After waiting years for a new attraction to fill the abandoned, upstairs space in Knott’s Berry Farm’s former dark ride show building (Knott’s Berry Tales and Kingdom of the Dinosaurs), we finally have something new up there. Ladies and gentlemen, the all new 4D attraction, Voyage to the Iron Reef has opened at Knott’s Berry Farm! Best of all, it’s actually a lot of fun.

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To mark the occasion, Knott’s staged a modest opening ceremony in the upstairs queue of the new ride while press and season pass holders watched from below.  Steampunk citizens were rallied by the salty sea captain who has been doing battle with a nasty mechanical kraken.  The kraken has been insistent on destroying the park and it’s beautiful Boardwalk for far too long and it is time to destroy it he proclaims.

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Park General Manager, Raffi Kaprelyan.

Park General Manager Raffi Kaprelyan welcomed Disney Legend Bob Gurr to the mic.  Bob was one of the designers on the previous attraction that occupied the same spot, Kingdom of the Dinosaurs.

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Disney Legend, Bob Gurr.

Confetti was strewn and cheers were heard as guests and VIPs were invited aboard to take a ride and battle the Kraken on Voyage to the Iron Reef.

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Once again, we entered the iconic gazebo that has served as the main entrance to two previous dark rides and made our way up to the second story via a new outdoor stairway.  For the disabled and wheelchair-bound guests there is, of course, an elevator that drops them off right at the ride platform.  As for the rest of us, we entered a new indoor queue area on the second floor. Here flat screen monitors retold the history of the Boardwalk and the captain’s long battle with the kraken.
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From there we crossed over to the load platform.

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Park General Manager, Raffi Kaprelyan, Entertainment Designer Lara Hanneman and LA Times reporter Brady Macdonald

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Guests sit four across and board “submarine” vehicles to dive into the murky depths.  Each guest is armed with a gun (Knott’s would like you to call it a Blaster) to shoot at the monsters lurking around every rusty corner. The fantastic thing about this shooter is that each blaster has its own color. Therefore, you always know exactly what you are hitting. Your dot is a different color than the ones of the other folks you are riding with. Brilliant! Really makes the ride a lot more fun and a lot less frustrating than rides like Buzz Lightyear, where you see dozens of white dots and never know which one is yours.

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Again, one of the remarkable things to take note of in the ride is the clever lighting design. It punctuates only what it needs to and hides what it should.

We begin the journey under the Boardwalk shooting at the smaller sea life as they begin to attack our vehicle.  We are soon attacked by the mechanical puffer fish, and we even showdown with the Kraken Queen herself.  11 gigantic curved screens feature eye-popping visual effects that fully immerse riders in an undersea world of mechanical mayhem.

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Between screens are physical sets and lots of rock work.
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At the end of the attraction riders are delivered their scores via video screens.

As with the previous rides in this same spot, riders exit down the ramp that leads into the arcade.

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Ha Ha! I beat Raffi!
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Stats boards keep track of high scores.

How’s the ride?

Speaking from a personal standpoint I will first say that I have not been a fan of screen-based shooter rides in the past.  For me, they are no substitute for a real attraction with physical sets. That being said, this is the first shooter ride of that nature that I actually had fun on.  There is a delicate mix of physical sets, practical effects, expert lighting design, lots of hidden easter eggs, and physical movement of the vehicle that creates a relatively seamless experience. Tearing around the track in the deftly swiveling vehicle, the attraction is a non-stop action ride that will leave riders ready to get back in line.

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Bob really seemed to enjoy the attraction.

Speaking with Bob Gurr, he mentioned what he thought of Voyage to the Iron Reef by saying…”Midway mania is over lit, you see track and walls.  It breaks the spell.  Here the spell isn’t broken.  They have bigger screens, long, curved ones.  It takes a lot of power for those projection. Then there’s the absolute, top-cabinet CGI. That’s CGI with targets.  I’ve never seen a shooter better than this.  That’s my opinion.”

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Creative Director Lara Hannamen

Creative Director for Knotts Berry Farm, Lara Hanneman, said that in developing the attraction, her focus was on innovation and fun. “A complete immersive experience that is unique in its character and story.  Iron Reef is familiar enough to be intuitive, but different and cool enough to be interesting. We also threw in some nostalgia for those that like to reminisce.” Featured as easter eggs within the ride are such past attractions as Beary Tales, Hammerhead, Roaring 2Os, Soap Box Racers, and The Cordelia Knott (boat). We wondered if it was a daunting task to fill a dark ride location that has had such a celebrated history? “I think it was a relief,” Hanneman stated, “simply from the shear length of time it was vacant.  A lot of talk went into what it should be for years.  I think our work on Log Ride and Mine Ride were the stepping stones we needed to prove that it was time to invest into another family friendly “dark ride” attraction.”

Many concepts were bandied about when the green light was given to install a brand new dark ride in the sacred spot above Boardwalk.  During the development of the ride it was rumored that a reboot of Berry Tales was on the table. Hanneman confirmed that rumor and we asked why they chose a new direction. Hanneman answered, “Nostalgia has a way of turning history into memories of grandeur.  People always ask for things to return, but if you put back Beary Tales, for example, exactly the way it was, it wouldn’t stand up to anyone’s expectations.  People always think they know what they want until you show them something better. We approach every project this way, including events like Haunt. It has to adapt to current technology and trends, but needs to be better to be accepted and successful.”

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Hanneman wore a kraken necklace that she made herself. Why don’t they sell these at the park?

Beyond the ride

Below, the arcade has returned with a stripped and polished concrete floor.

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Next door the Ride Warrior store is no more.  It has now been beautifully re-themed as the Nautilus.  From the intricate window display to the centerpiece in the store, this is a nice retail spot to compliment the ride.

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The only downside is that there still seems to be a mishmash of merchandise. In particular toward the back where you can pick up a Jack Skellington shirt or backpack.

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Overall

So let’s take stock.  We have recently seen the restoration of the Timber Mountain Log Ride and three new family style rides in the Boardwalk section of the park. Next we got the restoration of the Calico Mine Ride and a completely refurbished Camp Snoopy.  Now we have the all new Voyage to the Iron Reef, another family friendly attraction that is fun for everyone, young and old.  Knott’s has once again confirmed its commitment to the family audience, it has earned our attention and our praise.

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The park is looking great and we are so happy with what we have been seeing here over the past few years.  But what is next?  We asked General Manager, Raffi Kaprelyan if he could give us any idea of what is to come.  A knowing grin curled the corners of his mouth upward and his eyes brightened. “Well, let’s just say that Ghost Town is coming up on a big anniversary soon.  Look toward that area of the park.” Could our wish of getting the Screamin’ Swing removed be coming to fruition?  One never knows.  But we are excited to see what is next.

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Get on down to the farm and do battle with the Kraken and the Kraken Queen on Voyage to the Iron Reef.  It’s a surprisingly fun trip that we intend to take over and over.