If you’ve ever wondered how to build a dark ride, in this post, we’ll show you how we built the Forbidden Caves at Bobbejaanland.

It’s now approaching five years since the Forbidden Caves at Bobbejaanland opened to the public. It’s one of those projects that ran perfectly from the start of the design to the final handover. It’s certainly one we are proud of here at Garmendale. So, we thought that to mark the five year anniversary, we would share a more detailed story of how the ride came to be. We’ll have a full look back at the whole process, from early drawings to the finished ride being installed and welcoming its first, slightly terrified, customers. 

The challenge was to create a new type of dark ride. One that was capable of delivering 60 passengers into the heart of an immersive tunnel and bring a story to life around them, that was truly immersive and to the same exceptional standard for every rider. The first decision taken was to move away from the industry-standard route of hydraulic control, in favour of the all-new electric control. If we could pull it off, it would allow a far quieter delivery into the heart of the ride and allow us to extend service periods and minimise breakdowns – always an issue with hydraulics. 

But perhaps the biggest issue was the timescale. Design a brand new ride system, fabricate it, test it, deliver it, get it approved by the testing bodies and install it. All in around six months. We do like a challenge here at Garmendale, so working with our partners for the project, Holovis who were providing the projection for the ride, we began in earnest. 

The first stage was to work up concept drawings. As the ideas took shape, these were developed into more detailed plans. You can see some of the early ideas and working parameters here. 

It soon became apparent that the ride would work much better with two cars carrying 30 people than trying to create an enormous megastructure for 60. Whilst we know we could have built it, the engineering required would have been cost-prohibitive and the level of immersion into the story we were looking for, would have been nigh on impossible to achieve. 

With the design agreed, the engineering team started the fabrication. As you can see from the following photos, this in itself, was a major task and although the end product looks different to anything we’d built before, the process we followed was quite similar to other builds. It’s a case of building up the core components from the ground up and ensuring everything is non destructively tested throughout. That way, when it comes to type approval testing before we go live, we’ve already jumped through many of the hurdles we’re going to have to face later on anyway. 

To save time in the extremely short production timescale, we’d always planned to create the themed elements in parallel. This meant seats and some of the external bodywork could be created and then painted up off-site, to be fitted later in the process. The theming is normally the first thing that people notice with any ride. Once it takes on its external ‘shell’ the engineering behind it disappears. This project was no exception either. By the time the theming was completed, all eyes were drawn to the tired, patinated designs of the vehicles. All our hard work underneath and the theming made them look second or third hand before they’d even entered service. 

At this point, the overall theme of the ride was announced. 

The story is that when you enter the Forbidden Caves, you’re going on an adventure with explorer Jasper DuBois and his ‘Amazing Cave Tours’. He takes you on a cave expedition in the rain forests of Khyonesia in Southeast Asia. You, the adventurer, ends up in the small kingdom, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, a famous archaeologist, who mysteriously vanished two years ago, whilst searching for mythical crystals, rumoured to exist in the area. 

The orientation starts before you board the ride and the first stage is to climb aboard a ‘rickety’ lift that descends 236 meters deep into the caves. According to the accompanying guide, the lift ‘never stops’ and you descend deeper and deeper, wildly out of control. 

In reality, you stay at the same ground level, but actually have the feeling that you are sinking into the ground. This is immersive technology at its best. 

Once you leave the ‘elevator’ you’re brought into a cold cave with narrow corridors and dim lights that can fail at any moment.

Here and there you come across the infamous crystals with special green and purplish light that Jasper is looking for and you even come face to face with a fire spectacle. Just before you board the expedition vehicle, all visitors are given safety goggles – which are really 3D glasses – and then the real ride begins.

The next stage of the ride is perhaps best described by Roland Kleve, director of Bobbejaanland

“The tour suddenly takes a different turn when guide Jasper sees a special entrance. Behind the door is a beautiful baby. It is guarded by stone warriors and monsters who are not happy that people are looking for those treasures. ”That is the start of an exciting adventure. “It is a real experience attraction,”

The next stage of development is perhaps best shown in a video. 

This first one shows some of the huge amount of testing that went into the ride.

When it was completed (it passed with flying colours) it was a case of strip it back down, pack it up and get it shipped to the Netherlands for installation.

Shipping a ride poses a new challenge every time and packing them up has become a fine art the team have now perfected. In this one, you can see how many individual boxes and containers were involved and how carefully everything was dissembled, packed and shipped, to make the build process easier when we arrived on-site for the installation. 

Installation is a three-part process and obviously critical for the success of the ride. Even though a ride may have been tested for hundreds of hours in the test bays at the factory, it doesn’t always follow that it will work first time on install, if the prep work isn’t right. 

Before the ride has arrived there’s a mammoth task in building the platform and the structure in which the ride itself will be housed. This has to be exactly to plan and millimetre perfect or the install will inherit problems that cause hold-ups and the potential for operational issues further down the line. You can see from these images that the prep work all looked pretty much perfect.

The second stage is when the ride arrives. It’s unpacked from the nearest agreed access point and carried to its final destination. This is again all pre-planned so we ensure that what’s delivered to the outside of the site, can be delivered right into the ride area. Without this joined-up planning and teamwork, we could easily be left with having the unenviable task of dismantling a ride outside, just so we can get it through the doors.

The final stage is to build the ride back up and ensure that it’s all working to plan. Whilst the ride itself is being built, we were also building up the projection screens for the story to play itself out. If the illusion of immersion within the story is going to work properly on a dark ride, this has to be perfect. A few millimetres out here and there may not seem like much in a huge area like this one, but when there’s projection involved, it has to be right, or the audiovisual team will always struggle to get their element of the film in focus. 

Thankfully, it all went to plan and to finish the story off, here’s the ride in final testing.

And finally, so you can have an idea of the immersive nature of the ride, here’s a POV video shared on YouTube by a happy Bobbejaanland customer. 

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