By only the first note, the theme song to this attraction is instantly recognizable. The organ sets the tone as you embark on your ghostly journey through the Haunted Mansion. I grew up riding this while going to the parks with my parents, but it was not my favorite by any means. After getting a backstage, “lights-on” tour, my opinion changed instantly.
While certain elements of the Haunted Mansion have gone through refurbishments with updated tech, this ride still utilizes so many great practical effects, and the blending of the various methods are what I find exciting about it. Walking the grounds of the ballroom during the tour and seeing the figures used in the Pepper’s Ghost up close made me appreciate how successful a timeless effect like that can be. But the ride has evolved in time as technology evolved.
The Hatbox Ghost in Disneyland, an old concept from the inception of the attraction, exists today because it was finally possible to achieve! Also discovered on the tour is the myriad of easter eggs packed within the ride. If you look closely, you might even see characters from The Nightmare Before Christmas such as Jack Skellington etched onto the spine of a few books, or a Sally doll hiding behind some furniture.
What I also admire about this attraction is that there is a different version at five Disney Parks around the world. While Florida, California, and Tokyo are almost identical, California and Tokyo get a wonderful holiday overlay of The Nightmare Before Christmas. (Florida gets those permanent references of the characters I mentioned before.) While riding Phantom Manor in Paris, I was delighted to see the story being taken in a new direction (literally) as the guest travels underground and into a skeletal Wild West town. And for an entirely unique experience, Mystic Manor in Hong Kong does not have a single ghost! No matter the park you visit, there is a fresh story with new intricacies to discover, and because of that, the Haunted Mansion continues to be one of my most treasured attractions.
Growing up in the Midwest, I wasn’t exposed to a lot of heavily themed attractions. Our local amusement park was nothing more than a swimming pool with a few permanent carnival rides scattered around. The park closed and was auctioned off in 1993, so my family would then make a yearly trip from Omaha to Kansas City (three hours away) to go to Worlds of Fun. It was here that my love for amusement rides blossomed into a passion. Because of this passion, I was driven into a job designing roller coasters. In 2015 I was working on a roller coaster at Knott’s Berry Farm in Southern California when I was introduced to a gem of an attraction that had just completed an extensive refurbishment, the Calico Mine Ride.
In 1960, Knott’s Berry Farm opened a very advanced attraction that took guests on a train ride deep into a man-made mine that featured stalactites, bubbling pots, waterfalls, animatronics, and an explosive ending.
The ride was cutting-edge for its time, but it had to be with the newly opened Disneyland right down the street. Walter Knott and Walt Disney were friends and often tried to out-do each other. They both had a passion for trains, which is why both parks are so deeply rooted in railroading. When Bud Hurlbut approached Walter and offered the idea for Calico Mine Ride, Walter was apprehensive at first, but the two had a good business relationship, which ultimately won him over. Walter gave Bud the best piece of land on the property to build on. The attraction was billed as the first fully themed dark ride, and the use of storytelling with multiple animatronics throughout the ride paved the way for attractions like Pirates of the Caribbean, which would open at Disneyland seven years later.
The ride may not be the fastest or most thrilling, but it has a good story. Through the use of real props salvaged from old mines, dim lighting, special effects, and animatronics, riders are whisked back in time to a bygone era of hard labor, when using hand tools and donkeys were the norm. Locomotive power was still in its infancy, so the thick black soot from the smokestack caked everything in sight. Calico Mine Ride however, utilizes electric locomotives dressed up to look like steam engines, which also provides a quiet ride. The old west theming reminds me of my Midwest roots, which is probably one of the driving factors as to why I like it so much. Some of the gags are comical, or even shocking, but for the most part, the ride does a wonderful job of telling the story of what life was like during the gold rush of the 1800s. That era may be part of a past life I lived through! It is certainly one I have always romanticized.
For a ride that is sixty years old to still hold up and maintain popularity, especially in a small, land-locked park like Knott’s where every square foot of real estate is coveted, is a true testament to how well designed, thought-out, and crafted it is. The refurbishment in 2014 only solidified its place in the park for decades to come and introduced the past to a new generation of patrons. Those memories will forever be engrained in their minds, possibly inspiring them to also work hard in life, and maybe even create a little piece of history themselves.
Pirates of the Caribbean has always been my favourite attraction. It goes back to when I was around five years old on a long-haul flight. My mum found me watching the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie for the third time in a row, completely fascinated and apparently not the slightest bit scared. Getting to ride the Disneyland version not long after that was a wonderful moment, and ever since then, it has always remained at the top of my list. As well as the franchise being close to my heart, I also love this attraction because it set an impressive precedent for dark rides. There was nothing quite like it at the time it was designed, and I admire how ambitious it was.
The ride just celebrated its 50th birthday, and although it’s gone through some changes, I don’t think it’s ever lost its charm or ability to tell the story. I also really admire how the animatronics capture the character of Marc Davis’ original sketches. These pirates were meant to be a little silly and fun rather than the serious criminals that real pirates were. I remember feeling very conflicted because I wanted to be a pirate when I grew up, but I also knew that they were terrible people. In a way, the ride let me feel like I was a pirate without committing any of their serious crimes.
I’ve been fortunate enough to ride both the Disneyland and Magic Kingdom versions, with Disneyland’s being my favourite because of the double drop and Blue Bayou restaurant within the ride. One day I’d love to visit the latest version in Shanghai, a completely different experience and something that 5-year-old me would be in absolute awe of.
CG Asset Artist
The best type of attraction is one that you go into not knowing what to expect, but one that also immediately makes you feel like you are in a different world entirely. Revenge of the Mummy at Universal Studios Florida is the perfect example of that experience.
From the outside, the ride is unassuming. Staged as an old antique museum, if you don’t know it’s there, it’s pretty easy to miss. As soon as you enter the doors to the “museum,” you are faced with props and set pieces taken directly from the movie. The further you go in, the more it feels as if you are transported into the movie itself. Even as someone who hadn’t seen the movie before going on the ride for the first time, I was entranced, and waiting in line just made me more excited to find out what was ahead.
A giant Anubis statue tied back with rope looms over you, as you ascend the staircase at the end of the queue leading to the ride itself, which only adds to an atmosphere that leaves you uneasy but wanting to keep exploring.
The first time I went on it, I genuinely had no idea what the Revenge of the Mummy was going to be like. Even as you get into the ride vehicle, you can’t see what's happening in front of you. Is it a dark ride? An indoor coaster? A media ride? A thrill ride? The answer is a little bit of all of the above. What starts off as a slow ride through an Egyptian tomb quickly morphs into a fast-paced escape from the pharaoh’s curse. The entire ride feels chaotic, filled with dead ends and narrow escapes from harm. Just when you think the ride is over, it shoots you off again, for one last kick of adrenaline.
Revenge of the Mummy is surprising in every way. It became an instant favorite the moment I went on it. Even several rides later, the excitement I felt hasn’t gone away. The queue is just as fun to walk through today as it was that first time, and the atmosphere is just as alluring.