A New Golden Age of Flight

Guests are racking up the air miles as flying theater attractions take off worldwide

by Juliana Gilling, Funworld


Europa-Park  |  Rust, Germany

Europe has always been the core theme of Europa-Park, expressed in 15 different themed areas with “authentic architecture, associated food options and shows,” says Michael Mack, the park’s managing partner. The Europa-Park team came up with the idea of a flying theater as a way of giving guests a completely fresh perspective on “this wonderful continent.”

“A flying theater is a fantastic symbiosis of a ride and a movie,” says Mack. It drew on the Mack family’s ride expertise and MackMedia’s ‘mediatainment’ activities. Europa-Park’s team wanted to use the project as a way of revitalizing the German Street area, creating a better guest flow throughout the day.

The attraction was first conceived in 2012, ahead of the park’s 40th birthday. Intense planning for the 4,800-square-meter area began in 2014. “Europa-Park is known for its elaborate theming, so it was important for us to not only build a flying theater, but to create a true experience. We extended our main street—Deutsche Straße—with a new courtyard, which houses meeting rooms, food and beverage outlets, and the main ‘Voletarium’ attraction,” says Mack.

“Voletarium” distinguishes itself from similar attractions through its theming and unique story. MackMedia produced a five-episode documentary for the ride called “The First Flight Theory,” in which researcher Professor Nikolajew aims to prove the Eulenstein brothers were the first to take off with a flying machine. The “Voletarium” is their research lab, where guests will fly in their creation, Volatus II.

Visitors entering the building pass through 11 highly themed rooms before boarding the ride gondolas. There are 14 in total, split across two cinemas and spread across three floors (10 seats per gondola amounting to 70 seats per cinema). The attraction is designed for guests ages 4 and above (over 1 meter in height) and can handle 1,400 riders, adding up to 3.5 million guests per year.

Once the gondolas move into the identical 16-meter-high theater domes, riders watch a 4.5-minute movie by MackMedia and director Holger Tappe, enhanced with wind, mist, and scent effects. The flightpath soars over iconic sights in Europe, from St. Mark’s Square in Venice to the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

“We wanted to film as many locations as possible, but with the current political situation, not every city was enthusiastic about having a low helicopter flyby, so we animated some scenes, which is hard to recognize if you don’t know it,” says Mack.

Europa-Park’s team have also invented its own new “Adventure Club of Europe” theme. The team  plan to use this as a tool to create a second layer of storytelling at Europa-Park (besides Europe), linking the “Voletarium” with existing attractions such as “Atlantis Adventure” and future developments. The park has already produced a “Voletarium: Sky Explorers” game app.

The “Voletarium” represents the single biggest investment in an attraction in Europa-Park’s history, according to Mack: “With the storytelling and theming of the overall attraction, in conjunction with the ‘Adventure Club of Europe,’ we have created something really outstanding.”


The Extraordinary Journey

Futuroscope  |  Poitiers, France

For its 30th birthday, Futuroscope delivered an aerial experience for visitors inspired by the visionary French writer Jules Verne. Launched in December 2016, “The Extraordinary Journey” was the first flying theater to open in Europe.

The i12.5 million attraction aligns with Futuroscope’s “innovative nature by offering a unique technology in France to its visitors,” says Laure Mosseron, Futuroscope’s head of marketing. “This flying theater also responds to visitor demand for beautiful stories and thrilling sensations.”

“The Extraordinary Journey” replaces the park’s “Magic Carpet” theater. It sends guests soaring around the world, like Phileas Fogg from Verne’s novel “Around the World in 80 Days.” Guests will find themselves lifting off above Futuroscope, skimming over Giza’s hot sands, buffeted by winds above Himalayan peaks, dropping in on base jumpers in Dubai, and weaving between hot-air balloons above Yellowstone National Park.

Futuroscope’s team worked with Dynamic Attractions to deliver the flying theater and Cube Creative on the animated film, which was directed by Nicolas Deveaux. The technology includes: an 84-seat platform that tilts 90 degrees; onboard wind, mist, and scent effects; a 6,458-square-foot curved screen; a 6K film showing a mix of 48 real and CGI images per second; and a 12.1 sound system. Around 650 passengers an hour can enjoy the ride. Flights last four minutes, and the minimum height requirement is 3.5 meters.

Futuroscope has giftwrapped the flying theater in an immersive preshow experience. Four preshow zones guide passengers from the main departure hall to the “SkyLoop” boarding desk. Along the way, children can color in a Jules Verne-themed wall mural and design book covers using magnetic illustrations.


Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon

Universal Studios Florida  |  Orlando

Jimmy Fallon, while hosting “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” on NBC in 2009, approached Universal Studios with the idea of creating a New York-based attraction, but Universal was not interested at the time.

Fast-forward to 2014. Fallon is selected by NBC to replace Jay Leno as host of its flagship late night program, “The Tonight Show.” Universal asks Fallon if he’s still interested in his attraction idea, and he responded “absolutely!” so the company and the comedian went to work. The result of this collaboration, “Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon,” opened April 9 at Universal Studios Florida in Orlando.

“It was a great experience for all of us collaborating with Jimmy Fallon,” says Jason Surrell, creative director for Universal Creative. “The pleasure of working with Jimmy and his folks is that they truly love what we do—they love the parks, they love rides, and they were like kids in a candy store as we were developing this experience.”

The 3-D motion simulator ride is a wildly frantic and fun dash through the streets of New York City and beyond. Fallon challenges the audience to a race and appears on screen driving a suped-up motorcart of sorts. Guests experience the ride on a 72-seat motion platform, with the theater’s movements synchronized to the on-screen action.

The race begins in the corridors of 30 Rockefeller Plaza, where “The Tonight Show” is taped, and then speeds out onto the streets of New York City. It passes over, under, and through subways, bridges, and even the East River, and zooms by landmarks like Times Square, the Empire State Building, and the Statue of Liberty. The onscreen action is the first theme park attraction rendered in 16K resolution; coupled with 3-D glasses, the imagery is stunningly lifelike.

“Race Through New York” also uses an innovative queue system. Instead of waiting in line, guests visit the attraction’s entrance to make a ride reservation for later in the day. When they return, they’re ushered into a lounge where various “Tonight Show” characters entertain the crowd until it’s time to enter the theater; a separate area serves as a “Tonight Show” museum, displaying artifacts from throughout the show’s history. Guests are free to stay in these locales as long as they want prior to boarding the ride.