Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Forbidden Eye... Pirates of the Caribbean... Peter Pan's Flight... Haunted Mansion... The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man... Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance...
They are legends among the theme park industry; icons of the dark ride genre; known by many as being among the greatest attractions of all time. Some are simple and some are complex; some classic, some contemporary. But they are all incredible fusions of storytelling, special effects, technology, ingenious ride systems, and intense fandom, representing the heights of what a dark ride can be. More to the point, no matter what kind of theme park fan you are, you know them.
That group of universally-known dark rides is a relatively small one, but increasingly, theme park fans are adding another – a very unlikely contender that most acknowledge probably counts among the worst dark rides on Earth... but in a great way? Here's how...
First, you have to understand Pigeon Forge. A gateway to Tennessee's Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the city of Pigeon Forge boasts a population of just about 6,000... but an annual tourist count of around 9 million. There's no question that the city's substantial gravitational pull is thanks to its centerpiece theme park, Dollywood, as well as the legends and lore of its namesake – universally beloved country singer Dolly Parton, who famously grew up sharing a two room "Tennessee Mountain Home" with eleven siblings in the foothills of the Smokies just beyond.
Parton's dedication to giving back to her home region has fueled the transformation of Pigeon Forge into a big, bright, audacious, family-focused corridor. The legendary Parkway that winds from Sevierville toward Gatlinburg through Pigeon Forge is something like an overlap between the Las Vegas Strip, Niagara Falls' Clifton Hill, and Orlando's International Drive. It's a world headquarters of over-the-top dinner shows (several owned by Parton herself), wax museums, mini golf, fun houses, tourist traps, themed restaurants, high ropes courses, alpine coasters, motion simulators, and much, much more.
Dollywood. The Hatfields & McCoys Dinner Feud. Dolly Parton's Stampede. Hollywood Wax Museum. Titanic: The Exhibition. WonderWorks. The Crayola Experience. The Guinness World Record Museum. The Island. Alcatraz East Crime Museum. Goats on the Roof. Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine. MagiQuest. Beyond the Lens. Rowdy Bear Ridge. Pirates Voyage Dinner & Show... Especially in the age of Disney's slashed perks and new upcharges, it's no surprise that countless families are taking our advice and trading a visit to Orlando for a visit to Pigeon Forge.
But of course, there are also plenty of tourist traps. And among them, one in particular is gaining international attention. Is it... good? Is it "so bad it's good"? Or is it just plain old bad? Well... let's talk about the ride that's taking the internet by storm.
Jurassic Jungle Boat Ride
Perhaps we ought to start with the website. It's a single page encouraging you to "Call for information!" Luckily, it does publish the price: $6.99 for 3 and 4 year olds, $13.99 for those from age 5 to 11, and a whopping $18.99 for those over age 12. Yes, technically, a family of four could purchase Individual Lightning Lanes to Avatar: Flight of Passage for the admission price.
Once you arrive, you'll see a number of khaki-clad guests who've gone full Jurassic Park cosplay milling about the entrance, gazing up at the ride's rockwork and watching as boats drift into its hidden interior.
Of course, get a little closer and you'll find that it's not a long wait after all. The "explorers" are... well... mannequins of various makes and models. There's just one real person – the employee posted up in a small, thatch-roofed wooden hut. Pay your admission price and climb aboard...
As the boat lurches forward and the great wooden doors open, the sound of scrambled radio waves and a distant green light seem to signal that you're traveling back in time, to a long-lost past when giants walked the earth.
From there... well... let's put it this way... Jurassic Jungle Boat Ride is terrifying. Not in the same way that Disney's DINOSAUR or Universal's Jurassic Park: The Ride is terrifying. No. This is a totally different kind of darkness. A different atmosphere. Here, you're not in the midst of a highly choreographed, technological dark ride. Just the opposite.
The terror in Pigeon Forge comes from having absolutely no idea what could happen next. You're alone, drifting slowly through a dark warehouse of motion-triggered lights, archaic animatronics battered by time, and the kind of true, stomach-churning chaos Michael Crichton could only dream of.
If you haven't, please take a minute to watch this ride through video from the always-incredible Attractions 360!
There are gigantic animatronic figures, teasing you with whether or not they'll suddenly spring to life or if they've been frozen in place for years. (The latter is often – but not always! – the case.) There are absolutely insane moments (like a Velociraptor "animatronic" that "walks" toward and alongside your boat by its dangling, lifeless puppet lets slapping against sticks in the ground as it slides toward you); figures that suggest that giant animatronics inhabit the water around you; moments of multi-colored fountains; dinosaur heads on sticks...
It's a slow motion horror story. If Disney's DINOSAUR says "It's Fast. It's a Blast. It's in the Past," then Jurassic Jungle Boat Ride is agonizingly slow and terribly unnerving, never convincing you for even a moment that you're anywhere but a very dark, very musty warehouse in Tennessee filled with terrifying, decomposing animatronics. It's absolutely positively awful by any measure you'd use to calculate the quality of a Disney or Universal dark ride.
... And yet, it's... kind of great? Look, don't take it from us. Despite ostensibly being very, very bad (especially after paying nearly $20 per adult to ride!), Jurassic Jungle Boat Ride has surprisingly mixed reviews online (which are definitely worth reading through)! That seems to be because some people "get it." They embrace how awful, hokey, and ridiculous this ride is; that it's a six minute mess that's "so bad it's good." Beloved YouTube tourist trap investigator The Carpetbagger loves it; so does Adam the Woo, who took a behind-the-scenes, lights-on tour.
So what do you think? Have you been "lucky" enough to experience the Jurassic Jungle Boat Ride? Do you think this ride is awful, excellent, or "so bad it's good"? And more to the point, would the Jurassic Jungle Boat Ride be on your short list of must-see destinations in Pigeon Forge? Or are you happy to avoid this ride at all costs?