2012 was an exciting year in entertainment design – from new museums transforming the way we teach math and science to the reimagining of classic theme park rides. With so much technological innovation going on, you’d expect the best projects to be high-tech and flashy. Some are. But we’ve also seen another major trend on the rise, a move toward cohesive theming and immersive storytelling as a way to delight, educate, and stimulate play. Here are our top ten favorite projects from 2012.
10. Outlaw Run, Silver Dollar City – Branson, Missouri
Fans of wooden coasters are chomping at the bit to ride Outlaw Run at Silver Dollar City. Outlaw Run is a blended wooden and steel coaster with the feel of a wooden coaster and the structural integrity of a steel ride. It’s set the have the steepest drop of any wooden roller coaster and is the only one that will feature inversions. Construction began in 2012 on this project designed by Rocky Mountain Construction and we think it stands to be a gamechanger.
9. Wild Eagle Roller Coaster, Dollywood – Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
It’s been an exciting year for pushing the limits on roller coasters. The winged Wild Eagle Roller Coaster at Dollywood is the first of its kind in the United States. Perching a full 21 stories above the park, Wild Eagle couples the intense feeling of taking flight with a stunning view of the Smoky Mountains. Wild Eagle, which opened to the public on March 24th, has been a popular draw and widely recognized by the entertainment industry as one of the best new rides of 2012.
8. Transformers the Ride, Universal Studios – Hollywood & Singapore
Transformers the Ride lands on the list for its intense 3-D digital effects and action-packed battle sequences. Transformers is not your typical 3-D experience where the characters merely pop off the screen in front of you. It’s a 5-minute ride experience so realistic that the towering Decepticons and Autobots seem to be doing battle all around you. Universal Creative combined flexible ride technology, intricate set work, and sophisticated projection when designing the ride. This ride truly brings the Transformers experience into a physical setting, and as such is a triumph in storytelling.
7. TurtleTrek, Sea World – Orlando, Florida
This new attraction at Sea World Orlando combines education and conservation themes into a unique visitor experience in a way that’s rarely tackled so frankly by aquariums. TurtleTrek focuses on the plight of the endangered sea turtle, and teaches guests about their life cycle with storytelling from the turtle’s point of view. The 3-D show takes place in a 360-degree theater that leaves guests feeling like they’ve traveled underwater. The exhibit is a great example of science education and activism through immersive storytelling.
6. Radiator Springs Racers, Cars Land, Disney California Adventure Park – Anaheim, California
The Disney Imagineers have succeeded again with Radiator Springs Racers, a blended dark ride and thrill ride. The impressive storyline of the ride, from the beloved Cars universe, along with a beautifully crafted and realistic scenic backdrop, makes it worthy of our list. Guests rocket through the desert on a race across Ornament Valley, as the ride utilizes smart technology that causes the scenery, and the winner of the race, to vary each time.
5. The Making of Harry Potter, Warner Bros. Studios – London, United Kingdom
Harry Potter fans are about as die-hard as they come, which is why the opportunity to go behind the scenes of its film sets is a true delight. The Making of Harry Potter, an experience designed by the Thinkwell Group, is an immersive tour that reveals the secrets of the films’ special effects. The attraction succeeds at breaking the “fourth wall,” bringing the franchise’s fans into the tour experience and sharing insider info without shattering the magic. The tour is a masterpiece of selective storytelling and attraction design.
4. Legoland Windsor themed hotel – Windsor, United Kingdom
The hotel at Legoland Windsor is a haven for children with its playful, Lego-themed rooms. JRA and Merlin Entertainments designed the hotel to be a kid-focused, fun environment where families can choose to stay in pirate, adventure, or kingdom rooms. The Legoland Windsor is one of our favorites because of the meticulous attention to detail in every room. Small touches from Lego furniture and critters to storylines for each theme draw kids in. The design and operations of the hotel itself create a space where kids come first and achieve a sense of autonomy. This approach is notable in a venue type that typically fails at effectively engaging kids.
3. The Mind Museum – Taguig, Philippines
The Mind Museum is an innovative museum designed to make science fun through a series of interactive exhibits and a focus on storytelling. Jack Rouse Associates partnered with the Bonifacio Art Foundation Inc. to plan a one-of-a-kind museum that appeals to both young and lifelong learners. The museum explores The Story of the Atom, The Story of Life, The Story of the Universe, The Story of the Earth, and The Story of Technology through a series of interconnected web-like galleries. The Mind Museum makes our list because of its numerous opportunities to learn through play, made possible with a brilliant blend of physical and interactive design.
2. Kidzania – Kuala Lampur, Malaysia; Santiago, Chile
With two new locations in 2012, the Kidzania brand is growing quickly and it’s easy to see why. Kidzania gives kids unique opportunities to learn about the adult world through creative role-play, with indoor parks that empower children to explore over 100 real world “jobs” in kid-sized replicas of a city environment. Through the role-play, children experience firsthand the positive values of cooperation, decision-making, independence, and creativity needed to succeed in the adult world. We expect to see other attractions modeled after this approach in the years ahead.
1. Yas Waterworld – Yas Island, Abu Dhabi
Yas Waterworld is a standout for bringing world-class theme park storytelling to the water park setting. This makes our number one spot because it’s the first of its kind. All of Yas’ state-of-the-art slides, pools, and attractions are tied together by an evolving story line about a little girl and pearl diving, which is a key element of Emirati heritage and culture. Construction on the park was completed in 2012, and the big opening is set for January. Yas represents an important step forward in upgrading the quality of water park design around the world, and we’re excited to follow the future developments it inspires.