Have Family Coasters Replaced The Family Dark Ride?

Is it just me or has there been a gradual trend towards actually good family coasters of late? Of course Disney lead the way: we had Seven Dwarfs Mine Train back in 2014, and more recently the Frozen themed Wandering Oaken's Sliding Sleighs but I've noticed other attractions are following suit. LEGOLAND Windsor Resort here in the UK just opened the actually-really-fun-for-a-kids-coaster Minifigure Speedway, Drayton Manor are opening a 'launched family thrill coaster' at some point this year and even Universal have given some TLC to their Vekoma junior coaster as part of their Dreamworks land project. 

Of course, there have always been family coasters, but of late it seems that it's no longer acceptable to just slap in a Big Apple and call it a day like parks used to. No - now there has to be theming, a storyline, some cool custom trains and maybe even a dark ride section. Simultaneous to this, I've also noticed a step away from the low budget kiddie dark ride. These days our dark rides seem to go all out, erring on a 'proper' thrill experience, leaving behind the classic Pretzel dark ride style that was a staple in many a park for years.

There's been a notable step up in the family attraction product in general, and of course that comes with innovation and tech development, but when cheaper alternatives are available it's got me wondering why we're seeing this shift. 

As a society, attention spans have decreased, especially for children, with studies suggested that this shift has been most noticeable post-covid. I also think with social media showing us everything everywhere all at once, we're much more critical and picky than we used to be: we no longer settle for something 'fine' and instead seek out the best of the best experiences because with so many products competing for our attention at all times, experiencing something that's less than perfect feels like a waste of precious time and funds that could have been spent doing something better. 

Family attractions are also competing with the ever-present iPad. When designing family attractions nowadays, creators must ask themselves the question: is this experience something they can't get anywhere else, and is this two minutes spent on my ride better than two minutes spent in front of an iPad watching CocoMelon? Arguably the formerly acceptable crappy but still fun dark ride with blacklit scenes and MDF cut outs no longer fits the bill, and the alternative eg. fully fleshed out dark rides with animatronics, SFX, narrative, theme song, etc are very costly and therefore largely reserved for the bigger spenders in the industry or as once-in-a-generation projects. 

But you know what CAN compete with CocoMelon? And can also be enjoyed as a group experience vs. parents gritting their teeth through some nightmare-fuel fairytale boat ride? Rollercoasters. 

Even if the coaster is fairly stripped back in terms of theming etc, there's no denying the thrill a coaster provides, even smaller thrills like you'd find on a family coaster, are way better than any enjoyment the family dark rides of previous generations could ever hope to deliver. And family coasters can do so much now: they launch, they spin, they go backwards, some of them even go upside down! It essentially, as most things do, boils down to simple economics: how much fun per £ can I deliver with my next investment. For a dark ride with today's short attention spans and high expectations, you're looking at spending a hell of a lot more for your investment vs. a coaster of a similar or lower price for arguably a much lower return on the fun factor. 

And then if you're Disney or Universal or are just feeling particularly flush that year, you combine the two. Dark ride scenes combined with the family coaster thrills so your riders can have their cake and eat it too. It's a win win situation for those who have the capital.

Personally, I adore a janky old dark ride with their musty smells and clumsy animatronics. But truthfully, as an enthusiast for that sort of thing I know I'm a niche audience and that sort of thing just won't fly with the families of today. So whilst it's sad we're slowly seeing the erosion of this kind of attraction in our parks, I'm more than happy with the family coaster boom we're seeing today and my excitement grows with each innovation and new investment. And of course, more creds for me. 


What do you think? Is there a place for classic style dark rides with today's modern family or is the trend towards family coaster investments the right way to go? Let me know in the comments, I'd love to have a chat!

Talk later xoxo,


  1. While the growth of more family-friendly roller coasters is great, the advancements of dark rides still make them irreplaceable. A good example of this is Disneyland's Rise of the Resistance and Tokyo Disneyland's Enchanted Tale of Beauty and the Beast.