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Theme park fans are re-creating rides at home, with tennis balls and pets as special effects

Taylor Bybee plays Harry Potter
In a frame grab from a YouTube video, Taylor Bybee plays Harry Potter in a re-creation of Universal Studios’ Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.
(Taylor Bybee and Alec Reynolds)

Some theme park fans just can’t live without their favorite attractions.

That is evident by the slew of online videos posted in recent weeks showing how everyday folks have re-created their favorite rides since stay-at-home orders forced the closure of all major U.S. theme parks.

Some of the makeshift rides are fairly schlocky. But others, relying on near-at-hand family pets, pool noodles, boogie boards and the like, do a pretty good job of replicating the experience that theme parks create using animatronics, computer-generated images, motion-simulation technologies and multiple millions of dollars.

Theme park fans Taylor Bybee, 22, and friend Alec Reynolds, 22, re-created Universal Studios’ Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey attraction over a three-day period, relying on family members to serve as actors and everyday clothes for costumes

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They persuaded a hyperactive Pomeranian named Zoey to play a runaway dragon by strapping wings to the pooch while Bybee, dressed as Potter, ran around a yard with dog treats in his hand to encourage the dog to give chase.

“Ironically, I think filming the dog took less time than filming my family members,” Bybee said. “They kept on messing up their lines and actions, and my dog nailed it on the first try.”

The creativity of such homemade attractions has even won the praises of top theme park designers.

“We have always been inspired by the incredible passion of our Disney park fans,“ said Bob Weis, president of Walt Disney Imagineering, the arm of Walt Disney Co. that dreams up its attractions. “Seeing their creativity and shared love for the experiences we create has really lifted our spirits.”

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Of a similar mind is Joe Casey, vice president of Universal Creative, where rides are fashioned for Universal Parks & Resorts.

“Our guests continue to inspire us with their creativity in bringing such imaginative versions of our rides to life,” he said. “We look forward to reopening and sharing our adventurous and immersive rides with our guests again soon.”

Keeping in mind that breaking an arm during a simulated coaster drop could mean a scarier ride — to the emergency room — these homemade rides offer at least vicarious viewing pleasure. Here are a few of our favorites:

Pirates of the Caribbean

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We loved the use of a staircase for the water drop in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride and living room couches as warring British and pirate ships. Also the shaggy pup with little interest in the manic proceedings.

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For those of you who can’t remember the original, here it is:

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The Haunted Mansion

This re-creation of the iconic Haunted Mansion attraction made great use of blacklight and even worked in the scene of the quivering grave digger and his dog.

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The original Haunted Mansion attraction looks like this:

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Soarin’

Soarin’, an attraction that uses a flight simulator to give riders the feeling they are gliding over a picturesque landscape, was re-created with inventive use of cotton balls, Lego bricks, household sponges and sparklers.

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Several versions of the Soarin’ attraction have been featured at Disney parks. Here is Soarin’ Over California:

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Jungle Cruise

Re-creating Disney’s famed Jungle Cruise ride would not be the same without the series of cornball jokes delivered by the humorously challenged tour captain. This remake of the cruise takes place on a paddleboard and doesn’t scrimp on the groaners. Jon Lynch, a Disney employee from Orlando, Fla., said he created the ride with his wife over a weekend. “We only used the things we had lying around the house,” he said.

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The real Jungle Cruise ride at Disneyland has been modified over the years. Here’s a recent version:

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Guardians of the Galaxy — Mission: Breakout

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In Disneyland’s Guardians of the Galaxy — Mission: Breakout, an anthropomorphic raccoon named Rocket helps to break out the other guardians from a zoo-like prison. In this remake, a cute pug plays the role of the human-like raccoon.

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The original Guardians of the Galaxy — Mission: Breakout is a drop-tower attraction that opened in 2017 at Disney California Adventure Park.

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Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey

Not all the re-created rides are Disney attractions. Bybee and Reynolds put together their version of the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride, located in several shuttered Universal Studios parks. The homemade version features a fierce Pomeranian playing the role of a runaway dragon and a tennis ball as the elusive golden snitch.

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The original Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride does not rely on tennis balls and homemade costumes.

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