Behind the scenes at Avonturenpark Hellendoorn’s interactive dark ride.
Introduction to Avonturenpark Hellendoorn
On a small hill at the edge of a forest lies Avonturenpark Hellendoorn (Adventurepark Hellendoorn, located in Hellendoorn, Overijssel – Netherlands) which has been a staple of the Dutch amusement sector for over 80 years. It started as a teahouse and playground originally called Ons Ideaal (Our Ideal) founded by Jan van den Bergin 1936. Just two years later it was renamed to Ontspanningsoord De Elf Provinciën (Relaxation Resort The Eleven Provinces). The small park was expanded with the Fairytale Garden and a hedge maze in the 50s and has been growing ever since. In the late 70s Van den Berg passed the park on to his 3 sons Hans, Ben and Jan junior, with Hans taking the lead.
The 80s and 90s were a period of major growth. The fairy tales slowly but surely were replaced with multiple thrill rides including Tornado, the multi-looping roller coaster in 1990, enclosed roller coaster Rioolrat (Sewer Rat) in 1991 and Sungai Kalimantan, a rapid river in Indonesian theme in 1997.
The 20 hectare park was about to reach its limit of possibilities on the small footprint at the end of the millennium. The brothers Van den Berg decided it was time to sell the success their father kickstarted as they weren’t able to arrange a successor within the family circle. Starting from the 1999 season, Avonturenpark Hellendoorn would be operated by Leisureplan BV, a Dutch company owned by Ruud de Clercq, former General Manager of Efteling, who also operated Dolfinarium Harderwijk at the time. That same year, the park would open the interactive dark ride Château Cristal, now known as Discovery Club. Nowadays the park is owned by the French Looping Group and is still going strong. Regularly new attractions are added or old ones replaced.
Discovery Club is a unique and often overlooked ride. With the help of Avonturenpark Hellendoorn, who were kind enough to provide us with a backstage tour, we will unveil the secrets and workings of this mysterious ride.
Discovery Club: General Information
Discovery Club was the first interactive dark ride to be constructed in the Netherlands and features a 135 meter long transport system with 9 cars that was provided by the German ride manufacturer MACK Rides. The quirky cars allow for 4 guests at a time to sit back to back while traveling through 6 differently themed rooms, in which a total of 165 targets can be found. Guests can earn points by shooting these targets with the on-board laser guns. The resulting scores are visible at the ride’s exit. Roughly 700 people per hour can make the 3 minute trip through Discovery Club.
The decor, animatronics and special effects were designed and produced by the likewise German theming company Heimo (now known as Heimotion). This took 3 months of planning and 5 months of producing the theming, after which it was installed within 6 weeks. The ride cost roughly 7 million Dutch guilder, or approximately €3,2 million (€ 4,7 million when adjusted for inflation), of which €680.000 was spent on the theming.
To generate excitement during construction, a video game based on the new ride could be downloaded from the Avonturenpark Hellendoorn website. Those who got the highest scores were invited to the first public test runs on June 19, 1999. On June 22 the ride opened officially to the public. Later that year a contest was held, challenging visitors to find the Crystal Treasure of Hellendoorn. Clues as to where to find it were hidden in the park and broadcast every day on Radio 10 Gold. The finders would receive a money prize of 5000 Dutch guilder, approximately €3.350 today adjusted for inflation.
The Ride Experience
We are walking towards Discovery Cub. Hidden back in the farthest corner of Avonturenpark Hellendoorn, right behind playground the Web, an ominous, dilapidated mansion can be found. The front doors are shut tight and there doesn’t seem to be anyone home. The placement of the boarded off windows clues us in on the amount of floors featured, while some broken shutters further prove the mansion hasn’t been looked after for a while. As we inspect the top floor a richly decorated clock, which doesn’t show the correct time, catches our eye. The roof features a multitude of trident decorative elements.
As we are wondering who this mansion could possibly belong to, we notice an entrance sign to the left of the building which leads us to a door to the side. It is guarded by a turnstile which occasionally lets through a small group of guests, further building up the suspense.
Queue and Station Once inside we find ourselves in a narrow hallway, illuminated by a sole chandelier. To our surprise, we don’t enter the main floor of the mansion. There is nowhere else to go but down to the cellar via a mysterious spiraling stairwell (an elevator is present to serve disabled guests) where a couple of niches can be found in the walls. If one were to stick his hand inside of the first one, a loud howling sound can be heard. The second one doesn’t appear to do anything but activating the third one reveals a creepy, smiling red face. We have reached the bottom of the stairs and it dawns on us that the entire ride is in fact built underground.
As we turn the corner, the station comes into view. It’s here where the operator has his or her spot. A vehicle stops in front of us as an attendant on the other side of the track offers us to take place on one of the 4 red seats, modeled after a luxurious sofa. A lamp shade on which our seat number is written tops off the vehicle’s design. At this point it becomes clear: the mansion is haunted and the properties inside have gained the ability to move on their own. To our right a laser gun can be found which we can use to put the haunted items to rest. As the vehicle begins to move, it also slowly rotates, giving all rides an equal amount of time on each side of the track. From on-board speakers orchestrated classical music plays: Anitras Dans (Anitra’s Dance). It was written by the famous Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg in 1874.
Scene 1: Africa
A set of large doors mark the end of the station as we enter the first proper room. Immediately we are faced with strange and out of place items. The presence of large animals like a rhinoceros, an elephant and ostrich make it abundantly clear this isn’t your run-of-the-mill cellar. Traditional African masks along the walls confirm this room is for storing all kinds of collectibles related to the African savanna and rain forest. Various boxes and suitcases are still littered on the floor which implies the mansion’s owner likes to travel a lot and acquired all of these items himself.
Noteworthy set pieces are accompanied by sensors which trigger a light and / or movement effect when shot at. Every target is connected to a speaker as well which plays a unique sound when activated. The elephant for example lifts up its trunk and trumpets. These sounds are not played through the on-board system, but instead through a total of 265 speakers hidden in the decor. As we carry on we pass by a tiger and lion skin mounted to the walls, violently swinging lamps and African handheld fans which are spinning around. A snake emerges from a pot when hit and the more pots we pass by, the bigger they seem to get.
As we move further into the room, we leave the savanna behind but stay in the African continent to marvel at the beauty of Egypt. On our left ancient Egyptian paintings are moving around and a statue of a woman is surrounded by a pair of columns. The walls have changed to feature various Egyptian iconography. A sculpture of a woman’s head surrounded by snakes might be referring to one of the multiple snake goddesses featured in Ancient Egyptian religion.
Shooting a sarcophagus reveals a mummy inside along with even more targets for us to hit. Across the room a mysterious statue of a red lion is staring at us and an enormous winking pharaoh head rounds out this bit as we enter a transition tunnel.
Scene 2: Heating Cellar
We have entered some sort of mechanical room, prominently featuring boiler equipment and large red water pipes while the floor is marked with do-not-cross tape. Immediately to our right, a small scale medieval armory room can be found. A typical European dragon decorates a flag along the wall as we enter a sharp turn.
A mask spanning from the floor to the ceiling splits open to reveal a creepy figure hiding inside. Among the further water pipes, rusty radiators and cobwebs other masks are hidden, which judging by the labels left on them are actual cultural artifacts retrieved from a specialized store as opposed to imitations created for the ride.
Right before we pass an emergency exit on our right, a pair of Polynesian tiki masks is cheerfully hopping up and down. Next, a large boiler surrounded by warning labels catches our eye. Originally fire would ignite inside, which guests could feel the warmth of. It was accompanied by a scent effect which presumably smelled like burning wood. Sadly, the local technical inspection association (TÜV) did not approve of the fire effect so it was turned off.
Right across the room a large silo containing radioactive substance is situated. All kinds of mechanical equipment like turning gears, tubes and other gizmos give this corner a messy impression. We pass by a mechanical fan and a small gong gives us a clue as to what the next room might have to offer.
Scene 3: China
After a much longer transitional tunnel than the one before we are greeted by two warriors straight from Qin Shi Huang’s Terracotta Army on the left. Obviously, this room is themed to the Asian country of China. Bamboo sticks along the right wall lead us towards a corner where an oversized nipple gong can be found. It is surrounded by various Chinese objects like a straw hat and a small wooden figurine of a dragon.
We pass by a large banner and folding hand fans on the wall to our right, as well as various beautiful Chinese ceramics. In the corner across from the gong a large stone Buddha statue surrounded by plants is situated. His big smile hides itself from view temporarily as he perpetually spins his head in a counter clockwise motion.
On our left sits a life-sized traditional shadow play installation. Sadly, the single figure behind the fabric screen is not articulated. Next to it another two terracotta warriors stand tall. Floating above their heads, a serpentine dragon swings back and forth. This emulates the famous dragon dance, whereby performers bring a cloth dragon body to life by holding it on poles and elegantly moving its individual segments around. As the floor mimicking large round stones transitions into wooden panelling, we enter the next scene.
Scene 4: Storage
A messy storage room’s ceiling is decorated with objects related to aviation, a Chinese kite serving as a clever transition. Among the items a basket for a hot air balloon, parachute and plane propellers can be found. Mixed in are themes of voyaging over water. Several types of mooring posts might go unnoticed between the other wooden objects like barrels and carved figurines. A case displaying a collection of fishing rod hooks and a nautical knot board decorate the walls. An oar swings back and forth next to an old-fashioned cannon like one would find on a pirate ship. When hit, the cannon blasts out a sign with ‘’BÄNG’’ (German spelling) on it, a gag straight out of a cartoon.
A statue of a gargoyle sits high up on a barrel. Back when the ride opened, this gargoyle spat water from his mouth when hit but sadly this effect had to be decommissioned due to potential spread of legionella bacteria. After passing the second and final emergency exit, a ship’s bell and lifebuoy on the wall close out this first portion of the scene.
In the next corner we pass sits a Victorian pump organ from the 1890s, introducing us to the mysterious mansion owner’s musical instrument collection. To the left of it, a large tapan (interestingly enough with a print featuring a man with bagpipes and the name Littlejohn’s Restaurant) sits on a high shelf under which an emergency door to the next room is situated. A dismantled phonograph takes up space on a messy table next to which a traditional grandfather clock sits, surrounded by some more instruments like a glockenspiel. Right across from all this kitchen supplies are stored. Wine bottles are found on the small part of the wall not obscured by the large amount of crates and boxes. Some very random items on a table include an empty bird cage, another one of those gargoyles and a pumpkin with a face carved out in a basket.
Scene 5: Cooling Chamber
Another tunnel leads us towards some sort of cooling chamber with immediately on our left a very unorganized desk. Various jars, bottles, and a human skull are some of the attributes scattered across it. As the winding circuit makes its way through the rest of the chamber, we catch a glimpse of an enormous book on a pedestal. Shooting at it might not be the smartest move, as the book opens up to reveal a golden gun hiding inside.
We are flung in another direction and are heading towards parts of a shipwreck on the wall. Freezing equipment hides two cooling fans which activate when shot at (one of the ride’s few special effects still in working order). Small icicles have formed on cooling grids at the other side of the room, next to which a moose’s head is mounted on the wall. A pile of oversized ice blocks is the cause of the cold, on which a crocodile is located.
In the back of the room an ominous figure stands tall, wearing Inuit (Eskimo) style clothing while being completely frozen and appearing faceless. As we move towards the final transitional tunnel skis and a self-moving sled decorate the wall. This room has one more surprise up its sleeve…
Scene 6: Power Station
The final part of the ride consists of just a small rectangular room which serves as the mansion’s very own power station. Among the electrical equipment various collectibles related to the United States of America are stored, most of which remind of The Wild West. Right above our heads when entering sits a big statue of a bald eagle which is of course this country’s national bird.
A buffalo head is mounted to the wall on the left along with a canoe. In the corner, between the leather bags and cacti sits a barrel which splits apart into 6 pieces when shot at. In front of it stands a wooden wheel, like one would see on a 16th or 17th century stagecoach. Found centrally in the room, in between some dead bush branches, a small totem pole spins around its own axis next to a traditional western horse saddle on a stand.
A projection of a mysterious face appears on the back wall from time to time. Who or what this represents is something we will explain later on in this article. When the exit station with the previous vehicle has not cleared yet, it’s likely we have to wait a few additional seconds in this room, which gives us the opportunity to score points easily. The final turn, which at 180° is the sharpest found in the layout, brings us to the unload platform.
Back at the station our vehicles comes to a stop and a small wooden platform encourages us to get off of our car. While the curiosity for our scores might tempt us to hurry outside, it certainly is worth sticking around here for a while to admire the attention to detail. A set of white marble pillars hold up a wooden ceiling which in the middle has parted for a barrel vault on which a monochrome map of the world is painted. On both of the edges at the long sides a sun with a human face is painted in front of a blue sky and surrounded by various depictions of lunar phases. A wooden baluster marks the short sides, both of which are interrupted twice to make room for a total of 4 busts. There’s more than meets the eye: back in the day these faces would talk to the guests below, but sadly this effect is no longer present.
A large bookshelf sits on the other side of the track and lures us with a plethora of interesting items. Among the books some wine bottles and Chinese vases are found, referring back to the ride we just were on. Notable is a set of small gold framed paintings. The first of which depicts the mansion of Discovery Club underneath a starry night sky and full moon. However, an observant visitor might notice it depicts the building in its original state with a fresh coat of paint and all the windows intact. Very mysterious indeed. The second painting shows the vertical loop of the 1990 Vekoma roller coaster Tornado found at the other side of the park.
The exit path takes us to a small monitor on which our scores are displayed, along with a daily high score and one spanning the entire park season. One final corner, where we might get jump scared by a sound effect, takes us outside. A wheelchair friendly ramp with garden arches leads back to ground level as we emerge from the right side of the mansion, next to playground the Web.
The always twisting and turning vehicles might make it difficult to get a good sense of the ride’s layout. Below you will find a top down view depiction of the entire cellar.
So what’s all this talk about the building’s non-dilapidated state? Well, back in 1999, Château Cristal presented just that. Château Cristal (French for Crystal Castle) is the name given to the ride when it opened and featured a story which explains the strange occurrences inside.
The Original Story
According to the lore, the events of Château Cristal took place in the 1930s. A large Victorian garden sat in front of the country house which was specially constructed on behalf of a rich baron. This baron was quite the globetrotter and during his travels all over the world he acquired an astounding amount of extraordinary souvenirs and needed a place to store them. He named the building after his most prized possession: a set of magical crystals he stumbled upon during one of his recent travels.
But one day, the baron mysteriously vanished. His trusty butler has since been struggling to keep the crystals under control which are causing strange occurrences in the mansion. He enlists our help to keep an eye out for anything suspicious.
The 1999 Experience
We approach the mansion head-on after passing a black metal gate decorated with small pinecones. The garden features raised plant arrangements with concrete casing on the rides with a fountain in the center. In case of a long queue line, we make a detour along the right side where an addition to the building featuring stained glass windows gives us a peek inside.
As we approach the front doors the butler, played by an actor, opens them and invites us. Inside are multiple rooms as part of a pre-show, before boarding the actual ride. We find ourselves in a large lobby, in which the walls are covered with wooden paneling and a large amount of paintings and photographs. The second floor is more so a mezzanine, with wooden balusters on the sides, so we can catch a glimpse of it from the ground floor. The empty space allows for large chandeliers and models of vintage aircrafts. Centrally in the room sits an oversized globe of the earth, lines on which represent the routes the baron has traveled.
Unfortunately, details as to what exactly happened next are scarce. The butler presumably showed us various mysterious happenings like self-moving window shutters and out of control clocks, before taking us to the next room with large bookshelves. The walls here are painted red and the only item of interest is a large wooden altar cabinet in a corner. It houses the magic crystals and a statue of some sort of Mayan god sits on top, watching over it. The projected face in the Power Station is that of the Mayan, which proves the figure used to play a big role in the ride’s story.
Right as we approach the crystals, lasers would shoot out of the altar, signifying the powers contained within. The figure on top would move and possibly speak. As it turns out, the crystals were haunted by ghosts which have now escaped down to the cellar. The butler opens a set of doors which lead us to the small hallway we enter the ride through nowadays, and are prompted to follow the ghosts downstairs and shoot them with our laser guns, putting them, and the items they haunt, to rest.
It should also be noted that to this very day, the tunnels in between the scenes feature speakers through which a voice could be heard (presumably the baron), encouraging us to not give up and avoid getting distracted. It’s very rare to hear these voices, as most speakers seem to be broken or turned off.
The Revised Story
Just 1 year later, in 2000, Château Cristal would already see a major overhaul. It is said that the original concept was not perceived as exciting enough. The mansion’s exterior and dark ride were kept the same but the name was changed to Discovery Club and story pre-shows were revised.
The mansion now belongs to Professor Nulnix and his helpers. The mad professor was experimenting with a potion to bring objects to life. Presumably so he could use it on his vacuum cleaner and other appliances so he would never have to do a chore himself ever again. Unfortunately for the professor, he dropped the test tube that held the potion, causing the substance to drip through the wooden floor and come into contact with the items stored in the cellar.
The 2000 Experience
In front of the entrance gate a large sign was constructed with the new name on it. An oversized piece of faded paper with part of Leonardo da Vinci’s famous the Vitruvian Man on it serves as the background. The central part of the drawing is obscured with a metal plate and the circle normally present around the man is replicated via a rusty gear.
The first room in the mansion has now seen the addition of television screens above the central globe. Placed inside a steampunk-style silver and bronze frame, on each of the four sides a monitor is tilted slightly downwards so the video is viewable from every angle. After the video was over, in which various characters including the professor appear, Nulnix’ helpers would direct us to the next room.
Bridging the Gap
At the end of the 2000 season the first edition of Heksendoorn (a portmanteau of heks, the Dutch word for witch, and Hellendoorn) was held. This Halloween event proved to be a big success and would return every year. Discovery Club was the perfect candidate for a spooky overlay and thus would incrementally be altered to better fit the scary event, even if that meant the changes would appear year-round.
Originally, the mansion did not feature window shutters. They were added somewhere between 2000 and 2002. In either 2003 or 2004, some of the windows were boarded off and the mansion was repainted to the darker color scheme. Cobwebs were added to the walls and ceiling in the lobby where the first pre-show takes place as well as a portion of the room blocked off with curtains. Props like oversized spiders were added to the mansion’s exterior as well, giving it a full-on haunted house look and feel. For the 2005 season the Web was added to the park, a playground resembling barren trees with beams to walk on and ropes to climb. It replaced the garden and extended queue in front of the mansion. The ride’s two emergency exits, now located in the playground, retained their original fencing which serve as a reminder of the garden that once stood around them.
The 2006 season would be the last time the pre-shows were performed altogether. Due to the park’s limited space and shortage of event locations, it was decided to use the ground floor of the mansion for this purpose from 2007 and on. As you might expect, most of the park’s Halloween events would now be held inside of the mansion. Therefore a small hallway was constructed right behind the front doors, decorated as a fireplace from the back, to keep sunlight out when the doors were open. The original paintings along the walls were replaced with creepy imagery, skeletons in cages now hang from the ceiling and a podium was constructed in the right corner of the room. The stained glass windows behind the podium were completely darkened. From now on, the ride could be entered via the turnstile on the left side of the mansion like still is the case today. The large globe and monitors were kept inside the lobby at first but where removed some years later.
The ride’s name sign was moved closer to the new entrance in 2011. By 2015, the sign was in bad shape and was replaced with a series of new signs, presented in an entirely different painted-wooden-board style.
For the 2020 season, the character of professor Nulnix (now spelled as NulNix) was revived to feature in the new live show Het Experiment. The professor now resides in his lab not far from Discovery Club and is still working on a solution to undo his mistake. All the while his daughter is trying to convince him to not ruin the fun and in the end is able to succeed with the help of the audience. We also learn of some of NulNix’ other inventions, all of which resulted in disaster.
Not far from Discovery Club the boat ride Jungle Expedition is located. The boats at which travel through a small cave which was upgraded regularly when it was known as Jungle Monster from 2001 till 2019. This takes us to the 2013 season, in which the Mayan god from the defunct Discovery Club pre-show, accompanied by a talking totem pole, suddenly re-emerged (a copy of this totem pole, albeit non-articulated, can still be found in the first scene of Discovery Club). The Mayan was now painted in gold, and sat on a stone structure to warn us about the danger (the Jungle Monster) yet to come as thunder stroke. The figures were removed during the 2016-17 off-season to make way for a new scene. Back to Discovery Club…
Let’s examine the technical workings of Discovery Club. As mentioned before, the ride operator sits in the station behind the control panel which has various functions on it. After the lap bars are unlocked, they need to be pulled down by the guest manually after which the vehicle can be dispatched. A small monitor to the side of the control panel ensures staff can keep an eye on the queue. In 2014, a CCTV-set was installed throughout the ride itself. On 3 monitors from across the station 12 camera feeds are displayed.
The transport system was supplied by MACK Rides and nowadays features 9 cars, as opposed to the 11 cars the ride originally opened with. Each car rides along the track while a set of 6 carbon brushes run along power lines. This gives the ability for the top part to spin around its own axis via a motor. Meanwhile 4 speakers, 1 behind each of the passenger’s heads, play the Anitra’s Dance soundtrack continuously.
As the car is dispatched and enters the first scene, a sensor in the ceiling activates and prepares the main computer to start receiving scoring information. Each of the 6 scenes houses its own scoring computer (cleverly hidden in the decor) which keeps track of the points scored by each player in that room. At the end of the ride, the car again passes under a sensor which tells the main computer to combine the 6 scores and display it on the monitor at the exit. Due to every car having its own ID, the computer can keep scores for multiple cars at a time. The technical room, in which the main scoring computer sits, is located centrally in the building, in between the station and African scene. It also houses the show control by Heimo and transport system control by MACK Rides.
Also situated in this room is a compressed air tank for providing the movements of the animated set pieces. Lastly, a fire alarm control panel is present which in case of an emergency automatically contacts the fire department. Cables run throughout the entire building, most of which have been laid under the floor the cars travel over and come out of the floor where needed.
In 2017, the original scoring computer, which ran on MS-DOS, was replaced by a modern Windows based machine. The Dutch firm Lagotronics Projects specializes in interactive dark ride equipment and assisted Avonturenpark Hellendoorn on the update. During this refurbishment, the on-board laser guns and 165 targets were replaced, some of which were relocated. The new guns are black instead of gold and the sensors now all feature red lights instead of red and orange like before. The scoring logic was completely rewritten as well as the original system featured a nasty integer overflow bug, resulting in a negative score when a certain amount of points were obtained.
Across from the unload station, a set of large wooden doors hides another room from view. It’s a workshop in which repairs can be carried out in case of a mechanical problem to one of the cars. A hoist is mounted to the roof and can be moved into the station to lift the car up from the track and inside. When a car needs to be send away due to a major malfunction, a latch in the ceiling can be opened up so the car can be lifted out of the cellar with the help of an external crane.
We have come to the end of our tour through Discovery Club. While some aspects might forever remain a mystery, maybe that’s the very reason we keep coming back here to begin with. And besides, if it wasn’t for the ambitious original plans, the ride and thus this article would not have been nearly as interesting. So in case you haven’t checked out Discovery Club, we hope this article has convinced you to give Professor Nulnix a hand!
Are you currious to see what the complete ride looks like? Take a look at our POV from the ride (shot in July 2020).
Articles on the history of Avonturenpark Hellendoorn (Dutch):
Article on Jungle Expedition:
Images courtesy of Dark Ride Database, Avonturenpark Hellendoorn (https://www.avonturenpark.nl), Heimotion (https://www.heimotion.com), www.screammachine.net, https://rockydebever.nl, Provinciale Zeeuwse Courant (via https://krantenbankzeeland.nl/), user marcel on www.rides.nl and Hessel Broekhuis.
Be sure to check out https://www.screammachine.nl/rideinfo.php?ridecode=735 and https://www.rides.nl/attractieparken/avonturenpark-hellendoorn/attracties/discovery-club.html for more photos on the Discovery Club pre-shows.
Special thanks to Avonturenpark Hellendoorn for inviting us to a backstage tour and providing us with information.
©2020 Dark Ride Database
Photography by Quintus and Jim
Article by Jim