Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Mix of Attractions

When I think of various theme parks, I notice that attractions seem to fall into a few different categories. Now I personally haven't been to all that many different theme parks, but I've read descriptions of the sorts of rides that some of them have. I thought that I'd maybe consider the types of attractions that various parks have, especially Disney, since it's my "gold standard".

The first category would be the thrill rides. If you talk about a place like Six Flags Great America, or I'm sure, any of the Six Flags parks, you're talking about the big coasters. There's the regular sort, where you ride in a car. There's the sort where you sit and your feet hang. There are the stand up ones, and the ones where you sort of ride on your stomach to pretend that you're flying. Most of them attribute their entertainment value to the size of the thrills that they provide - the drops, the loops, the corkscrews, the dips and whirls.

Disney's family of coasters depends less on the thrills they provide, and more on the theming of the ride. Something like Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is fun, but it doesn't rank up there in intensity with the coasters at the thrill parks. It's extremely entertaining, however, because in addition to the thrills it does provide, it has plenty of "show" to go with it.

Rides at Disney that fall into the thrill ride category would probably include Tower Of Terror, Rock'n'Roller Coaster, Space Mountain, Test Track, Splash Mountain, Expedition Everest, Kali River Rapids, Dinosaur, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and in California, the Matterhorn Bobsleds, Grizzly River Run, California Screamin', and their Indiana Jones ride.

The next type of ride is the so-called "Dark Ride". These types of rides might not be exclusive to Disney, but that's the place I've experienced them most. I'd put most of those Fantasyland rides like Peter Pan, Snow White, Pooh, and Pinocchio (in California) in this category, along with Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion, it's a small world, Nemo and Friends, the Great Movie Ride, Journey into Your Imagination, Ellen's Energy Adventure, and a couple of World Showcase rides, Maelstrom and The Gran Fiesta ride in Mexico. I have also ridden something similar in Legoland Schaumburg, a dark ride through a set made of Legos. These rides are unique in that thrills are secondary to the level of detail along the way. Sure, Maelstrom has that backward drop for thrills, and Pirates has a drop (or two, depending on which you're riding), but mostly you're on these to watch the sets and the animatronic show.

My experience with that ride at Legoland Schaumburg tells me that while anyone can offer this "dark ride" experience, not everyone can do it, or even tries to do it, at the Disney level of entertainment. I think it's an experience that could be offered, however, if one is willing to do it "right".

The next type of attraction would be the motion simulator. At Disney, the most famous motion simulators are their Star Tours rides, Mission: Space, and Soarin' Over California. At other locations, motion simulator type rides would include the motion theater that Ripley's Believe It Or Not runs at Niagara Falls, where a film is shown and the very chairs you are seated in provide the synchronized motion. (This wasn't great, but wasn't terrible either.) At the CN Tower in Toronto, there was a motion simulator ride where you were on a log as it was cut and begins rushing through the flumes and down rivers and over falls. This one was more like the Star Wars thing. I've also been in a flight simulator at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago and I know there are motion simulator rides at Navy Pier in Chicago, and at Caesar's Palace in Vegas. These sorts of rides are widespread. They must not be terribly expensive, but they can be very effective, as Disney shows.

Which brings us to the "show". Shows at Disney can be live stage shows (like Nemo at the Animal Kingdom, or the Little Mermaid or Playhouse Disney at Hollywood Studios), or movies, like the Canada, France and China films. They can be something like Carousel of Progress, or Country Bears Jamboree. They can be the Enchanted Tiki Room, or the "It's Tough To Be A Bug" 4D experience (or the "Honey I Shrunk the Audience" show at Epcot). Others include the Muppets 3D movie and the street performances at Hollywood Studios. Disney uses shows pervasively throughout their resort.

Six Flags Great America does offer one show in their Hometown USA section but I haven't seen it since I was pretty young. It was pretty good back then, but I don't know if I'd feel the same today. Legoland Schaumburg has a 3D movie in their mix of attractions. This also feels like a relatively inexpensive type of attraction.

And finally, the latest addition to the attractions mix is the interactive adventure ride. At Disney, it's Buzz Lightyear and Toy Story Midway Mania. It's a ride, but you have to do something as you ride. They're addictive and fun, and popular. I have been on something similar at Indiana Beach Amusement Park, where you ride through a treasure hunt town shooting at targets. Also very fun, though again, nowhere near the level of detail that Disney uses. I could see something like a "Ghostbusters" type ride being developed in this mode, if it fit a theme.

There are a few other attractions at Disney that could fall into some of these, or be more or less on their own. I'm thinking of the Autopia/Indy Speedway rides, and the People Mover. And of course, there are the carnival rides like the Carousels, the Spinning Teacups, stuff like this.

Somewhere in that mix of attractions is the group that would work for whatever theme we (I?) select for our park...

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