Regardless of how many greasy foods, carnival games and off the shelf flat rides a park has they always have some elements that make them unique. Cedar Point has some of the biggest coasters on the planet. Busch Gardens Williamsburg is beautifully landscaped. Universal Studios Hollywood is a real working movie studio where hundreds of movies, television series and commercials have been filmed. Hard Rock Park was the only one in the world featuring a rock N roll theme with it’s own set of unique attractions.
In Part 4 on Theme Park University’s series on Hard Rock Park, we looked at the process of putting together Led Zeppelin The Ride. Jon Binkowski’s team had to overcome many creative challenges to create a one of a kind roller coaster experience. It was designed to grab the attention of thrill seekers, but in reality Jon wanted the park to appeal to families of all ages with a milder adrenaline factor. Today we take a look at some of the other unique attractions that you could only experience at Hard Rock Park, Myrtle Beach in the summer of 2008.
From the beginning, Maximum RPM was a craps shoot. No coaster manufacturer had attempted a lift hill that also doubled as a ferris wheel before Premier Rides decided to give it a go. One major problem out of the gate was there was no working model of this attraction that got all the bugs massaged out before it was placed into British Invasion. The coaster constructed in the park was the working model and all of the engineering challenges the team from Premier faced had to be worked out on site. The major sticking point was the ferris wheel with 4 swinging gondolas that carried riders from the load station to the top of the first drop. Before one of the convertible sports cars could be launched forward into the ferris wheel, the track for the load station and the gondola needed to line up exactly. The speed of the coaster being propelled forward, the types of wheels used and even wind were all factors in getting the systems to sync up properly. With a delayed opening in late June of 2008, the ride suffered from many downtimes and long lines the rest of the summer – even when the park was fairly empty.
The creative team knew that even if the ride did operate properly, lines would be long. The vehicles only seated six people, versus the thirty two of Led Zeppelin and thus the hourly capacity was extremely low for a roller coaster. Jon’s team came up with a creative approach to the anticipated long waits: the world’s first karaoke queue line.
You read that correctly. Guests could choose from a pre-determined list of songs posted in the queue and belt out British Rock hits to a group of strangers. An entertainer/karaoke DJ would encourage those that the crowd liked and would tease those singers whose vocal skills needed a little polishing. To me, this was either a really terrible idea or a hell of a lot of fun depending on the guests that had the guts to try it.
Maximum RPM was incredibly short, the lift hill was only 50 feet tall and there was only 1,210 feet of track. The cars were equipped with speakers by JL Audio and featured a soundtrack that simulated dialing a radio that only featured British recording stars. After listening to about 10 seconds of a track, the channel would change and they would move on to a new song. A major reason for this was the park wouldn’t have to pay a band for the rights to use one song exclusively and the music would be covered under their ASCAP license. So you want to take a ride? The video below does not feature the original soundtrack, but it gives a great idea of what the load and lift system was like. Go ahead and hop on, I’ll be waiting at Nights in White Satin The Trip when you’re ready.
If you recall from my second article on Hard Rock Park, the original plan was to use the old Waccamaw shopping mall to house a Beatles themed dark ride. The problem with that plan was that Apple Corps Ltd (the Beatles’ company that still own the rights to their original recordings) asked for far too much money and insisted that the entire park be Beatles themed, not just one attraction. Jon and Steven felt that the Hard Rock brand encompassed so much more than the four lads from Liverpool, so they moved on.
Even when the Beatles were the focus of a dark ride, the visual concept for the attraction was a psychedelic experience. The idea was never to advocate drug use, but Jon felt that many classic rock songs were trippy in nature and he wanted a ride full of abstract imagery to put you in a specific state of mind. If you’ve ever seen a laser show set to Pink Floyd, you know what I am talking about. Oddly enough, Pink Floyd was contacted by Jon and his team at Hard Rock Park about a dark ride, but the band members dragged their feet too long to get involved with the project.
Ultimately, The Moody Blues were contacted. They were immediately thrilled to have their music immortalized in an attraction and were on board from the first meeting. Justin Hayward wrote Nights in White Satin after a friend of his gave him some satin sheets as a gift. The song has often been interpreted to be about unrequited love, but the Moody Blues loved the idea of taking a “trip” with the tune as the narrative.
Believe it or not, the version of Nights in White Satin used in the attraction was not lifted directly from the LP. The band didn’t exactly have the redistribution rights when it was originally recorded in 1967. Rather than renegotiate for them, which would cost a fair amount of money and time, the creative team at Hard Rock Park reorchestrated the entire song just for the ride. This also allowed for the music to be edited for specific scenes easily which gave it seamless continuity, versus trying to cut and splice the original track which might have sounded choppy. A video of the recording process for the ride was playing on a continuous loop in the first section of the queue, alongside Moody Blues memorabilia.
The queue was broken into two sections. The first featured posters, guitars and a fantastic peppers ghost effect that made a Moody Blues poster come to life. After that, things got bizarre. A ride attendant stood before a beaded curtain and handed out light prism glasses that refracted every particle of light in the room to make them dance. Even though it was never said aloud, I always felt like the attendant was saying “Hey man, stick out your tongue, I got something for ya.”
Now I have never done acid, so I am not one to compare psychedelic experiences, however once you stepped through the beaded curtain with the glasses on – shit got crazy. Murals seemed to pop out of the wall thanks to a special black light paint. Even the carpet seemed to be raised up off the ground and dancing as you made your way towards the load station. The light swirled around the suits of armor on loan from Medieval Times, along with the other props staged throughout the queue. If that wasn’t enough to make you dizzy, Jon had a spinning vortex tunnel that was dotted in bright colors for guests to maneuver through that was guaranteed to make you start losing your mind, if not your lunch.
To describe the ride itself would never truly do it justice. It was an artistic representation of images that might come to mind if you were listening to the song from a purely visual, non-linear standpoint with no story line. Jon loved that it was a visceral experience that could be interpreted as a cool ride with dazzling special effects by a six year old, but it might have a completely different meaning to a sixty year old. Sally Corporation was brought aboard to bring Jon’s vision to life. His challenge to them was to create a ride without the aid of robotics – a huge part of Sally’s bread and butter. The sound system provided by JL Audio was hands down the clearest, sharpest and most crisp sound I have ever heard on a ride vehicle. Hard Rock Park knew that the music had to be the driver for every experience in the park, and with this attraction in particular they hit a home run with the bases loaded.
Below is easily the best video of the attraction on the web, provided by Sally Corporation. Keep in mind, a recording of the attraction will never do the ride justice as it was meant to be experienced with the light prism glasses and the custom designed 24 volt speaker system. I’ll see you on the other side.
Nights in White Satin The Trip was truly a work of art and considered by most to be the signature attraction of Hard Rock Park. Now if you think a ride based on a psychedelic experience was edgy, go ahead and take a look at my next article where I explore some of the smaller details of what made the park a true one of a kind. Meanwhile, I would love to know your thoughts. Do you think Jon and his team made the right choices for these attractions? Was the ferris wheel style lift hill worth it? Was a psychedelic experience too out there for a dark ride? Leave your comments in the section below.