The Realm of Time was designed in the style of a Victorian inventor's mansion and gardens. Following what might today be termed a "steampunk" aesthetic, OmniPark Technosophers used decorative elements like clocks, timelines and calendars to evoke the idea of a wealthy eccentric inventor obsessed with time travel.
Park guests entered the Realm through the mansion's front garden, which was adorned with marble statues of men, women and cherubs, all holding and examining clocks, hourglasses, pendulums, and other time-related contraptions.Passing through the mansion's front doors, guests might notice other time-related motifs throughout the oak-paneled entryway. Opposite the restrooms (located to the left of the mansion's foyer) was the Conservatory Parlour, a snack shop where guests could enjoy ice cream, pastries, fountain sodas, and other treats in a tiled room looking out on the mansion's gardens.
At the rear of the foyer area, a set of grand staircases led to the mansion's upper story, where the theme of time travel became more obvious.Upstairs, guests were free to wander at leisure through a series of open rooms:
- The library was stocked with hundreds of (real and imaginary) books with clever time-related titles, as well as numerous artifacts dating from ancient civilizations, skeletons of long-extinct prehistoric animals; as well as several bizarre animal specimens and art objects that appeared to date from unknown future eras.
- The sitting room was filled with timepieces of every description, from small cuckoo clocks to enormous grandfather clocks, pendulums, hourglasses, and even water and candle clocks. Guests who arrived at the top of the hour would be treated to a discordant show in which dozens of the clocks chimed simultaneously.
- The master bedroom's walls were decorated with timelines detailing the history of human civilization, of life on earth, and of the evolution of the cosmos. Guests who inspected the timelines closely might notice handwritten annotations describing (and correcting) specific events in earth's remote past and future.
The centerpiece of the mansion's upper story was the Laboratory, which contained the Realm's main attraction: the Time Tunnel ride.
Based loosely on H.G. Wells's novel of the same name, this attraction transported guests millions of years into earth's future, then eons back to the beginnings of the universe.Ride vehicles were designed to resemble a Victorian conception of a time machine: wood grain paneling, brass knobs and buttons, and numerous dials and gauges of unclear purpose. Many of these gadgets could actually be "operated" by guests, causing dials to rotate and lights to change color when certain switches were flipped and buttons were pushed.
Like most OmniPark attractions, Time Tunnel was designed on the model of a classic carnival "dark ride," in which the ride vehicles followed magnetic strips along the floor. This permitted a variety of exciting movements and sensations (including vibration, 360-degree rotation, and back-and-forth weaving) while keeping the vehicles secured safely to the track.
The attraction's opening scene introduced the Inventor: a Victorian gentleman with thick glasses and wild gray hair, who explained that the guests would be the very first living humans (aside from himself) to experience a journey into the distant future. The Inventor warned guests to keep their arms and legs inside the vehicles at all times, as he could not predict what strange and dangerous wonders they might encounter.
Leaving the laboratory, the vehicles transported guests through the Time Tunnel that gave the attraction its name: a rotating chamber of LED glimmers and laser projection effects; a high-tech upgrade of the optical illusion rooms often encountered in carnival funhouses.As the ride vehicles emerged from the Tunnel, guests found themselves in a far-future version of Texas, which indicators on their ride vehicles informed them was the year 802,701 AD. There, they encountered animatronic versions of the Eloi, an elf-like race of human descendants. The vehicles then entered a series of underground tunnels, where guests were surrounded by the hairy Morlocks who prey on the Eloi.
As the Morlocks closed in, "escape alerts" on the ride vehicles encouraged guests to push various buttons and turn knobs, which resulted in another Time Tunnel opening up directly beneath them. The vehicles plunged down into this tunnel, narrowly escaping the Morlocks' clutches, and sending guests spiraling through another whirling vortex of light and sound.This second Time Tunnel released the vehicles into an even further-future earth: that of 30 million years AD. There, on the shore of a purplish ocean, beneath a weirdly colored sky, guests experienced close encounters with several bizarre beasts, including a giant crab, a swarm of flying jellyfish, and a towering mantis shrimp-like predator (an original OmniPark creature not found in Wells's novel).
As the mantis shrimp creature reared up for an attack, an "escape alert" triggered the opening of a third Time Tunnel directly beneath the predator's exposed underside, which plunged the ride vehicles backward through a red-lit spiral of lights and reversed sounds.
Within this reverse Tunnel, a "machine malfunction" prevented the vehicles from re-entering their current year. Instead, they were transported rapidly backward through a series of chambers in which projection and model effects depicted (in reverse) the formation of continents on earth, the cooling and coalescing of the solar system, the development of galaxies, and other cosmic phenomena leading all the way back to the Big Bang.In the penultimate chamber, the vehicles emerged into deep space, where they watched the universe itself curl up into a dense ball, as space-time itself folded into the primal singularity. The clocks on the vehicles spun wildly, finally displaying only an infinity symbol (∞) as guests were sucked toward the "unknowable mystery" that preceded the Big Bang and the formation of our universe.
Just an instant before the vehicle was sucked into this singularity, the time engine somehow kicked back into gear, catapulting guests through a forward-facing Time Tunnel, from which they emerged into the Inventor's laboratory, just fifteen minutes after their departure. After a profuse apology from the Inventor, the vehicles were unlocked, and guests were directed toward the ride's exit.
The Realm of Time remained one of OmniPark's most popular Realms, with many guests returning year after year specifically to hunt for hidden "Easter eggs" throughout the mansion.The attraction's effects began to show their age in the late 1980s, as clunky animatronics and laser effects gave way to computer-generated imagery and more advanced robotics. Fearing a drop in ticket sales, OmniPark management made the decision to gut the Time Tunnel attraction in 1991, replacing it with "Pterry's Time Tunnel," an attraction narrated by a cartoon pterodactyl named Pterry, geared toward a younger demographic (and accompanied by a major merchandising push in the Realm's gift shop).
As it turned out, Pterry proved far less popular than the original Inventor character. Numerous OmniPark fans complained about the ride's overhaul on online message boards, and even wrote an open letter to park management demanding the return of the original ride. Management did not respond to this letter, however, and Pterry remained the attraction's narrator until OmniPark's official closing in 2003.
Until the end, though, longtime OmniPark fans continued to treasure certain elements of "Tunnel" that remained unchanged, such as the rusty machinery in the underground caverns (relics of the original Morlock inhabitants) and the backward-spiraling red tunnels that had once transported them to a thought-provoking singularity where time and space collapsed forever inward.