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Tomb Raider: Why One of the World's Best Theme Park Rides is Rotting in Plain Sight

The tunnel mouth

Your quest begins in a new plaza constructed before an ancient cavern. The actual Jeep used in the filming of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider is parked nearby, with a set of footprints set into the concrete arranged in a confident stride leading from the Jeep to the geometric cave mouth ahead. The cave – flanked by flaming pedestals – is engraved with a very peculiar shape: a triangle with an all-seeing eye inside.

Could this be the fabled resting place of the Triangle of Light, supposedly able to halt time itself? There’s only one way to find out.

Stepping into the cave, bamboo poles are rigged to support a half-collapsed ceiling. The queue winding through this ancient temple entrance is a series of catwalks three or four feet above the ground, with stone relics beneath, lit by flickering lanterns and faltering excavation lights. A moody, distant soundtrack (comprised of five musical tracks, each for a particular room of the queue) signals that this is a mystical and unusual place…

The Warrior Room

Image: Weber Group, Inc.

As you proceed further through this temple, you notice a collapsed wall. It’s through this wall that the experience begins. After all, this isn’t just a ride; it’s an adventure. This new chamber resembles one you might’ve seen in the film: ornate Southeast Asian alcoves carved with delicate images and impressions, with strange stone monkey-warrior statues standing six feet tall in each.

In this room, you’re grouped into three different rows containing a total of 77 people. While it might be unbelievable, this is the group that will share your expedition, as the ride vehicle holds almost 80. Any clue yet what TOMB RAIDER might be? Probably not… As the deep, melodic chanting of the chamber’s musical score rises, fog begins to spill in from behind the monkeys. It would appear that, just as in the film, these stone warriors are coming to life…

Image: Technifex

Just before they can, the distant sound of wind chimes fills the chamber and the sound of grinding gears draws your attention to the far wall, opposite where you entered. A carving on the door begins to glow and twist, arranging itself to highlight a hidden pattern: the Triangle of Light. As an ancient tumbler locks into place, the circular door engraved with the Triangle rotates and slides out of the way, opening up a previously undiscovered chamber… It seems as if we're on the right track.

The Antechamber

Image: Technifex

As the group presses forward into the Antechamber, they see one of the queue’s most impressive sights: the towering golden Brahma statue direct from the film, with its six arms grasping six golden swords. This four-faced god glows elegantly. As the group presses into the chamber, a golden disc in front of the towering god comes alive with swirling smoke and the voice of Lara’s father.

“It's not at all what you'd call even odds. But I suppose that’s why my daughter Lara chose the life of a tomb raider. With a fortune to spend in a thousand lifetimes, she is not yet satisfied. And so my spirit remains with her always. For I fear she is attracted to the excitement that comes when life hangs in the balance…” (Foreshadowing?) 

Image: Technifex

The pre-show fills us in on what’s preceded: "It happened once again along the Khamir trail...You could say she stumbled upon the entrance." Angelina Jolie’s Lara is one step ahead of us, in this very temple. She’s faced the monkeys we just escaped, leaving most in pieces. "She was able; the trick was getting out again. Not so easy when the temple is question is guarded by a nasty curse." Then, we see her in this very chamber, puncturing the glowing vase at the base of the Brahma before us. We must be just moments behind! As the smoke dissipates and the chamber falls silent, her father shares his final advice: “I suppose she figured to pop in, knick the treasure, and that would be that… Famous last words.”

With a resounding rumble that shakes the entire chamber, the entire ten-foot tall wall to our left begins to rise. Stone rubs against stone as the pillars and wall ascend, revealing our final destination: the Heart of the Temple. As the three groups proceed in, they face – for the first time – the ride vehicle.

Image: Donald Flint, KIExtreme. Used with permission.

Three very long rows situated in stadium-style seating, somewhat like a theatre. Each row crosses a bridge onto the vehicle and proceeds all the way down, pulling a shoulder restraint down.

Any idea what Tomb Raider is yet? No? Hold on.

The Heart of the Temple

Even buckled into the ride vehicle, most guests at this point will still have no idea whatsoever what TOMB RAIDER: The Ride is or what it’s about to do. That’s exactly how designers wanted it. With “excavation lights” pointed directly at the vehicle for loading, it’s impossible to see (and nearly impossible to imagine) what lies within the Heart of the Temple.

As a resounding, pulse-pounding drumbeat echoes through the massive chamber, your harnesses are checked and any – and all – loose articles are placed into the pouches in front of your seat and zipped tight. Any coins, phones, flip-flops or wallets will be lost. As you steady yourself, a final hiss of air draws your eyes as the bridges you used to board the ride vehicle retract and fold up. Escape is futile.

The banging of the drums comes to an abrupt and echoing halt. The silent chamber slowly fills with an unearthly choir. At the sound of rocks shifting for the first time in centuries, the vehicle slowly moves forward and lifts up just a few feet. Then, it stops and rocks backward, then forward again. It’s building momentum as the vehicle suddenly climbs halfway up the 100-foot tall chamber. Headlights at the front of the vehicle turn on, focusing on an unbelievable sight: an 80 foot tall carving of a Hindu goddess on the wall.

With a blast, her eyes open. Red lights scan back and forth across the vehicle. Deviously pleased, the awakened goddess focuses her eyes on the vehicle’s headlights, which shatter. The only lights left emanate from two gems held in two of her six hands: one pulses with fire; the other, ice.

Image: Technifex

The vehicle – supported by massive arms that allow it to swing – unlocks on its axels and falls precariously forward, hanging over something positioned at the foot of the goddess: the Triangle of Light.

As her fire and ice pulse, she sends the vehicle flying up and over the top of the chamber, circling back down to the center in weightless arcs over and over. Then, the cart flies up toward the ceiling, slamming to a halt with riders facing directly up at razor-sharp icy stalactites, dripping a bit down on riders. The hypnotic sight is accompanied by Lara’s voice: “Time is broken here…”

But with a menacing crack, the icicles flash red and appear to fall toward the vehicle, which flips downward, falling toward the Triangle. At the last possible second, the axels lock as the gondola inverts in a long, weightless arc along the ground. Racing through the dark, the goddess cackles. As the ride’s triumphant score fades, the vehicle reverses its swing's direction and locks facing downward, with riders suspended facedown. 

Hanging over boiling lava pits. Image: Technifex

Something new comes into view: a pulsing of hot red steam escaping from a volcanic vent, fog billowing out. In fact, a 60-foot tall volcano stretches up the back wall of the chamber, and the pulsing lava inside signals that it’s woken up.

Slowly, the gondola lowers inch by inch toward the volcano and directly over a pit of boiling, shimmering lava beneath. As the orchestral score intensifies, fountains of lava leap up in sync, just inches from riders’ faces.

Image: Technifex

Just as riders are about to be lowered face-first into the steaming geysers, a crack releases the vehicle’s axel as it swings out from underneath, providing a view of the entire chamber from beneath. As the goddess cackles, a great burst of force rockets the vehicle toward her, flipping freely right in front of her as strobes flash.

The axels of the vehicle lock with riders upside down – a harrowing moment of force– then the gondola slowly continues its rotation up around the chamber as the goddess uses the last of her power to light the chamber up. As the entire room comes alive, spotlights search the chamber and focus on the Triangle of Light as the vehicle slowly rotates back toward its loading position.

The voice of Lara’s father resounds: “No one gets the best of Lara Croft… unless she lets them. And I didn’t raise that kind of girl!”

The goddess’s wild laughter fades as the room goes dark. Then, with a final note of music, she shrieks. A blast of fog appears to be released from the defeated goddess as she cracks, and the sound of her powers being locked away echoes. As riders cheer wildly, the excavation lights flicker back on, hiding the contents of the chamber once again for oncoming riders as a hiss of air signals the bridges returning to the vehicle, making for an easy escape out of the temple.

We always love to provide video evidence to help cement our descriptions of long-lost rides. In the case of TOMB RAIDER, point-of-view videos and even a surprising off-ride video are often very dark (though if you're interested, we encourage you to watch them both). Luckily, the Travel Channel was so enthused by the mysterious Tomb Raider, they dedicated a portion of one of their amusement park specials to the then-new ride. Hang on tight and watch it all come together in this fantastic look at the ride:

One thing is for certain: whatever you were expecting of a seasonal theme park in Ohio, TOMB RAIDER has probably exceeded it. Of course, riders applaud wildly for the cinematic adventure and – more often than not – leave unable to explain exactly what TOMB RAIDER: The Ride is or how it works. But we’re here to help. Read on… 

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There are 31 comments.

I rode Tomb Raider and I loved it! I wish either Disney or Universal would buy Kings Island and bring back Tomb Raider!

Great article! I loved this ride back in the day. It's nice to see it documented so well.

Wow. What an incredible article. It's interesting to see that Paramount Parks did such a great job with themeing, both at Kings Island and at Kings Dominion. I have no idea what the motive was, but removing all of the effects at Kings Island's TR and NONE of the effects at Kings Dominion's Tomb Raider makes zero sense to me.

I sure do hope Mr. Ouimet can breath life back into theming at Cedar Fair parks.

Although I never rode Tomb Raider, it sounds like a fine example of a successful dark ride. Cedar Fair parks are certainly lacking good dark rides, and in some cases, any dark rides at all. Time for them to get up to speed and build some. Cedar point has enough coasters, they really need a great dark ride to attract more paying customers. IMHO.

Huss' Land of the Giants rides generally all had mechanical issues. From what I understand, it was the ride tearing itself apart that had Kings Island's engineers remove a row from the attraction against the wishes of the manufacturer. This shift in quality accelerated for Huss following the decision to move fabrication primarily to the same Strakota facilities in Eastern Europe that produce Intamin's rides.

In any case, I liked Tomb Raider. Of the many really awful choices Paramount made in terms of ride purchases from the mid-90s on, it was unique and entertaining. Like you said - it shows that with some effort, any ride can be turned into a really unique experience, as no one really saw "Indoor Giant Top Spin" as having a ton of dark ride potential before. You've probably also seen the spiritual successor in Germany, Phantasialand's Talocan:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nVf0MZO0Tds

(also there's some stuff that could be corrected about how it was that KECO got into the big theme park biz but that isn't totally relevant here)

Tomb Raider was so impressive. I was lucky enough to ride during its first two seasons, and while I partially missed the crazy thrill of a typical Top Spin, I was completely captivated by the ride's overall execution. It was like spin-and-puke crossed with Disney'sIndiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye, and it truly turned out better than I could've imagined.

I am from Cincinnati and rode and very well remember Tomb Raider (and Son of Beast, with the loop). I loved this article, particularly the history of Kings Island (which I affectionately still call "PKI"). Tomb Raider was exciting and interesting when it first opened, as was Son of Beast. It's a shame that Kings Island is now known for having 2 of the biggest and most expensive ride failures of all time! It was obvious how Kings Island turned when Paramount was no longer attached to it. It has not been the same since, in my opinion, even with some of the newer and popular coasters like Banshee and Diamondback.

Every year we would go to Kings Island and stay the Yogi Bear Campground that used to be next to the park (used to go well with the Hannah Barbara land, but has since been replaced with a Great Wolf Lodge) the tomb raider ride was great in its original form. I remember going back that first year after paramount was out of the picture. It was amazing how the theming had such an effect on your enjoyment of the ride. Besides tomb raider, one of the worst was the Italian Job. They literally pealed the Mini Cooper logos off the train cars. It looked so cheap and run down. Some of the rides that were "unbranded" could still use some TLC today.

I've been a season pass holder (and seasonal employee) at Kings Island since the mid-90s and have seen all the changes over those years. Thanks for an excellent article! It explained a lot, especially those confusing years when the park was owned by Paramount. It was never clear what Paramount actually wanted to do, getting into the theme park business.

I rode Tomb Raider that first year and was truly amazed! A stint as a Disney co-op in '94 forever changed my expectations of theme parks and Paramount seemed to be stepping up to the plate with their theming of the TR exterior and queue line. It's sad that the sale to Cedar Fair changed all that. While I've lived in SW Ohio for almost 30 years, I've never been to Cedar Point, but after Cedar Fair purchased the Paramount Parks, it seems that all the attention and efforts of the company goes to Cedar Point and other "marquee" parks and we get the leftovers, so to speak. Paramount attempted some amazing things, even if they didn't turn out that great.

I rode Tomb Raider & was stuck upside down on it for about 15 min as the ride had broken down they got us upright again but took them anor hour & 45 min to get us off the ride by the time we got out the park was closed & we were escorted out of the park & all they did was say Sorry Folks we are now closed hope you come back & see us again , well needless to say I have never been back to Kings Island because I feel they could of at least refunded a portion of the money I spent on tickets to get in there which is quite expensive for a family of 5

I must be missing something because I thought this ride was absolutely awful. Ride it the year it opened. Waited about 3 hours in 90 degrees, got on, twirled around about 3 times while trying to hear a barely audible soundtrack. Total waste of time. The theming was great, this much is true but as far as the ride goes we thought it was terrible.

Thank you! I was beginning to think I was the only one that hated it...even in its original form.

Yes, I agree. I was also not impressed with the original Tomb Raider ride. I remember it being very short. I remember that especially because we waited 2 hours to "ride" it and by the time it finished, it hardly seemed worth it. Thank you for the article though! Very informative

So I’m not the only one. I thought the ride was terrible. I was greatly disappointed after waiting for hours, only to be spun around a couple of times to see fake icicles and fake lava.

Tomb Raider was gone before I was able to ride it. I was in middle school, and can clearly remember Kings Island being under Paramount, and still call it that. The first time I rode this ride was when I was a junior in high school and it was The Crypt in 2011. It was short and underwhelming and I remember thinking that it wasn't worth the wait. Seeing what I missed out on makes me feel cheated from what seemed to be a great ride experience!

I've lived in SW Ohio my entire life. Rode this the first year it was open, once, and never had any interest in riding again. Great theming, yes, but the ride itself was awful. Especially for men. This ride had a bad habit of smashing men's sensitive parts, no matter the precautions taken.

Great, informative article. I remember unsuspectly riding Toumb Raider after it opened. Even though I have been to many theme parks, I was tremendously impressed by this ride.
When we went back after a few years, it was then called The Crypt...and it sucked. I never knew why that ride changed or why the park declined all together in the years following the sale by Paramount. Now it makes more sense. It's such a shame though...that was an awesome, innovative, thrilling, expertly themed ride built up to the caliber of Universal.

The wonder and excitement of Tomb Raider is captured here, but it is as if the author never spoke with someone who experienced the ride. I was a teenager when this came out and I loved the ride. Unfortunately, because of the speed with which the flips are taken, this ride became affectionately known as "The Crotch Killer" by my male friends. Once the special effects were removed, there was no reason to ride this. Whereas Italian Job was renamed and still retained the few special effects it had (read:FIRE), the best part of Tomb Raider was gone. It was not worth it to pay for a locker to stow one's belongings for a ride experience that was much shorter and lacked all of the bells and whistles that once made it an extremely unique experience in the park.

Thank you for these informative stories about these rides. I grew up visiting Paramount's Kings Island between 1999-2010 or so when my family's work would have weekend picnic at the park so a friend and I got to ride literally every ride. Heck, I still remember us riding Son of Beast with the loop about 5 times or more in a row just because it was new and we had arrived when there was hardly a line. (I can barely do one now without needing to take a break, darn age.) I secretly miss when it was movie themed and I tried to visit after it was bought and was more sad and heartbroken than I was excited at how much it has changed. I remember being scared of going on Tomb Raider because I had no idea what was expected, but I'm glad I got to try it once before its demise. The movie elements really what helped it be what it was, and it was enthralling to be in the a "part of the movie".

Thank you again for these articles. It's a huge part of my childhood that you are hitting home right now.

I rode the tomb raider 2x when it was first released and once again about few years ago before they shut it down. Needless to say that when they reduced the seating and the ride duration I was one of the people that boo'd when it was over. I remember the lines being 2 hours long and it was amazing. Just like the "outerlimits" now its just the Flight of Fear" that 0-60mph in 4 second was/is amazing They both just became rides in the dark and that part of recapturing my childhood left me feeling a bit upset. Kings Island Wasn't and isn't quite the same after that Paramount showed us Ohioans a taste of the privileged life . However I wouldn't call it a failure unless success/failure is measured by longevity. I still by gold season passes, I also find it fun to tell my 11 year old son when we go about how cool the Tomb Raider was and the good old days of Paramount's KI and we ride still get to ride the "flight of fear" as well on our way to the Firehawk!

Great read. While TR was very unique-it was not universally embraced, esp. by long time fans of the park. The mention of big, generic 'studio' looking buildings/rides upon Paramount's takeover couldn't be more accurate-and it kinda sucked. The whole 'action lot' area is to this day incredibly boring. In the 70s and 80s, KI brimmed with atmosphere and theming. Every 'world' in the park had its own unique feel, sights, sounds, and smells. When paramount took over it was as if none of that mattered anymore. The omnipresent peddling of movies-along with annoying TVs in all the queue lines-made many of us feel that our favorite place had turned into one big commercial. A lot of the magic was gone.

TR was different and admittedly pretty cool. But at the same time it felt like a waste of resources on glitz over substance. After the mixed reception of SoB, what we really wanted was a modern, big, fast, sit-down steel coaster.

While the shoddy de-branding by CF was awkward at times, at least they got back to the business of installing serious coasters. IMHO getting Paramount out of there saved the park.

Once again, to see something clearly so amazing fail is very heartbreaking. i can tell it was a wonderful ride, and I would've loved it, but unfortunately, people don't think, and when they do, it's cheap, badly made knock-offs. I hope they bring it back too, because this ride has more of what I thought the Indianna Jones ride would in Disneyland. Needless to say, the wait, plus the mechanical issues, and the too fast pace made the ride much more unexciting and boring than described in an article I read before going to Disneyland about the ride.

Thank you for this explanation and for the one about the Son of Beast! I grew up in Indiana going to Kings Island every summer from 1978 - 1991. I remember my brothers freaking out over the Beast and how excited I was when I was finally old enough to ride it! I rode the Screaming Demon, the King Cobra, and the Bat. My last visit was in 1995. Then while I was off at college I just didn't go opting to visit other parks. Then a move to Tennessee put a stop to the desire to go back. I heard all about the Son of Beast, but never got to ride it. I didn't hear about Tomb Raider though. Last summer I took my kids to Kings Island so they could ride my all time favorite coaster - The Beast. While we were there, we passed the entrance to Tomb Raider and thought it was part of the Halloween show. I kept looking at it trying to figure out what it was. This was very informational in helping me solve a minor mystery. I did point out the Son of Beast tomb stone to the kids while we were at Banshee. And of course I had to fill them in on where the Bat, the Cobra, and the Demon used to be as well as my memories of the Vortex opening (because 6 inversions was unheard of at that time!) and Top Gun. I'd also like to point out that one of my issues with Paramount owning KI was the ridiculous people walking around trying to pass themselves off as Star Trek characters. I am a HUGE Star Trek fan, so I thought I would like this. Nope. It was like they stuck people in a costume, gave them a set script, and sent them out. No one was a specific character - like Spock. They were just random vulcans. I remember talking to one Vulcan who literally sounded like a robot. Unemotional doesn't mean robotic. The Klingons just kind of grunted and snarled at people. It was like there were trying way too hard to be Disney. And now that's I've visited the same areas without the movie marketing...the names of the rides are just stupid! Flight Deck??? Really? So really, thank you for this amazing history lesson!

Lived in the Greater Cincinnati area most of my life. My husband and I went to Kings Island numerous times and I loved the Racer. But after I got pregnant for the first time, I couldn't seem to bring myself to get back on roller coasters. My husband told me I would love the Bat because it was different and I passed out briefly twice and said never again. When Tomb Raider opened I thought I would try it and although a little rough, I loved it. The years passed and my kids graduated to the big coasters and I just sat and people watched. Then the changes started to mu beloved Tomb Raider. I would have booed the Crypt too if I ever got on it. My kids had warned me it wasn't worth riding anymore. Very sad. Now I have a Granddaughter to take to KI and buy blue ice cream for and make new memories. RIP Tomb Raider.

I rode Tomb Raider the year it opened And had no ide whatsoever what type of ride it was as they did a great job keeping it secret

Too bad as my stomach would have liked to know that it was the type of ride it was

While I didn't throw up on the ride, while
I was suspended over the fake fire and ice that was definitely not helping matters, in all rides I've ridden over the years, I couldn't wait to get off of it

The worst, I did throw up on one of the parks mildest rides which I rode next with my daughter - The Scooby Do sky Coaster

Not my best park experience

And that's why I will never ride a ride unless I know what it's about and what it does

There is still a very simple, very small yet nice outdoor version of a Tomb Raider top spin in Italy:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9He4ABUyCMk

So at least, the idea of having Tomb Raider combined with a Top spin lives on, somehow, somewhere. ;)

Sadly, I almost got to ride this ride but then I didn't. I went through the entire queue and got to the point where I was strapped into the chair, but I hadn't been feeling well and I was worried I was going to puke if I actually rode it. So I ended up having them take me off the ride. (There was a brief moment of panic, the attendant partially undid my restraints then walked off to do something else. I couldn't get out, but I wasn't fully restrained, so I was terrified the ride would start up and I would fall out somehow. Thankfully after calling for help another attendant came.)

I really wish I had rode it, but unfortunately now its too late.

Really excellent article about a ride that I have wanted to learn about for years. A real bonus to see a photo of a Giant Top Spin in the open air too, so thank you for that.

I have to wonder though, why the article seems to treat regional and/or seasonal parks with such derision. OK, Tomb Raider was a world class themed ride, but there are plenty of examples of seasonal parks building rides with world class theming.

I just wanted to comment on the origin of Coney Island, Disney, and KI.

“Many (theme parks) began as seaside carnivals in the late 1800s.The other style of amusement park typically started as trolley parks – recreation destinations in the 1800s where emerging railroad lines built fishing, swimming, and picnicking parks that eventually added a carousel, then a roller coaster, and on until long midways with scattered attractions developed.”

Coney Island started as an apple grove that the owner started to develop into a small resort. The resort did not have a large amount of traffic due to its location. What it did have nearby was the Ohio River. After the initial sale, the new owners started ferrying in visitors by steam boat. This is when the park started to gain momentum and become one of the pioneers of amusement parks in the USA. So this configuration is a combination of the two above-mentioned types of parks.

The other really interesting fact is concerning Walt Disney:

“In fact, when Walt told his wife Lillian he intended to open his own, she said, “Why would you want to be involved with an amusement park? They’re so dirty, and not at all fun for grown-ups. Why would you want to get involved in a business like that?” He replied: “That’s exactly my point. Mine isn’t going to be that way. Mine’s going to be a place that’s clean, where the whole family can do things together.”

On June 7, 1953 Walt Disney visited Coney Island on a fact-finding mission. He was impressed with the cleanliness and layout of the park, and with the manner in which the park conducted business. His first theme park, Disneyland, was modeled after Cincinnati’s gem, Coney Island. It’s only fitting then that:

“Borrowing from Disneyland's innovation, guests entered the park via International Street, an elegant and larger-than-life block of (fittingly) international architecture concealing appropriately-themed restaurants, shops, craftsmen, and vendors with the dancing Royal Fountains down the street's center. At the end is the park's icon – a 1/3 scale replica of the Eiffel Tower standing over 300 feet tall (more than a hundred feet taller than Cinderella Castle).”

So it comes full circle. Disneyland was inspired by Coney Island, then in turn, Coney Island’s new home, or replacement if you will, was inspired by Disneyland. So really it was a natural evolution starting with an apple grove and transitioning eventually to the wonderful world of Kings Island, with a little bit of Disney magic in-between.

Rode it 1 time, thought it was terrible, but not to say that someone else would like it. When Viacom did the split, CBS news was in charge, and wanted nothing to do with parks, things went downhill fast.

Thanks for this fantastic article. I’m a sucker for great themeing and this was one of the best — it reminded me a lot of the Mummy ride at Universal, another one of my favorites. I really appreciate how in-depth your articles are — keep up the great work.

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