Sad news greeted the VR attractions sector with the confirmation from the Orlando Sentinel that DisneyQuest, the famous Indoor Interactive Theme Park, would be closing its doors in 2016 for the final time. Originally opened in 1998, the Orlando, Downtown Disney virtual entertainment facility was to have been one of over twenty facilities planned; however, only a sister site would ever be opened in Chicago, and that would close just over a year from opening.
Kevin Williams has an extensive background in the development and sales of the latest amusement and attraction applications and technologies. The UK born specialist in the pay-to-play scene is well-known through his consultancy KWP, and as a prolific writer and presenter (along with his own news service The Stinger Report), covering the emergence of the new entertainment market. Kevin has co-authored a book covering the sector called ‘The Out-of-Home Interactive Entertainment Frontier’ (published by Gower). And is the founding chairman of DNA Association, focusing on the digital Out-of Home interactive entertainment sector. Kevin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and TheStingerReport.com.
The remaining five-story Orlando DisneyQuest went on to be an imposing and popular site in Downtown Disney, an area that is currently undergoing major renovation and will soon be renamed Disney Springs. The 100,000 sq ft. site that DisneyQuest currently inhabits will be redeveloped to become the ‘NBA Experience’, comprising a restaurant and interactive elements.
DisneyQuest was part of a concept to develop a new kind of entertainment facility (Indoor Interactive Theme Park); the estimated $90m that was invested into the concept at the time was spent on cutting edge computer graphics for the time (supplied through a partnership with Silicon Graphics Inc.,), along with state of the art head-mounted display’s, simulator platforms, and immersive projection technology.
Since 1998, the Orlando DisneyQuest has seen steady visitation from local Orlando residents and holiday-makers, seeing the greatest traffic during inclement weather in the area, proving a popular venue to entertain audiences of all ages when the conditions are not suitable to walk round the rest of the resort while offering unique thrills.
However, following the collapse of the management team behind the concept investment at the end of the ’90s, the facility lost internal support and it has begun to look tired and dated with no reinvestment. It was announced last year that one of the two virtual reality attractions (‘Ride the Comix’) was to close, leaving only the ‘Aladdin’s Magic Carpet Ride’ as one of the longest continuously operated VR attractions in the industry’s history.
The facility proved to be an incredible testament to the power of VR attractions, and a valuable testbed for much of the wisdom needed in the current phase of VR adoption. We will miss you DisneyQuest.
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Comment from the author – Many will know that I am a champion for the opportunity of what VR Attraction and Amusement has to offer for the out-of-home entertainment sector, though many of you may not know that I was a Walt Disney Imagineer, and was headhunted to actually work on the development of DisneyQuest and other WDI immersive attractions during that period.
Along with the other immersive platforms in DisneyQuest, the two VR attractions developed for the facility proved to be major ground breaking projects and much of their development has gone in shaping my views on this sector. Aladdin’s Magic Carpet Ride was a special project in itself, developed originally by Disney’s VR Studio, specifically established to investigate the use of this emerging technology in theme park development and attractions.
A prototype concept of the ride had already been in operation since 1994 at EPCOT’s then ‘Disney Vision Adventure’; it saw some 45,000 guests try this early adaptation of the system and HMD that would be employed in DisneyQuest, gaining valuable information including the fundamentals to address what has become known as ‘sim-sickness’.
I was lucky enough to include a section on the rise, fall, and lessons learned, from the development of DisneyQuest in my recent co-authored book The Immersive Entertainment Frontier, speaking to the former chief executives responsible for steering this Walt Disney Imagineering project at the time. It was revealed that much of the thinking behind the development of DisneyQuest was an effort to prove that the concept of the Amusement Theme Park (ATP)—being championed at the time in Japan (SEGA ‘JOYOPOLIS’, NAMCO ‘WonderEgg’, etc.)—could be deployed in the West.
Rumors had been circulating for many years regarding the possible demise of DisneyQuest; the change in management seeing the facility as an uncomfortable reminder of a squandered opportunity, and the ability to keep 17-year old technology running was proving a burden in itself. At the same time the the resurgence of interest in Location-based Entertainment (LBE) seen with the explosion in VR and the Oculus Rift increased the pressure on Walt Disney to reposition itself.
See Also: New VR Theme Parks from Landmark Entertainment Group to “Fuse Art, Culture, and Retail with Virtual Reality”
It is expected that new LBE projects such as The VOID and VRCade will reinvigorate interest in the application of VR as an attraction platform, and it is hoped that many of those that worked on the establishment of DisneyQuest will be able to apply their valuable knowledge to the current market, acquired while developing this unique and innovative concept.
Lead photo courtesy opus2008 (CC BY-ND 2.0)