The Nights in White Satin Ride Was Quite a Trip

Closed Moody Blues Dark Ride at Hard Rock Park

Nights in White Satin- The Trip Busch Gardens picture
Hard Rock Park's signature dark ride is Nights in White Satin- The Trip, a near-Disney quality--and quite trippy--attraction that's based on the Moody Blues song. Arthur Levine 2008. Licensed to About.com.

Special note

Hard Rock Park, which was located in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, declared bankruptcy the same year that it opened, in 2008. The Moody Blues ride only lasted one season. The following is a review of the closed ride. You could read more about the defunct Hard Rock Park in my overview. You could also see the attraction in a ride-through video produced by its designer, the Sally Corporation.

With its groundbreaking melding of classical and rock music, its evocative imagery, its haunting and plaintive melody, and its iconic station in the rock canon, the Moody Blues' "Nights in White Satin" was ideally suited to be reinterpreted as a theme park dark ride. Hard Rock Park and its collaborators, the Sally Corporation, did a masterful job creating an immersive, dream-like soundscape that brought the song to life. With its eye-popping visuals and stunning effects, Nights in White Satin- The Trip was near Disney quality -- and quite trippy.

Getting to the Ride Was a Trip

Located in the British Invasion section of the park, guests passed through what appeared to be a giant psychedelic album cover and towards a spinning, mesmerizing black spiral. With Moody Blues cuts playing in the background, the queue included some band and ride curios such as a Mellotron (a keyboard that preceded the synthesizer and helped define the Moodies' signature sound), a torso onto which colored lights were projected, and a larger-than-life white knight (minus the satin).

Ride operators distributed 3-D glasses (the chintzy cardboard kind, not the plastic ones) and told guests, with nary an ironic wink, to "have a good trip." Black lights made the 2-D, Day-Glo-adorned walls shimmer and invariably caused 3-D-bespectacled trippers to reach out and grab the illusory images floating in the air. A spinning vortex room, an amusement park staple, lead to the ride's loading area. The tricked-out, brightly painted vortex was all the more disorienting when approached with 3-D glasses.

Those who'd rather skip the spinning barrel could have taken the "Chicken Route," a hallway that bypassed the vortex.

The loading area accommodated two vehicles at a time. Each vehicle had two benches and could handle up to six passengers. After the safety bar lowered and a ride-op cleared the vehicles, the trip began.

Wait for the Gong

The song, which was first released in 1967 and clocked in at nearly eight minutes, was re-recorded by the band. It picked up at about the midway point of the original version. (The signature flute and bass interludes were omitted.) The onboard speakers were superb and provided a sonic underpinning for the heady atmosphere.

As Justin Hayward sang, "Nights in white satin, Never reaching the end, Letters I've written, Never meaning to send," ethereal 3-D specters -- in white satin, apparently -- greeted passengers. A bleak and barren landscape then slowly filled with bright colors.

Like the inscrutable song, there was no linear story or literal meaning to the attraction. Sometimes the lyrics seem connected to the visuals and effects; mostly, however, the sights, sounds, and sensations washed over riders in a stream of altered consciousness. Vivid Peter Max-style cubes and peace signs spun in midair; pulsating globules that appeared to have been hijacked from the light show of a circa-1969 Grateful Dead concert exploded and brought a rain of droplets onto passengers; blasts of air competed for attention with stylized renderings of free-spirited dancers.

Whoa! It was heavy, man.

Nights in White Satin made great use of an old dark ride trick, the speed room. (A holdover from the If You Had Wings attraction it replaced, the Buzz Lightyear ride in Tomorrowland at Florida's Walt Disney World includes a speed room.) The cars slowly moved forward in a domed room onto which an enveloping movie depicting forward motion was projected. Much like a motion simulator ride such as Universal's The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, this created the odd sensation of moving in sync with with the film and into its surreal imagery.

Towards the end of the ride, after the Moody Blues intoned, "But we decide which is right. And which is an illusion," there was a great scene built around the song's trademark gong finale.

The mythical nights in white satin may never reach the end. But the attraction did. While a never-ending ride would be absurd, it would have been great if the four-plus minute attraction could have been nearly doubled to fit the original song's length. It was so much fun, so weird, and so well done, it begged for more. And it would have been fascinating to see what the ride's designers could have done with an expanded palette.