Report: SpongeBob’s Crazy Carnival Ride, Sally Dark Rides’ latest masterpiece

SpongeBob's Crazy Carnival Ride
The Sally team at the opening ceremony (© Dark Ride Database)

Who lives in a pineapple under the sea? SpongeBob SquarePants! These iconic opening lyrics kick off the introduction to the beloved animated series. SpongeBob SquarePants is not only the name of the cheerful yellow sea sponge inhabiting a pineapple under the sea, but it’s also the title of the show depicting his adventures in the fictional underwater metropolis of Bikini Bottom. And since last week, SpongeBob no longer only lives in Bikini Bottom, but also in the Circus Circus Hotel & Casino on the famous Las Vegas strip. Welcome to Spongebob’s Crazy Carnival Ride!

Ever since it’s opening in 1968, Circus Circus has been a family-friendly venue for all those visiting the Las Vegas strip. Featuring a circus theme, the resort offers the same casino options as other Las Vegas resorts, as well as a large carnival midway with games and circus acts. While the resort has undergone many changes and expansions in its more than 50 years of operation, the encompassing theme has remained the same since opening.

One of the biggest expansions of the resort  the addition of the Grand Slam Canyon, now known as Adventuredome, in August 1993. This expansion towards the back of the resort added a 20.000 m² (5 acres) indoor theme park to the entertainment line-up. The new park featured a variety of well-known  rides such as the iconic looping coaster Canyon Blaster and the Shoot-the-chutes water ride Rim Runner, both by now defunct manufacturer Arrow Dynamics. But while Adventuredome is now is the biggest theme park in Las Vegas, the latest ride for Circus Circus won’t be found in the dome itself. Instead, SpongeBob’s Crazy Carnival Ride has been placed just around the corner on the promenade floor, with its own pay-per-ride entrance.

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The Circus Circus Hotel & Casino at the Las Vegas strip (© Dark Ride Database)

But who is this SpongeBob, who lives in a pineapple under the sea? SpongeBob was created by marine biologist and animator Stephen Hillenburg and premiered on Nickelodeon in 1999. The yellow, spongelike character lives in the fictitious town of Bikini Bottom with his snail Gary. He works as a fry cook at the Krusty Krab, grilling Krabby Patties alongside his always grumpy coworker Squidward Tentacles, and under the supervision of his boss and the establishment’s namesake, Mr. Krabs. Don’t let the mundane setting fool you, SpongeBob’s life is anything but ordinary. SpongeBob often embarks on adventures with his dim-witted best friend and neighbor Patrick Star.

Ever since the debut in 1999 SpongeBob SquarePants has been a huge hit on Nickelodeon and because of this SpongeBob has had a profound impact on popular culture. His unyielding optimism and enthusiasm is infectious in every way, while the humour and clever wordplays ensures that the show appeals to both children and adults. The impact of the show can be seen through the many memes, internet jokes and its influence far beyond the small screen. The extensive franchise includes movies, video games, theme park attractions and a wide variety of merchandise.

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Stephen Hillenburg and his creation (© Cartoon Brew)

From the small screen to the big world

The SpongeBob-attraction has been in development for about five years now, as Rich Hill, Chief Creative Officer for Sally Dark Rides, explains in an interview with Dark Ride Database: “Nickelodeon originally approached us with the idea to do some type of carnival attraction based around SpongeBob. We developed the story in coordination with their team and pitched it to a number of different theme parks and hotels. Circus Circus decided they wanted to put that into their new space here just outside the Adventuredome.”

Sally Dark Rides is known for their interactive dark rides. Whether it is a more traditional dark ride such as Ghost Blasters, which is found in many different forms around the world, or their award-winning multimedia dark ride Volkanu – Quest for the Golden Idol at Lost Island theme park, Sally Dark Rides is capable of delivering something special. SpongeBob’s Crazy Carnival Ride is no different in that regard, with the added advantage of a theme that seamlessly complements Sally’s expertise in interactive multimedia dark ride experiences. Hill explains: “When we develop an interactive attraction it’s not only important to get a good game, but it’s also going to have a good story. So balancing those two is always tricky. With a Sally dark ride we like to have interactive things that are happening on the screen with animation and CGI, but also have practical moments where you can shoot at things. And so you’ll notice in the attraction where you’ll go from a midway game to a transitional space we’ve got the ring where you can blast it and it gives like a ring or sound. Those moments are really important.”

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One of the many physical interactive objects(© Dark Ride Database)
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SpongeBob welcomes guests to the first carnival game(© Dark Ride Database)

Apart from integrating a good story, SpongeBob’s Crazy Carnival Ride provided another challenge to the Sally Dark Rides design team. The available space measured only about 465 m², which was to include the ride, the queue and the retail space. Rich explains: “Getting a long attraction with a high capacity in a small space is a little bit of a challenge. But we are experts at fitting a ride into a space like this and so it was easily overcome but that was a big challenge.”

The whole ride is a breathtaking journey into the world of Bikini Bottom. This is no surprise since immersing guests into the story is an integral part of the design of the ride. Rich Hill points out: “You’ll notice that the sets and scenery are kind of oversized and that’s to make you feel like a Bikini Bottomer. Getting to be next to SpongeBob and Patrick and Squidward and Plankton, all these great characters, that’s my favourite part.”

The journey through the Bikini Bottom Carnival

Guests are greeted at the front of the ride by the ever savvy Mr. Krabs, owner of the famous Krusty Krab, advertising his new carnival ride like the salesman he is. Guests interested in experiencing SpongeBob’s Crazy Carnaval ride begin by scanning their Circus Circus midway pass at the ride entrance booth. The cost for each ride is $20 per rider, or $30 for two riders. Guests must be at least four years old and 36 inches tall.

As guests walk through the themed queue, they are greeted by posters of all the carnival games Mr. Krabs put into his new ride, as well as several screens advertising the Krabby Patty, the most famous burger on the Krusty Krab menu. A larger screen provides riders with a glimpse of the backstage area of the Carnival ride, where SpongeBob, Patrick and Squidward are preparing the carnival games for the guests. However, to their surprise, the boxes intended to hold goods for the games actually contain the secret ingredients for Krabby Patties.

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One of the many great details in the queue (© Dark Ride Database)
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SpongeBob and Patrick in the game supply storage (© Dark Ride Database)
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Some of the details found in the ride’s queue (© Dark Ride Database)

Upon a brief wait in the queue, guests proceed to the station where they encounter vibrant yellow, trackless vehicles by Dutch manufacturer ETF Ride Systems, containing an interactive system by Belgian manufacturer Alterface. Each vehicle offers seating for up to five guests arranged in two rows. Once the vehicles leave the station, guests encounter Plankton, the archenemy of Mr. Krabs, for the first time. As usual, he is after the secret recipe of the Krabby Patty. Plankton however, is soon forgotten as guests encounter the carnival games, guided by SpongeBob and his friends. Each of the games offer a unique experience because of the different types of projectiles and targets used. The difference between the first and second game is striking in that regard. In the first game, guests shoot directly at air bubbles containing various coloured stars, while in the second game, styled like basketball, guests must consider the arc-like trajectory of tomatoes, used instead of basketballs, as they travel towards the target.

Whereas SpongeBob makes an onscreen appearance in the first game, Squidward is portrayed by a physical animatronic during the second game. This is also the first game where Plankton  makes an appearance in an attempt to catch a tomato for himself, thus getting a hold of the first ingredient he needs for his own Krabby Patty. As is common with Sally Dark Rides interactive games, targeting special characters like Plankton or Gary earns extra points, so make sure not to miss him!

While making their way between the carnival games, guests encounter several physical objects in the ride , which earn points when hit succesfully. Hitting the target under the “Ring-a-dingy”, for example, escalates the point tally, and as such adds an extra layer to the already impressive interactivity of the ride.

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An example of one of the carnival games (© Dark Ride Database)

In typical SpongeBob fashion, the sponge and his friend Patrick frequently find themselves in mischievous escapades. Along the journey of their latest misadventure, guests encounter  SpongeBob in animatronic form, busily baking Krabby Patties. The aroma of the burgers fills the scene, engaging guests’ senses. Another highlight of the ride is the final scene in which guests are placed in an immersive wrap around alcove, similar to the raft part of Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway. The vehicles don’t have a motion-base, but due to the size of the screen, guests get a sense of motion nonetheless. The use of the surrounding screen combined with interactivity make this scene a stand-out moment in the ride, more so because this type of screen is almost never used in this context.

After finally defeating Plankton, guests are greeted to the very last screen by Mr. Krabs himself. He thanks them for their help in keeping the recipe secret. Following the game, the scores are unveiled, and Mr. Krabs, SpongeBob, and Patrick Star extend congratulations to the guests for their achievements. Meanwhile, Squidward, true to his character, delivers a sardonic remark, suggesting he’s witnessed better scores in the past.

The fun of playing carnival games with SpongeBob

Looking at SpongeBob’s Crazy Carnival Ride, one could undoubtedly remark that the space is well-used to bring a family-friendly experience. The Sally Dark Rides design team managed to cramp a six-minute ride experience in the small space, with a fitting storyline that does justice to the cartoon series and its characters while simultaneously building a plot which is fun and easy to understand. As already mentioned by Rich Hill, the SpongeBob theme lends itself really well for this type of interactive carnival-game ride. The combination of the carnival games and the storyline of Plankton is executed very well, with the games being the major part of the experience and Plankton showing up often enough to let the guests not forget about his mission to steal the Krabby Patty recipe. While Plankton’s storyline is overarching, it never takes away from the fun guests can have in each of the carnival games.

SpongeBob's Crazy Carnival Ride
Leaving the station (© Dark Ride Database)
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The ever ready Squidward is ready to receive visitors (© Dark Ride Database)
SpongeBob's Crazy Carnival Ride
Looking at SpongeBob grilling burgers (© Dark Ride Database)
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An overview of one of the final scenes in the ride (© Dark Ride Database)

Despite the small footprint, the ride offers a varied combination between flat, themed surfaces, physical scenery and animatronics and interactive screens. The five carnival games, while taking place on screens, have been decorated with physical sets outlining the game stands, making for a seamless integration of screen and décor, all the while giving a convincing feeling of depth. By making every game different, SpongeBob’s Crazy Carnival Ride ensures a variation throughout the ride, which is enhanced by the appearance of new characters along the way. The designers also found a way to make room for transition scenes between the actual carnival games. As explained by Rich Hill , these transitions are important for the flow of the ride. Within these transitions, the design team managed to include a few physical props, often with interactivity.

Even further enhancing the experience is the high audio and visual quality. The visuals also fit very well with the ride’s theming and the content is incredibly smooth and vibrant all around. Crucial for every dark ride is re-rideability. Fortunately, SpongeBob’s Crazy Carnival ride delivers strong in that aspect, as each scene contains several secrets and easter eggs. As these are an integral part of a Sally Dark Rides ride, we of course are not going to tell you where to find them. The spatula-like objects employed for screen interaction are highly efficient, regulating the rate at which guests can launch projectiles, ensuring it doesn’t become excessive. Consequently, it becomes crucial to aim accurately during the ride, as there’s no opportunity to compensate for poor aim by simply spawning projectiles at the screen. Luckily, it’s really easy to follow the trajectory of your own projectile in these games, thanks to the clever use of coloured trails behind each one of them.  

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The carnival games are very well integrated with the use of physical sets (© Dark Ride Database)
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The last scene is also used as a very well made scoreboard (© Dark Ride Database)
Watch the opening ceremony and interview with Sally Dark Rides designer Rich hill

All in all, the different elements of SpongeBob’s Crazy Carnival Ride are executed and combined in a clever and successful way, creating a charming and fun experience for the entire family. But that is without even mentioning the surprising extras, such as the smooth animatronics of SpongeBob, Squidward and Mr. Krabs. The most surprising element for most riders however is probably the wrap-around projection, creating a high-speed chase finale where guests need to fight Plankton and keep him from stealing the secret recipe. Combining all of that, Sally Dark Rides created a high-quality family dark ride, even on the small space available. We would like to thank Sally Dark Rides and Circus Circus for the invitation and hospitality during our visit to the opening SpongeBob’s Crazy Carnival Ride. And, obviously, we’d also like to thank them for the creation of this fun dark ride.

© Dark Ride Database
Visit, interview and pictures by Will
Report by Johan