As summer goes on, theme parks are a must destination for many. Obviously, places like Disney and Universal Studios boast year-round fun thanks to the California and Florida sunshine. But summer allows various parks across the nation to open up and let riders enjoy their fun. Cedar Point in Ohio is the coaster mecca of the world with more thrills than a half dozen parks combined. There’s also the Six Flags franchise across the country and places like Dollywood. Outside of the United States, several parks in Japan and Europe offer their own great rides and thus theme park buffs love to argue as to which is better. Some love the thrills of a coaster, they love a wild ride that shakes them up and makes them feel great and alive. Others might prefer a “dark ride” that’s well done and an amazing experience.
Today, it’s bigger as theme park creators are able to use cutting-edge technology to enhance things. Several are using screen-based rides that put guests into the action but others prefer the old-school methods. It’s hard to figure which are the best since everyone has their likes. Even adults can enjoy some classic slow “kiddie” rides while others prefer the thrills. But several rides stand above the crop and showcase an amazing experience for a theme park fan. The ride itself is fun but enjoying the amazing details and how it gets put together adds to the experience as well. Whether it’s pure thrills or more adventure, here are 30 theme park attractions from around the world any fan should check out to experience the amazing craft that goes into entertaining millions per year.
30 The Tower of Terror II, Dreamworld
Not to be confused with the Disney ride of a similar name, this one lives up to its title big time. When it opened in 1997, it was the tallest and fastest coaster in the world and still packs in thrills 20 years later. The original idea was riders trying to escape a building damaged by an earthquake. They thus boarded a “shuttle” that shot them outward and up a nearly 400-foot tower. That’s been dropped but the thrill remains and was enhanced by a makeover in 2010.
Now, the vehicles shoot out and reach nearly 100 mph in just seven seconds. At one point, the g-force 4.5 which is greater than you’d get on the space shuttle. It then hangs at the time to let you feel weightless before falling back to let you catch your breath. It sure pushes the “terror” label and thus makes this Australian ride a must for thrill fans.
29 The Joker, Multiple Six Flags Parks
You’d expect a ride named after the Clown Prince of Crime to be wild but this is something else. The ride is what’s known as a “4-D Coaster” or “spin coaster” to other buffs. The ride has the guests on special branches extending out as it climbs up a 120-foot tall incline. It then goes bouncing down some sloped hills while the seats spin around constantly.
In other words, the train itself doesn’t hit the loops, it’s the riders who are taking the spins. It continues to flip them around in opposite directions as it goes down the multi-tier track, guaranteeing to leave you feeling pretty loopy by the time you get off it. It’s fitting a Joker ride is a crazy experience with four different Six Flags park letting guests take a truly made ride.
28 Indiana Jones Adventure, Disneyland
When it opened in 1995 as “Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye,” this ride instantly became the most popular in the park. It soon led to its nickname of “the Temple of the Four Hour Line.” Guests go through a large temple found by the famed archeologist that is offering tours despite Indy’s warnings of a strange curse on it. The ride vehicles remain unique for Disney in that they look like jeeps with special motion boosters built in. The temple ride soon goes badly as a goddess acts up and guests are sent bouncing past a corridor of darts, a mini-tornado and crossing a bridge over a lava pit with a giant snake leaping out.
Adding to the action is how the jeeps will bounce about to enhance the rush of speed and the adventure of it all. It culminates in (of course), having to outrun a rushing boulder and Indy himself popping up with a final quip. Its name has changed but it remains an adventure worthy of its namesake and one ride Disneyland has all over its Florida counterpart.
27 Gravity Max, Lihapo Land
You have to wonder what sadistic mind came up with this. This standout of the Taiwan-based theme park looks for all the world like an uncompleted coaster but that’s part of the illusion. It starts with the typical bit of the train pulled up a steep hill and then onto a section of track just jutting out into space. For a few horrifying moments, this track tilts back and forth, selling to riders the idea that something has gone wrong and it’s about to shatter.
It then leans forward and connects with the section of track right underneath it to let the riders get a view of the perfect 90-degree drop before sending them down into a track including a loop and tunnel. Few coasters on Earth are as terrifying as this as no matter how many successful rides it makes, that design always gives the thrill of something off that adds to the terror.
26 Soarin’ Around the World, Disneyland and Epcot
On the face of it, this ride sounds pretty simple. Created for Disney’s California Adventure, guests board a variety of ski-lift like seats facing an 80-foot diameter screen. The seats are then lifted 40 feet in front of the air as the screen projects scenes of traveling from the sky across California. However, the illusion is magnificent, guests truly feeling like they’re flying over this landscape as the seats will pitch and move to match the action. It was later opened at the Land Pavilion in Epcot to gain more popularity.
In 2016, the film was finally updated to now include settings from around the world and the addition of some new in-theater effects to pull guests in more. It may sound low-key but it’s a massively popular attraction for how it makes guests feel like taking a great international flight and showing the way Disney expertly mixes illusion into their work.
25 The Smiler, Alton Towers
If you’re into spins, this is the coaster for you. A highlight of Alton Towers in England, it boasts a total of 14 inversions, the most of any ride on the planet. The set-up is as if a weird cult is trying to brainwash the guest and this ride is meant to “rattle the brain.” Guests haven’t even gotten out of the main building before they hit the first inversion and a big drop before the main first hill.
From there, 13 more twists follow, loops, corkscrews, a cobra roll and more. If you can get your bearings, you can admire the nice countryside with the castle nearby. But it’s more likely you’re fighting to keep your stomach intact through the mind-boggling loops. Despite some malfunctions and injuries, the ride still gets attention for the record number of upside-down moves it takes although those with a weak stomach should probably be more than a bit wary of it.
24 Steel Dragon 2000, Nagashima Spa Land
The centerpiece of this popular Japanese park, Steel Dragon opened (appropriately) in 2000 and was hailed instantly as the first 21st-century style thrill ride. It remains the longest coaster of any kind in the world, a whopping 8,133 feet. While it’s long ceded its title of the tallest coaster in the world, its 318.3 height still impresses, especially by riders taken up it.
The first drop is a whopper at a nearly 90-degree angle and soon twisting folks into a series of wild turns and inclines. There are two tunnels and while no inversions, the speed of 95 mph and the giant drops more than makes up for it. Despite the occasional mechanical problem, the ride remains hugely popular and a constant pick for steel coaster fans and thus still an experience to enjoy.
23 Lightning Rod, Dollywood
The popular Tennessee park has been upping the ante in terms of thrill rides to prove it’s more than just for families. A key example is this addition in 2016, the world’s first-ever launched wooden roller coaster. In seconds, the cars are rocketed outward and reaching 73 miles per hour, the fastest wooden roller coaster on the planet.
There are no inversions but a lot of tight curves and twist that feel even wilder thanks to the high speeds. The inclines mix with the terrain in good ways as the park loves to incorporate nature and enhances the experience. Its multiple drops can feel like being lifted out of your seat and shaking all the way to the station. You don’t think of Dollywood with amazing thrills but this is one ride that does its best to live up to its name.
22 Formula Rossa, Ferrari World
One would think a theme park in Saudi Arabia would be a bit off. A hot day is one thing but this is in a desert region home to 120 degrees in winter. But many a coaster buff is willing to brave that heat in order to ride the fastest roller coaster on the planet. Ferrari World has most of its attractions in a huge indoor setting so guests can enjoy them in air conditioning.
But their signature ride needs to be outdoors with its 7000-foot length. As fitting for its theme, the cars are designed like a Ferrari and handle well and guests are required to wear protective glasses due to the desert. It launches the cars out so, in just five seconds, it reaches a speed of 150 miles per hour, greater than any coaster on Earth. At one point, riders experience over 4 g’s of gravity, adding to its power. It may be hot but it’s still a ride worth taking for lovers of speed.
21 Goliath, Six Flags Great America
Usually, wooden roller coasters are ignored in favor of the steel ones in terms of speed and thrills. But when it opened in 2014, the Illinois-based Goliath became one of the hottest rides around. The slow build up the 180-foot first hill is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the steepest (85 degrees) and longest of any wooden roller coaster on the planet. It was also the fastest until Lightning Rod opened and its 72-mph speed is still better than a lot of steel ones.
There’s also the fact that unlike other wooden coasters, this has inversions and loops, including an amazing segment taking guests upside down for a bit. Even steel coaster veterans had to rave about this as one of the best thrills in the world to show how a wooden coaster can be as powerful as any fancy steel one.
20 Takabisha, Fuji-Q Highland Park
Only in Japan can you find a coaster that seems to defy the laws of physics and gravity. Opened in 2011, it mixes in several elements of thrill rides into a stunning package. It starts off slowly, then takes a sudden dip in a darkened room before launching guests out at 62 mph toward a huge hill. After a massive plummet comes four inversions and twists before it comes back to the station. But just when you think it’s over, the coaster instead heads up a 141-foot hill and those in front can see what looks like nothing underneath.
In reality, the track is a 121-beyond-vertical drop, the steepest in the world. This drops down into a few more inversions before it’s all over. In just two minutes, a rider goes through more thrills than a half-dozen coasters can provide and that drop alone makes this a mind-boggling experience.
19 Star Tours, Multiple Disney Parks
Opened to huge fanfare in Disneyland in 1987, Star Tours was the closest thing a Star Wars fan could get to the movies. The simulator ride put guests through twists and pitches as a robot pilot takes them on a trip across the stars and a battle with the Death Star. It was an instant hit and soon replicated at just about every Disney park around the world. In 2011, the ride got a major makeover with brand new footage in 3-D and better twists for the simulator. It also adds in a variety of worlds from the snowy vistas of Hoth to the Death Star and more and mixes them up into over 30 possible combinations. Thus, it’s never the same ride twice which makes it more popular.
The ride has just gotten better in the last few years by adding in planets and scenes from the new movies. Each park has the same great ride although the Orlando version may be more notable as it will be the showcase of the upcoming Star Wars-themed land. In any case, a theme park fan will enjoy a great trip to that galaxy far, far away.
18 Revenge of the Mummy, Universal Studios Orlando
It first opened in California and later in Singapore but the Orlando version of this indoor coaster is the best of the bunch. The idea is that guests are viewing the sets for a major movie with a video of how they’re being authentic by using real Egyptian props, ignoring warnings of a curse. Getting into vehicles, guests are taken on a slow ride past sets when the spirit of an ancient evil figure appears and announces they’ve unleashed his curse. Suddenly, it turns into an indoor coaster, able to go from zero to 45 mph in seconds through tight turns and an inversion.
The near pitch blackness makes it feel like the ride is faster and great effects from holographic beetles to real fire as well as monstrous robot mummies lunging at you. The “movie set” motif gives it a nice touch the other versions lack and make this a brilliant use of theme and thrills better than some actual horror films.
17 Radiator Springs Racers, Disney’s California Adventure
For its first few years, Disney’s California Adventure had problems packing in folks and finding a proper identity. They’ve been improving by embracing more of the Disney/Pixar library and a key example was their first huge addition added in 2012. Costing more than $200 million, the ride is worth it for boosting attendance up. Based on the hit Cars films, it starts off as a “slow ride” going past robotic characters from the movies in a garage.
Then, it kicks up as you start to “race” another car in a huge outdoor area past mountains and through tight turns while able to admire some great scenery. It’s controlled and only going 40 miles an hour but it feels far faster and wilder. The “race winner” is random but the fact is that the great detail and nice appeal has led to this being a great ride for anyone to take.
16 Kingda Ka, Six Flags Great Adventure
A list like this needs the tallest coaster in the world. Opened in 2005 as both the tallest and fastest, this ride wastes no time with the thrills. As soon as guests board, the coaster train moves onto the main track and seems to take a breath. It’s then fired out, reaching 128 miles an hour in less than four seconds. That carries the train over the massive tower, reaching a height of 456 feet before diving down.
The ride lasts only 15 seconds but it can feel longer thanks to the huge speed and thrill and the sight of the park spread out from that height takes the breath away…assuming you have any left after that launch. It’s an incredible experience to make this a must-ride for any coaster nut and even the thrill lovers rocked by one huge climb.
15 Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Disney Hollywood Studios
While there are versions at other parks (including a revised one in Tokyo where the series was never popular), the original still stands on its own as an amazing experience. Guests enter a recreation of a long-deserted 1930s hotel, complete with dust and cobwebs about. Rod Serling himself appears on a TV screen to tell the story of how a lightning bolt hit an elevator, causing its occupants to vanish.
After going through a boiler room, guests board another elevator and soon seeing weird sights of ghostly figures and a strange hallway. It used to be it would take you up 13 stories and one drop. But it’s been fixed so there are multiple drops up and down, the biggest letting guests see the full park before a huge plummet. The mix of the thrills and the theme keep this a winner nearly a quarter of a century after it was opened and one of the best Imagineering feats ever.
14 Justice League: Battle for Metropolis, Multiple Six Flags Parks
The “shooter” ride has become popular at various parks. This basically has the guests using blasters of some type to fire at targets and rack up points. But the best version of this isn’t at Disney or Universal but rather at Six Flags. The entrance is the classic Hall of Justice where movies reveal how Lex Luthor and the Joker have captured several heroes and you have to rescue them.
The ride vehicles take guests through settings with animated 3-D screens showing the action and having to use the blasters against Luthor and other targets. There are good in-theater effects like a robot Joker firing off and some thrilling stuff like being with the Flash in a chase. The addition of the classic DC heroes and the perfect mix of animation and action has made this a hit at seven Six Flags parks from Texas to Chicago and how the DC heroes shine in any setting.
13 Colossus, Thorpe Park
When Thorpe Park opened in England in 2002, Colossus was its first major attraction. To many visitors, it’s still the best, notable for setting the record of any coaster of the time with ten inversions. It’s ceded that record but hasn’t given up its ability to make folks scream in joy. For a nation not used to many thrill rides, this stands out with its huge first drop sending guests into the first loop and continuing on.
Its age adds appeal to British riders with old-styled sounds of clacking and a roughness sleeker coasters can’t match. Most famous is the “tunnel”, an incredibly tight series of four loops that never ceases to amaze riders. It’s gotten some upgrades over the years but park fans enjoy its old-school feel and showcasing how the Brits can provide as many amazing thrills in a ride as the Yanks can.
12 Tron Lightcycle Power Run, Shanghai Disneyland
As the newest Disney park, Shanghai Disneyland is doing its best to stand out from the pack. That includes having some attractions built by their Chinese backers that aren’t available at other Disney parks around the world. A clear example is this amazingly stylized coaster based on the beloved sci-fi film. It looks like your typical roller coaster train except it’s designed like a line of Light Cycles, meaning guests are in unique seating positions.
It starts slow, taking the train through a tunnel but then taking off at high speeds. It bursts out of the tunnel and into a long outdoors incline, letting guests waiting in line see it and hear the screams of those onboard. While it only goes to 60 mph, it feels much faster as it continues to race along great special effects filled tunnels to add to the thrill. You might have to travel far to get there but it’s worth it for a very fun ride in many ways.
11 Symbolica, Efteling
Thrills are great and all but sometimes, the best theme park attractions can be the slower ones that still contain magic. The Netherland park Efteling enjoys catering to classic fairy tales and this soon made it a must-see park in Europe. The most expensive ride in the park, Symbolica opened in 2017 and quickly became the best-reviewed attraction about. Nestled in a recreation of a castle, the ride gives guests the choice of three different paths.
Each one provides a seven-minute trip through some brilliantly designed rooms, each having their own themes with audio-animatronic robots and delightful effects. Kids love it but adults can enjoy the wonderful way it comes together and wondering how some of these effects were pulled off. The fact each path has its own twists and storyline adds to the fun. It may not be as thrill-packed as other rides on this list but for a showcase of how great theme park “dark rides” can be, Symbolica is a throwback to the simpler rides being the best.
10 Avatar: Flight of Passage, Disney’s Animal Kingdom
There were a lot of doubters when it was announced Disney was going to put in a section in their Animal Kingdom park devoted to the 2009 blockbuster. However, they were proven wrong as the area has become a huge success and the credit is due to one of the best attractions Disney has ever come up with. Guests take seats on bike-like holders with 3-D glasses and the idea is to “link” someone to an avatar of the alien race atop their flying “Banshee” creatures. Before them is a screen which lights up to show a terrific flight through the world of Pandora. The chairs then move about to match the flight on screen, with even your legs feeling the breathing of the beast beneath you.
In-theater effects add to it like mist when you fly through a jungle and even water going through some falls. It’s easy to forget yourself, and so you might find yourself ducking down to avoid stuff coming at you as it comes together into a terrific illusion of flight. It’s made the Animal Kingdom a must-visit park in Disney World and is definitely one of the best “ride the movie” attractions ever created.
9 The Amazing Spider-Man, Universal Islands of Adventure
In 1999, Universal made a big move by opening Islands of Adventure, a park catering more to thrills. The highlight was easily this ride which is still ranked as one of the best in Orlando, if not the world. The plotline has the guests boarding a special vehicle intended to let them see the action for the Daily Bugle. They’re soon watching as Spider-Man tangles with a team of his enemies who have used a device to steal the Statue of Liberty. It mixes in a simulator attraction, a dark ride and great animation with amazing touches. When the animated Hobgoblin throws a bomb, a live explosion goes off right before the vehicles and you feel water dripping on you when Hydro-Man reaches out of the screen.
The effects are terrific such as how it feels like the riders are being sent flying over the city thanks to screens and live props to enhance the experience. It got an update in 2012 with better animation and effects and continues to pack in guests as a truly heroic achievement in theme park attractions.
8 Eejanaika, Fuji-Q Highland
Another 4-D coaster although leave it to the Japanese to make it even wilder. Unlike some other coasters of its type that rely on just the chairs spinning about, Eejanaika also throws in 3 major inversions. The park claims it’s actually 14, tying a record but technically some of those are more spinning of the coaster, not the track.
Regardless, it still means that even as your seat is already spinning, you’re then put through a loop and then some twisting rolls which just adds to the mind-bending experience. With a height of 76 feet and reaching up to 78 mph, the ride just increases its incredible turns to leave even a hardened coaster vet needing time to regain their balance. While it’s a ride guaranteed to make you dizzy for a while afterward, it still ranks as one of the coolest coasters to take a spin on.
7 Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle of the Sunken Treasure, Shanghai Disneyland
The last ride Walt Disney personally oversaw, Pirates of the Caribbean helped pave the way for many great theme park experience dark rides and so iconic that it inspired a series of hit films. Every Disney park has their own version of it but Shanghai outdoes them all. It looks to be the usual experience of guests on a boat and passing caverns of skeletons. Then, in a stunning effect, one transforms into Jack Sparrow before your eyes.
From there, the ride mixes in the traditional live effects with huge screens showcasing epic battles of pirates and eye-popping effects like a Davey Jones robot that talks to the guests as they pass by and mixing the filmed action with live props. It all culminates in a huge explosion that sends the boat backward over a waterfall. It’s astounding to see a modern spin on a classic attraction and makes this easily the best Pirates ride yet.
6 Batman the Ride, Six Flags Great America
Today, suspended looping coasters are an almost old hat for parks. But in 1992, Batman the Ride was the very first of its kind in the world. And over a quarter of a century later, many will maintain it’s still one of the best. The queue area is good, it is a bright park that moves into the darker alleys of Gotham City. The ride brings guests up to a large incline before dropping them down into six inversions amid other twists and turns.
There have been so many versions of it yet the original still packs power and touches like the park occasionally having it run backward to add more thrills. Clones of it exist at other Six Flags park but the original is still best-loved. It’s been given “Landmark Status” by the American Coaster Enthusiasts and thus being on this ride is not just a thrill but also being part of true coaster history.
5 Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Universal Studios
For years, Universal Studios was in the shadow of Disney World in terms of great theme park attractions. But in 2010, they took the lead with this stunning showcase of engineering. Built for 131 million dollars, it was worth every penny as it’s led the Islands of Adventure park (and later California) to huge attendance records. The entry is a perfect recreation of Hogwarts Castle, complete with holographic “ghost paintings” and other details that make guests pause to look around and enjoy. Actors from the movies pop in but the experience is remarkable on its own.
The ride itself is a marvel. Guests board vehicles that twist around on a huge arm and bring them before 3-D wide screens, then robotic effects in a wild adventure. A video of a dragon moves to a robot one as well as giant spiders, Dementors and more. It pulls the guest into the adventure like no ride before it and leaves you wondering how it was all done. Even a non-Potterhead can enjoy this as the brilliant mix of effects and thrills make this an easy vote as one of the best theme park attractions of all time.
4 Expedition GE Force, Holiday Park
The “hypercoaster” is a unique one among coaster buffs. These coasters have no loops but plenty of curves and major high speeds to pack in far more thrills. There have been many created around the world but most agree the best is in Germany’s Holiday Park. Opened in 2001 as the highlight of the park’s 30th anniversary, Expedition GE Force was soon winning over visitors from all over Europe and then the world.
Its 75 mph speed may seem slow compared to other coasters but the fact that you bank through 80 degree turns and hills so fast that you are literally weightless adds to its power. Even with a few hyper-coasters since boasting better speeds and thrills, the great setting past the German forests gives this a unique air. All told, this is one Expedition coaster fans love to take and keep them thrilled.
3 Millennium Force, Cedar Point
Even among the various coasters at Cedar Point, Millennium Force is something else. When it opened, it was quickly named the single best coaster on the planet and still ranks high among fans. Since its opening in 2000, the Golden Ticket Awards has named it the best steel coaster ten times and its lowest ranking has been 2. The first climb is 300 feet and then dropping down at an 80-degree angle, thus going to 93 miles an hour by the time it pulls out.
While the speed makes it hard to appreciate the view, it’s notable for how it flies past Lake Erie and then a few tunnels and hills. It’s the first coaster named for its amazing speed and power and always leaves riders breathless. It takes a lot to stand out as a coaster at Cedar Point but even with rides bigger and faster, the Force remains strong with this absolutely astounding ride.
2 The Beast, King’s Island
Historically, it’s important as the longest wooden roller coaster in the world. The centerpiece of King’s Island in Ohio, this fantastic ride is over 7000 feet long, covering an area of 35 acres. A ride lasts four minutes which is an eternity for a roller coaster. Every visitor to the park makes it a must-ride and the promotions push it majorly in ads. It’s even inspired its own kids’ horror book.
What makes it unique is its terrain, cutting through the Ohio forests and using its hills to help build up its major dips and dives as well as a cool tunnel. At night, it’s even better with the shadows helping the mood, adding a unique air to it. For any coaster fan, the Beast isn’t just a ride, it’s taking part in a legend and making it one of the best coasters, wood or steel, in the world.
1 Mystic Manor, Hong Kong Disneyland
Every Disney park has their version of the Haunted Mansion. The classic dark ride examines an eerie setting with old-school special effects that still work brilliantly and mixing humor and chills. However, the Hong Kong version is different, mostly due to how Chinese culture views ghosts differently than in the West or even Japan. Thus, the Imagineers crafted what some consider the finest Disney ride on the planet. The storyline has guests inside the massive home of an eccentric explorer when a monkey helper opens a magical box.
As the trackless ride vehicles move, the special effects make it appear as if props and walls are coming to life all around you. Paintings can change or freeze over, rooms explode into fireworks and you see the monkey in constant danger from bad plants, armor coming to life and what feels like a tornado covering a room. It’s a magnificent presentation that leaves guests asking “how did they do that?” and has topped numerous lists of the best rides around. Even if you’re not a dark ride fan, the sheer genius makes the Manor a must-see for any theme park fan.
Sources: Theme Park Insider, Themeparktourist.com