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For Fun: The Top 10 Rides I've Ever Been On

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  • For Fun: The Top 10 Rides I've Ever Been On

    Hey All! My wife challenged me to come up with a "Top 10" list of attractions I've ever been on and I felt like it would be fun to share it along with my reasoning for each with all of you! Before I jump right in, I had a few rules in place for myself: no extinct attractions (as much fun as this would be, I wanted to create a list that people could pull from and enjoy at this point in time), they must be rides that I have ridden (obviously) and finally, I also took into account not just the way the attraction made me feel the first time I experienced it, but also how it makes me feel on repeat visits. I also assessed how well the attraction had been maintained over time.

    10) Men In Black: Alien Attack (Epcot)

    MIB: AA is one of those gems tucked away that I didn't even know about on my first visit to USO. I love dark rides and I love interactive experiences so a few of those types of attractions came to mind when creating this list but I think MIB beats them out. Kicking things off, the level of detail is great in queue and the premise is solid and easy to follow. You don't have direct control over your vehicle like some other shooting/interactive dark rides but the vehicle can be attacked and spun out of control by enemy aliens and even at one point by other players when a fun little bit scans their vehicle and reveals them all to be aliens in disguise. The attraction is just straight up solid and engaging and while some of the animatronics may come off a little static or dated, I think the sheer amount immersion and interactivity more than makes up for it. I also really love the photo flash is used to wipe your memory in true MIB fashion, then the unload area is themed into making you believe that we are totally alone in the universe and nothing eventful just happened. Fun in it's purest form (Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters was considered for interactive/shooting dark ride of choice in place of this but poor upkeep keeps it from snagging the spot).

    9) Spaceship Earth (Epcot)

    Spaceship Earth is a wonderful celebration of where we as a species have come from and where we are going. Despite it's age, I still think the attraction and show building are a feat of engineering. On my first trip to Epcot, I didn't even know there was an attraction in this space, how could there be in such a uniquely shaped park icon? My high school self thought that queue and mural I saw on the way into the park was probably just for some kind of museum or expo center, so I skipped it completely. It wouldn't be until my second trip to the park that I would be proven so very wrong and be floored at what was waiting inside that great, big, beautiful sphere. I have a sincere appreciation for this attraction's implementation of the whole "edutainment" concept and I love how you end the attraction with a sense of hope and wonder and are encouraged to explore and dream big. I even enjoy the fun little interactive video bit towards the end which further instills a sense of hope into what tomorrow might bring. Spaceship Earth also falls into a category of ride that I really enjoy and you will see repeated on this list, which is wait time vs. ride time. I generally don't care to wait 2 hours for a coaster that is over in 1 minute, no matter how thrilling it may be. But Spaceship Earth (-and a few others that I love) are the total opposite. Not much investment in terms of time is required to enjoy this long, relaxing journey through the story of mankind itself.

    8) Space Mountain (Magic Kingdom)

    Speaking of coasters, here is my first. My history with Space Mountain as a whole probably isn't terribly unique. The dark coaster terrified me as a child but as I grew older, I started to love it. It was also around this time that Disneyland's version went down for its extensive refurbishment and I began the process of "tracking" an attraction online as it changed and evolved. I grew to love the simple concept, execution and overall beauty of the attraction's "mountain" the more I learned about its history and followed it. I also love both versions of the soundtrack and absolutely adore how they were timed to the coaster itself, a concept that was new to me. My love for this attraction continued with the updated 2005 version (though I was slightly disappointed in discovering that certain elements had been cut), Ghost Galaxy and yes, even Rockin' Space Mountain. The ride is just straight up fun and doesn't require you to think too much to really enjoy it. It may not big the biggest, most thrilling coaster out there but it makes up for it by being in the dark and it's various other show elements.

    So why did I pick Magic Kingdoms then? This was a hard choice to make, because I honestly love them both very much and kind of tricky to explain. If my home Space Mountain in DL were to be in it's classic mode most of the time, it would have been selected over MK's. But it isn't. In fact, it continues to endure the abuse of remaining in the Hyperspace Mountain overlay almost endlessly. While it was fun the first few times around, it feels wholly unnecessary with Star Tours next door and now the opening of Galaxy's Edge. This, in addition to the ugly third ring OSHA added to the top of DL's version make me like MK's version more and more. Yes, it more outdated and a little bit rougher (a la Matterhorn style) but I think that really adds to it's charm. I think that might be the key word for me here. Most of the time nowadays, DL's version doesn't have the charm I felt while following it all those years ago. MK's soundtrack, while not sync'd to the motion of the attraction, is wacky and goofy enough to not take itself too seriously. There is also something to be said for the thrill of feeling like you may fly off the track into the depths of space at a moments notice. Also, MK's is delightfully retro. Everything about it's queue, loading area and unload ramp dioramas makes me think of that.. retro future vibe that Tomorrowland '67 had. You know the one I'm talking about, the one that feels almost Jetsons-esque and makes you believe that the future is going to be this big, beautiful utopia that can't possibly go wrong. While we know that isn't always the case, anything that helps me feel that way, if even more a short time, is a win in my book.

    7) Peoplemover (Magic Kingdom)

    Sticking to MK's Tomorrowland, next up is the Peoplemover. I just can't get around this one. Every time I plan a trip to WDW and lie awake in bed at night thinking about what attractions I'm most excited to see again, the Peoplemover is always somewhere in there. It has a great wait (usually nothing) to ride time ratio and takes you on both a surprisingly brisk, shaded, relaxing and extensive tour of MK's Tomorrowland. Along the way you get to enjoy a look at the Epcot model, a fun trip through Space Mountain itself, watch people blast aliens on Space Ranger spin and generally enjoy the act of people watching/taking in your greater surroundings on vacation. I think that might be what does it for me. Aside from the fact that this is a legendary attraction since removed from my local Tomorrowland, no other ride in WDW really allows me to kick back and absorb the reality of where I am the way the Peoplemover does. Riding it with friends and family really drives home the "Wow, look at where we are, I can't believe we're here and just how awesome this all is". Whether you're riding it for the attraction itself or simply to relax on a hot Florida day, the Peoplemover perfectly compliments any and all Disney World vacations and is absolutely deserving of the love it gets.

    6) The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man (Islands of Adventure)

    Let me start by saying that I am a bigger Transformers fan than I am a Spider-Man one (as evidenced by my name and avatar) and though the two ride systems are similar, Spider-Man wins this battle for it's more elaborate practical set pieces. I don't normally enjoy the need to wear 3D glasses but in this case I need to make the exception. This attraction was one I didn't even know about on my first trip to IOA and it absolutely blew me away. For the first time in a while I found myself asking "How did they do that?!". So I looked into the history of the attraction and was even more amazed to discover it opened in 1999! Whhhhattt? Everything about this ride is great, plain and simple. The way the 3D action integrates into the practical set pieces around you is a perfect example of how primarily screen based attractions should be created. Some of the illusions are simple but incredibly effective (an example being when the walls around you begin to move to simulate you rising through the New York skyline) and this attraction has actually gotten a bit of love recently to replace the older screens and update it's 3D models. That's what I'm talking about! It's the perfect level of thrill factor for a wide variety of Guests (heck, Stan Lee was still riding it) with an incredible amount of love and detail mixed in, setting at least one of the bars that screen/projection based attractions should strive for.

    5) The Twilight Zone: Tower of Terror (Disney's Hollywood Studios)

    Two words: anticipation, atmosphere. Tower of Terror does these both impeccably well. No attraction I've ever elevated (see what I did?) my thoughts of the mystique the way Tower has. When this attraction was building built in DCA, I went to my middle school media center to check out an Imagineering book to learn more about it. What I found were images and story concepts that filled me with a sense of both fear and wonder. Dread and curiosity. I knew it was going to be a drop ride but not at this level. It was going to be one that messed not just with your heart rate but with your mind. I feel like it still does. Those moments when the star field materializes before your very eyes or when the doorway to the 5th dimension suddenly opens and your elevator begins to slowly creep forward towards what you know is your inevitable doom cause you to question how this is even possible or happening right now. The detailed queue/pre-show really help build up that sense of dread and is an attraction in itself similar to the stretching room and hallways of the Haunted Mansion over in Disneyland. The atmosphere is perfectly creepy, with strange sounds coming through the walls of the boiler room, or in the finer details like the game of cards left mysteriously abandoned in the hotel lobby. Did I mention the ride is fun? Because that is important and it is! It goes above and beyond the call of duty requested by any other drop ride out there to create a perfect, thrilling experience. While I feel that DCA's Tower actually had a better pacing and less awkward audio narration at points, I feel like Hollywood Studio's extra show elements help it win out over it's west coast counterpart (also, that it actually still exists). The sense of mystery and wonder.. those feelings of both dread and excitement as your imagination starts to run wild approaching the Tower of Terror are feelings that the pathetically inferior Mission: Breakout will never, ever be able to replicate.

    4) Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey (Islands of Adventure)

    This ride melted my face off, plain and simple. I did no research into this ride system before I rode it and only had a general understanding for the layout of Wizarding World when I went opening weekend in 2010. I did not walk away disappointed. The vehicle loading station had me feeling like this was going to be an experience similar to Haunted Mansion but that all changed the second my feet left the ground. Like Spider-Man before it, I walked away from this experience wondering how the heck they did it and saying the bar for screen based attractions had been raised, again. This is how you do it. Impossible action on screen co-existing in perfect harmony with incredibly detailed, terrifying and practical show scenes to create an experience unlike any other. -and the queue, oh my goodness the queue. I'm not the biggest Harry Potter fan out there by any stretch but I've read the books and I enjoyed the films. Walking into Hogwarts Castle and taking in every. single. little. detail that queue had to offer was an attraction itself. This is one of the few attractions out there that I actively encourage first timers to actually wait in line the first time for. It is not to be skipped with an express pass of any kind the first time through. But yes.. the ride. Perfectly thrilling, incredibly detailed, melt your face and mind goodness all mixed into one. I walked away from this one with my brother agreeing that not just the bar for those kinds of attractions had been raised, but for attractions and theme parks in general. On our way out of the land, we turned and gave everything in front of us a salute, the first and last time that I've ever done so. In case you are wondering why I chose IOA's version over Hollywood's; it's for a few minor reasons. Firstly, I prefer the shifting brickwork illusion on IOA's version upon bench take off to Hollywood's green powder tunnel. Second, Hollywood's tried to go more advanced with 3D glasses and high definition projection domes that make me feel like some of the characters and effects on screen are moving too quickly. The same way a high frame rated video seems to move "incorrectly" to the human eye.

    3) Pirates of the Caribbean (Disneyland)

    Movie additions and everything, this attraction still ranks towards the top of my list. What else can I really say about it that you probably don't already know? One of Walt's many labors of love, one with a special place in his heart and it shows every minute of every day. The level of ambition and detail in this attraction is still staggering today. The moment you sit down in that boat and are whisked off into the Bayou, floating past diners at the Blue Bayou, it's pure magic. Each and every scene you float by is filled with even the smallest little details for you to take in and each of them has a story to tell and each one does so in the perfect tone making it an attraction for Guests of all ages to experience together. Something that Pirates does for me better than just about any other dark ride out there is the remove the illusion that you are in a show building, even when they are using projections to simulate smaller details such as clouds onto the building itself. I'm not sure what it is about Pirates, maybe it's the paint job, maybe it's the sheer size of the building itself or maybe it's the fact that there are so many little details to enjoy over and over again but this is one of the few instances where I don't even tend to notice anything that would break the illusion (unless I really want to look for it, that is). There is just so much love, so much creativity and so much happening here to appreciate in one scene right after another even on subsequent ride thrus. Aside from iconic scenes, I want to also point out the incredible audio and lighting on display here too. Yo Ho, Yo Ho (A Pirates Life for Me) may be the most noticeable tunes but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the hauntingly beautiful audio music, voices and lighting inside the caverns at the beginning of the attraction as well. Something to also appreciate about Pirates is the genius in its efficiency. I'll admit that Pirates doesn't have the greatest queue around and often times it extends into a "Kraken" (code word for an insanely long line among Pirate CMs, I believe) and clog the walkways of New Orleans Square but even when it does, it almost never stops moving. When Jack Sparrow was added, I had to wait in a line that went all the way out to Main Street and thought I would be there forever. That didn't end up being the case and it never has been. Finally and again, I appreciate the relatively short waiting period in exchange for the sheer amount of time you get to spend inside this iconic attraction.

    2) Jurassic Park River Adventure (Islands of Adventure)

    Let's just jump right in to why I chose this version over Hollywood's (aside from it being defunct now); location, foliage, maintenance and a better finale. I'll explain why this river cruise takes everything Hollywoods had and turned the dial to 11. To begin, Hollywood's was located in, well, Hollywood. What this meant was that while riding the attraction you had the illusion of actually "being in Jurassic Park" shattered by corporate buildings and parking structures. Those issues do not exist in Orlando's version, in fact, JP has it's own land with much more to do! What also helps is the amount of foliage featured in this iteration, especially at the beginning. When you pass through those gates into Jurassic Park for the first time and that iconic score swells up, you don't see the obvious walls separating you from the Studio Tour just on the other side of it or get any of that noise pollution. You're just.. transported. Transported off to a wonderfully detailed adventure. In my experience, Orlando has also done a much better job maintaining their Jurassic Park attraction, it's animatronics, etc. while over in Hollywood, many of our effects went un-repaired for years. Finally, the finale. I have never, ever been a fan of the "surprise! T-Rex waterfall attack!" present in Hollywood's version. The reason? When the water parted, the Rex didn't swing out fast enough to hide the illusion that it was a giant puppet on strings, floating magically in mid-air. Once that water parted, you were immediately treated to a view of the exposed, unfinished back of the figure (think the back side of Carsland's mountain range) and as you passed under it, it's floating feet. Orlando's version instead ops to remove the surprise element and instill a sense of helplessness and dread in it's riders as the Rex appears at the end of the room, it's lower half covered in fog to help sell the illusion as your remain trapped in your boat, knowing that fate won't change course: you're heading right into the mouth of one of the most ferocius animals ever to walk to Earth. Then, just as you get close enough, the Rex swings a bite at you, only for you to escape down the waterfall. Chilling and exhilarating and just a little bit morbid, the Jurassic Park River Adventure in Orlando really does make me feel like I've boarded a boat and sailed right into one of my favorite franchises of all time. It's legendary music, fun story-line and wonderfully crafted and maintained show scenes help it make number 2 on my list.

    1) The Purple Wall (Magic Kingdom)

    ...

    ...

    ..I'm kidding! The real winner is of course:

    1) The Haunted Mansion/Holiday (Disneyland)

    I'm cheating a bit here. My two favorite attractions in the world are technically both one in the same and as such, they will share a spot on this list. Like Pirates, what can I say about it that hasn't already been said? Except that it has given me more smiles, happiness and memories than any other attraction in the entire world. Aside from being an obviously great wait versus ride time investment, this attraction is creativity at it's finest. Most of the tech on display here is nothing mind blowing by today's standards but the way in which it is used and the ideas conveyed are pure Imagineering genius, no exception and ends up creating an experience that will "follow you home". Now, I obviously love Pirates. But think about the concept of Pirates from a creative standpoint, what do Pirates do? The answer is probably pretty clear, pretty general and pretty straight forward. There is still a ton of iconic scenes and creativity featured on that attraction but I have to imagine there had to have been a bit of a running start where concepts are concerned. But what you see in Haunted Mansion? Who comes up with this stuff? Creative geniuses. A stretching portrait room, the endless hallway, "breathing" doors, the entire concept of Madame Letoa being an ethereal head inside of a crystal ball.. the list goes on and on as you traverse the attraction. The Haunted Mansion and the scenes within are born purely of the creative mind and every single scene is something to be appreciated. Like Pirates, there is more and more to see the more you look around, so many little details to take in and appreciate that it's mind numbing. The way the Imagineers were able to take what would be seen today as simple parlor tricks and create scenes that still hold up with today's audiences is Disney Magic at. it's best. Period. From the moment you step into the queue, Haunted Mansion simply oozes creativity and class. Everything it presents, it does so confidently and yet never feels like it loses its humility. The tone throughout the attraction is the perfect mix of scary and fun for the largest possible Guest demographic to enjoy. The music created for Mansion is also some of the legendary out there.. from that iconic foyer music to Grim Grinning Ghosts, the audio is a testament to the Imagineer's creativity especially since Mansion does not have an iconic tune to pull from in advance the way some IP based rides do. Everything about Haunted Mansion is self made and well earned from the bottom to the top.

    -and suddenly yet magically, Mansion finds a way to celebrate the both the end of year Holidays and itself in the spectacular Haunted Mansion Holiday. This is how you do an overlay. This is the love and respect an overlay should be showing for the attraction which it has the good fortune to change temporarily. Look, of course I am going to be a little bit biased here because The Nightmare Before Christmas is my favorite movie of all time and while it was the absolute perfect pick to decorate out Haunted Mansion for Halloween and Christmas respectively, the characters and movie connections alone are not what make it so popular an endearing. The fact is, part of the reason why HMH is elevated so highly is because of what lies beneath. This isn't the Jack Skellington ride. This is Jack Skellington at the Haunted Mansion itself. The reason the changes within this overlay are just so perfect is because they are playing off of what was there before and HMH knows this. It's got the perfect dose of self awareness which both remembers and celebrates the Mansion without trying to simply overwrite it or try to pretend that it is something it's not.

    In short, there is a reason Guests just celebrated Haunted Mansion's 50th anniversary and will continue to celebrate it for years to come: it is the Disney (and arguably theme park) attraction, perfected. It's really hard to put into words just how much I love this attraction.


    Thanks for sticking with me for this fun little exercise! Here are some honorable mentions and why they didn't make the cut: Expedition Everest (would have, but without a functioning Yeti, I can't give it the spot), Indiana Jones Adventure (again, a lack of maintenance), Rock n' Roller Coaster (love the queue and exit but have to admit the ride itself is just a coaster with cardboard cut outs), Test Track (love, love, LOVE the newest iteration and it's interactivity but parts of the actual experience fall a little bit short compared to other attractions) and Muppet*Vision 3D (one of my favorite theme park shows ever and I think it's wildly funny, creative and all around entertaining but just barely falls short because it isn't something I want to repeat as frequently, it needs more a gap between experiencing showings, a weakness that I think befell all theme park entertainment on my list no matter how good).

    Also, for fun, here are the choices my wife made! She didn't go into too much detail other than that these are rides she would "never get tired of riding" and that they come in no particular order:

    1. Space Mountain (Disneyland)
    2. Tatsu (Magic Mountain)
    3. Spaceship Earth (Epcot)
    4. Smuggler's Run (Disneyland)
    5. Indiana Jones Adventure (Disneyland)
    6. Mr. Toad's Wild Ride (Disneyland)
    7. Enchanted Tiki Room (Disneyland)
    8. Flight of Passage (Animal Kingdom)
    9. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey (Universal Studios Hollywood)
    10. Twilight Zone: Tower of Terror (Disney's Hollywood Studios)


    First of all, the name's not "Zippy"! As a matter of fact, I don't believe I've ever met another bot named Zippy, so one can only assume that you came up with "Zippy" in reference to my speed, which may be technically accurate, but lacks a certain creativity!
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