My love for theme parks is no secret. In the past, I’ve given my personal Top 10 Defunct Attractions, but what about attractions that are still open? Be they new attractions that raise the bar, or classic rides that set the bar in the first place, these ten attractions are my personal favorites. These are my Top 10 current theme park attractions. Let’s kick this off with…
10: Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (DL, MK, Paris, Tokyo)
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad first opened in Disneyland in 1979, replacing the far tamer Mine Train Through Natures Wonderland. Though Mine Train roller coasters had been done before, Disney’s attention to detail and theming set Thunder Mountain far above the competition… in fact, no two versions of the ride are alike. Of course, the fact that it was and still remains a deceptively fast and exhilarating coaster helps a lot too. Not all rides age gracefully, but Big Thunder Mountain Railroad continues to thrill tourists to this day.
9: Indiana Jones Adventure (Disneyland, Tokyo DisneySea)
While the Disney Hollywood Studios in Florida got an Indiana Jones stunt show, Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea got something completely different… a dark ride with a revolutionary ride system. The vehicles could move, tilt, jostle, and bounce while still traveling on a track, essentially making it a motion simulator on wheels. The ride system was later reused for Dinosaur at Animal Kingdom and likely provided the basis for Universal’s Spider-Man and Transformers attractions, but quite frankly, you just can’t beat the original.
8: The Incredible Hulk (Islands of Adventure)
I’m a bit biased on this one, but the Incredible Hulk was the first roller coaster I ever went on. As a kid, I was way too afraid to give them a try, but once a friend dragged me on the Hulk, I was hooked. Personal experiences aside, the Incredible Hulk is a damn fine coaster, featuring a launch system that accelerates you to 40 mph in 2 seconds. Hell of a coaster to start with, huh?
7: Fantasmic! (Disneyland, Hollywood Studios, Tokyo Disneysea
After a long day of fun at a theme park, there’s no better way to end the night than with a spectacular fireworks display. That is, until 1992, when Fantasmic first opened in Disneyland. Shows are quite common at theme parks, but there had never been anything like Fantasmic. A nighttime show set on the Rivers of America, Disney pulled out all the stops on this one, creating a breathtaking tribute to Disney’s cinematic history and the power of imagination. Versions of the show later opened in Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Tokyo Disneysea as well, and while it can certainly be debated which version is best, the experience is incredible regardless.
6: Journey to the Center of the Earth (Tokyo DisneySea)
In the 90’s, Disney was working on a film adaption of Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth. Though it was eventually scrapped, many of the ideas and designs for the film lived on in spirit, inspiring parts of Atlantis: The Lost Empire and, most obviously, the Journey to the Center of the Earth ride at Tokyo DisneySea. Yes, the movie never came out, but there was a ride regardless… and hot damn was it amazing. Though the ride system itself is fairly standard, everything about the experience is incredibly immersive, and you feel like you’re truly going on an adventure into an unknown world. Heck, before you even board the ride you enter an “elevator” that warms up as it heads down towards the center of the earth. It’s a shame that this ride has yet to make its way outside Japan, as there would be plenty of room for it (coughAnimalKingdomcough) over here. Or, y’know, you could just give us Avatar Land, I’m sure that will remain relevant over the years.
5: Revenge of the Mummy (Universal Studios Florida, Hollywood, Singapore)
The 1999 reboot of the Mummy franchise was… odd, to say the least. More action-adventure than horror, the films were enjoyable enough to watch, but really nothing special. So many people were understandably disappointed when Universal Orlando’s famous Kongfrontation attraction was set to be replaced by the Mummy, of all things. But lo and behold, the ride was awesome. It was billed as a “psychological thrill ride” and while I’d debate the psychological part, the thrills are definitely there. Revenge of the Mummy opened in 2004 and still draws huge crowds to this day. I’ll always miss Kong, but the Mummy has proven itself to be a worthy replacement.
4: Pirates of the Caribbean (DL, MK, Paris, Tokyo, Shangai)
Nowadays, when most people think “Pirates of the Caribbean” the film series is the first thing to come to mind. But it all got started way back in 1967 when the now-legendary ride first opened in Disneyland. Originally conceived as wax museum, PotC was the last ride Walt Disney worked on himself before passing away three months prior to the attraction’s opening date. The ride is slow and long, with the Disneyland original clocking in at over 15 minutes! However, what sets the ride apart is the scale and depth of visual storytelling. Boasting 119 animatronics, there’s a lot to take in; and yet you can immediately tell what’s happening in a given scene. The devil’s in the details, and nobody had an eye for detail quite like Walt and his Imagineers. Recent additions and changes aside, Pirates of the Caribbean is, and shall remain, legendary.
3: The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror (Hollywood Studios, California Adventure, DisneySea, Disney Studios Park)
Sometimes you just need to take a moment to appreciate how weird it is for DISNEY to have a freaking Twilight Zone ride. Though not actually based on an episode of the show, the ride lives up to it’s namesake, being amazingly dark and unnerving for a Disney attraction, and even featuring a flawless Rod Serling impersonation. An incredible amount of care and detail went into the creation of the Tower, perfectly recapturing the feel of 1930’s Hollywood. Also, the unique ride system allows for the ride to be reprogrammed and updated relatively easily. The Hollywood Studios version of the ride now features randomized drops, so you never know exactly what to expect. It’s odd for a Disney Park to get such an odd and morbid attraction, but hey, I’m not complaining.
2: The Haunted Mansion (Disneyland, MK, Paris, Tokyo)
Of course, the Tower of Terror isn’t the only spooky Disney attraction. The Haunted Mansion made its debut in 1969, and quite frankly what can I say? The Haunted Mansion is, without a doubt, THE definitive haunted house ride, and in my personal opinion the definitive Disney ride period. Though not the first of its kind, the Haunted Mansion did it better than it had ever been done before. Utilizing numerous special effects, many of which existed long before the Haunted Mansion was even a glimmer in Walt’s eye, the ghosts actually appeared transparent and, well, ghostly. Such a feat was impressive enough in the 60’s but what’s even more impressive is that most of the effects still hold up to this day. Though recent changes, especially in the Florida ride, have been… controversial to say the least, the Haunted Mansion is still one of the greatest rides of all time, and I can only think of one better…
1: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey (Islands of Adventure)
I love me some Harry Potter, so when Universal announced that they were building a big Harry Potter expansion to Islands of Adventure, I was pretty stoked. But man, the experience is even more than I could have hoped for. It’s hard to talk about the ride without gushing about the Wizarding World of Harry Potter itself, so let me get that out of the way first: it’s amazing. It’s like you’ve stepped right into the movies, and even the unrelenting Florida heat can’t take away from the feeling that you’re in a snowy magical village. From butterbeer to a wand shop, it’s everything a Potter fan could ever ask for… and they’re building even MORE of it at Universal Studios!
Anyway, on to the Ride. Set within Hogwarts castle (which, despite the use of forced perspective, it still fairly massive), the experience is unlike anything else I can think of. The queue line is just as much of an experience as the ride itself, taking you throughout Hogwarts and face-to-face with characters from the series. Paintings talk and move, Harry and his friends appear from under the invisibility cloak, and Dumbledore himself even welcomes you to Hogwarts. And then there’s the ride. Using advanced robotic arm technology, you actually feel like you’re flying. The ride uses a combination of animatronic effects and projections, and it’s all quite stunning. There’s really nothing else quite like it, and it more than deserves the top spot on my list.
And those are my ten favorite theme park attractions! You may disagree or have your own lists, and that’s fine. There’s a lot of rides out there, and a lot of different tastes. Whether you prefer the slower-paced classic attractions like Haunted Mansion, or the fast-paced thrill rides like Harry Potter, there’s something for everyone out there. One thing’s for sure though… as technology evolves, so do theme parks.