The one-of-a-kind Voyage to the Iron Reef interactive dark ride coming to Knott’s Berry Farm in 2015 will drop visitors into the middle of an underwater battle brimming with steampunk-inspired sea creatures determined to destroy the Buena Park theme park.
The new 4-D shoot-'em-up attraction will take over a long-neglected location in the Boardwalk section of the park that was once home to two beloved dark rides: Knott’s Bear-y Tales and Kingdom of the Dinosaurs.
Demonstrating a renewed commitment to storytelling, Knott’s has invested heavily in themed dark rides in the past few years with animatronic updates and extensive overhauls to Timber Mountain Log Ride in 2013 and Calico Mine Ride this year.
The Voyage to the Iron Reef presents riders with a simple mission: Save Knott’s from a school of mechanized sea creatures feeding on the steel rides in the park.
Along the way, riders armed with freeze rays will battle steampunk stingrays, puffer fish, crabs, giant shrimp and whales before encountering the Kraken octopus queen in her lair.
Drawing heavily on the works of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, steampunk reimagines a retro-futuristic world that combines everyday objects with steam-powered machinery inspired by the Industrial Revolution.
In recent years, steampunk has crept from the fandom fringe into popular culture, showing up with greater frequency in literature, film, television, music, video games, fashion and even theme parks.
A steampunk theme park in northwest France features a sea monster carousel inspired by Verne’s “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” and a 40-foot-tall steam-powered steel elephant that ambles about the grounds.
The Efteling theme park in the Netherlands plans to add the steampunk-influenced Baron 1898 dive coaster in 2015.
In the fantastical world of the new Knott’s ride, the steampunk-inspired sea creatures have developed rust-free mechanized exoskeletons after years of secretly feeding on the steel rides in the park.
Voyage to the Iron Reef will be built by the same team that created the Wonder Mountain Guardian 4-D interactive dark ride at Canada’s Wonderland, the Toronto-area sister park of Knott’s. Canada-based Triotech will handle the video animation and gaming aspects while German-based Art Engineering will install the track and build the ride vehicles.
Initial concept art for the Voyage to the Iron Reef ride building depicts rooftop signage entwined with octopus tentacles. After ascending to the second story, riders wearing 3-D glasses will board four-seat vehicles armed with individual freeze-ray guns used to shoot targets on a series of enormous video screens.
Developed by Knott’s Creative Director Lara Hanneman and her team, the new ride travels through six scenes depicted on 11 curving video screens from 20 to 70 feet wide. The ride vehicles will rotate, change speed and even briefly pause as they move between video screens separated by three-dimensional themed sets.
After entering a submarine, riders will be launched on a four-minute underwater journey through the murky waters beneath Knott’s Berry Farm, where they immediately encounter the Kraken queen’s evil minions.
Ray guns will fire blasts that instantly freeze and then break apart the mechanical sea creatures.
Traveling through a simulated underwater environment, riders will battle mechanized scavenger crabs disassembling a forest of old rides, face off against an ink-squirting octopus military general and descend into a whirlpool leading to a standoff with a sea creature army.
The finale takes place in the queen’s lair, where the villainous Kraken defends a castle constructed from salvaged coaster track and thrill rides.
Along the way, riders encounter special effects that include bubbles, heat, fog and air blasts. Each player’s score is displayed in the ride vehicle and on LED screens stationed at the exit to the attraction.
Voyage to the Iron Reef will pay tribute to Knott’s rides past and present that will be familiar to attentive fans searching for “Easter eggs” hidden throughout the attraction.
In one scene, the Roaring ‘20s sign that stood for years atop the ride building will be visible at the bottom of the ocean. Shooting the park icon with a ray gun will cause the neon sign to light up and register bonus points.
Knott’s Bear-y Tales was designed by Disney Imagineer Rolly Crump, who worked on the Enchanted Tiki Room, Haunted Mansion and It’s a Small World at Disneyland. Set in the Roaring ‘20s, the whimsical and inventive dark ride followed a bear family on a trip to the county fair, traveling through a frog forest, gypsy camp, thunder cave and the weird woods along the way.
To this day, fans still talk about the boysenberry smell pumped into the bakery scene.
Kingdom of the Dinosaurs took riders on a time-traveling journey from 1920s Los Angeles to the prehistoric era. Filled with animatronic figures, the realistic and majestic dark ride included a Tyrannosaurus rex, brontosaurus, triceratops, stegosaurus and a 32-foot-long apatosaurus.
Knott’s considered reviving the former dark rides during brainstorming sessions for the new attraction, as well as pondering (and ultimately rejecting) back stories that focused on a Halloween Haunt theme, a Wild West motif and a storybook fairy tale.
Of course, the challenge for Knott’s is introducing a themed dark ride in a Southern California marketplace dominated by Disney and Universal Studios. Knott’s has been careful not to boast or overreach with Voyage to the Iron Reef, seeking to manage expectations in hopes the ride will be judged against the park’s other attractions rather than its deep-pocketed rivals.
While Knott’s has not revealed a cost for Voyage to the Iron Reef, it is expected to be budgeted at a fraction of what Disney spent on Radiator Springs Racers and Indiana Jones Adventure or Universal allocated for Transformers 3-D and the upcoming Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.
But ultimately, comparisons will be made and most Southern Californians will likely liken Knott’s new ride to the video screen-centric Toy Story Midway Mania at Disney California Adventure and the shoot ‘em up Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters at Disneyland.