Theme Park, Amusement Park and Attractions Industry News

Dark in the Park

by Paul Ruben

I spent the last month visiting as many dark rides as I could, from coast to coast.

In California, I went to Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk to ride their whimsically dark Cave Train and sample their new Haunted Castle. At Disneyland I meandered through the wonderful Haunted Mansion. At Disney’s California Adventure I climbed aboard both the Tower of Terror and Little Mermaid – Ariel’s Undersea Adventure.

Over on the east coast I lurched my way through Stillwalk Manor at New Jersey’s Casino Pier, previewed Gillian’s Wonderland’s Haunted House dark ride, walked through Morey’s majestically decrepit Ghost Ship, floated through their Pirates of the Wildwoods and bounced through Dante’s Dungeon. Then I gamely found my way through the brand-new Morbid Manor just up the boardwalk, where I met ticket-seller Andrea pictured here. Isn’t she lovely? Next I inspected the nearly completed Haunted Golf in Ocean City.

I went to Knoebel’s in Pennsylvania to discover their splendid new Black Diamond dark ride/coaster, which you can read more about elsewhere in this issue. While there I couldn’t pass up a visit to their highly-rated Haunted House. I finished the tour at Hersheypark with a trip through Reese’s Xtreme Cup Challenge.

Let’s see, that’s 15 dark attractions within a 30-day period. After these experiences, one would think I could shed some light on dark rides. But no, that would spoil the experience. Dark rides are intended to be dark, or at least dim, like moi.

What I did learn is that dark rides are making a comeback. Long a mainstay of the amusement park experience, they fell out of favour following the 1984 fire at the Haunted Castle at Six Flags Great Adventure when eight teenage visitors were trapped inside and killed. Many other dark attractions were subsequently removed from parks. Only now, with the use of improved fire retardant materials and sprinkler systems, are we witnessing a renaissance of dark rides in North America. And not a moment too soon. Dark rides and dark walk-throughs give a park a unique attraction, and give it some distinguishing character and personality. They’re different, they’re mysterious, they’re exciting.

The one dark ride that has yet to make a comeback, however, is the Tunnel of Love. The only one I know that still operates as a Tunnel of Love is the River Caves at England’s Blackpool Pleasure Beach. We need more Tunnels of Love, or at least more Tunnels of Messing Around a Little.

While I love dark rides, I think dark walk-throughs, especially those with actors, best bring out the fear factor. They are the most fun. Here’s why. Some people walk through and are not going to get scared, but there are other people who go through and are easily frightened. They scream the minute they come in the door. If a group goes through, half the group is screaming, the other half is laughing at them for screaming. So everybody comes out happy. My favourite is Nightmares, a dark walk-through in Niagara Falls, Canada. It is the oldest haunted house in North America in continuous operation. Try it. It’s pure fun. It’s just you, the dark, and things that go bump in the night.

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