Part of the Misanthrope's Guide to Disney World, a series of posts on surviving the theme parks for people who hate people. The main guide page can be found here, with links to previous posts.
Of everything Imagineers and the Disney Parks have contributed to the world, the continuing advancement, and even perfection, of the dark ride is one of most important. Dark rides originated as simple Tunnels of Love, mostly pitch black boat rides with occasional cheap scenes, mostly intended as a way for couples to share some intimate moments in the dark. These days, most couples don't bother waiting for the dark to show their extreme affection in theme parks, so those rides would be pointless.
Other early rides, specifically those manufactured by the Pretzel Amusement Ride Company, were created for cheap scares. These rides featured vehicles which raced through darkened buildings, utilizing flashing lights, spooky props, crude animation, and loud noises to startle guests. Most of these craftsmen were near magicians, creating scenes on a budget that made a huge impression, even if the technology wasn't amazing. Unfortunately, most of these old rides have closed over the years. Similar attractions in county fairs are pale imitations, with the people operating the rides often more unsettling than the ride itself.
Like many other theme park standards, Disney took the basic dark ride concepts and added new levels of theming and quality. Other rides were only mildly improved by the additional care. Spinning tea cups still spin the riders and induce vomiting, no matter how pretty they look while doing it. Dark rides were always a visual medium, however, and Imagineers used the form to create new levels of storytelling and scene setting. They perfected a new art form, one based on engineering and design on a grand scale.
All of this history is just set up for the number one principle of Disney dark rides: violating the experience is like destroying a masterwork. To ruin Haunted Mansion or Spaceship Earth for others is only a few steps removed from burning the Mona Lisa. Unfortunately, those that lack Dark Ride etiquette usually get away unscathed, while destroying great art probably gets you locked forever in the Louvre's secret dungeon. The following rules are still worth following, just in case they begin locking rude tourists in the Pirates of the Caribbean jail cells.