Introducing Harry Potter: A Forbidden Forest Experience

Follow a forest light trail and discover illuminated moments from the Wizarding World this Autumn at Arley Hall.


We are thrilled to announce Thinkwell’s newest project with our partners at Warner Bros. Themed Entertainment, Unify, and Fever. Read on for the full launch announcement!

BURBANK, USA and MANCHESTER, UK (21 July, 2021): Warner Bros. Themed Entertainment in partnership with Thinkwell, have announced a breathtaking experience that will take Harry Potter fans of all ages down a light trail inspired by the iconic Forbidden Forest featuring creatures from the Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts series.

Harry Potter: A Forbidden Forest Experience will make its debut in the beautiful woodland at Arley Hall, Cheshire, U.K.. As evening falls, mesmerising lights will transform the landscape into a magical outdoor trail for families to enjoy. As visitors make their way through the woodland, and follow the illuminated path, they will discover wonderful surprises, some of their most favourite moments from the Forbidden Forest, and encounter mystical creatures such as Hippogriffs, centaurs, unicorns, Nifflers – and many more.

Harry Potter: A Forbidden Forest Experience is suitable for the whole family to enjoy and provides a huge amount for fans of all ages to see and do, giving them the opportunity to experience the magic of the wizarding world in a brand-new way. From discovering the wondrous and beautiful forest come to life, enjoying a wide range of delicious food and drinks at a lively and seasonally themed village; to perusing the on-site shop for Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts merchandise to take home – it promises to be a special evening to remember!

The outdoor experience has been created by Warner Bros. Themed Entertainment in partnership with award-winning theatrical designers and experiential creators, Thinkwell and their partners Unify and leading entertainment discovery platform Fever.

The Harry Potter: A Forbidden Forest Experience offers fans a new way to enjoy some of the most iconic and magical wizarding world moments,” said Peter van Roden, Senior Vice President of Warner Bros. Themed Entertainment. “We’re thrilled to be working alongside Thinkwell to bring this incredible light trail to life at Arley Hall & Gardens, a perfect location where the natural beauty of the forest trail and illuminated sets filled with familiar creatures from the Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts series, will make for a magical experience for fans of all ages.”

The trail follows a one-way route and is designed to be accessible to all as well as COVID secure and will adhere to the latest Government safety guidelines to ensure a safe and enjoyable visit. Guests will be able to view the most up to date guidelines on our website,

Fans can sign up to join the waitlist at and receive early access to tickets and information about the experience.

Ticket prices will start from £19 and will be available on Fever’s marketplace here.

Press Contact
[email protected]

Warner Bros. Themed Entertainment

[email protected]


About Warner Bros. Themed Entertainment

Warner Bros. Themed Entertainment (WBTE), part of WarnerMedia Global Brands and Experiences, is a worldwide leader in the creation, development and licensing of location-based entertainment, live events, exhibits and theme park experiences based on WarnerMedia’s iconic characters, stories, and brands. WBTE is home to the groundbreaking global locations of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi, WB Movie World Australia, and countless other experiences inspired by DC, Looney Tunes, Scooby, Game of Thrones, Friends and more. With best-in-class partners, WBTE allows fans around the world to physically immerse themselves inside their favorite brands and franchises.


About Wizarding World

In the years since Harry Potter was whisked from King’s Cross Station onto Platform nine and three quarters, his incredible adventures (based on the original stories by J.K. Rowling) have left a unique and lasting mark on popular culture. Eight blockbuster Harry Potter films have brought the magical stories to life and today, the Wizarding World is recognised as one of the world’s best-loved brands.

Representing a vast interconnected universe, it also includes two epic Fantastic Beasts films, (the third releasing in 2022), Harry Potter & The Cursed Child – the multi-award-winning stage-play, state-of-the-art video and mobile games from Portkey Games, innovative consumer products, thrilling live entertainment (including four theme park lands) and insightful exhibitions.

This expanding portfolio of Warner Bros. owned Wizarding World experiences also includes Harry Potter New York – a brand new flagship store, Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter, Warner Bros. Studio Tour Tokyo, and the Platform 9 3⁄4 retail shops.

The Wizarding World continues to evolve to provide Harry Potter fans with fresh and exciting ways to engage. For the worldwide fan community, and for generations to come, it welcomes everyone in to explore and discover the magic for themselves.

WIZARDING WORLD and all related trademarks, characters, names, and indicia are © & ™ Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Publishing Rights © JKR. (s21)


About Thinkwell

Thinkwell Group is a global experience design and production agency with studios and offices in Los Angeles, Montréal, Beijing, and Abu Dhabi. For the past 20 years, Thinkwell’s multi-disciplinary team has created compelling experiences for a wide range of clients and brands around the world. Thinkwell has extensive experience in the strategy, planning, design, and production of award-winning theme parks, brand & intellectual property attractions, events & spectaculars, museums & exhibits, expos, and live shows.


About Unify

Unify Productions Global are a UK experiential  and production consultancy with operations and guest experience expertise stemming from their work as senior group leaders at London Olympics 2012. Unify’s principals, Heather McGill and Anthony Norris, honed their skills creating and operating major festivals around the UK., are now helping to create, craft, and bring to life the experience and operations of Harry Potter: A Forbidden Forest Experience with Thinkwell.


About Fever

Fever is the leading global entertainment discovery platform. Fever has revolutionised the world of entertainment since 2015, inspiring over 40 million people every month to discover the best experiences in their cities. Through the use of its technology, Fever empowers event organisers to create amazing experiences, and works alongside organisers, promoters and brands. Successful examples of their experiences include the “Candlelight Concert Series” attended by over 1 million guests, the Los Angeles based “Stranger Things: The Drive-Into Experience”, or the “Mad Hatter G&T Party” present in multiple cities across the world.

Celebrating 10 Years Of Naturequest: A Retrospective Look Back With the Fernbank Team

In 2007, the Fernbank Museum of Natural History’s visionary CEO Susan Neugent and her team engaged Thinkwell to reimagine their much-loved (but well-worn) third-floor children’s exhibits. At the time, Thinkwell was still new to the museum world, and Susan’s leap of faith initiated a rich and rewarding collaborative partnership that would lead to Naturequest, a groundbreaking children’s exhibit that celebrates its tenth anniversary this week.  

NatureQuest Starfish

“From the moment we kicked off the design process in 2007,” notes Fernbank’s current CEO Jennifer Grant Warner, “we intentionally set out to create something fresh that had not been seen before at museums for young kids. Our team at Fernbank, alongside our colleagues from Thinkwell, were committed to developing this uniquely immersive space that was rooted in science and education curriculum from top to bottom, providing inclusive opportunities for all  learners to explore the natural world…in a safe, indoor environment.”

Naturequest was intended to shatter the conventions of typical children’s exhibits by creating a playful, highly explorable landscape that piques each visitor’s innate sense of curiosity without relying on didactic text or explanations. Anchored by a multilevel treehouse and a meandering virtual interactive river that winds from the mountains to the coastal reef, Naturequest provides a comprehensive, accurate, region-specific overview of Georgia’s complex biosystems. Since it’s opening, the exhibit has provided ten years of adventure to its guests, but getting to opening day was an adventure all its own.

To start with, the logistics of creating a bespoke, aspirational, indoor forest on the third floor of the building were daunting. Fernbank’s main loading dock was located four floors below, on the opposite side of the building, impractically far away from the space. Thinkwell proposed a radical solution, punching a new hole in the building three stories above an adjacent service area, and the Fernbank team unflinchingly approved the plan. It proved to be an invaluable decision, minimizing the impact of construction on the rest of the museum.

Another key objective was to include a floor-to-ceiling view to the natural forest just outside, which required the demolition and relocation of the office of the Museum’s CFO, Catherine Nowell. With typical Fernbank spirit, she unhesitatingly agreed to the plan. 

Due to the “haute couture” nature of the exhibit, every element had to be custom designed, tested and installed onsite. Once construction was underway, the Thinkwell team, led by Project Manager Courtney Kleinman, was embedded with Fernbank’s staff in Atlanta to oversee the placement of everything from the largest tree to the tiniest fossil in the rockwork strata. 

As scenic elements arrived, they became furniture for the project team; the treehouse an ad hoc conference room, fallen logs became workbenches, the under-construction ladies room served as the flooring vendor’s field office, and a faux dugout canoe was a welcoming spot for a quick power nap. The team spent all of their waking hours together. “For a while I thought I was married to (Technical Director) Gene Rogers. We drove together, worked together, ate every meal together,” Art Director Gwen Ballantyne said. 

Gwen sculpted and baked animal figures and rockwork samples in her apartment for Nassal’s scenic team, who used the models as guides for the full-sized rocks, caves, and strata they sculpted in place. They meticulously added fossils, geodes and other inclusions selected by Fernbank’s geologists to the appropriate layer of strata. They molded tree bark samples from the trees just outside to create accurate copies inside. “I was so impressed with the rockwork team from Nassal,” says Ballantyne, “They were brilliant and so patient with us and everything we were asking them to do, which was crazy hard. Everything they did was stellar.”

Elsewhere, Gwen worked with the flooring vendor Rubbertek to custom mix their primary colors to create the perfect color gradients for the riverbed, beach, and reef, an effort that they had never accomplished previously. While art directing a tree stump, Ballantyne became so captivated by the history conveyed in tree rings, that she joined the Tree Ring Society.

Meanwhile, Kate McConnell, who had already learned the Latin names for hundreds of indiginous species of plants and animals in concept development, installed animal paw prints throughout the space, each set representing a different creature and telling a unique story. Kids can follow those prints and see where the creature emerges from the grass, pauses for a drink, and finally darts away again. Kate got so caught up in the effort that Thinkwell CEO Joe Zenas unofficially dubbed her V.P. of Animal Tracks.

The tech team hung and focused lights and mapped projections in the now open, naturally lit space. They also installed computers and software, rigged interactive elements, and mixed twenty-six separate audio zones together to create a seamless, accurately immersive soundscape in the compact space. Even the soundscape is Georgia-specific, with bird and insect noises selected specifically for their accuracy to each zone of the exhibit.

“There is no more destructive force in nature than a four-year-old-child” said Rogers, and all of the Naturequest team aggressively field-tested every touchpoint to make sure they could withstand the onslaught of the destructive forces to come.  they jumped, smashed, pulled, and pushed every new set piece and element trying to break it. “Is this good to go?” asked Chris Hawkes before grabbing a balance beam log with two hands and tearing it out of the floor. “Apparently not.” Thinkwellian Cynthia Sharpe would frequently pressure-test play elements, once putting her foot through a crab pot, then testing prototype acorns, seashells, and game pieces by smashing them to the floor or against a wall. When a transfer basket for a seed dispersal activity proved too fragile, Cynthia hand-knitted a pouch instead, a solution that remains to this day.

All of the tireless work and attention to detail was put to the test on opening day. The team held their breath as the first wave of kids entered the space. As expected, they jumped, smashed, pulled, and pushed every element. Grown ups explored as well, some laying across the virtual river, climbing up the central tree, or hanging out inside the narrow burrow. Kids beckoned to parents and caregivers to share discoveries and even sought out other kids to help with cooperative games. They had turned over stones, climbed trees, explored caves, and hopped across the river. Naturequest was now theirs.

As the activity wound down towards the end of the day, Gwen Ballantyne noticed an elderly docent gazing in wistfully through the circular windows at the entrance, “The children love it,” he whispered, “Looking at this, I just want to be a boy again.”  

“Naturequest was a game changer for Fernbank,” asserted Dr. Bobbi Hohmann, Fernbank’s VP of Programming and Collections, “Our younger visitors don’t realize that they are learning as they play and, of course, our adult visitors have just as much fun in the space!”

NatureQuest Floor InteractiveBrandi Berry, VP of Marketing agreed “I knew we had created something very special and innovative when Emory University included Naturequest in their field research of early childhood education. Ten years later, I still want to climb up the inside of the tree every time I visit the exhibit.”

“Naturequest has been pivotal for Fernbank in many ways,”  Jennifer Grant Warner adds, “ the exhibition has helped Fernbank grow as an organization, expanding our reach and being recognized for our commitment to science education. Best of all, to this day, we see kids light up when they enter Naturequest and realize this space is just for them – they speed through to get their bearings and then dive into their favorite area to explore, which is exactly as we had hoped.” 

Naturequest was the product of an unprecedented partnership and collaboration between Thinkwell and the Fernbank Museum that continues to this day. Since opening in 2011, the multiple award-winning Naturequest has exponentially increased memberships, opened the door for new exhibits like WildWoods and Nature Stories, and has made Fernbank one of the most treasured spots in Atlanta. Happy anniversary Naturequest, and congratulations to our dear friends at Fernbank. It is a privilege playing with you.

Thinkwell Group’s 6th Annual Guest Experience Trend Report: Artificial Intelligence

Thinkwell’s 6th Annual Guest Experience Trend Report, released today, explores artificial intelligence (A.I.) and its applications in experiences, breaking down key takeaways and predictions for how A.I. can affect, adapt, and improve the guest experience in museums, theme parks, and beyond. With the prevalence of virtual assistants, smart home devices, and smart digital features in everyday life, the A.I. revolution is already here for consumers. At the same time, A.I. is also becoming more involved in our experiences, and there’s no shortage of ideas for what A.I. can achieve and contribute to the guest experience. 

With input from a representative sample of more than 1,300 survey respondents, Thinkwell’s 6th Annual Guest Experience Trend Report breaks down three ideas around the guest experience and integration with A.I., while also exploring the rising demand for technology and personalization. 

Three Big Ideas for A.I.:

  • Physical queues are waiting for obsolescence. What does this mean for the entire experience?
  • Guests want to make discoveries. A smart guide can help.
  • A.I. is about getting personal. What happens when you’re able to combine human and artificial intelligence for personalized interactions and service? 

“The potential to use A.I. for guest, brand, and operator benefit is limitless,” says Craig Hanna, Thinkwell’s Chief Creative Officer. “Thinkwell is focused on providing innovative, practical, and inclusive solutions to enhance the guest experience in any setting, and A.I. can play a big role in guest experiences and technology decisions as we look to the future.”

For Thinkwell’s insights, data highlights, and predictions on the future of artificial intelligence and guest experience, read the full report here.

#WeMakeEvents – A Red Alert Initiative

Creatives in the event industry have a deep-seated need to entertain people. It’s what feeds the soul, making the world a better place one concert, play, and smile at a time. With a perfect storm of this year with a pandemic and economic crisis hitting all at once, this period of time has been compared to the Spanish Flu and the Great Depression. However, large gatherings were encouraged during the Spanish Flu to boost morale during World War I, and despite the Great Depression, people still had just enough money to still pay for the occasional evening of entertainment. 

Today, entertainment venues of all sizes are shuttered—and have been for months. For decades, the sheer magnitude of the impact of entertainment and events on our global economy hasn’t garnered the kind of public and governmental support it should have, and now the lack of significant economic aid to this sector threatens to ravage both it and the people who work in it long term. Gary White, a British producer, colleague, and good friend of Thinkwell, has dedicated himself to amplifying this issue and increasing visibility of how the pandemic is affecting so many in the live events industry.


A show and technical director, producer of large-scale events having worked on projects ranging from the opening ceremony of the Olympics in Sochi, Russia to the Lumiere London and beyond, Gary’s knowledge of a great show knows no bounds. Once COVID hit the world and the events industry immediately was put on hold, Gary saw the need to bring people emotionally together. He spearheaded a campaign to pay it forward to National Healthcare Service employees by getting as many venues, icons, and locales to #LightItBlue every Thursday night at 8:00 pm. It represented the entertainment industry’s way of engaging the public and thanking the front-line employees for their work during the pandemic. After #LightItBlue and #MakeItBlue took off, Gary shepherded the event through the spring, joining forces with Thinkwell to expand the reach to the United States and beyond. This gave Gary time to step back and focus on what was about to come next…

In mid-July, Gary was approached by colleagues at the Professional Light and Sound Association (PLASA) to be the lead producer for the #WeMakeEvents campaign. A natural progression from his previous endeavors, where the events industry paid respect to the healthcare industry, this new campaign focuses on the needs of the hundreds of thousands of professionals and companies in events and entertainment themselves. #WeMakeEvents strives to bring awareness and understanding of the threats the COVID crisis poses to the industry by broadcasting an iconic ‘red alert’ cry for help. With thousands of people who make their living creating, organizing, and implementing events at a variety of scales out of work, the industry urgently needs aid and public support. Gary set out to raise awareness of the struggles his colleagues and the industry at large have faced since March. 

Gary once again leveraged his vast international network, utilizing his expertise to spearhead this new campaign. As an industry that was the first to close and will be one of the last to open leaving millions out of work, the livelihood of every stagehand, producer, and technician became the utmost importance in this awareness campaign. Gary’s focus on creating a megascale, streamed event that was highly visible, safe, and leveraged the skills and talents of events professionals was the natural way to fulfill PLASA’s intent and garner attention worldwide.

The inaugural event was on August 11, 2020: more than five thousand professionals gathered over 20 cities across the UK, such as Manchester, Edinburgh, and Cardiff, with the core of the event taking place on London’s South Bank. The fully live-streamed event featured an event crew dressed in red while holding up red lights into the sky, signifying a ‘red alert’ asking for financial support for the families impacted by the months-long shutdown of events and performances. 

#WeMakeEvents#WeMakeEvents has now gone global, reaching 28 countries, and is continuing its efforts to raise money and lobby governments to provide assistance for millions of event professionals out of work for the foreseeable future. Gary and his volunteers have successfully created a wide array of ongoing events both digitally and socially distanced – all completely pro-bono. Artists around the world have stepped up to host “Survival Sessions” – their take on live-streamed jam sessions. Additionally, the #WeMakeEvents website hosts a “Speakeasy” room featuring a variety of options including skills workshops, live stream open sessions, and quiz nights for event professionals to sharpen their skills and network with peers. 

On December 18-19, #WeMakeEvents’ final event of the year is one of silence. For one night only across the United Kingdom, thousands of people will ‘sleep out’ where they live or traditionally work (pending local restrictions) as an effort to raise awareness of the nearly three million people who have fallen through the cracks of government support during the pandemic. 

What 2021 will bring for everyone is still a guess. For Gary, his focus is simple: taking it a day at a time to help the industry. He noted: “This is about fundamentally being a good person and caring for everyone. It’s something I live and breathe for every day.” It’s a good standard to hold ourselves to as we do our part in enduring this pandemic, waiting for that red light to turn to green. We eagerly await the day when thousands of talented individuals finally able to return to doing what they do best: bringing people together and creating happiness through breathtaking events. 

Please join us at Thinkwell this year as we support #WeMakeEvents in this truly important initiative. You can donate directly or get involved at


A Midnight Ride To A Thea Award

On July 31st, 2019, The Twilight Saga: Midnight Ride made its grand debut at Lionsgate Entertainment World in Zhuhai, China. This innovative attraction was the world’s first to combine a fully interactive virtual reality experience with a high-capacity, individually-reactive motorbike motion simulator ride. 

Thinkwell partnered with Lionsgate and the Hong Kong-based Lai Sun Group to bring Midnight Ride from an initial blue-sky idea in 2015, through a multiyear process of design and development, to installation, testing, and ultimately welcoming the attraction’s first midnight riders. This unique achievement was only made possible through the close collaboration with the attraction engineers at CAVU Designwerks and DreamCraft Attractions and the computer animation specialists at Framestore. Yet the journey is never complete on opening day.

As Midnight Ride took guests on a journey through perilous winding forest trails, the attraction’s debut year saw plenty of its own unexpected twists and turns… including a temporary closure due to the on-going COVID-19 pandemic, followed by a grand re-opening in June 2020 with enhanced health and safety guidelines.

The long journey proved worth it, however, as later that November The Twilight Saga: Midnight Ride was honored by the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) with a Thea Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Attraction category. The Thea Awards have been awarded by the TEA since 1994 with the stated goal of bringing recognition to achievement, talent, and personal excellence within the themed entertainment industry.

Among the unique factors recognized by the judging committee, Midnight Ride is one of only a few major theme park attractions to give guests meaningful story agency during their experience. Within virtual reality, guests have the ability to choose their own moonlit path as they’re sent on an interactive motorcycle adventure alongside fan-favorite Twilight character Jacob Black and the rest of the wolfpack. This includes the ability to see and react to their friends within the motion-enhanced VR world, such as when they split off from the trail, speed ahead or fall behind, or are even attacked by the vampire Newborns, leaving each rider seemingly the last remaining of their group.

Other projects with Thinkwell’s involvement in past years that have been recognized by the Thea Awards include: Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi (2020 awards, theme park), Warner Bros. Studio Tour – The Making of Harry Potter near London (2013 awards, studio tour), Fernbank NatureQuest in Atlanta (2012 awards, museum exhibit), The Jurassic Park Institute Tour in Japan (2005 awards, traveling exhibit), and The Imagination Workshop in Temecula (2005 awards, limited budget).

The Thea Award recipients for the 2021 ceremony were officially announced on November 19th, 2020. Thinkwell, with all of our partners who helped make this attraction a reality, are thrilled and humbled to see Midnight Ride recognized by our industry peers who placed it among the ranks of many of the world’s most influential and impactful themed experiences.

All Your Favorite Attractions Are Problematic

First, it was the rework of the Redhead in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Now, Disney has announced that they will be replacing Disneyland’s Splash Mountain with a Princess and the Frog themed attraction, which picks up after the end of the movie and weaves a new story (akin to the Frozen ride reskin of Maelstrom at EPCOT, versus the movie recap experience of Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure).

Red Head Pirate at Pirates of The Caribbean at Disneyland Resort

Obviously, no matter what warm, fuzzy memories we have of Splash Mountain, no matter how much Disney tried to round the edges of the overt racism, the reality is, it’s based on such a stupendously racist and white supremacist storyline that Disney refuses to air Song of the South and so boy howdy was it beyond time for it to go. One of the chief problems we encounter as creatives in location-based entertainment is this clash of memory, “that’s just how it was back then,” “it will cost so much/upset the fans to change it” versus the knowledge that it’s harmful and needs to change.

We get it. It’s an investment. A huge one. Just like any of a number of other resorts, rides, shows, and exhibitions around the U.S., not to mention the world. To give them their due, Disney also has amply demonstrated they know how to concede curatorial authority, as it were. Their intentionality around Expedition Everest as well as core elements of the original Animal Kingdom demonstrates it can be done. Joe Rohde, in his talk at the 2012 THEA awards by the Themed Entertainment Association spoke at length about the Aulani design process, how authenticity and respect were placed ahead of ease and preconceived notions, and actually how easy design decisions can be when they are strongly rooted in authentic, clear direction informed by the actual people and place and not one’s own hot take on the source material. 

Don’t get us wrong: we are, no matter how fond our memories are of Splash Mountain, heartened to see Disney take this step. Reworking Splash Mountain is also an absolute rabbit hole (pun not really intended) because once your eyes are opened to the ways – both subtle and categorically unsubtle – that racism pervades narrative tropes and beloved experiences, it’s overwhelming. The soft-focus memories of Dumbo crash up against the knowledge that the lead crow is quite literally named Jim Crow. As you eyeroll at the corny humor of your Jungle Cruise skipper, your boat bobs around a corner and to a horrifyingly racist vignette. It goes on and on: Peter Pan’s original source material was dizzyingly racist about Indigenous people and the ride does not shy away from it; the Enchanted Tiki Room falls into the trap of so much white-washed, culturally-appropriative Polynesia theming; the European children on It’s a Small World are white as can be (and there are Middle Eastern kids on flying carpets); the Africa outpost in Epcot reduces a vibrant swath of an entire continent to a beverage stop, trinket market, and a few drums. These experiences have always been harmful, and it’s an insidious outcome of white privilege to be blind to it. Once you see it, you cannot unsee it.

This isn’t just a Disney problem. This is an everywhere problem. Racism is everywhere. The normalization of racist tropes is everywhere, from what we collect and how we display it in museums to countless “Wild West” zones in amusement parks to big iconic experiences like Splash Mountain, and thousands of moments in between. We are guilty of it in our body of work, too – there are projects we’ve worked on that, in hindsight, we should have done a little differently. When it comes to what stories are told in our parks and our museums, a large part of that is who’s had a place at the table, for the majority of our industry’s history, to make creative decisions, to greenlight and fund projects, to decide what has value or make a team pause and take stock of what they’re really saying with the stories they’re telling and how they’re telling them. It’s affected by processes and policies, too. At Thinkwell, we’re keenly aware that no matter how good our intentions in the past, we have fallen short at times, and it’s on us to examine what we do and how we do it to ensure we don’t perpetuate racism in our work.

Splash Mountain Drop Down Into The Briar Patch at Disneyland Resort

The harmful experiences in location-based entertainment of the past 20-30 years that we cannot unsee weren’t done out of a ‘let’s be racist, it’ll be great!’ mentality. We’re not condemning the creative minds behind these places or experiences. It’s unlikely that the team behind Port Orleans Riverside, as they designed cast member costumes in time for its 1992 opening, thought through the ramifications of their choices in a resort designed to evoke the grand “big houses” of plantations in the Louisiana Bayou (in fact, the resort was initially named Dixie Landings). But the reality is, their ‘mousekeeping’ staff is largely BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color), and they’re wearing outfits evocative of enslaved people who were assigned to “the big house”’ on a plantation. If you want a real wake-up call moment, stand on one of the lovely, immaculately landscaped paths in the beautiful antebellum south themed resort at shift change, and watch the staff emerge from the stately, pillared houses.

The re-envisioning of Splash Mountain isn’t reactionary: it is another step in a major, beloved, respected company’s commitment to do better, even at the expense of angered fans and significant capital expenditure. In the current economic climate, spending money to redo existing things probably doesn’t sound like the best plan. But we are the makers of dreams. We are the creators of heroes and villains, we breathe life into whole new worlds and reinvigorate beloved places. Why shouldn’t we spend the time, effort, and yes money, making the places we already have welcoming and inclusive? Why shouldn’t we say ‘this is racist, and it’s wrong of us to keep putting it out there for the public as entertainment or something to aspire to, so we’re fixing it’?

Congratulations to Disney for acknowledging it’s time to change. We look forward to seeing what they – and the rest of the industry, ourselves included – tackle next.

 1. Except in Japan, as that park is not owned by Disney and thus they do not have direct control over its content to make a change such as this.

Keep the Preshow; Ditch the Queue

As theme parks start to reopen, post-COVID-19 operations efforts will have many new protocols like advanced reservations, limited attendance, required face masks, increased cleaning of ride vehicles & queue rails, and putting social-distancing ground markers in queues.

Ah, the dreaded queue. Most people cite queues as the least favorite part of visiting a theme park. This is why “virtual queues” like Disney’s FastPass have been so innovative, in lowering the perceived waiting time for attractions simply because you’re not in an actual line for part of that wait, free to enjoy the rest of the park’s offerings.

After Disney’s FastPass debuted in 1999, a major paradigm shift of theme park design in the last twenty years was creating overall circulation to accommodate more people in the pathways than usual — the logical effect of having less people in lines is that there are more people out and about in the park (which makes the merchandise and food & beverage people very happy — less time in lines means more spending money). In fact, the future of a “queueless park” has always been a bit of a theme park design holy grail — more theory than an actual possibility, as the truth of the matter, is that queues themselves are a very beneficial part of a good theme park experience.

First, they are extremely efficient; in the worst case of an unthemed rectangular switchback queue, you can still fit a ton of people in a small footprint. Even highly thematic, story-driven environments like the incredibly long and very detailed queue of Disney’s Flight of Passage at Animal Kingdom uses clever and efficient architectural and structural design to hold tens of thousands of people off the park’s main walking paths — because most of that queue is designed to sit on top of the neighboring Na’vi River Journey show building.

Second, there’s the biggest benefit: through carefully crafted preshows, queues are great at establishing tone, mood and story for an attraction far in advance of actually riding it. Attractions benefit from the captive audience a queue can create, allowing guests to settle into an attraction’s story and gradually learn more about their role in it.

Ani-mayhem QueueAt Thinkwell’s Animayhem attraction at Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi, the highly detailed queue was a rare opportunity to dig deep into the history of the ACME corporation — with much of that story created specifically for the park, and now considered Looney Tunes canon — to prepare riders for their role as delivery drivers.

Like many other immersive queues, that attraction leverages the actual linear progression of being in a queue to slowly, deliberately deliver story moments through media, scenery, effects and cast member interactions to set the stage for the ride. Just look at Disney’s incredible Rise of the Resistance attraction for proof that a queue isn’t just an unwanted speed-bump before the main attraction — it’s designed to be a key part of the attraction itself, a part that no one wants to miss.

So what happens in a post-COVID world, when theme park designers start eliminating (or at least wholly shortening) the use of densely-packed queue lines? While it’s unlikely that this will lead to a 100% “queueless” park anytime soon, perhaps we can start imagining a different kind of future — one that acknowledges that guests want a “less densely populated queue” to feel comfortable, while combining mobile technology and line-reservation systems into a new form of storytelling that fills the role of an attraction queue.

Two things come to mind:

First, Disney’s interactive game attractions already have guests circulating throughout a park — Sorcerer’s of the Magic Kingdom, Adventureland’s Trading Company and Pirate’s Adventure, Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge Datapad, etc. — all of these are, in essence, digital “crowd controllers” within the small throughput of their own game mechanics, moving groups around from story point to story point, with the back-end system managing crowd flow and dispersion.

Second, immersive theater techniques at shows like Sleep No More manage to keep hundreds of people moving through a large, non-linear physical space, along paths of invisible, self-guided linearity that allow guests to experience their own story. Knott’s Berry Farm has found huge success with these techniques as an attraction in and of itself, with their Ghost Town Alive activation.

What if you combined the best of both of these things — using the entire park as your “queue”, and nodes of experience & interaction as your timed pulse points? That way you still get a  preshow to an attraction, but it’s not confined within a queue.

Guests could reserve an attraction time, but rather than show up at the entrance for the attraction, their mobile device would send them on a point-to-point story adventure throughout the park, each node engaging them in a story point through embedded media, effects, or even cast member interactions. This could be a 30-60 minute experience that, in essence, becomes an attraction queue, ending up at the attraction in a carefully managed flow of people with less need to queue up in droves.

The efficiencies of queues are hard to ignore, and the overall capacities of a large-scale roaming interactive experience like this probably wouldn’t compete with that efficiency — but in a post-COVID world, there will be plenty of opportunities to innovate the part of a theme park visit that people enjoy the least — waiting in line.

Black Lives Matter Inclusion Statement

“You are not obligated to finish the work, but you are not free to ignore it.”      – Pirkei Avot


Let us be perfectly clear. Black lives matter. The work of identifying, addressing, and rooting out systemic racism cannot rest solely on historically marginalized and oppressed people. As community members, as peers and collaborators, and as business owners, we have a duty to not only speak up but also to do the work. We began Thinkwell almost 20 years ago with a vision to make great experiences. What we have realized, over these past two decades, is that our industry has incredible power to shape our communities and our cultures. Our theme parks, museums, theaters, and cultural institutions are places of epic storytelling, heroes and villains, and dreams fulfilled. If those stories aren’t respectful, inclusive, and equitable, then they help reinforce systems of oppression that villainize otherness. It’s not necessarily the way we viewed our work when we began, but this power and responsibility have become clear over the past several years.

To our global team of Thinkwellians, we promise that we will:

  • Continue to push ourselves to be better, to educate ourselves, and make antiracism educational opportunities available to you.
  • Undertake a review of our corporate policies and handbook in an effort to identify areas of bias and correct them.
  • Implement tools with our teams to ensure job postings are free of biased language, application and portfolio review are conducted in an unbiased manner, and antiracism and unconscious bias training are incorporated into onboarding.
  • Commit to diversity and inclusion, to create a Thinkwell that reflects the diverse world we live in and to seek out the inclusive world that we desire.


To our clients, partners, and collaborators, we promise that we will:

  • Behave ethically and transparently. We will listen and look inward if you bring concerns to our attention and take meaningful steps to address them.
  • Be intentional and explicitly antiracist in our work, including taking the approach that we must design with others and not simply design for.
  • Continue to utilize our platforms, in both the work we create and as leaders in the industry, to use our privilege to center other voices and help create meaningful, lasting change.

Change will not come easily or quickly, but come it must. As you engage in this work too, several ‘starter’ resources may be of help to you. We’ve made them available below. We look forward to being part of the change alongside you.

With deep respect,

Joe, Francois, and Craig

“To be antiracist is a radical choice in the face of history,
requiring a radical reorientation of our consciousness.”

– Ibram X. Kendi, How to be an Antiracist


Initial Resources and Highlights:

Being Antiracist, from the National Museum of African American History and Culture: Talking about Race, Being Antiracist at the Individual and Interpersonal Level

Anguish and Action, from the Obama Foundation: Suggestions to Get Informed, Take Action, Get Engaged, and Stand Together

Racial Equity Tools: Racial Equity Tools is designed to support individuals and groups working to achieve racial equity. This site offers tools, research, tips, curricula and ideas for people who want to increase their own understanding and to help those working toward justice at every level – in systems, organizations, communities and the culture at large.


#LightItBlue USA

They stay at work for you, so we can stay at home for them. 

In the face of a global pandemic, when the only thing we can do is stay at home, how can we, as entertainment professionals, still help to bring the nation together and show support for the frontline workers? 

The only way we know how — by creating an event.


New York Niagra Falls - Credit: Andrew Cuomo

Building off of the campaign’s original inception in the UK, Thinkwell Group decided to help bring the #LightItBlue movement to the US. In just two short weeks, Thinkwell brought together a collective of producers across the country and organized over 400 iconic landmarks and venues across 112 cities in 43 states to light up blue at the same time. 

The #LightItBlue campaign invites businesses and venues across the country to simultaneously turn blue on Thursday nights, in order to celebrate, honor, and thank all of our American heroes and essential workers risking their lives on the frontlines of the pandemic.

Utilizing a network of now-empty entertainment venues, stadiums, and landmarks across the US, these spaces have been repurposed to spread a message of thanks for our frontline workers and broadcast it blue across the country.

All #LightItBlue venues and community efforts use existing LED technology to create the spontaneous flash of blue on facades and screens, run remotely or by workers already on site, to ensure the campaign adheres to the critical message from the government for people to stay at home.

The campaign kicked off on April 9th, 2020, at 8 PM local time, when hundreds of national landmarks, sporting arenas, and music venues across the United States — from One World Trade Center to Niagara Falls to the Staples Center — first lit up blue in a spectacular show of support and thanks to those on the frontlines.


“We’ve been so inspired over the past few weeks by the cheers of our neighbors around the world – and we wanted to bring this collective gratitude to an even bigger stage here in the U.S. This is a heartfelt ‘thank you’ from those of us at home to those of us who are going to work each day to keep our country going,” Thinkwell CEO Joe Zenas remarked. 

The campaign has been a huge success, with over 400 venues and associations involved for the April 9 launch, and news stations, publications, and social media posts across the country spreading the message of thanks, reaching over 700 million people online. On the first night of the campaign, the hashtag #LightItBlue even made it to #7 trending on Twitter.

#LightItBlue didn’t end there. Due to the outpouring of support from all involved, the campaign has continued, expanded, and evolved. Every Thursday night, the gratitude continues to spread as more iconic venues and landmarks across the country, and now around the world, are getting involved. 

Over the last few weeks, the campaign has spread beyond the US and the UK to become a global movement. From Tokyo to Madrid to Singapore, other global countries and communities are lighting it blue, with more participants joining every Thursday.

While cities across the globe lighting it blue, the movement has also spread beyond buildings and back to the people with #MakeItBlue.

The #MakeItBlue initiative encourages anyone to join the movement and share in the massive “thank you” to our frontline workers while staying safe indoors, by flooding social media with the color blue. People are invited to create blue-themed images, videos, and content, and share them online with the hashtag #MakeItBlue.

In the face of anxiety and uncertainty during an unprecipitated time in history, the #LightItBlue and #MakeItBlue campaigns aim to show a massive gesture of solidarity and support across the nation and beyond. Even from 6 feet apart, we stand together against an unseen threat to shine brighter and remain stronger than ever. To learn more about #LightItBlue and #MakeItBlue in the US, check out