There’s a new version of amusement to test the boundaries of thrill-seekers—virtual reality (VR) theme park rides! Along with thrill rides explicitly made for VR and existing roller coasters, drop towers and water slides augmented with the technology for a new experience, you can put on a VR headset at home that will make you feel like you’re experiencing rides from around the world without even leaving your home. Here’s the latest virtual reality has to electrify thrill-seekers.
Stay Home and Still Ride
Even if there is a desire to travel the world to try out every amusement park ride ever created, it’s just not feasible for most of us. But that doesn’t need to be a barrier to fun any longer now that there is a virtual reality experience that features theme parks. VR Theme Park Rides from Mexico-based Ensenasoft gives you all the fun of three theme parks with 12 rides each, all without waiting in line or purchasing a ticket for entry. It’s available on STEAM VR, HTC Viveport and Google Daydream.
VR Added to Existing Roller Coasters, Drop Towers or Water Slides
Today, the most common way for theme parks to use virtual reality is to overlay a VR experience on the top of an existing roller coaster, drop tower, or water slide. Going virtual is a way for theme parks to offer visitors new experiences without the financial drain of trying to offer the tallest or fastest rides that have ever been made (unless you decide to do both like Six Flags Great Adventure who has the world’s tallest VR drop ride). Rides like the Kraken Unleashed at SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida, is a traditional coaster with all the loops, twists and heart-dropping thrills, but riders use a VR headset to leave Orlando and enter an underwater world. This combination of physically being on a coaster yet seeing an entirely different world in the VR headset offers riders a novel experience. These rides use VR to transport you to a different reality whether it’s underwater like the Kraken, The Daemon in Denmark where riders fly through China or falling out of a helicopter on Zumanjaro: Drop of Doom. What once was a thrilling water slide transitions to a trip in a canoe next to an exploding volcano thanks to virtual reality. Almost any roller coaster can be equipped with VR technology; here are just a few that are available to ride.
Advantages and Challenges of Virtual Reality at Amusement Parks
Virtual reality was initially embraced by the theme park industry to add new life to aging attractions and offer a new experience to market to customers. Once some decided to invest in VR equipment such as Six Flags that added the technology to nine of its coasters, they started to see some challenges. With the addition of riders needing to put on and adjust VR headsets, already long lines became longer. There was also additional expense for staff to manage the VR headsets to distribute, collect, and clean them between riders. Busch Gardens Williamsburg set out to improve this issue by creating two-part headsets. As a result of some of these challenges, various theme parks who added VR to rides ended up removing it.
In some cases, the visuals in the technology wouldn’t sync correctly, leaving riders either queasy or unimpressed with the experience. These and other challenges of adding virtual reality to rides will be overcome as the technology continues to advance and improve.
Since the brain can be tricked into thinking it is somewhere else, virtual reality offers a lot of creative options for theme parks to update their offerings. Creating a new VR experience for a ride—and even offering themed updates for holidays as an example—is a much cheaper update than investing in a brand new coaster, slide or drop ride.
VR as an Attraction
Some of the challenges experienced thus far with virtual reality in amusement parks are caused by adding VR to rides that weren’t developed with VR’s operational requirements in mind. When VR is built as a standalone attraction from the beginning, it can offer theme parks a new way to entice visitors to the park. This is what the VR Showdown in Ghost Town that’s part of Knott’s Berry Farm in California and The Void at Disney resorts in Florida and California offer.
In an interesting twist, Topshop launched a free VR waterslide experience inside their London store. And an actual VR water slide—VRSlide—that seems to do the impossible of combining sensitive electronic equipment and water is available to ride at Galaxy Erding in Germany.
VR Theme Parks
Why stop at just making a standalone VR attraction? In China and Dubai, theme parks and attractions dedicated entirely to virtual reality have opened. China’s VR Star Theme Park, located in Guizhou province in southwestern China, cost $1.5 billion to build and offers a huge variety of VR experiences to try. Not to be outdone, the VR Park in Dubai boasts itself as the “world’s largest VR Park.” Here’s a look inside.
As the entertainment industry continues to experiment and evolve its virtual reality offerings, it will be intriguing to watch how it will transform theme parks.