Report: Tata World River Adventure – A boat ride to and through a Vietnamese fairytale

Tata World River Adventure

With two major chains at the forefront of investments, the theme park industry in Vietnam is growing at a significant rate. One of these chains is Vinpearl, which currently operates three parks in the country under the name of VinWonders. The first of these opened on the island of Hòn Tre, located across the waters from the coastal city of Nha Trang, back in 2006. Originally called Vinpearl Land, this park was particularly notable for its access via cable car over the sea, along with the secluded, hillside setting that is offered in conjunction with their many amusements. 

In the closing days of 2022, the park burst onto the dark ride scene in a big way, with the grand opening of Tata World River Adventure. As a project created by several major manufacturing and design companies, including Jora Vision, Interlink, United Art, Red Raion, IMAscore and Lifeformation, the attraction became the most substantial operating dark ride in all of Vietnam. 

Dark Ride Database was able to visit the park in early 2023 to experience and document the World of Tata, first hand.

Journey to the World of Tata

Arriving at the cable car station on the shores of Nha Trang Bay in early 2023, the most notable sight was that the signature cable car itself is out of commission. Having operated since February 2007, it is currently out of service, with not a cable to be seen between the substantial looking towers. Instead, an alternative form of transport remained on offer from the park, in order to access the island and its attractions – a commercial speed boat. 

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The passenger speed boat that transports guests to the park

While being a rather unorthodox way to approach a theme park, the boat trip also delivers guests to, obviously, the ground level of VinWonders Nha Trang. When the cable car is in service, patrons would arrive on one of the upper levels built into the hillside, in an area dominated by the roller coasters and thrill rides of the park. From the jetty however, the plaza on which the entrance to Tata World sits is just a short walk away, making the new attraction one of the first eye-catchers for any arriving guests. 

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Entrance to Tata World River Adventure

The location of the new ride is particularly notable as it occupies a building that was formerly dedicated to other commercial spaces, which brought an additional challenge in design to the layout of the attraction. The entrance itself is subtly intriguing, with flashes of colour in the signage, the stained-glass window effects, and a statue of Princess Tata to hint at something special, amongst an otherwise well-integrated facade in a park that already has several palace-style structures. A plinth holding a book stands near the doorway, upon which the attraction-specific guidelines and a brief description are written. This particular object will be seen again very soon, providing some good thematic consistency. 

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Queue board information

We first enter the beginnings of a library at the start of the queue line, with a portrait painting of the librarian character we will be meeting shortly. Other artwork and ornamental decorations suggest that this is not a public library, but rather a royal collection and display. It is in fact a Library of Fairytales, one in which all manner of stories and legends are stored and cherished.

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First library room of the queue line

Progressing into the next room, the main focal point for queueing guests is that a number of books are on display, open at a certain page and set beneath a series of paintings that also appear to tell a story. On closer inspection these relate to several well-known fairytales, transcribed in French. This room represents the European section. A further two continents are represented in the next, smaller rooms around the corner, on this occasion more simply decorated with various artefacts and imagery.

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Second library room of the queueline
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A painting and open book decorating the walls of the library

At the far end of this room is a batch point, where guests are greeted by a member of staff and led into the pre-show. The room in which this show is held is surrounded by further shelves of books and artefacts, but the centrepiece is the impressive animatronic librarian and the pages of his open book, which acts as a screen for detailed projections. 

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Pre-show room storyteller

For approximately 5 minutes, a voice over (in Vietnamese) for the animatronic sets the scene and reveals background information on Princess Tata’s world, introduces her sister characters in their respective lands and eventually the Pearl of Happiness – our point of conflict for the ride itself. Should the Pearl not be present in the kingdom, the fairytale land of Van Hoa will be subjected to turmoil and this hints at where the riders will pick up the story, following Princess Tata in her attempt to retrieve the magical object and restore the kingdom. 

The story for Tata World River Adventure originates from one that had already been conceived for the park previously, for a night-time spectacular show, giving the Tata character a degree of familiarity to any revisiting guests to the park over the years. The show itself is still in operation and takes place in front of a large castle, with advanced projections, a wide range of performing artists and even an animatronic dragon!

Certain details have been adapted between the two iterations of the story, for example the show contains a villainous couple, with the ride only retaining the female antagonist. The ruler of the underwater world is also a prince and love interest of our hero Tata, which we will soon learn is not the case within the attraction itself. 

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The Tata Show night-time spectacular 

Back to the pre-show, a second screen in the room, suspended over the eventual exit provides some additional visuals during this explanation. It predominantly consists of a map of the fictional land of Van Hoa and, with a magical flourish of projections during the climax, this rises to reveal the door to the next stage of the queue line.

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Pre-show room

From here we enter a passageway more indicative of a castle itself, ascending some stairs past stone walls. An impressive, framed mosaic decorates one such wall, and the subsequent corridor/walkway (which crosses over the final moments of the ride below) is covered in its entire length on one side with biographies for each of the characters we will encounter on the journey, presented on scrolls with text in both Vietnamese and English.

Prospective riders could easily be distracted on this walkway by views to the left, however, which reveal the first glimpse into the elaborately decorated station. Descending the stairs and heading towards the loading area reveals the banners, flowers and lighting that engulf the ceiling of a tall chamber, with pillars and walls sporting intricate patterns of gold and green respectively. The effect gives off the grandiose air of a regal space, but also its affinity to nature, which seems to be a strong theme represented in Princess Tata herself, her companionship with animals, and her residence in the Land of Flowers.

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Ride station

From here it becomes clear, had the name not already suggested it, that Tata World River Adventure is a boat ride. The ride system is known as a Super Flume, which was designed and manufactured by Interlink, a British company that has already contributed to a number of successful water ride/dark ride combinations throughout South-East Asia. The 8-seater boats float freely throughout their flume, punctuated by conveyor belt-driven lift and drop sequences that give them the characteristic splash associated with any flume ride.

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A boat departing the station

Journey through the Tata World

Once boarded and with lap bars checked, the boats depart the also conveyor-driven station and transport riders off into the world of Tata. We first meet our titular character as an animatronic lit up to the left, accompanied by dialogue which remains Vietnamese throughout the ride. The introductory scene is decorated as a garden in the castle grounds, the Land of Flowers, and gives a brief glimpse into daily life with friends Monta Monkey and Tuka Parrot (Petta in the show version), who both feature as pop-ups in each area along the way.

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Princess Tata, as first seen on the ride
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An introduction to Monta Monkey

The most striking set piece of this section lies at the far end, a large, stone bandstand-like structure surrounds a luminescent orb on a plinth – the resting place of the Pearl of Happiness, which is glowing contently. As the boat nears this, a combination of Pepper’s ghost and mechanical effect demonstrates the pearl being stolen by the evil Queen before she vanishes once more. This forms one of the most notable special effects designed by Dutch company Jora Vision, during their work on the attraction. This particular project was their largest dark ride attraction to date.

The adventure has begun. In order to take on our foe, Tata decides to enlist the help of her sister princesses, who preside over their own respective lands. We take our boat through the forest scenes to meet up with the first of these.

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Tata and friends boating through the forest
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To meet up with the next princess

From here, the ride ascends the first of two lift hills, through a blue tunnel symbolising a transition into the underwater world. Though the attraction is advertised as having two distinct drops, the descent down this elevated section and back into the water was being taken at precisely the same speed as the ascent, with no acceleration or free fall, at the time of visiting.

With Snorri Touren at Europa Park, Jora Vision already had experience with creating underwater worlds. The next room is another example itself, containing all manner of sea creatures and including a large octopus animatronic having a brief tussle with Monta. During these sections, some further screen based narrative, provided by Italian CGI studio Red Raion, outlines the meeting up with the third and final princess on our journey.

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Teaming up with the third princess

With the team fully assembled, it’s time to head into the fiery realm known as the Land of Darkness in which our evil adversary resides, in order to confront her and retrieve the pearl. The boat is moored and our heroes continue on foot, while we, the riders, continue to drift along and observe from the side lines. The rooms in this area are more sinisterly lit, with a slightly more significant sense of scale and forced perspective to make them feel intimidating. As we watch, various action sequences and encounters take place in an ever more perilous environment as the princesses fight to save the day.

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Entering the evil Queen’s lair
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A battle of spells

The culmination of this sequence leads to the final lift hill, far more substantial than the first. The boat ascends up through the ominous volcanic rock system for guests to be greeted with the physical orb once more, overhead at the summit, along with a screen depicting its eventual liberation.

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The final ascent
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Rescuing the pearl

What goes up, must come down. As the narrative reaches its climax, our boat plummets down the final drop and into a significant splash, one that provides a hefty visual effect but is not unpleasantly wet for the riders, even in the front row. In this splashdown scene, we bear witness to a victorious celebration by the princesses and their animal friends, back in the Land of Flowers, with a jubilant piece of German music producer IMAscore’s soundtrack to suit. The final corner is rounded, returning guests to the station, with a request that they return again soon. Our journey is complete.

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The final scene of Tata World River Adventure

Check out our on-ride video here for a first hand insight into the adventure

Final thoughts

The teams involved have created a lengthy and detailed experience with Tata World River Adventure, one that begins from the very first visual cues outside the entrance building. During our visit, there was no queue of significance under which the theming in the queue line was required for entertainment or the passing of time, but it’s always good to see that a story is being built upon on every step of the guest experience.

The pre-show undoubtedly sets out a good level of detail, with both the projections and animatronic character being visually and technically impressive. It did feel a little on the lengthier side and the delivery of the verbal information has little variation in tone or change of pace throughout the five minute runtime. Through observation on this occasion, the speech wasn’t always able to hold the attention of many local visitors, with the room being mostly empty they were often content to peruse the finer details on the walls. With the room at capacity however, it would be more difficult to ensure a good sightline to the projections on the book for everyone present.

Given the relatively significant presence of international visitors, and various signage throughout the rest of the park sometimes catering to Chinese, English, Korean and Russian it might have been beneficial to allow for subtitles in some form in the pre-show at least too, to capture the attention of a wider audience. Without some background research, or taking the time to stop while walking between pre-show and station to read all of the banners it does seem somewhat difficult to follow the story more precisely and appreciate the finer details once the ride experience begins.

The on-board experience is excellent on the whole, with plenty of visual spectacle along the way. Though the narrative journey is simple, each distinct area brings its own colours and atmosphere and the inclusion of the animal characters means there’s always something smaller happening in each location alongside the main events. The only moment that didn’t quite match the standard of the rest of the ride on this occasion would be the first lift hill, which held just blue painted walls and a simple watery-shadow projection. It feels like there could or should be something more going on here.  In contrast, the second lift and drop provide a great sequence of tension building and thrill payoff which adds another positive element to the overall ride experience, while retaining the same level of immersion and storytelling.

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Lift #1

The attraction utilises a wide range of theming and technology throughout, with mostly large, classic physical set pieces, scenes and animatronics created by U.S. design and fabrication company LifeFormations, through to the various styles of projection on display. In general there was a slight lack of dynamic motion from the physical sets that may have otherwise garnered more crowd reaction. On the whole though, these varying forms of media tend to complement each other, with the longer or more dynamic or action-based sequences requiring on-screen visual effects to express themselves fully alongside the more immersive and beautiful props.

During our visit, there were some technical issues to begin with. We had been informed that this may be the case prior to the trip and the difficulties were ones that you may well expect to see from any technologically advanced ride in its early operation. Minor niggles such as certain props not moving or certain media not being synced/displayed correctly were observed, but the staff were clearly aware of this and, after a brief closure in the middle of the day, the majority of these appeared to have been rectified again by the park and if anything, the experience got stronger as the day wore on.

Overall these factors contributed to a highly enjoyable themed experience, one which rewards multiple viewings for the more impressive spectacles as well as the catching of finer details, along with the repeatability of the rather homely and endearing atmosphere created by the characters, storytelling and soundtrack.

The park has taken a major step forward in changing the dark ride landscape for Vietnam. “It’s very brave for a park to enter the world of dark rides with such a large and richly themed ride” explained Victor Schade, Creative Lead at Jora Vision, in a press release. We hope that Tata World River Adventure will bring further success to VinWonders Nha Trang, in turn sparking many more projects of similar or even greater ambition throughout the region in the future. 

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Visit by Steven
Article by Steven