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Wax dummies stare at other wax dummies staring at a pair of animatronic dinosaurs.
Wax dummies stare at other wax dummies staring at a pair of animatronic dinosaurs.

Jurassic Jungle Boat Ride

Field review by the editors.

Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

The popularity of the Jurassic Park film franchise made attractions such as Jurassic Jungle Boat Ride possible. When it opened in Pigeon Forge in 2006, it was the latest thing in tourist entertainment (hydraulic-powered dinosaurs!), and it rode the everyone-loves-dinos wave to become one of Pigeon Forge's senior attractions. Like the horseshoe crab and alligator, Jurassic Jungle has survived numerous extinction events.

Even the plant-eaters have sharp teeth in Jurassic Jungle.
Even the plant-eaters have sharp teeth in Jurassic Jungle.

(There's even a tenuous link between the humans who built Jurassic Jungle's dinosaurs and the ones at Icons of Darkness in Hollywood.)

Lately, however, we'd heard muttering around Pigeon Forge -- a tourism-savvy town in the Smoky Mountains -- and it wasn't good: Jurassic Jungle Boat Ride was the worst attraction in the Smokies. This, of course, only made us want to ride it more. Could it really be as bad as everyone said it was?

Well, yes and no.

Jurassic Jungle is a "dark ride," a type of attraction that's usually crammed into tiny frontages along boardwalks and State Fair midways. Jurassic Jungle, however, fills an entire building on Pigeon Forge's main tourist strip. The facade is impressive: a two-story forested mural opening on a primordial scene of twitching dinosaurs and stationary human explorer-dummies. The sound of drums and dino-roars echo across the parking lot. There's a smoking fumarole, and fake fossils and dinosaur tracks in the concrete entrance apron. A sign cautions tourists, "You are riding at your own risk," and warns away people who have asthma, epilepsy, motion sickness, or "nervous conditions."

Tourists about to travel back to a very dark time.
Tourists about to travel back to a very dark time.

An ominous voice can be heard on hidden speakers: "You are entering the amazing world of Jurassic Jungle Boat Ride. Travel back in time where dinosaurs rule the earth. Where only the fastest, smartest, biggest, or meanest survive!"

Exit sign and frightful dinosaur: the Jurassic Jungle experience.
Exit sign and frightful dinosaur: the Jurassic Jungle experience.

You sit the entire time, there is only one boat, and it moves very slowly. As you bump through the wooden entry doors, telemetry sounds broadcast over the ride's speaker system vaguely suggest that you're being catapulted millions of years rearward. The ominous voice keeps talking, and might possibly be explaining this, but the telemetry sounds are so loud that you can't hear him.

Most of the saurians in Jurassic Jungle are dagger-toothed carnivores, although even the plant-eaters look threatening. They lunge toward the boat, heads waggling, toothy mouths agape. In earlier years these bursts of activity must have been well-lit, but now many of the lights no longer work. It's mostly pitch black inside, and you can feel the boat stop at certain points, as if your attention should be directed at something. There's a continuous cacophony in the darkness -- bellows, hisses, growls, roars -- that offers no clues. You strain your eyes: was that dim shape a giant spider? A dinosaur? Am I losing my night vision? Often it remains a mystery.

Part of the Jurassic Jungle experience is listening to your fellow passengers question -- loudly, the only way to be heard -- the effectiveness of what you're witnessing. In our boat, opinions ranged from uncomplimentary to confused. Kids, however, seemed to enjoy it in a way no longer accessible to adults.

Sad saurian cries for more hydraulic fluid.
Sad saurian cries for more hydraulic fluid.

At one point the boat stops and its passengers are treated to a series of mysterious flash-explosions on a distant horizon. Meteor impacts? Erupting volcanoes? Is this the darkness that covered the Earth when the supercontinent Pangaea split apart?

The terror of this inky antediluvian world is lessened by illuminated EXIT signs everywhere you look. Say whatever snarky thing you want about Jurassic Jungle: at least its emergency exits are clearly marked. In our minds, the attraction inspector -- a job that probably doesn't exist but that we like to imagine does -- rides Jurassic Jungle every couple of weeks to confirm that all of the EXIT lights work, even if most of the others do not. It has to be more enjoyable than sweating outside on a 90 degree afternoon, checking mini-golf artificial turf for trip hazards.

In its youth, Jurassic Jungle must have had one last dramatic dinosaur flourish just before the boat reached the wooden exit doors (bubbling and chomping sound effects suggest something aquatic and toothy). That creature has apparently broken down, and now the boat simply stops in front of the doors and just sits there for two minutes in the roaring darkness. We found this to be far more terrifying than any robot dinosaur.

The Jurassic Jungle Boat Ride may represent flawed DNA in the tourism gene pool, a novelty too anchored by gears, motors, and hydraulic fluid to survive into middle age. Approached today with a generous heart, it can be enjoyable, although perhaps only for fans of this kind of thing.

However, broad public appeal for Jurassic Jungle might be restored with a simple relabeling. After all, while a day on prehistoric Earth would be horrific, no one talks about how much more frightening it would be at night. Recast this attraction as Jurassic After Dark, and expectations would match what is delivered.

Also see: Another Dark Ride: Hershey's Factory Tour

Jurassic Jungle Boat Ride

Jurassic Jungle Boat Ride

2806 Parkway, Pigeon Forge, TN
North side of the strip, on the west (southbound) side of US-321/Parkway, between stoplights 3 and 4.
Su-Th 10-9, F 10-9:30, Sa 9:30-9:30 (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
Adults $19.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Restaurant of Robot ChickensRestaurant of Robot Chickens, Pigeon Forge, TN - < 1 mi.
Big RoosterBig Rooster, Pigeon Forge, TN - < 1 mi.
Paula Deen Restaurant: Butter WonderlandPaula Deen Restaurant: Butter Wonderland, Pigeon Forge, TN - < 1 mi.
In the region:
The Torchbearer, Knoxville, TN - 23 mi.

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