Top 10 Sci-Fi Theme Park Rides & Attractions

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The highlight of any visit to a theme park for sci-fi fans are the sci-fi based rides and attractions. Whether derived from popular movies and TV shows or original creations, these rides and attractions feature top-notch effects and thrills and bring these fantastic worlds to life.

There has been some exciting developments regarding theme park attractions; notably Disney’s acquisition of the Star Wars franchise. Rumors are rampant that there will be a major expansion devoted to Star Wars in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Meanwhile Universal Studios is celebrating their latest sci-fi attraction, Transformers The Ride–3D.

It may be thrilling to contemplate tomorrow’s attractions, but many memorable rides have stood the test of t10000time despite featuring outdated technology. What made them classics were how well they were executed or captured the mood of a film or TV show. This list celebrates past and current rides and attractions that fire up the imagination.

Please note, rollercoaster rides were left off the list because frankly, theming most rollercoaster rides are a waste. When riding those vomit rides, riders are zipping by so fast and hard on the tracks that no one can properly view or admire the rides’ sci-fi trappings.

10. Borg Invasion 4D (Star Trek: The Experience): This attraction was basically a 3D movie but wrapped around it was an interactive storyline where guests visited a Starbase that came under a Borg attack. Guests were then “evacuated” by Starfleet personnel into an escape shuttle, which was the movie itself.

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9. Dinosaur (Disney’s Animal Kingdom): Originally called Countdown To Extinction, the ride’s name was changed to its current title when the film Dinosaur came out in 2000. The premise is that a time-traveling jeep goes back in time to rescue an iguanodon, while the vehicle must avoid audio-animatronic dinosaurs, meteors and other dazzling effects. The herky-jerky ride is pretty rough but the sudden chaotic moves add to the excitement and suspense.

8. The Timekeeper (Magic Kingdom): The attraction was one of those Circlevision 360 movies Disney has all over Epcot’s World Showcase where standing audiences have a film played all around them. The Timekeeper was an android (voiced by Robin Williams) who transports the audience, Jules Verne and H.G. Wells throughout time. The finale that takes place in a futuristic Paris was simply stunning and immersed guests into a futuristic world.

mspace7. Mission: Space (Epcot): According to some astronauts, this ride does a great job of recreating a rocket launch. Centrifugal forces do a number on riders enclosed in narrow, claustrophobic stations that simulate a spaceship being launched and escaping Earth’s gravity.  Riders play specific parts as team members on their way to Mars. Mission: Space is so rough that a milder version of the ride had to be introduced.

6. Horizons (EPCOT Center): This long-gone pavilion at EPCOT horizonsCenter was a nifty dark ride that showed how early visionaries viewed our future (with nods to A Voyage To The Moon). The latter part of the ride showcased families living in futuristic environments like onboard a space station. The finale allowed riders to choose from three different future environments (desert, ocean and outer space) to explore.

5. Back To The Future: The Ride (Universal Studios): Possibly the greatest old-style simulator ride of all time before innovations like 3D were added to these types of rides. Visitors at Doc Brown’s (Christopher Lloyd) Institute of Future Technology had to ride a modified time-traveling DeLorean to chase down another DeLorean driven by Biff Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson). Huge IMAX screens and especially rough rides added to the illusion that the vehicles were time-traveling to different eras.

4. Terminator 2 3D: Battle Across Time (Universal Studios Florida): The 3D effects in this attraction still hold up today and the pre-show presentation is fun to watch. What is interesting is that it is the final time that director James Cameron worked with the stars from Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong and Robert Patrick.  In the attraction, a Cyberdyne Systems demonstration of their new primitive T-70 robots are interrupted by Sarah and John Connor, as well as the T-1000. Fortunately, the heroic T-800 Terminator comes to the rescue as the attraction seamlessly blends live-action and 3D effects.

spider ride3. The Amazing Adventures Of Spider-Man (Islands Of Adventure): This ride uses different technologies (3D, pyro effects, simulators, etc.) to create one of the most exciting rides ever. Riders board a news vehicle and encounter Spider-Man as he battles Doctor Octopus, Hobgoblin, Electro and others throughout New York City.  Riders are literally thrown into the dizzying, aerobatic action when Doctor Octopus uses an anti-gravity rifle to elevate the ride vehicle over skyscrapers, as he and his cohorts battle Spider-Man. It’s all a  wondrous blending of different effects that throws riders into the action. The way Spidey lands on the vehicle is still thrilling after multiple rides. The Spider-Man ride recently underwent an HD upgrade that adds even more eye-popping depth to the experience.

2. Star Tours: The Adventures Continue (Disney’s Hollywood Studios/Disneyland): This update of the vader 3doriginal Star Tours keeps the simulator ride refreshing by offering several different scenarios. The premise is largely the same, riders visit the Star Tours station and board a Starspeeder vehicle. This time, the droid C-3P0 accidently becomes the pilot of the vehicle that captures the interest of imperial forces, who are looking for a Rebel spy onboard the vehicle. Sometimes Darth Vader himself tries to seize the vessel using the Force The Starspeeder narrowly escapes and takes off to safely deliver the Rebel spy through random locations. They range from the ice planet Hoth to the desert planet Tatooine. Another bonus is that the ride is in 3D, but Star Tours: The Adventures Continue is so great that it doesn’t need the gimmick.

1. Klingon Encounter (Star Trek: The Experience): It really is a star trek expshame that Star Trek: The Experience closed because not all fans were able to go to Las Vegas to experience the Klingon Encounter ride/attraction. Guests were seemingly transported onboard the Enterprise D as it comes under attack by rogue Klingons. Thanks to the faithfully recreated details of the ship, including the bridge, guests were made to feel as if they were actually onboard Captain Picard’s ship. The actors who interacted with guests as Enterprise officers helped sell this illusion, as well as the shuttle ride that concluded the attraction. No other ride or attraction went to this level to immerse a guest and make him or her feel as if they’re part of the storyline. Paramount or CBS should really try to bring this encounter back somehow–but they should pick someplace more compatible instead of Vegas.

Honorable Mentions: The original Star Tours (Disneyland), Body Wars (EPCOT Center), The ExtarTERRORestrial Alien buzzEncounter (Magic Kingdom), E.T. Adventure (Universal Studios), Jurassic Park: The Ride (Universal Studios Hollywood), Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin (Magic Kingdom), Transformers The Ride–3D (Universal Studios Hollywood), Honey, I Shrunk The Audience! (Epcot), and Men In Black: Alien Attack (Universal Studios Florida)

José Soto

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Theme Park Wars: Star Trek Vs. Star Wars

  

Theme parks are in a constantly competing with each other with new rides and attractions. Some of the most successful ones are those based on popular science fiction properties. As fans know, Star Wars and Star Trek have taken part in these so-called theme park wars.

Star Tours Past & Present

One of Disney’s greatest rides is Star Tours based on the Star Wars films. It is located in Disneyland, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Disneyland Paris and Tokyo Disneyland. It was recently given a major facelift by adding new 3D adventures and is now open in the first three parks.

The original Star Tours took place in the Star Wars Universe shortly after the events of Return Of The Jedi. Star Tours was a galactic tour company that offered rides with their fleet of StarSpeeder 3000s. Riders entered a building whose architecture resembled one from the Star Wars films. Inside was a large queue area/spaceport that featured a full-scale mockup of a StarSpeeder 3000. R2-D2 was mounted on top of the vessel and an audio-animatronic version of C-3PO could also be seen in this area. The audio-animatronics of these robots were very well done and looked authentic.

The trip was supposed to take riders to Endor’s moon. However, once onboard the craft, which was a simulator, the pilot droid RX-24 (voiced by Paul Reubens) overshot the moon. The ship and riders wound up in a couple of cosmic misadventures, culminating in a crossfire between Rebel X-Wing fighters and TIE fighters around another Death Star.

It was a fun ride and an instant hit when it opened in Disneyland in 1987. However as with all rides, it grew stale for many veteran riders. Other more elaborate simulator rides came out afterwards that amped up the thrills and effects. Still this ride remained a popular mainstay in the parks.

Eventually George Lucas and Disney decided to upgrade the rides. The storyline was changed and new films were produced in 3D. The new version called Star Tours: The Adventures Continue  (unofficially called Star Tours 2.0) emphasized the fact that it now features several different scenarios for riders. It made its debut in Disney’s Hollywood Studios on May 2011 and opened a bit later in the other parks. This ride now takes place in between Episodes III and IV.  While R2-D2 plays the same role in the new version, C-3PO has a larger role as an accidental pilot inside the spaceship. The queue area remains largely the same but is enhanced with large video screens featuring shots of different worlds seen in the Star Wars films. Plus, the re-named StarSpeeder 1000 is now painted with red highlights. RX-24 can also be spotted in the queue as a defective droid.

In the new plotline, Imperial stormtroopers, sometimes led by Darth Vader, attempt to board the StarSpeeder 1000 because one of the riders (randomly chosen and shown on a monitor) is actually a Rebel spy. After escaping, riders go onto two distinct destinations and receive a holographic message from either Admiral Ackbar, Yoda or Princess Leia to deliver the spy to safety.

Destinations include Tatooine, Kashyyyk, and Hoth. What riders experience is completely random and each ride feels new. All in all, there are about 54 different scenarios that can be experienced. This is a great innovation since it keeps the ride fresh and the effects are pure, jaw-dropping eye candy. Even the Naboo scenes with the Gungans and Jar Jar Binks are entertaining.. The new version was an immediate hit. Excited fans rode it over and over again and is building a solid following.

Trek Encounters

Open from 1998 to 2008, Star Trek: The Experience operated in the Las Vegas Hilton as a mini-theme park inside the hotel. The signature attraction there was Klingon Encounter. Saying it was the only ride in the Experience before BORG Invasion 4D opened in 2004 was inaccurate because guests could still enjoy the Star Trek museum (part of the queue line before the ride) and cavorting at Quark’s Bar. Those were attractions in their own right.

The Klingon Encounter ride started off as any typical simulator ride. Guests would line up in rows behind closed doors and received boarding instructions via video. But the ride took things a step further and fully immersed guests into the Star Trek Universe. A power blackout plunged the room into darkness. Before anyone could react, strobe lights pierced the pitch blackness and then the lights came back on, revealing a transporter room of the Enterprise D complete with uniformed Starfleet personnel! The dumbfounded guests were led to an elevator which took them to a perfect recreation of the starship’s iconic bridge. The consoles and stations had the same exact Okudagrams that eagle-eye viewers noticed on DVDs. Commander Riker then appeared on the bridge’s main viewscreen and informed guests that they were transported into the future because some renegade Klingons wanted to capture one of the guests who is related to a certain starship captain. Then the guests left for the Enterprise’s hangar bay and boarded a Starfleet shuttle piloted by Geordi La Forge. The shuttle was the simulator ride. Onboard, riders faced off against pursuing Klingon Birds of Prey before traveling back to Las Vegas.

The entire ride was captivating, helped by the flawless recreation of the starship’s interiors and the actors who stayed in character throughout their performances. It all helped sell the illusion that modern-day guests time traveled into the future.

BORG Invasion 4D did a similar immersion but it wasn’t as involved or shocking as the Klingon Encounter. This time, guests simply visited a Starfleet science station with actors portraying Starfleet officers. The station’s monitors featured the holographic doctor from Star Trek: Voyager. Before long, the station comes under attack by the Borg (with an actual Borg drone invading the station) and guests were evacuated to a theater that doubled as an escape craft. The vessel’s 3D viewscreen showed an immense Borg Cube that captured the vessel. Inside the Cube, the Borg Queen appeared and attempted to assimilate the guests. At this point, effects like wind, fog and tactile sensations were used to create the impression of a Borg attack. Luckily the Voyager commanded by Kathryn Janeway showed up (seen on side monitors) to save the day. Continue reading

Star Trek: The Exhibition at the Kennedy Space Center

The traveling exhibit Star Trek: The Exhibition is currently running through this summer at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) as part of the Center’s Sci-Fi Summer. Showcasing the world of Star Trek, the Sci-Fi Summer program presents how the science fiction world of Trek helped to influence the development of our technology. It’s a great place to go if you are a Star Trek or science fiction fan not just because of the Trek-themed exhibits and attractions but because it melds that sci-fi aspect to NASA’s real life world. You get to see where we’ve been and how far we have to go.

Star Trek: The Exhibition features a scale model of the Enterprise, and the actual props and costumes used in the Star Trek shows and films. At the KSC, the exhibit is broken up into two different buildings. One where IMAX films are shown (and is currently presenting Transformers: Dark of the Moon in 3D) has a room dedicated to the original Star Trek series, though props and costumes from the Kirk-era films can be seen. The highlight is a well-detailed replica of the original Enterprise bridge complete with dedication plaque, consoles and the captain’s chair that anyone can sit on for golden photo opportunities.

At another building near the tour bus terminal is a larger exhibit room dedicated to Star Trek: The Next Generation,  as well as Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. This exhibit displays a mock-up of the Reman Scorpion fighter craft seen in Star Trek: Nemesis and partial recreations of the Enterprise D’s sickbay and engine room. There are models,  numerous props and costumes worn and used by the actors and a Klingon chair that you can sit on (there are also captain chairs from the Enterprise B and D but those are roped off). Additionally one side of the exhibit’s wall has a mural with a detailed timeline of NASA and Trek history. The opposing wall displays the costumes. A nice touch to this exhibit were two actors dressed as Vulcans from the far future who stayed in character and interacted with visitors. The uniforms they wore were the ones worn by 29th century Starfleet officers as seen in the Voyager episode “Relativity.”

The KSC has Trek costumes and factoids peppered throughout the facility with several famous delta shield symbol on the grounds that act as arrows to guide visitors to Trek-related exhibits and attractions. For example one path lead sto the rocket garden where a floor painting shows how large the Enterprise ships are in comparison to the horizontally displayed Saturn 1B rocket. It’s staggering to consider how large the Trek ships are when you walk the length of the rocket. There was so much to see at the KSC that one could easily spend an entire day on the grounds. Continue reading

A Brief Look Back At Star Trek: The Experience

From January 3,1998 to September 1, 2008 Star Trek fans had a haven to call their own when the Las Vegas Hilton ran the attraction Star Trek: The Experience. Part indoor theme park, part museum; the $70-million-dollar attraction had components that all faithfully recreated the science fiction world of Captains Kirk, Picard and the shows’ other heroes and villains.

Visitors were greeted at the entranceway by an enormous hanging model of Kirk’s Enterprise from the movies. Inside the attraction’s main circular layout, which recreated the Deep Space Nine (DS9) Promenade from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, (the Experience’s fact sheet claimed that the entire area was 65,000 square feet), other overhead models of ships from Star Trek’s many incarnations were a sight to behold. For the record, also greeting visitors were the Enterprise D from Star Trek: The Next Generation, the Voyager from Star Trek: Voyager and a Klingon Bird-of-Prey ship seen from the movies. Guests could just dine in the attraction’s center, or do some shopping off to the left and take in the sights. As they gawked at the intricate detailing of the place, actors dressed and made up as aliens from the shows such as Klingons and Ferengi interacted with visitors and stayed in character.

But most came for the main attractions. Originally, that was just the Klingon Encounter and History of the Future Museum, but BORG Invasion 4D was added in 2004 (at one point in 2005 there were plans to add another area devoted to the original 1960s series that featured Kirk and Spock but alas that never came to fruition.). Fans paid admission for both shows and experienced them as many times as they wanted. After paying, they turned a sharp right from the cashier off to the entrance’s right and walked up a long, twisting walkway that took them through the museum.

It featured an exhaustive timeline of our history and that of the shows and movies. But what was most interesting were the huge collection of genuine Star Trek props going back forty years. In fact, the people behind the attraction claimed the museum had the largest, permanent collection of props. After browsing through the winding museum, visitors stood in line and chose whichever attraction they wanted to try first.

In the Klingon Encounter, guests were somehow transported (through backstage effects) on board a flawless recreation of the Enterprise D’s interior complete with actors playing futuristic spacemen. What happened was that a visitor would line up to board a simulator ride then suddenly the lights would go out. There was a blast of air and quick strobe lights in the pitch darkness. Then the lights would go on and voila the visitor was standing on the transporter pads of the ship’s transporter room. Guests were then given a quick tour of the Enterprise’s corridors and bridge before being whisked away into a shuttle that confronted the Klingons. Of course, the shuttle was really a simulator ride that concluded the show. Basically the  storyline was that the Klingons traveled back in time to modern-day Earth and tried to abduct the visitors but the Enterprise intervened and transported the people on board. The twist was that someone in the group turned out to be the ancestor of Captain Picard. Both Jonathan Frakes and Levar Burton reprised on viewscreens their roles as Riker and LaForge.

The future was also visited in BORG Invasion 4D as fans entered a futuristic space station that came under attack by the villainous cyber beings, the Borg. As in the first show, actors stayed in character and the sets were flawless recreations of Federation architecture. Like in Klingon Encounter, guests were evacuated to a shuttle but contrary to the first attraction, this one concluded with the visitors sitting in a theater and being part of a 4D interactive film. It was similar to what you would find in the Disney or Universal parks with tactile experiences enhancing the show. In this film, the Borg were trying to assimilate the audience before being stopped by the starship Voyager. Robert Picardo, Kate Mulgrew and Alice Krige reprised on viewscreens their roles as the ship’s Emergency Medical Hologram, Admiral Janeway and the Borg Queen. Continue reading