Here’s a friendly warning: before you dive into this rundown, it’s probably best to determine what kind of traveller you are. Are you one of those seat-of-your-pants thrillseekers who wants to try some of the most intense and unapologetic experiences on earth? Or are you one of those who wants to see the world safely, securely and decadently, from the deck of a luxurious cruise ship?
Both are perfectly valid options, of course. However you choose to see this weird and wonderful world of ours, that’s just fine. All I’m really getting at is, this is a list for the fearless thrillseekers among you. We’re not messing around, right here.
Personally, I’ve never been all that big on the concept of theme park rides. Well, that’s not strictly true. The idea of them, I like very much. You’ve got to admire these feats of twirly-whirly, uppy-downy engineering prowess. It’s when it comes to actually riding on them myself that I tend to suddenly remember that I’ve forgotten to feed the iguanas and slip away.
It’s not an easy life, being an enthusiastic traveller who is prone to motion sickness. I get by because I love it, though, and it’s all super worth it.
On that note, if I can cope with twenty of the greatest, most exciting theme park rides out there, I’m sure you can too. All of these rides are featured in Theme Park Tourist’s rundown of the 100 greatest rides and attractions in the world, a dynamic list voted for by the visitors themselves.
20 Now That’s A Rite Of Passage (Avatar: Flight of Passage)
We’re not pulling any punches here, friends, that’s for dang certain. We’re kicking this party off the right way, with Theme Park Tourist’s highest voted attraction on the planet.
Avatar: Flight of Passage is found at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Walt Disney World Resort, Bay Lake, Florida. As the name suggests, it’s a technological marvel based on the mega-hit movie, and sees visitors riding a mountain Banshee around the landscape of Pandora. It’s one heckola of an experience, allowing fans to enjoy the Na’vi’s coming of age tradition for ‘real.’
Shortly after the attraction opened, it became policy for riders to be issued warning cards, WDW News Today reported, explaining that those with a fear of heights, expectant mothers and such should not ride.
19 The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter Comes Alive
Around the world, there are currently four Universal Studios theme parks in operation: Universal Orland Resort, Universal Studios Hollywood, Universal Studios Singapore and Universal Studios Japan. All but Universal Singapore are home to a super popular Harry Potter-themed experience: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.
Naturally, anything potter-themed is going to be a huge hit, but this ride is the ultimate for fans. Set in Hogwarts castle, visitors begin their journey in the dungeons, surrounded by memorabilia from the movies. This dark ride travels around the grounds, taking in everything from a horde of dementors to a Quidditch match. There are twists and turns aplenty along the way, on a trip that Universal Creative President Mark Woodbury promised (as MuggleNet reports) will “transform the theme park experience as you know it.”
18 Meet A Yeti, On Everest? Why The Heckles Not? (Expedition Everest)
Is there any more curious creature in cryptozoology than the yeti? Like the Loch Ness Monster and other such legends, it’s captured our imaginations for centuries. The whole appeal of the thing is precisely that we’ve never legitimately seen it. Hoaxes and shonky photographs just contribute to that fascination.
Except, of course, for those who have ridden Expedition Everest, back at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. When it first opened in April 2006, this was the first big roller coaster at the Animal Kingdom, and the first to feature a mythological creature.
The tallest attraction at Walt Disney World, Expedition Everest is themed around the Yeti protecting its territory, causing riders to reverse and twist and turn as they navigate around a track that the Yeti has ‘destroyed.’
17 Higher Than The Sun, Literally (Not Literally) (Apollo’s Chariot)
As ancient mythology tells us, Apollo was the sun god. His job was to heat the Earth by carrying the Sun across the sky in his chariot. According to legend, one day his wayward son stole the chariot, and in his inexperience, rode too high and too low, causing the kinds of extremes of temperature that the people really didn’t need on a Monday morning.
This is the concept behind Apollo’s Chariot, a ride at Busch Gardens, Williamsburg, Virginia. It opened in 1999 and has been popular through most of its long service time for its intense twists and loops.
16 An Out-Of-This-World Adventure (Space Mountain)
Well, of course it wasn’t going to be long before Space Mountain featured on this rundown. It just encapsulates everything we’re looking for here: it takes a long, long darn time to get on, but you instantly forget all of that once you do.
A true icon of Walt Disney World, the Lake Buena Vista, Florida Space Mountain has been operating since 1975, making it the oldest operational roller coaster in the state. Naturally, it’s been upgraded and refined multiple times since, but the central concept remains the same as it ever was: a thrilling space-themed experience, characterised by its sharp twists and turns and authentic ‘rocket-riding’ experience.
15 "Life... Uh... Finds A Way" (Jurassic Park River Adventure)
So, yes. If I can trace my fear of sharks back to the time I watched Jaws when I was far too young, the same is also true of dinosaurs and Jurassic Park. Now, granted, I’m not likely to come across a slavering velociraptor on the course of my daily commute, but that’s immaterial. What matters is that you aren’t going to catch me on this ride.
The Jurassic Park River Adventure, like Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, is found at Universal’s two US locations and Universal Studios Japan. This thrilling ride mimics a dinosaur tour gone wrong, with an impromptu trip through the raptor pen, a close encounter with a Tyrannosaurus Rex, an 85ft drop and a dilophosaurus spitting its venom (harmless water) at the guests. In short, it’s a whole heaping helping too real for my liking.
14 Now This Is The Big One (the Behemoth)
For our next thrill ride, we’re crossing the border to Canada. In Vaughan, Ontario, you’ll find Canada’s Wonderland. As the New York Times reports, the park was opened in 1981, the first (and still the largest) major theme park in the country. As such, you’d expect some pretty darn big attractions, and the Behemoth doesn’t disappoint.
With its name being synonymous for something really freaking big, it’s no surprise that it reaches a towering height of 23ft. The Behemoth is renowned for its high speeds, rapid changes in elevation and long airtime. It’s also famous for its efficiency, able to accommodate around 1,500 people every hour!
13 Everybody Smile! (the Smiler)
Meanwhile, let’s take a look at what’s happening across the pond. Thrillseekers visiting the UK will want to be sure to check out Alton Towers Resort, a theme park resort in Staffordshire. It’s home to all manner of bowel-loosening high-octane experiences, though one, in particular, strikes me as a must-ride: the Smiler.
This unconventional ride was opened in 2013, and boasted a record that it still holds: the roller coaster with the most inversions (ie: loops that turn riders upside down and then flips them back up) in the world. It’s certainly an experience like no other, then, and one for all serious roller coaster fan’s bucket list.
12 When In Rome… (Roman Rapids)
As Theme Park Tourist rightly states, there’s nothing particularly creative about the whole rapids concept. If you’re a keen thrillseeker, you’ve surely been on your share of these rides. You know how it works: you go fast, you spin around a little, you get wet.
You’ve got to have a unique hook to stand out in that crowded arena, and the Roman Rapids certainly have one.
Another attraction found in Busch Gardens Williamsburg, the Roman Rapids is built around the theme of a canal race through Roman ruins. There are fountain statues, waterfalls and other interactive elements, and the overall design of the ride is second to none.
11 Now That’s… Intimidating (Intimidator)
Sometimes, it’s all in the name. A good, successful ride needs a dramatic name. More importantly, it needs to live up to that name. So how about it, Intimidator? Are you worthy of sounding so extra?
As it turns out, yes, yes are. This ride is located at Carowinds amusement park, Charlotte, North Carolina. Roller Coaster Database clocks it at a top speed of 75mph, with a maximum height of 232ft, ranking it right up there with the fastest and highest roller coasters in the region.
It’s themed around NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt (also nicknamed Intimidator), with the trains designed to resemble one of his vehicles.
10 Are You Ready To Hit Hyperspace? (Space Mountain, Paris Style)
As we saw earlier in this rundown, the legendary Space Mountain is one of Disney’s most enduring and iconic attractions. At Disneyland Paris, it took a very special turn of late.
When the Paris version of Space Mountain launched in 1995, it was an intriguing steampunk experience inspired by Jules Verne’s novel From the Earth to the Moon. It was revamped and reopened as Space Mountain: Mission 2, before being changed again to incorporate its current Star Wars theme. With high-speed twists and turns, a barrage of laser fire to endure and squadrons of TIE fighters all around you, this could be the most thrilling take on Space Mountain yet.
9 What’s Both Dark And Very, Very Bright? (Blazing Fury)
Blazing Fury, that’s what. For our next thrilling attraction, we’re crossing over to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, where the Dollywood theme park is home to something very special.
As we’ve already seen, the best rides are those that mix a range of different elements. Unpredictability, that’s what it’s all about. Blazing Fury does this fantastically well, mixing elements of the dark ride with elements of the roller coaster to create a unique experience. The ride tells the story of a mountain town plagued by bandits, who have set the town ablaze. Intriguing scenes unfold as the ride continues, showing townsfolk leaping into firemen’s nets and suchlike.
If you’re looking for a highspeed ride with a twist, Blazing Fury is for you.
8 Screaming Like A 'Banshee'
As all you thrill seekers will know, there’s no such thing as dignity in the roller coaster-riding game. You’ve got to resign yourself to the fact that there are going to be some super shameful photographs of you back at the gift shop, pulling the most hilariously contorted faces you can imagine.
And then there’s the screaming, naturally. With that reputation, it’s no surprise that one of the world’s most popular rides would be named Banshee. You can take this one for a spin at Kings Island amusement park in Ohio. At just over 4,100 feet long, its claim to fame is being the longest inverted (the train runs under the track in places) roller coaster in the world.
7 It Might Prove To Be Your… 'Nemesis'
That’s right. As you’ve probably guessed, we’re taking a trip back to Britain’s Alton Towers now. Our next high-octane ride is none other than the much-beloved Nemesis.
Situated in the park’s famous Forbidden Valley, Nemesis has been in operation since 1994. It has a number of features that set it apart, Roller Coaster Database reports, including a vertical loop, zero-g roll (a 360-degree twist that will take your breath away in the most literal sense) and two corkscrews.
Nemesis is a real icon of the industry, and for keeping it simple while adding a few thrilling twists of its own, it’s highly regarded.
6 Now This Really Is A 'Beast'
Here’s the thing about roller coasters. You don’t tend to notice if you’re an avid rider, but if you’re the designated bags and/or other valuables holder, you’ve probably noticed. They’re not too aesthetically pleasing a lot of the time, are they? Generic, metal monstrosities curling and looping way up in the air.
In that regard, The Beast has a bit of an advantage. Located at Kings Island, Ohio, this 7,359ft long track is constructed from wood. It was the world’s longest, fastest and tallest wooden roller coaster when it opened in 1979, and it’s still the longest. It also remains one of the park’s most popular, and is highly regarded among thrill seekers.
5 "It Is An Area Which We Call… The Twilight Zone" (Tower Of Terror)
As I say, then, I‘m not the world’s greatest super-speedy ride enthusiast. I’ve been tempted into trying out several on my travels, but I wouldn’t call them the highlight of any of my trips. If there’s a type of ride I really do not do, though, it’s the drop tower sort.
Just thinking about The Twilight Zone Tower Of Terror is giving me every possible kind of heebie-jeebies. The versions found at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Walt Disney’s Studio Park are themed around classic sci-fi series The Twilight Zone. They see riders enter a fictional hotel lobby, and presented with an equally-fictional story that people have vanished from this very hotel in supernatural circumstances.
Various Twilight Zone-related stops are explored, before the inevitable, incredible drop sequence.
4 There’s A Real Storm Coming! (Storm Runner)
Continuing our run of United States-based dominance (what can I say? They know how to make theme park rides in the US), we’re off to Hersheypark in Pennsylvania now. This is the home of another intimidating-sounding ride, the mighty Storm Runner.
There are several aspects to this one. Its design is unusual, for one, sporting a hydraulic launching mechanism different to lots of the older coasters we’ve seen so far. Most interestingly, though, its creators made it in such a way that it interacts with three of the park’s other rides: the Monorail, Trailblazer and Dry Gulch Railroad.
Being quite an experience in its own right (it’s a launched coaster, sending riders from 0-72mph within two seconds), Storm Runner was hugely popular when it launched in 2004, and still is.
3 The Riddler’s Back...Back Again (Riddler’s Revenge)
Now, maybe it’s just me, but I’m not the biggest fan of the Riddler. As much as I usually enjoy the utterly uncontrollable shenanigans of Jim Carrey, I think he went a little overboard in Batman Forever. As far as Batman villains go, you can give me the horrifyingly cheesy one-liners of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Ice Man any day.
The Riddler’s Revenge rollercoaster is a step too far for me, too. It’s found at Six Flags Magic Mountain, California; a stand-up roller coaster that set all kinds of height, speed and length world records for stand-up roller coasters.
As for me, stand-up and roller coaster are not words that should be uttered in the same sentence.
2 Not That Kind Of 'Raptor'
We’ve already covered Jurassic Park, and how it succeeded in adding velociraptors to my ‘most feared movie ‘villains’ of all time’ list. This despite the fact that true velociraptors looked nothing like them (the movie counterpart was actually based on a different species, Deinonychus).
This is no time to get all science-y, though. We’re talking about a very different type of raptor here. The Raptor is a ride found in Cedar Point amusement park, Ohio. It opened in 1994 and was the world’s all-round biggest inverted roller coaster at the time. Today, it’s renowned for its many loops and its cobra roll, which was a revelation for inverted roller coasters.
It’s based on a bird of prey, incidentally, not the dinosaur.
1 No, Wait, THIS Is 'The Big One'
You know, you can give your roller coaster all the fancy names you like. The Beast, Nemesis, Behemoth, Apollo’s Chariot… when it comes to being grandiose and threatening, you can’t beat the people who name roller coasters. Sometimes, though, it pays to keep it simple.
The Big One. That just tells you everything you need to know, doesn’t it? This towering construction is located in the north of England, on Blackpool Pleasure Beach. It was the tallest roller coaster in the world for two years after its completion in 1994, until Fujiyama opened in Japan.
The Big One is 213ft tall and travels at 74mph. It is officially –if you’ll excuse the technical jargon—one heck of a big one.
Resources: Theme Park Tourist, WDW News Today, MuggleNet, The New York Times, Roller Coaster Database.