Two of my passions in life and career are theme parks and immersive storytelling – being able to transport audiences to fictitious and unknown worlds on an adventure is something that really resonates with me.
The whole idea of theme parks is for escapism. A way to remove yourself from the world we’re in, forgetting your worries and troubles and entering a new space, dimension and time – even for a few hours.
A ‘traditional’ roller coaster that’s set outdoors has a disadvantage of being completely immersive due to sight lines being unobstructed, meaning you can SEE the outside world that you’re so desperate to escape from. But, what if there was a way to have the high-thrill, traditional roller coaster experience, but completely transport audiences to a different location. Well, in 1975, Walt Disney showed people how!
Space Mountain, now a world-wide name – even for those who haven’t been to one of the Disney parks – was opened in 1975. A brand new one-of-a-kind coaster experience that transported audiences from earth to outer space. Enveloped in a huge circular structure, Walt Disney and his team of imagineers created a way to control external influences such as weather conditions, heat and light conditions. A new breed of roller coaster was born – the dark coaster. Yes, before you email in, we know other housed coasters opened before, but bear with me!
Space Mountain took riders on a 3-minute, whistle stop, high-speed tour of space, before bringing them back safely to earth, with lighting effects, audio effects and even air effects to simulate the exciting journey.
For me, this was the start of a true ‘immersive dark coaster’.
Over the years, roller coaster manufacturers such as Vekoma, Intamin and Premier lead the way creating these incredible coasters that are huge hits with families. But it was in June 2014 at the Asian Attraction Expo, Beijing, when the dark horse manufacturer, Dynamic Attractions announced their new coaster type, the ‘SFX Coaster’.
The SFX Coaster had special track elements such as the Gyro Table™ that would allow that section of track below it to rotate 360° whilst rocking up and down and with the Side-Slide™ the vehicle drops perpendicular to the direction of travel – as well as existing special effects such as a tilt section and vertical free fall drop. This coaster type could revolutionise what we know as an immersive dark coaster for good.
It was announced that the first coaster had been signed by Ferrari World Abu Dhabi. Mission Ferrari was proposed to open in 2015, but sadly setbacks with construction delayed this to January 2023 (we’ll come to this later). A huge campaign was launched to celebrate this amazing coaster – including a projection mapping show onto a vertical stage that The Business Creative conceived and produced – check out the video below!
The idea of these trick track elements that could be combined with screen technology or physical storytelling really excited me. It opened a whole new world of immersive technology possibilities.
Now, as mentioned, Mission Ferrari was sadly pushed back a number of years due to unforeseen construction issues, but in a theme park first, three companies combined efforts to create a ground-breaking coaster: Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts at Universal Orlando Resort, Florida.
The Escape from Gringotts is reported to be a Frankenstein’s monster of a coaster, with the track and design being from Intamin, Premier Rides producing the ride’s incredible cars and Venom assisting with the tilt track and motion platform sections of the ride. As mentioned above, these three companies were the forefathers of the dark coaster, so this combination was a perfect storm to complete the job.
The coaster opened to rave reviews – an incredible journey through the bank vaults of Gringotts, culminating in a launch section through a fiery tunnel. It’s one of my favourite immersive dark coaster experiences on earth, and a strong staple attraction at the park.
But, with the opening of Escape from Gringotts, it posed the question, what’s happening with Mission Ferrari?
Fast forward to a few years later and it’s winter 2022. Reports are coming in from Abu Dhabi that heavy work is drawing to a conclusion at Ferrari World. They’re getting ready to open…
In January 2023, we’re ecstatic to say that the coaster has opened to the general public. Containing numerous world-first track elements, never before seen immersive technology, and an incredible technical set-up – the coaster has been wowing visitors! We can’t wait to go and ride it.
With the opening of Mission Ferrari, it does pose the question, what’s next?! We hope to see these types of coasters appearing across the globe! It appears that Intamin are upping their game and creating their own version of this special effects coaster, Uncharted, a roller coaster based on the hit game, and a movie franchise is set to open at PortAventura World in 2024!
We are so excited for what’s to come, so just a friendly call out to these manufacturers… BRING IT ON!
Thanks for reading!