Take A Virtual Voyage to the Iron Reef

Cedar Fair

TripSavvy rating: 3.5 STARS (out of 5) 

I have to hand it to Knott's Berry Farm. The California theme park has been on a tear restoring some of its beloved older attractions (such as the Calico Mine Ride) and sprucing up the property in general. And I give it major props for green-lighting a sophisticated, interactive dark ride that approaches Disney and Universal quality. While Voyage to the Iron Reef is impressive in many ways and a lot of fun (especially for gamers), it probably won't quite blow you out of the water.

Up-Front Info

  • Thrill Scale (0=Wimpy!, 10=Yikes!): 3
    There aren't any drops or any thrill ride elements, but some of the scenes are dark, both literally, and figuratively. The virtual monsters might be scary for young children.
  • Ride type: Interactive 3-D dark ride
  • Ride length: 4 minutes
  • Height requirement: 46 inches or accompanied by a supervising companion
  • Ride manufacturer: Triotech

Ticket and Hotel Info

Here's why Voyage to the Iron Reef Only Gets 3.5 Stars

With Disneyland around the corner and Universal Studios Hollywood up the freeway, Knott's is a little fish in a gargantuan pond. Iron Reef may approach E-ticket status, but it's tough for Knott's to compete without the benefit of the big guys' bazillion-doilar budgets.

One of the things a big bankroll can buy is an A-list intellectual property. Instead of characters everyone knows and loves, such as the toons featured in Toy Story Mania, Iron Reef introduces an extremely odd bunch of underwater steampunk creatures. It's much easier to warm up to Woody and Buzz Lightyear than a menacing, metal-clad, multi-tentacled she-beast bearing down on your ride vehicle.

For those who enjoy game play and the thrill of entering a fully realized game environment, Iron Reef delivers. Riders in four-passenger vehicles are armed with blasters to ward off the attacking intruders and rack up points for direct hits. The video game-like shooting experience incorporates large screens onto which media of the creatures are projected. In addition to the high-definition 3-D animated media sequences, the attraction includes a few practical props sprinkled throughout.

The game play is engaging, even if the mechanized pufferfish and other sea creature targets are bizarre. To rack up decent points, it helps to steady the "freeze ray" zapper against your chest and maintain a non-stop rapid fire.

The screens vary in size, with some of them quite large and enveloping. It's often incongruous, however, when the vehicles move sideways along the track past a screen, but the action is intended to take passengers in a forward motion. The 3D imagery did impart a good sense of depth, especially for one of the scenes in which the action moves through a shipwreck.

The vehicles don't have the same fluidity and freedom of movement that the roving motion bases do on Universal's breakthrough attraction, The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man (or Transformers: The Ride 3D, which uses a similar ride system). Still, Iron Reef is an enjoyable hoot and a welcome addition to the park.

Deep Sea Creatures? At Knott's?

Why does Voyage to the Iron Reef unleash a giant "Kraken Queen" and other freaky ocean beasts? According to the designers' backstory, the addition of coasters and other rides at Knott's disturbed a colony of mysterious sea creatures lurking beneath the park. In retaliation, the creatures want to destroy the park and reclaim their lair.

Notice the armor plating on the giant octopus-like beast in the photo above? The steampunk-style attackers feed on the metal from the park's coasters and other rides. Their iron-rich diet has turned them into mechanized beasts. The Queen leads her army of oddball underwater warriors to protect and defend their "Iron Reef."

Located in Buena Park, California, Knott's isn't exactly a seaside park. So what's up with the ocean setting? Even stranger? Guests have to climb up a set of stairs to board the vehicles that take them face-to-face with the underwater baddies.

But hey, go along with the concept. There is the possibility that the story is at least a bit of a sly wink by the ride designers to restore the balance of story-based rides and thrill rides at Knott's.

Work with me here as I interpret the story: Mythical, fantastic dark ride creatures that were (literally) overshadowed by thrill rides rise up to destroy the drop tower, roller coasters, and other attractions that displaced them. And in doing so, they restore a dark ride. It is up to us heroic passengers to save the park. Brilliant!

Iron Reef is located in a show building that used to house Knott's Bear-y Tales and later, Kingdom of the Dinosaurs, two popular dark rides. The Dinosaurs attraction closed in 2004, and the building had been dark until Iron Reef opened in spring 2015. The renewed commitment to story-based rides honors Knott's heritage as a theme park. It also is part of parent company Cedar Fair's larger "Amusement Dark" plan to introduce more dark rides at other parks in the chain such as Cedar Point

With Six Flags opening two Justice League-themed dark rides in 2015, there is an emerging trend in the industry. Well-rounded parks need more than thrill rides. It may be controversial to say it, but some parks simply have too many coasters. Bring on the dark rides!

And thanks, Knott's, for going to the dark (ride) side and giving us Voyage to the Iron Reef.