There’s something to be said for the unexpected. That unforeseeable bend. That split-second drop. That raging monster, suddenly mere milliseconds behind you. When one can’t possibly anticipate what’s around the up-and-coming corner, literally, anything can happen. Perhaps that’s what fuels our fascination for rides. Folks consistently go out of their way, and drop considerable bills on day-long excursions to theme parks everywhere. They line up, they strap in, they cling to their barf bags (or not) and they greet their untapped fears, again and again. That, combined with the ever-present obsession with escapism, who wouldn’t want to cram into a dark vortex dubbed ‘Tower or Terror,’ or shoot at breakneck speeds along other worlds and foreign landscapes?
While the death-defying, imagination-encouraging fantasy lands of today are of their own impressive category, the first ferris wheel sprung up back at the 1893 World’s Fair. Held in Chicago to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ landing in America, the fair wanted something worth bragging about. Ideally, something that would show up Paris’ Eiffel Tower. Designer George W. Ferris, a bridge-builder from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, stepped up to the plate. Initially just a design scribbled on a napkin, the final completion of the wheel was considered an engineering wonder. Two 140-foot steel towers supported the wheel, connected by a 45-foot axel and powered by two 1000-horsepower reversible engines. Up to 60 riders could sit within its 36 wooded carts, for a mere fifty cents each. During that first operating year, the ride raked in over an astounding $700,000.
Thrill-seekers of our current era wouldn’t bat a lash at Ferris’ feat. However, the following theme-park keepers have stunned riders consistently, some for over two decades. From computer-powered pieces that have never been seen, to breathtaking scenes meant to magnify the ride's particular thrill factor, the following list of rides cost much more than that first wheel to design, construct and continue running.
10 Steel Dragon 2000: $50 Million
Meet the biggest rollercoaster in the world. Dubbed the tallest and the fastest coaster with a lift hill, this thriller also claims status as the longest rollercoaster in the world. Rising, falling and looping for 8,133 entire feet, the Steel Dragon cost Japan $50 million to construct. Shockingly so, nothing about the ride’s price tag pertains to either complex technology, contemporary launch systems or even themeing. Why so costly? As part of Japan’s safety regulations require earthquake proofing everything, the coaster is constructed from an incredibly dense (and incredibly expensive) steel.
9 Expedition Everest: $100 Million
Here’s the most visually impressive coaster in the world. Themed around a 200-foot-tall mountain, Disney spared no expenses around this incredible ride. While it's only an imitation of Mount Everest, the expedition involves the Forbidden Mountain, as well as its unexplained yeti. The track, which easily tipped the budget at $20 million alone, runs over 4,400 feet long, and includes a complex reverse section too. That said, it’s the over-the-top mountain façade and daredevil theming around the ride that pushes its price up to $100 million. Alongside steep cliffs and snow banks for days, the ride features a treasure-stocked temple, a Yeti museum, an animatronic Yeti (yes, really) and expedition cabins.
8 Mission Space: $100 Million
Here’s a ride that’s actually out of this world, yet located in the well-known Disney theme park. Passengers strap in to a four-man mission to Mars; all which takes place within the year 2036. As each participant assumes a different role (pilot, commander, navigator and engineer), each individual screen takes the viewer through a different journey. Supposedly the most realistic space simulator in the world, this well-themed experience induces a g-force of 2.5 during the launch by spinning you around. Incredibly intense, the ride was altered at a later date to offer an ‘intense’ or ‘mild’ experience.
7 Spiderman: $100 Million
Tucked within the Islands of Adventure, Universal Florida’s second spectacular park, The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman consistently stuns riders. The park, a success story in it’s own right, features two huge steel roller coasters and three of the best water rides in the world. Consisting of hybrid simulator and roving dark ride, Spiderman's track takes cars through extreme tilts, 360-degree spins and massive 3D screens. Add to that the fact these screens blend perfectly with surrounding scenery, and the ride is as entrancing as it is exciting.
6 Jurassic Park: $110 Million
Once Jurassic Park shot to the top of the blockbuster list in the early 90's, Universal Studios jumped on board to ride the success. This dino-themed ride combines a water-ride section with, of course, giant, animatronic dinosaurs. The final stretch consists of a jaw-dropping 86-foot plummet out of the Environmental Systems Building, all while being chased by a ferocious Tyrannosaurus Rex. Not only does this expensive experience remain one of the most intense water rides ever built, the rex-induced getaway garnered a title of the largest drop on a water ride for some time.
5 Tower of Terror: $140 Million
This is one of the most complicated mechanical rides ever constructed. The original of four, Disney managed to combine a terrifying drop tower concept with The Twilight Zone, crafting in an unbelievably family-friendly ride. Designed to mimic a specific episode of the 1960's paranormal science fiction show, the idea behind the ride takes place in 1939. At the fictional Hollywood Tower Hotel, a hotel that drew only A-listers, the elevator was struck by lightening. On said fateful night, its five occupants were transported to the fifth dimension, and were never seen or heard from again. Passengers are guided into a modern-day mechanical elevator, and the same ‘accident’ happens again. While the ride starts with a short vertical shaft which lifts two levels, the ride also moves forwards, into the scene before viewers. At the end of the corridor, guests are taken to the top of the tower, where the doors open right before the final plunge.
4 Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey: $150 Million
A specific area within the Islands of Adventure, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter was unveiled in 2010. Featuring an exact recreation of Hogsmeade (including the Hogs Head, the Three Broomsticks and Ollivander’s Wand Shop), this incredible coaster takes fans directly through the storyline. Riders travel along an enchanted bench, over Howards, through quidditch matches, and faces numerous mythical beasts (dragons, dementors and spiders to name a few) along the way. Seats are mounted upon a KUKA robot arm, allowing seats to move virtually in any direction, as well as flip upside down while the track remains flat.
3 Tower of Terror (Paris): $240 Million
While the original Tower of Terror opened in 1994, plans for a Paris ride were already in the works mid-construction. This version opened in 2002, and essentially fixed the flaws builders discovered with Florida’s tower. Instead of four initial shafts, four horizontal segments and two drop shafts, there were just three all-inclusive towers. The fifth dimension sequence was omitted entirely, and every tower was independent. As a result, the ride cycle was shorter, the chance for malfunction was lessened significantly, and the price tag soured.
2 Radiator Springs Racers: $200 Million
Opened in 2001, Disneyland Resort’s second park, California Adventure, was not quite the success it was anticipated to be. While the instillation of the Tower of Terror helped considerably with drawing crowds, by 2007, Disney realized an entire remodel was in order. So a $1.1 billion dollar expansion was kicked off. Included in the plan: Toy story Midway Mania, a new Buena Vista Street entrance land, as well as Cars Land. Radiator Springs Racers, the third in a line of ‘Test Track’ style rides, these rides are essentially giant, electric cars on a conducting track. Add to this the fact that Radiator Springs Racers is the first of the three to have two racing tracks side by side, it’s no wonder the ride was so expensive
1 Test Track: $300 Million
While part of the reason Test Track was so pricy was due to redesigns during construction, the ride system itself is incredibly complicated. Adding to the mess was the fact that at the time of construction, suitable computers were not readily available. Since the computers at the time could only handle six cars on the track, builders calculated that to run maximum capacity on a track of that length they would need 29 cars. Passengers are lead through various production lines, all showcasing how various products are tested, before boarding the vehicles and being taken to test things on their own. Included is a hot and cold room, an acid test, a brake test and a slalom.