22 April 2023 marked the opening of Red Bandits Adventure at Attractiepark Slagharen. The new dark ride is a retheme of their former Wild West Adventure that closed in November of last year. The park worked together with Leisure Expert Group to turn the attraction into a new experience featuring their own entertainment act, The Red Bandits. Team DRdb was invited to witness the opening of the new dark ride and experience the adventure ourselves.
Attractiepark Slagharen (formally Attractie- & Vakantiepark Slagharen) is a theme park and holiday resort in the North of The Netherlands. The park was founded in 1963 by Henk Bemboom as Shetland Ponypark Slagharen, a holiday resort with a unique feature: every cottage had its own pony. The concept was a big success and the resort started to expand by adding more cottages and even attractions. It did not take long before also day-visitors could enter the park.
In the 70s and 80s the park developed into the largest amusement park in The Netherlands. Bemboom adopted an American, mostly western, theme for the park, unique in the Netherlands. Most of the attractions consisted of (transportable) fair rides.
Around the year 2000 came a change to the resort. For the well-being of the animals, the park had to say goodbye to the ponies at the cottages. The park also dropped the Shetland Pony from its name, renaming the resort to the current Attractie- & Vakantiepark Slagharen. In 2012, the Bemboom family sold the park to Spanish theme park chain Parques Reunidos.
Wild West Adventure
1990 was the last year under management of Henk Bemboom before his son, Bouwe, and daughter, Hendric, took over. This is when the park opened a large dome where Wild West shows were performed. The shows contained an elaborate set which even included a working train that would take part in the show. The shows were a success and favoured by many visitors. However, the final curtain closed in 1999 and the dome was converted into a dark ride for the next season.
Wild West Adventure was designed by Heimotion and featured a round boat ride system by Mack Rides (often misinterpreted as a rapid river). At the opening, it was one of the biggest dark rides in the region and the attraction fit the western-theme of the park well. The dark ride depicted several scenes from pioneering times in North America. Riders would come eye to eye with pioneers, Native-Americans and soldiers from the wild west.
The existing dome is something that made Wild West Adventure (and now Red Bandits Adventure) rather unique: the dark ride does not contain any separate rooms but, apart from a cave, all of it takes place inside this dome. The scenes themselves are separated with rockwork instead of walls and ceilings. The rockwork was created by AAB.
Attractiepark Slagharen announced the closure of Wild West Adventure on October 27 2022, stating that November 6 would be the final operating day. While the attraction itself did not necessarily age that badly, the park decided it was time for something new nonetheless. The dark ride would open as a new experience in 2023 when the park celebrates its 60th birthday.
One of the reasons to retheme the attraction was controversy. While the debate over the depiction of Native-Americans is not as heated in The Netherlands as compared to the United States, it is often mentioned in discussions about racism and negative stereotypes. Wild West Adventure has had criticism for it. “This ride, 22 years ago, was fantastic. Many people loved it. I think it is time to bring it to new times, and make something that fits the current” said Slagharen’s CEO Dave Storm to the DRdb.
The Red Bandits take over
During a small ceremony that was held on November 6, Slagharen said goodbye to Wild West Adventure. The last group to take a ride was a lucky family of annual pass holders who had won a contest. The ceremony was however interrupted by the Red Bandits. This group of outlaws are part of Slagharen’s entertainment. The clumsy bandits hijacked the ceremony to announce that they would take over the attraction. Ever since the introduction of the Bandits, the outlaws have been trying to gain more terrain and often try to convince children to become new recruits.
In January, Slagharen revealed the name and first artwork for the attraction. It showed several scenes with, for the fans, recognizable locations, as the artwork clearly showed that the rock formations of AAB would be kept intact. The scenes themselves were completely different though. From now on, the attraction would be called “Red Bandits Adventure”, being designed by Leisure Expert Group.
The opening ceremony
All guest were gathered at the Silver Dollar Bar in the park’s Main Street, where they were greeted by Dave Storm and his team. Present today were several journalists, including team DRdb of course, bloggers and a delegation of Leisure Expert Group. After a cup of coffee, Storm started with his first speech of the day.
Storm started his speech with a look back at Wild West Adventure: “It was an iconic attraction for Slagharen with 23 operating years (…) and I promised I would not dissapoint the fans. We’ve been working on the ride until this morning, because here in Slagharen we are always only done right in time. But it is ready, the music is playing and I think we can be very proud on the result.”
He continued with a little recap of the 60 years of existence of Attractie- & Vakantiepark Slagharen, before getting to the entertainment of the park. For many years now, the park has two mascots in the form of racoons, called Randy and Rosie. They are favoured by many young children, but Slagharen offers more entertainment: “Randy and Rosie are already famous and we recently restyled them. These are for the smaller children. Along the way, the Red Bandits were added to the park and we saw a success with the older children. These, both tough and clumsy, bandits also became a bit of friends with them. It fits the age of the children, you know when they get older they get a little bit more bolder. That fits the Red Bandits. They are the rude outlaws of our park, but there will always be something going wrong with them.”
“They did not have their own hideout, though. And what’s better than taking the children on an adventure? The attraction is based on a story in which the children can eventually become a Red Bandit. They will have to complete several challenges, but as you will soon see, their clumsiness will not always lead to success. It will be a unique experience.”
The Red Bandits were conceived by Aniba Entertainment, a sister company of Leisure Expert Group. Aniba and Slagharen have been cooperating on the park’s entertainment for years. The idea of Red Bandits Adventure was conceived by Aniba, L.E.G. and Slagharen, after which L.E.G. made the design of the attraction.
After Storm completed his speech, both Slagharen and L.E.G. exchanged gifts with each other, followed by the cutting of a special Red Bandits Adventure-cake. With a piece of cake and a cup of coffee, there was some time to talk to each other, before the group headed over to the attraction. With the press and other invited guests of Slagharen, we were able to ride the attraction before its official opening at 12:00.
Two things immediately caught our eyes when arriving at the attraction: the exterior of the dome has a fresh paint and the entrance of the attraction has been moved. The entrance is now located in the building to the left of the former entrance. The complete building used to be a souvenir shop, but is now partly the new entrance.
A crowd started gathering when it came close to 12 o’clock, to see the opening ceremony and to be among the first guests to experience the new attraction. The opening ceremony started just a few minutes before noon. Attractiepark Slagharen invited Alwin te Rietstap, alderman of the municipality of Hardenberg, to cut the ribbon for the attraction.
Soon after the ribbon was cut and the attraction was officially opened, the crowd was released and headed towards the entrance to experience Red Bandits Adventure for themselves. You can watch our video of the complete opening ceremony below:
Joining the Red Bandits
Time to take a look at the attraction ourselves. After entering the building, we make our way through a themed hallway that brings us to the former exit of the attraction. We take the stairs to cross the bridge that we used to cross the other way around. By switching the entrance and exit, the park has created a longer indoor queue line for the ride, which is extensively themed.
As Dave Storm explained, the story of the attraction revolves around several challenges that a new recruit has to perform in order to become a Red Bandit. We see two of these new recruits trying to complete each challenge, but clumsy as they are, don’t always do it right.
After getting off the boat, visitors walk down the former queueline (that also features new theming elements) to get to the gift shop. The gift shop is stacked with brand new Red Bandits merchandise, which kids will love.
Curious to see more of the attraction? Take a look at the onride video that we took during our first ride:
An adventure that can last a long time
Of course we spoke with Dave Storm at the end of the ceremony to see if he was satisfied with the results. We were also able to speak with Johnny Ruisch (Creative Director) and Joep Grutters (Design Expert) of Leisure Expert Group. You can watch those interviews in the video below.
Wild West Adventure was an iconic dark ride for Attractiepark Slagharen and The Netherlands. However, this attraction was not destined to live forever. Before it would start to decay, Slagharen decided to bring it into current times and create a new story for this generation of children and generations to come. With the Red Bandits, Slagharen has an effective entertainment act, which they went on to expand with Red Bandits Adventure.
Red Bandits Adventure is an attraction that fits well with its target audience and many children will recognize the clumsiness of the bandits which roam the park. Leisure Expert Group made clever use of the existing landscaping of the attraction and filled it with new scenes. They incorporated a story (which Wild West Adventure did not contain) that is simple, which works well for a dark ride. With clever fades in the lighting of the scenes, they create a surprise effect that works well each time the boat enters a new scene, and the finale uses a simple but effective fireworks effect.
Unfortunately, not everything in the attraction works that well. In some cases, the scenes needed some improvement in the programming of sound effects and animatronics. A few of the animatronics stopped moving while our boat was only halfway through a scene. Also, the cave with the bats is probably not as effective as planned. The top of the cave is made of black cloth, which would not be such a big problem, would it not be for the bats flying over the heads of the riders. This makes them look up and clearly see the cloth at the top of the cave, including a loudspeaker.
The scenes of Red Bandits Adventure contain less animatronics than its preceder, which may dissapoint some dark ride fans. However, by giving the succesful Red Bandits their own attraction, Slagharen has expanded the Red Bandits-brand and created a dark ride that can last for long time.
© Dark Ride Database
Visit and text by Erik
Pictures by Erik & Micha Reij, unless indicated otherwise