Image courtesy of Disney

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.

Holiday overlay Disneys haunted mansion
Haunted Mansion Holiday has become one of the most anticipated seasonal events for Disney. The genius Tim Burton mashup combines both Halloween and Christmas overlays in one fell-swoop making this classic attraction a heightened seasonal draw to Disneyland Resort. Image courtesy of Disney

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

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Karen Staley Sally Dark Rides

Karen Staley

Karen Staley is VP of Global Sales at Sally Dark Rides, a preeminent creator of renowned dark ride experiences.

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