Report: Treasure Hunt – a pirate adventure in Monterey

Treasure Hunt - Sign

Who has never dreamed of finding a pirate treasure? Starting this year, visitors of Monterey (CA, U.S.A.) can experience such a thing in Treasure Hunt: The Ride. This ride takes guests on a quest for the lost treasure of Hippolyte Bouchard, a pirate who raided Monterey in 1818. What’s remarkable about the ride is that it is a stand-alone attraction, owned and operated by the company that designed and built the ride: Daniels Wood Land. Dark Ride Database went to Monterey to hunt for Bouchard’s treasure, and to speak to the people from Daniels Wood Land about the development of the ride.

A Legendary Bay

Nestled along the picturesque coast of Monterey, California, lies a place with a rich and vibrant history – Cannery Row. What started out as simply a popular local fishing destination in the 1800s, this waterfront district has evolved from a hub of industrial activity to a popular tourist destination. Becoming well known throughout the late 19th century for its abundant marine life, the Monterey Bay area attracted fishermen and whalers from all around.  Starting in the early 20th century, Cannery Row quickly became known as the “Sardine Capital of the World”, with thousands of tons of sardines processed every year.  However, it was author John Steinbeck who cemented the notoriety of the location by writing a novel depicting the lives and hardships of the people who called it home. Today, Monterey is a thriving tourist destination with its restaurants, gift shops, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, marine wildlife and nearby golf courses. 

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Theming from the ride

But Cannery Row is known for more than sardines. Before the fishing industry was booming here, the place already had a surprising connection to pirate activity – though it’s a far cry from the swashbuckling tales of the Caribbean. While Cannery Row wasn’t a notorious haven for pirates, the California coast, including this region, had its share of intriguing maritime escapades and legends.

In the 19th century, California’s coastline was a wild and untamed frontier. Along with the legitimate fishermen and sailors, it attracted a motley crew of renegades, opportunistic individuals, and smugglers. These individuals operated in a manner that bore a resemblance to the activities of pirates in other parts of the world. Smuggling was a common practice, as adventurers looked for ways to evade customs and make a quick profit. The coastline, with its numerous hidden coves and inlets, provided ample opportunities for these maritime outlaws to engage in clandestine trade.

One of the most famous legends associated with piracy along the California coast involves the French-Argentinian pirate, Hippolyte Bouchard. In the early 19th century, Bouchard, often referred to as a privateer rather than a pirate, conducted daring raids along the coast. He was known for his raids on settlements such as Monterey and Santa Barbara, taking place during a campaign in 1818, making him a figure of fear and fascination in the region.

Bringing Stories to Life

Treasure Hunt - Ron Daniels - Daniels Wood Land

Enter Ron Daniels, the owner of Daniels Wood Land, a design and theming fabrication company, most well known for their fantastical treehouses and charming shooting galleries. Daniels started the company with his twin brother, John over 25 years ago. During these years they have steadily built up an impressive list of clients, including Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, Merlin Entertainments and Universal Parks & Resorts. However, while working for these great companies, Ron always dreamed of something he could call his own. Daniels already owned a successful shooting gallery that is located at the Monterey Canning Company Shopping Mall. When he became aware that the basement of the mall, which previously held a wax museum filled with characters telling the story of Cannery Row, was to be closed, he saw an opportunity: the perfect place to build a dark ride! Wanting to create the best experience possible, he knew that his company couldn’t do it alone, so enlisted the help of other experts in the field.

At IAAPA Expo 2021, in Orlando, Florida, Daniels Wood Land announced a partnership with Sally Dark Rides, working on a brand-new attraction called Treasure Hunt: The Ride. This is certainly not the first time they have worked together, but in a first for both of them, not only would they be designing and building the ride, but they would also be co-owners and proprietors. Sally is an iconic name in the field of themed entertainment, so it was no surprise they would want to combine their talent and experience to make a project of their very own.  They started brainstorming, planning and designing and came up with an original storyline based on the adventures of Hippolyte Bouchard. “Normally we’re working for a customer,” says Ron Daniels, “and we have to take into account their needs, their desires and what they want.  But in this instance, what was really cool is, we are our own customers, and we can really just let our visions run wild.” He also laments working on so many other projects and seeing “scenic” elements be cut first when the budgets are reexamined, and really wanted to make sure that was the focus on this one.

Treasure Hunt Carved Wood
Many of the decorations are hand carved out of real wood

Wanting every aspect of Treasure Hunt: The Ride to be at it’s very best, they also brought in the expertise of various other manufacturers such as Gosetto (track-based ride system), Alterface (interactive systems), Extreme Engineering (opening elevator scene), Technilux (lighting) and Pure Imagination Studios (gameplay and media).

Treasure Hunt: The Ride was originally planned for a 2022 opening. However, the ride was delayed until 2023 due to events outside of their control.  While the project was under construction, visitors to the area were definitely intrigued and could hardly wait to see what was being built. In the weeks leading up to the opening, the ride was running sporadically for technical rehearsals and employee training. This was all in preparation for its Grand Opening ceremony, which took place on 22 July 2023, with a celebration and plenty of pirates. Ron Daniels was gracious enough to meet us for a special trip to Monterey Bay to experience the ride while it was still in technical rehearsals.

Treasure Hunting

Treasure Hunt - Entrance
Entrance to the Shopping Mall

As you arrive at the Monterey Canning Company Shopping Mall, one of the first things you see is a large sign of Treasure Hunt: The Ride, hung over each of the entrances.  Walking down the hallway you are greeted by a very impressive animatronic character named Shark Bait Sam and his parrot sidekick, Scuttle, standing next to the 30 foot mast of his ship. He tells you the story of Captain Hippolyte Bouchard’s treasure and invites you to see if you have what it takes to find the treasure yourself. There is also a very impressive photo-op of the Kraken’s tentacles bursting through the floor and body of a destroyed ship, allowing guests to entangle themselves as if they are about to be carried to the very depths, further enticing them to the adventure that awaits.

Treasure Hunt Shooting Gallery
The shooting gallery is a separate experience, but a perfect companion to the ride

As Treasure Hunt is a stand alone attraction inside a shopping center, tickets are purchased individually, either online or in person. Tickets are time specific, which means you won’t have to wait in line.  You will also have the opportunity to purchase a “Power Up Token”.  This is a unique feature of this attraction allowing you to upgrade your “Treasure Collectors” into more powerful Deck Cannons for an upgraded experience and a higher score. Tickets start at $20 per adult and $18 per child or senior, with a powerup token being an extra $5, however as of the time of this writing, they appear to have many options for multiple same day rides as well as even “annual passes”.

After you have purchased your tickets, you descend down the staircase on your way to the caverns below where the treasure is said to be hidden.  Following a brief introductory video, you enter the elevator which, according to the story, will take you down 300 feet.  This effect is accomplished using a moving platform with screens along the walls and ceiling.  Unfortunately, as is common with most experiences of this nature, everything does not go as planned and your elevator gets stuck, requiring the repairman, Connor, to come out and attempt to fix it.  After a brief exchange (including some not too unpleasant smells), the elevator is “fixed”, sending it crashing down to the floor below.  The wall smashes open revealing Molina and his donkey, Don Pedro, represented by impressive full body animatronics.  He is excited to meet some new friends, and invites you along to help him recover the treasure and escape the caverns.

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Molina, the town drunk, and his donkey, Don Pedro

You will then exit the elevator and continue through the tunnels to arrive at your Cavern Cars. This is where you will insert your power up token (if you bought one) before taking your seat.  Each ride vehicle has 4 seats with 4 token kiosks, each with a different color that lights up after you have inserted your token. They are quite similar to some other Gosetto vehicles and have the ability to spin around and face different scenes as you’re moving through the ride.

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Treasure Hunt Cavern Car

The ride vehicles are on the smaller side, but there is a good reason for this.  DWL and Sally had to work within very specific constraints when developing this ride. The basement of the Cannery Row shopping center has load bearing columns, which they had to find a way to navigate through, while meeting specific safety standards and also leaving enough room to fit in everything else.

However, they did manage to fit in quite a bit in such a small space. The ride itself consists of multiple scenes, each with a large screen surrounded by plenty of physical props wherever you look.  One of the things DWL stressed the importance of was not having “empty black space”.  They made sure to cover all of the viewing angles, including the ceiling, with texture and theming, so you really do feel like you’re driving through an underground cavern.

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The queue is just as impressively themed as the ride itself

The ride starts with an introduction by Molina, who tells you how to use the Treasure Collector guns in order to capture all of the treasure.  While it’s not quite clear exactly how this is supposed to work, it is still fun to blast the screen and see different colored blasts for each player.  Eventually you will end up hitting the explosive barrels causing a rush of water that not only sends your Cavern Car spinning, but also, with the help of some clever projection mapping on the floor, give the feeling of being washed away by a wave of water into the next scene.

This is where you will meet the ghost of Hippolyte Bouchard, who seems rather displeased that you are taking his hard-earned treasure.  In a bit of confusion, it seems that the Treasure Collectors are now also a type of “blaster” that you can use to attack Bouchard and send him reeling allowing you to escape deeper into the cavern.

The next scene has Captain Bouchard calling the mighty Kraken to help protect his treasure, which whips your car inside a derelict pirate ship where you can see the Kraken climbing along the top with the help of some embedded screens.  Finally, Bouchard, summons his skeleton to crew to rise up and capture the intruders.  You proceed into an epic battle involving the Kraken, Bouchard and multiple pirate skeletons depicted both on screen, as well as by physical props and animatronics, coming at you from all directions.  This scene is as chaotic as it is exciting, with so much going on, making it hard to tell whether you are still collecting treasure or simply blasting pirates with a gun.

Treasure Hunt The Ride 06

The ride ends with Molina congratulating you on surviving and collecting the treasure, with photos of each player displayed alongside their score.  This, of course, adds to the competitive nature of the ride, encouraging players to ride once again to improve their score and try to be the best in each adventure.  On our ride through, we were bested both times by Mr. Daniels himself, however we suspect he may have had some practice here and there.

As you move through the ride, you will find that your Treasure Collectors not only work on the screens, but also interact with all of the physical props and sets as well.  DWL used their experience in crafting shooting galleries to the fullest here, making the whole ride one big shooting gallery.  However, there are no traditional “targets” that you would expect to find in one of their galleries, opting instead to have the sensors hidden within the props and theming.   And while the lack of targets allows for a much deeper immersion than is usually found in this type of ride, it also provides less feedback, making it difficult to know more specifically whether it was your shot that triggered a prop, or just a random activation.

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The 3D printed Kraken makes for a fun photo opportunity

As you exit Treasure Hunt; The Ride, you are greeted with a final “stinger” scene in the stairway leading out, showing that Molina, Bouchard and even the Kraken itself were actually all in kahoots, and friends the whole time.  It seems they really just enjoy giving adventurers a fun story to tell, and they hope you will come back to visit them soon.

Treasure Hunt is an outstanding dark ride and uniquely impressive experience, given that it is tucked away in the basement of a shopping mall.  It has the quality of theming and storytelling you would expect to find in a major theme park without the hassle and cost of attending one.  And while the total experience, which clocks in at about 20 minutes is highly entertaining, only time will tell if the average guest finds the experience to be worth the price of admission.  Either way, this is a must see for dark ride enthusiasts, and definitely makes Cannery Row an exciting destination for those who enjoy this type of attraction.  Ron has also stated that based on the success of this ride, they would be more than excited to open similar attractions in other locations, most likely tailoring the storyline and theming to that area’s local legends.  If this is what the cooperation between Sally Dark Rides and Daniels Wood Land looks like, we look forward to what else they can accomplish in the future.

© Dark Ride Database
Visit, Report and Pictures by Will