Friday, December 1, 2023

Mysterious caverns, ghost pirates, a kraken, and the town drunk

Sally Dark Rides and Daniels Wood Land use Monterey history as an interactive dark ride adventure theme

by Joe Kleiman

In the early 1800s, a French privateer named Hipólito Bouchard was commissioned by the government of Argentina, newly independent of Spain, to attack Spanish colonies in the Americas. Among the towns sacked was what is now Monterey, California. In 1818, Bouchard landed one of his ships and began attacking the local Spanish garrison. By the time his crew entered the Presidio (the military headquarters), where they swapped out the Spanish flag and replaced it with the Argentine one, the base had been abandoned, apart from a single local drunk named Molina, who was promptly taken prisoner by Bouchard’s crew.

Thanks to a collaboration between Sally Dark Rides and Daniels Wood Land (DWL), Bouchard’s tale lives on – reimagined as a supernatural pirate adventure in Treasure Hunt: The Ride, a state-of-the art, interactive dark ride attraction that opened July 2023 on Monterey’s legendary Cannery Row. This new, standalone attraction is just a few blocks from the renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium, which for nearly forty years has been the anchor and tourist magnet of the neighborhood. Cannery Row’s profile is being further elevated as the aquarium is joined by a new generation of unique, theme park-caliber attractions, starting with Treasure Hunt: The Ride.

The Treasure Hunt team

Daniels Wood Land is a design and fabrication firm based in Paso Robles, California. DWL creates themed cabins and treehouses, shooting galleries, interactive props, themed sets and environments, animatronic characters, playgrounds, and chainsaw carvings for clients around the world. The company is the focus of the popular Animal Planet show “Redwood Kings.” DWL also designed and fabricated The San Francisco Dungeon with operator Merlin Entertainments, and the attraction ran 2014-2019 on San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf. The company recently expanded its scope, incorporating DWL Amusement LLC in 2021 to own and operate attractions, including Treasure Hunt: The Ride.

Sally Dark Ride and Daniels Wood Land executives raise a mug of ale at the Grand Opening.

Sally Dark Rides, headquartered in Jacksonville, Florida, is a leading designer and provider of dark rides to theme parks and standalone attractions. Recent projects include the rides Uncharted and Sesame Street: Street Mission (a TEA Thea Award recipient) at Spain’s PortAventura World, the series of JUSTICE LEAGUE: Battle for Metropolis dark rides at multiple Six Flags Parks (the California version of the ride was also honored with a Thea Award), and VOLKANU: Quest for the Golden Idol at Lost Island Theme Park in Iowa.

The two companies put together a dream team of creative suppliers to turn the historical story into an action-packed family ride. Gosetto supplied the ride vehicles. Techni-lux handled attraction lighting, creating an eerie sense of being in lost caverns. Targeting systems were provided by Alterface, an interactive technology specialist with many rides and attractions to their credit. Media production throughout the attraction was by Pure Imagination Studios. Techni-lux, Alterface and Pure Imagination all previously collaborated with Sally on the JUSTICE LEAGUE rides.

From shooting galleries to shooting dark rides

Cannery Row, made iconic by John Steinbeck’s classic novel of the same name, was once home to numerous sardine canneries, the last of which closed in 1973. The area began its transformation into a shopping and tourist destination in the 1950s and ‘60s, as the canneries began moving out. In 1984, Monterey Bay Aquarium, founded by Julie Packard, whose father was a co-founder of Hewlett-Packard, opened on the grounds of the Hovden Cannery, one of the oldest and largest sardine canneries on the west coast. A few smaller attractions, including escape rooms, laser tag, and a wax museum (now closed) have dotted the rest of Cannery Row.

A barker pirate encourages guests to enter the basement and collect treasure.

The wax museum was in the basement of a shopping arcade that had repurposed the historic Monterey Bay Canning Company. “We had always wanted to do something there,” says Ron Daniels, President of Daniels Wood Land. “We recently built a couple of automated shooting galleries in some available storefronts – one gallery setting is under the ocean and the other is a carnival midway. We got a call from Cannery Row Company, the primary owner of real estate on Cannery Row and our landlord, that the wax museum had closed and the space was available, and jumped at it. We were thinking, ‘pirates and dark ride, but with a unique twist.’

Since DWL had a sharp eye for storytelling and theming, but lacked experience with dark rides, Daniels reached out to John Wood, President and Chairman of Sally Dark Rides. “Our companies have known each other a long time,” explained Wood, “from both exhibiting at IAAPA Expo and at other industry events. This is not the first standalone attraction we’ve worked on, but Ron invited us to join as a partner, and we did extensive research, looking at annual attendance in the area, and determined it was well worth considering. Ron and the DWL team are enthusiastic about the project and it helps that they’re just down the highway from Monterey.” With the new partnership in place, the two main design firms were able to work together without some of the budgetary constraints of a traditional contractor-client relationship.

The ride – Bouchard the pirate

In the ride, Bouchard becomes a pirate in the style of Hollywood films, with added supernatural elements. Helping lead visitors to the ride are an animatronic barker pirate and his parrot (animatronics are a Sally specialty) situated on a ship’s mast in the center of the Cannery Row Marketplace, hawking the adventures that await. This Instagrammable bit of marketing also includes a many-tentacled kraken photo opp. Situated next to the ticketing booth and the stairway leading to the attraction, the pirate and kraken are visible from both the street entrance and two side entrances to the arcade.

Guests board the elevator a descent hundreds of feet to the caverns below.

The queue helps provide backstory for the dark ride experience to come. As the tale goes, Bouchard hid his fortune of plundered treasure hundreds of feet underground in recently discovered caverns, guarded by a kraken. To get there, guests will need to take an elevator 300 feet below Cannery Row. The entire queue experience, including the elevator preshow, lasts around fifteen minutes. According to Sally Chief Creative Officer Rich Hill, “The elevator plays an important role. In addition to presenting the backstory, it breaks up the queue and helps group guests for our six dark ride vehicles.”

Inside, video screens on the sides and top of the room create the illusion of being in a large elevator shaft. A pneumatic floor supplied by Extreme Engineering sits below. A control lever and a phone are attached to the elevator side, incorporating real show controls into props. The elevator apparently fails to operate; the attendant calls a maintenance mechanic to fix the problem. Seen through the overhead “windows,” the mechanic doesn’t quite accomplish his job; the elevator falls hundreds of feet, crashing into the caverns below.

Molina, the town drunk, and his donkey appear in animatronic form once the elevator crashes in the caverns.

At this point, the far side of the elevator collapses; animatronic figures of the town drunk, Molina, and his trusted donkey can be seen in the caverns. Molina gives more of the backstory, warning guests that Bouchard’s ghost is lurking about.

The queue continues through a mineshaft before arriving at the loading station. Here, guests can insert Power-up Tokens (available for an extra charge) that give them a competitive scoring advantage during the ride. (Nowadays, similar upsell models are offered on a number of dark rides in various theme parks, but these usually require the purchase of a physical item such as a wristband, glove or wand, which Treasure Hunt does not.) Each of the four token stations on the load platform corresponds to a particular seat on the ride vehicle, and powers up the seat’s accompanying Treasure Collector.

Alterface supplied the targeting system, which allows guests to shoot at targets on both physical props and real-time widescreen media, similar to the mixed targeting at a previous Sally-Alterface collaboration, Justice League Invasion 3D at Warner Bros. Movie World on Australia’s Gold Coast. With a Power-up Token, guests increase the amount of treasure they can obtain, along with a rapid fire ability that allows multiple shots while depressing the trigger. The real-time rendered video, combined with shooting-gallery style props and the consistent movement of the vehicles, provides for a high variability of gameplay and repeatability. For an additional $5, guests can purchase an unlimited, all-day ticket, which also allows access to a corridor for repeat rides, bypassing the preshow.


Molina acts as onscreen guide throughout the ride, but inevitably, something always goes terribly, terribly wrong. In the first scene, Molina teaches guests how to fire their pistols and aim at targets. Errant shots from guests cause barrels of gunpowder to explode, creating a torrent of water projected not only on the screen, but also on the floor of the room. A splash of water into the vehicle helps round out the 4D effect.

The water carries the guests to other caverns, where they are introduced to the ghost of Bouchard. Bouchard summons the kraken that has guarded the treasure for more than 200 years. Vehicles are sent down a corridor, shaped like the hull of a wrecked ship, with the animated tentacles of the kraken visible overhead, finally coming face to face with Bouchard, projected onto a mist screen. The final scene features a battle against Bouchard’s undead crew, presented in skeleton form, with physical skeletons popping out from the ceiling just feet in front of guests, an example of physical props smoothly integrating with onscreen media.

Expanding the space through vehicle control

The custom dark ride vehicles allow for a controlled narrative experience. “One of the things that made that ride system such a good fit for this application,” says Ron Daniels, “was the challenge of the space itself. In just sheer square footage, we were really pushing the envelope on how small a space you can put a ride into. The ride space, which encircles the lower level queue and elevator simulator, encompasses 60% of the attraction’s total 7,575 square feet. With the ride itself being only four minutes long, the four-passenger vehicles feature variable speed and pointed rotation on a fixed track, directing riders’ attention to particular elements in a scene. The vehicles go at high speed between scenes and then position themselves at a standstill or slowly moving in front of a screen, and this creates the illusion of the ride being longer than it actually is.

Ride layout

The story is presented through both physical props and large media screens, with media integration and ride control done in-house by Sally. There are 20 Epson projectors throughout the attraction. The final product feels seamless, thanks to DWL’s fabrication and prop construction skills harmonizing with Sally’s expertise in dark ride design and animatronics.

A one-of-a-kind attraction, with a possibility for more

Treasure Hunt: The Ride signals a major evolution of Cannery Row by introducing a theme-park caliber attraction to the district. More local developments are on the way, including a top-tier flying theater attraction currently under construction nearby. With these new visitor experiences plus the usual complement of souvenir shops, restaurants and candy stores, Cannery Row is becoming a small-town equivalent to San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf.

Ron Daniels and John Wood led a toast (family-friendly, with root beer instead of ale) to the gathered crowd of several hundred at the attraction’s opening in July, joined by other DWL and Sally management, all decked out in pirate garb. In proper, pseudo-maritime tradition, they also christened the attraction by breaking a bottle on a fabricated kraken.

“Opportunities like this don’t come around too often,” says John Wood. ”The partnerships and teamwork that developed as a result of Treasure Hunt: The Ride will not only help revitalize Cannery Row but also provide a new model of attraction development and ownership for the industry.”

Joe Kleiman
Joe Kleiman
Raised in San Diego on theme parks, zoos, and IMAX films, InPark's Senior Correspondent Joe Kleiman would expand his childhood loves into two decades as a projectionist and theater director within the giant screen industry. In addition to his work in commercial and museum operations, Joe has volunteered his time to animal husbandry at leading facilities in California and Texas and has played a leading management role for a number of performing arts companies. Joe previously served as News Editor and has remained a contributing author to InPark Magazine since 2011. HIs writing has also appeared in Sound & Communications, LF Examiner, Jim Hill Media, The Planetarian, Behind the Thrills, and MiceChat His blog, takes an unconventional look at the attractions industry. Follow on twitter @ThemesRenewed Joe lives in Sacramento, California with his wife, dog, and a ghost.

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