An Introduction to Themed Attraction Design: Defining Terms

The following is a general overview of the terms and terminology you will encounter as a theme park designer. The terms are a combination of those you will see in theater, engineering, theme park operations, architecture and more. A theme park designer must know all of these terms to be able to communicate effectively with the various disciplines involved in the design of theme park attractions. This is not a comprehensive list, but it is useful nonetheless.

"Ride Vehicle" - The vehicle that guests board to experience an attraction.

"E-Ticket" - Back when the original Disneyland opened in 1955, your paid admission included a ticket book. Attractions were grouped from A to E depending on the popularity of the ride. Each book came with a certain amount of tickets for each type of attraction. The E Tickets were the most popular attractions, and thus, the term stuck. An E Ticket attraction has become synonymous with the highest budget, highest thrill attractions.

"OPS" - Theme Park Operations. This department is tasked with operating the theme park attraction, to safely load and unload guests from the ride, and to keep it running at maximum capacity.

"Theming" - Any prop, set, or otherwise extraneous material used in creating a themed environment. Example of use, 1) "We need some more theming here on this wall." 2) "This piece of theming has fallen off the wall."

"Iron ride" - A ride with little or no theming.

"Show Action Equipment" - Mechanical devices that control an element of a ride system, an animatronic figure, special effects, pyrotechnics or lighting. Often installed as a stand-alone piece of equipment meant to perform a specific function.

"Dark Ride" - Typically, these small rides were composed a ride vehicle of 2-6 riders, a track that winds through a series of theater flats and painted sets, separated by "bump" doors.  Most of the early Fantasyland rides at Disneyland are dark rides.   Examples of this are: Mr.Toad's Wild Ride, Peter Pan's Flight, Snow White's Scary Adventures, and Pinocchio's Daring Journey. Newer dark rides include Roger Rabbit's Cartoon Spin (Disneyland) and Winnie the Pooh (Magic Kingdom, WDW). Dark rides are the staple of a theme park because they are story-oriented rides and generally focus on a storytelling experience. 

"Motion simulator" -  The name "motion simulator" probably originated from the fact that Star Tours was originally developed from a Boeing 747 flight simulator in the mid-1980s. Examples of motion simulators are numerous, but two of the motion simulators are Star Tours at Disneyland and Back to the Future at Universal Studios. One characteristic of motion simulators is their high fatigue factors as few people feel comfortable in a motion simulator longer than about 4 minutes.

"Motion base" - The machinery that moves the motion simulator. A motion base sits between the ride vehicle and the ground.  Recently, designers have gone one further step in ride development by putting a motion base on a ride track.   Examples of this type of attraction are:  Earthquake at Universal Studios Florida, Cat-In-The-Hat at Islands of Adventure, Winnie the Pooh at the Magic Kingdom, Spiderman at Islands of Adventure, Journey into Imagination and Test Track at EPCOT, Indiana Jones at Disneyland and Countdown to Extinction at Disney's Animal Kingdom.  These are some of the newest and most expensive rides because of all the extra technology that goes into them.

"Gobo" - A piece of metal or glass, which fits into the gate of a profile spot and projects a pattern onto the set. Gobos can be very complex. They are first fitted into a gobo holder. Holders vary in size (each type of lantern requires a different size), although the gobos themselves are of a standard size. Most basic gobos are made of metal but very complex patterns can be created on glass gobos. Also called Template.

"Muslin" - Material used in construction of soft flats. Also used to make mock-up costumes.

"Flume Ride" - A flume ride is any type of ride that utilizes a channel of water to carry the ride vehicle.  Examples of flume rides are numerous as they date back to the earliest American amusement parks in tunnels of love.  Log flume rides are common throughout the world today, as are roaring rapids river rides.  Good examples of these types of rides are Splash Mountain at Disneyland and Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls at Universal's Islands of Adventure.  

"Proscenium" - The outlining frame of the stage opening that separates the house from the stage. Also called the Proscenium Arch.

"THRC" - Theoretical Hourly Ride Capacity. A simple calculation that multiplies the number of riders in each ride vehicle by the number of dispatches per hour.

"Dispatch" - A dispatch occurs each time a ride vehicle is launched from the load platform.

"Dispatch Interval" - The time between dispatches.

"Load Platform" - The area where guests are safely loaded onto an attraction ride vehicle.

"Steel Coaster" - A roller coaster that has structural components primarily made of steel. Steel coasters are faster, smoother and can be made to perform a varied number of inverted maneuvers including loops and cork-screws.  Some ride manufacturers specialize in steel coasters, some specialize in "woodies," and some manufacture both.  The first steel tube coaster was invented by Arrow Dynamics for Disneyland in the 1950's (The Matterhorn Bobsleds). Generally, wooden coasters are slower, bumpier, and do not loop.

"Inverted Coaster" - A coaster that hangs from the track.

"EPCOT" - Every Paycheck Comes on Thursday.

"Costume" - The uniform worn by a theme park employee. Especially while working in a themed environment.

"Set Dressing" - Items on a set which are not actually used by anyone but which make it look more realistic (e.g. curtains over a window, a bowl of flowers on a table, and so on).

"Ride envelope" - The area of space within a ride vehicle must remain within while passing through the show. The ride envelope often includes clearance so that a guest may not hurt himself by reaching out of the ride vehicle.

"Velours" - Curtains hung both to mask the backstage area and to shape the onstage area."

"Cyc Lights" - Type of powerful lighting instruments used to light the cyc with a smooth wash.

"Cyclorama" - Also known as a cyc. 1) A very large piece of white fabric, tensioned on two or more sides, which covers the entire back wall of the stage. It can be lit in various colors or have slides or gobos projected onto it. 2) A curved drop or wall used as a background to partially enclose the set. Quite often used to depict the sky. May be painted or lit.

"Scrim" - A gossamer screen-like material that, depending upon which side it is lit may appear either transparent or opaque. May be painted or unpainted.

"Flat" - A theatrical set element composed of plywood. Usually approximately 2" thick. Painted flats may be used in a variety of ways to enhance a set design.

"Entertainment" - Actors, singers, dancers, characters and other show-oriented performers.

"Barn Door" - An arrangement of four metal leaves placed in front of the lenses of certain kinds of spotlight to control the shape of the light beam.

"Merchandise" - The department responsible for the selling of goods at retail locations.

"Cycle Time" - The actual time it takes for a ride to dispatch, advance through the attraction, unload, advance, load, and then dispatch once again.

"Wait Time" - The time spent waiting in line for an attraction.

"Lap Bar" - Used to secure a guest into a ride vehicle.

"Bump Door" - In a dark ride, a bump door often separates one show scene from the next. A ride vehicle bumps the bump door in order to drive it open.

"Scenic package" - What theme park designers usually assemble in order to communicate the creative ideas for a ride. Also called a "Show Package" or a "Show Set Package"

"Line" - The People standing waiting for their turn to ride on an attraction.

"Queue" - The serpentine building or holding area where the people stand. For example,1) "The queue area was completely full." 2)"Would you please go open up some more queue?"

"Queue Rail" - Railing used to define a queue.

"Queue Rope" - Rope used to define a queue.

"Stantion" - A post, approximately 36-42" in height. Often used with rope to create a temporary or permanent queue.

"Blue Sky" - A brainstorming session where ideas and loose concepts are generated.

"Schematic Design" - Blue Sky concepts are translated into the first working plans, sections and elevations.

"Concept Design" - Similar to blue sky.

"Design Development" - Schematic Designs are refined and many changes are finalized or refined to a nearly permanent condition.

"Contract Documents" - The final drawing package where all the necessary elements of a theme park ride, show or attraction are included.

"WED" - WED Enterprises was the company that originally created Disneyland. WED stands for Walter Elias Disney. Later, WED was changed to Walt Disney Imagineering.

"MAPO" - Manufacturing And Production Organization is located in North Hollywood. It originally started as the division of WED responsible for Audio-Animatronics. The first Animatronic built by WED was the robin in the 1964 film, Mary Poppins. The success of the film and the robin lead to the name MAPO (MAry POppins). After the division moved to its larger site, the name became the acronym it is today.

"WDI" - Walt Disney Imagineering.

"Universal Creative" - Universal Studios' version of WDI.

"Pulse" - Sometimes rides allow a large group of guests to enter an attraction or queue all at the same time. This is called a pulse system. Usually associated with a pre-show.

"Pre-show" - Builds the story prior to the actual attraction. Examples of a pre-show are numerous and go all the way back to the original audio-animatronic figure "Jose - the McCaw" at The Enchanted Tiki room at Disneyland.

"Foliage" - The trees and foliage that the horticulture department installs in a theme park overnight.

"Ride Operator" - The employee who operates an attraction.

"Static Prop" - A Prop in a show set that does not move.

"Animated Prop" - A Prop in a show set that has movement (animation).

"Show set" - Synonymous with "show scene." A set or series of sets specifically designed to advance the storyline of a theme park experience.

"Animatronics" - Any robotic figure designed to resemble a human, animal or other character on an attraction. Animatronics may have a single movement, or several complex sequences of programmed moves and sound. In general, an animatronic has at least some animation by nature.

"Animation" - The plural form of Animatronics. Example, "All of the animation went down at Pirates of the Caribbean."

"101" - The Disney code for an attraction that is experiencing technically difficulties to the point where guests are no longer being cycled through the attraction.

"102" - The status of a ride that has just reopened after a 101.

"Show Scene" -A show scene is a set design translated for use in a theme park attraction. A theme park attraction is usually broken up into a series of show scenes. Each one of these scenes is meant to tell a single story. Sometimes there may be a single show scene for each room. Sometimes a single room can have multiple show scenes. The scene includes the set design, props, animatronics, lighting, f/x, and architecture.

"On Stage" - Any area that a theme park guest can see.

"Back Stage" - Any area usually off limits to guests.

"E-Stop" - Rides have emergency stop buttons, designed to immediately halt a ride if a guest should fall onto the track, or the operator should have to stop the ride for any reason.

"Shotgun Gates" - The gates that regulate the loading of passengers into a ride vehicle. Usually a roller coaster. Shotgun gates open so that passengers may board the ride.

"Spiel" - The story or narrative told my an actor while performing on a theme park attraction. Usually over a microphone. Example: Jungle Cruise (Disneyland), The Land (EPCOT), Storybook Land (Disneyland), Jaws (Universal Studios Florida).

"Marathon" - An actor who decides to ride a ride while performing a spiel again and again without a break. A marathon can help reduce the wait time of an attraction by allowing an extra ride vehicle to remain on the attraction.

Remember these terms as they will be referred to frequently throughout's numerous articles, message boards and interviews.


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