The joy of traveling, I think, is that there’s a trip out there perfect for every possible taste. Sun worshippers and lounge-on-the-beach-ers? You’ve got so many choices it’s almost mindboggling. The Caribbean, Australia, the Balearic Islands, the Greek Islands… you could go somewhere different every year of your life, and end up very, very darn tan indeed.
That’s not your sort of thing? How about the complete opposite, with a wintry, snowy break in Lapland or skiing on the Swiss Alps? When it comes to budget, too, do you want to travel on a shoestring or spend like Kanye on the day he gets his allowance from Kim? It’s completely up to you. Have it your way, as Burger King like to say.
Just as important as where you’re going, of course, is what you pan to do once you get there. Personally, I like to spend my vacations watching the world go by from the deck of a cruise ship (with the occasional shore excursions thrown in), but others are more active. More ambitious. More high-octane.
As somebody who had bad motion sickness as a child, I quickly learned that theme parks are not my thing. After diving into this piece, you might start feeling the same way yourself. From horror-themed scarefests like San Francisco’s Blackout Experience, to monstrous rides like the Human Trebuchet and spooky forgotten parks like Japan’s Gulliver’s Kingdom, buckle up for some of the most frightening ‘fun’ you can ever have.
25 The Blackout Experience, United States: It’s All Gone Dark!
So, yes. To really scare audiences, horror directors, writers and other creators have to prey on those little psychological fears. The big one is the unknown, which tends to mean two things: darkness and quiet.
Right from the name alone, then, it’s clear how San Francisco’s Blackout Experience is going to try and get under our skins. This is an intense experience, seeing participants physically hooded and at the mercy of the performers.
As the blurb explains, “Its hallmark is black plastic bag walls, minimal sets, and actors that are real people (no Halloween masks).”
Thanks, but I think I’ll skip it.
24 Farmaggedon, United Kingdom: Four Times The Scares
Right from the off, I’d like to state from the record that I’m a huge fan of the horror genre. Movies, for the most part, but I can’t resist a good horror novel when I’ve got the time to dive into it.
When the supernatural creatures and machete-waving maniacs are chasing fictional characters on the screen, I can deal with that. When it’s happening to me in real life (well, not for real, but you know what I mean), I wouldn’t be nearly so calm. Or, you know, in control of my bodily functions. Farmaggedon is a theme park experience in Lancashire, UK, which boasts “four scary and unique attractions - Contagion, Terror of the Farm, The Foundry, and The Meat Locker,” and I want no darn part of it.
23 The Bates Motel, United States: I Want To See The Owner (But Not His Mom)
The Bates Motel is situated in Glen Mills, Pennsylvania, and is a veteran of the spooktastic theme park scene. Its official website boasts that it’s been serving up ‘28 years of fear,’ and it certainly isn’t for the faint-hearted.
This is just to be expected, after all, for a place inspired by one of the most iconic slices of horror ever devised (Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho). Last year, CNN Travel voted it among the best haunted house attractions in the United States, commenting that,
“You don't need reservations to check into the Bates Motel! You can also take a haunted hayride on the grounds or face down some revenge-minded scarecrows.”
22 Ruby Falls Cavern, United States: Dreading The Hollow
In and of itself, Ruby Falls is a popular tourist attraction. It’s found in Lookout Mountain, Tennessee, a stunning underground waterfall and protected national landmark.
That’s not why we’re here, though. We’re here because Ruby Falls is also home to Dread Hollow, a very special event for the Halloween season. As the official site puts it,
“Dread Hollow is a unique attraction that adds a new level of fear to the traditional haunted house. Hidden in plain sight in the valley of Chattanooga, TN, Dread Hollow appears to be like any other unassuming small town found in the shadows of highways and byways, but visitors are unaware of what truly lies within - until it is too late. Dread Hollow's cryptic reality and past loom ominously inside 20,000 square feet of pure terror.”
21 The Fright Dome, United States: You Call That A Haunted House? *THIS* Is A Haunted House
So, yes. As I’ve already mentioned, Ls Vegas is probably the world’s number one place for over-the-top theatrics and shows. We all know that. With this in mind, you’d expect something very, very special from a haunted house in Vegas.
The Fright Dome absolutely will not disappoint on that score. As their official site proudly exclaims, the vast 250,000 square foot complex has been dubbed “one of the most extreme haunted houses in the world.”
Not only that, but the Fright Dome also has a whole gaggle of famous fans. The likes of Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne, Michael Jackson, Paris Hilton and Stevie Wonder have visited.
20 Action Park, United States: I See Why They Call It ‘Cannonball’
As I say, then, theme parks just aren’t my speed. They’ve got too much darn speed, that’s why. The prospect of a car ride longer than about half an hour was difficult enough for me to swallow back in the day, and that’s a comfortable, bump-less, sensible speed drive. Corkscrewing around on a rickety track fifty feet in the air, at 100mph? You know, I think I’ll skip that.
The rather infamous Action Park in Vernon, New Jersey had no such qualms, however. Of their Cannonball Loop ride, Thrillist reports,
“The design was so inefficient that it was constructed with a hatch at the bottom of the loop, so people who got stuck in it could get out safely. It was opened in the summer of 1985, but closed after just one month of operation.”
19 Middlemoor Water Park, United Kingdom: That’s A Firm ‘Heck No’
Now, I can totally understand why theme park rides have such short, sweet, dramatic names. Something like Colossus or Insanity (both of which we’ll see a little later in this rundown) just sounds like an exciting and ridiculous experience, and that’s exactly what you’re here for in the first place.
Am I the only one that these names also fill with bone-chilling dread, though? Take the Human Trebuchet ‘ride,’ which was found in Middlemoor Water Park, Somerset, UK. I think Thrillist’s report says it all:
“For the low, low price of $70, willing participants were fired 75 feet through the air, completely unsecured and without any protection, into a freestanding net suspended above the ground. What could possibly go wrong?”
18 Stratosphere Hotel And Casino, United States: That’s *MADNESS*
No, Jamiroquai, this isn’t virtual insanity. This is plain old literal insanity. The ride Insanity, that is, which really is… insanity (note to self: those were two of the worst sentences anyone’s ever written in the history of everything ever).
Hurrying right along, the Stratosphere Hotel and Casino is situated in Las Vegas, Nevada, a place that certainly isn’t afraid to get all kinds of over the top on us. One of its most absurd attractions is Insanity, a ride that spins you all the way out in the open over the edge of the skyscraper that is the hotel.
17 Six Flags Magic Mountain, United States: Dang, What Was The X1 Like?
If you’ve visited some of the world’s big tourist destinations, such as the London Eye, you’ve probably taken part in one of those 4D experiences. You know the ones, where you feel the wind, the water and all of that sort of thing. Movie theaters do it too (for a hefty price, of course, on top of the fact that you’d have to remortgage your house to buy some popcorn in the first place).
4th dimensional roller coasters, meanwhile, are those that can rotate the riders independently of the track. It’s a further step forward for thrill seekers who want more from their rides, and way too much for some of us. The X2 at Six Flags Magic Mountain, Los Angeles is one famous example.
16 Thorpe Park, United Kingdom: It Sure Is Colossal
The thing about those dramatic names for theme park rides is, you’ve got to put your money where your mouth is. Take the world-famous Thorpe Park’s ride called Colossus. If you arrive there for the first time and it looks like a feeble little ferris wheel for four-year-olds, you’re not going to be amused, are you?
Fortunately for fans of these horrifying things, Colossus certainly delivers. In fact, it was a world record holder, with a mighty ten different inversions (areas of the track that turn riders upside down and back around). The Smiler at Alton Towers has since surpassed it, with fourteen inversions, but still.
15 Fuji-Q Highland, Japan: Just What The Heckola Is Happening?
So, yes. We’ve already covered the exciting phenomenon that is the fourth-dimensional roller coaster, and all its twisty, spinny absurdity. This sort of thing is much more than my poor, cowardly heart can take, but some theme park veterans just can’t resist taking this thrilling step further.
If you’re one of these people, and you happen to be in Japan, you can enjoy one of the world’s very few fourth-dimensional roller coasters. It’s called Eejanaika, and it’s found at the Fuji-Q Highland park in Fujiyoshida.
According to Places You’ll See, the ride’s name translates to hey, what the heck, and looking at it, I can see exactly why.
14 Dreamworld, Australia: Guess Who’s Back, Back Again?
Here’s another issue the super-exciting theme parks around the world face: where do you go from here? You’ve got to keep expanding your rides, making them taller, faster, twistier, reclaiming world records for this and that as you go. Where will it end? Soon, we’ll just be riding a small mine cart down a narrow tunnel all the way to the centre of the darn Earth.
Australia’s Dreamworld park in Queensland clearly thought that their Tower of Terror just wasn’t enough. It was renovated in recent years, relaunched as Tower of Terror II. How extreme is the new ride? Well…
“An eerie silence lasts for just milliseconds before the car blasts backwards rocketing guests out of a 206m tunnel at speed hitting up to 161 km/h in seven seconds flat. Riders soar 100m into the atmosphere for several seconds of stomach-churning weightlessness at its peak before coming back to earth face first.”
13 Dent Schoolhouse, United States: Are The legends True?
We often hear that our school days are the best of our lives. Like a lot of you, I’m sure, I think I’d have to debate that, but there you go. The important thing is, however bad a time you may have had there, you didn’t have to go to the spinetingling Dent Schoolhouse in Ohio. That’s something to be grateful for.
The owners of this attraction pull that old trick of suggesting that there’s a true story behind their schoolhouse, surrounding attacks by a vengeful janitor. As reported by Scribol, some really believe that there are some actual ghouls dwelling here among the actors.
You can read the whole story here, and make your own mind up.
12 Nightmare In Budapest, Hungary: It’s All Getting A Little Too Real For Me
Hungary may not be a country renowned for its horror-tastic rides and experiences, but they’re certainly no slouches in that department. If you’re in Budapest around Halloween, this could be just what you’re looking for.
Nightmare in Budapest is a unique experience, described on the official site as “interactive horror theatre.” It’s something akin to the London Dungeons (or other insert-name-of-place Dungeons), which takes inspiration from haunted house experiences and moving rides.
Actors, settings and props combine to draw the visitor into the experience, which is key. Atmosphere is paramount in this sort of thing, after all. Needless to say, there’ll be jump scares aplenty.
11 Six Flags New England, United States: Is It A Bird? Is It A Plane?
Here’s a ride with a curious history. We’ve seen Dreamworld’s Tower of Terror renovated into Tower of Terror II, but that was just a minor name change. This next ride has really been through the mill.
In 2009, the Superman: Ride of Steel roller coaster at Six Flags New England was tweaked and renamed Bizarro. Seven years later, it was changed back to its original style, and its name was slightly altered to Superman: The Ride.
What makes the experience worthy of the Son of Krypton? According to TripSavvy, “the coaster beckons riders even as it threatens to send their adrenaline into overdrive and scare the kryptonite out of them. This ride of steel demands nerves of steel.
From the start, everything about Superman the Ride is coaster perfection. The cars have raised seats and low-slung sides. Instead of an over-the-shoulder harness (there are no inversions), an unobtrusive seat belt and a u-shaped safety bar add to the car's open and exposed feeling.”
10 Headless Horseman Hayrides And Haunted Houses, United States: A Trip To Sleepy Hollow
Well, dang. As a lifelong fan of alliteration, I’ve got to show my admiration for an attraction named Headless Horseman Hayrides and Haunted Houses. What with that, and the reference to one of my favourite short stories and horror movies (Sleepy Hollow) ever, sure we’re on to a winner here?
Well, the whole experience certainly sounds great. Here’s Scribol with the lowdown:
“The Headless Horseman goes all out for Halloween every year. This huge horror theme park occupies 65 acres of Ulster County, New York and employs a crew and cast of hundreds. There are clowns, chainsaws, a corn maze, illusionist performances, and a hayride stopping at various nightmarish destinations including a mad scientist’s laboratory.”
9 Spreepark, Germany: Speaking Of Offputting Locations…
So far, we’ve really only been looking at theme parks that are specifically built around the whole horror theme, or those that have particularly scary rides. This is all well and good, of course, but we’ve also got to take into account ghastly nightmare that is the abandoned amusement park.
One of the world’s most famous derelict parks would be Berlin’s Spreepark. Built back in 1969, the park saw all kinds of changes and scandals with the management, before closing in 2002 after an unsuccessful period. Since then, nobody’s been quite sure what to do with it. it’s a popular site for visitors, and tours of the eerie, dinosaur-themed ruins are still available.
8 Haunted Field of Screams, United States: Sweet Screams
If you’ve any experience with horror movies (and just the genre itself, to a lesser extent), you’ll be familiar with some of the usual tricks and scares used. You know, the darkness, the quiet, the sudden sting of high-pitched music…
These tropes extend to settings themselves. The whole cornfield thing is a common element of horror, and Colorado’s Haunted Field of Screams has taken the idea and ran with it. Another popular Halloween-season attraction, it offers zombie paintball, a late-night maze to get hopelessly lost in and (of course) “a moonlit walk through a 16-foot cornfield – and you won’t be alone.”
7 Jefferson Manor, The Netherlands: What A Lovely Manor House!
I’ve never been quite sure what to make of abandoned, derelict buildings. There’s something deeply unnerving about them, for sure, but there’s also a kind of tragic beauty. The more opulent a building was in its prime, the more tragic, and the scarier.
Crossing back over to the Netherlands now, Jefferson Manor is another spooky attraction that tries to blend a true story with its scares. A recent addition to the annual Halloween Fright Nights in Walibi, this huge and allegedly haunted mansion has been a big hit.
Try not to get too sucked into the sad backstory of the Jefferson family as you explore and the actors do their thing.
6 Fantawild, China: You Know, I’m Not Really A fan Of Flying Either
The Fantawild amusement park chain is popular across China, and that’s really no surprise. I mean, the brand’s mascot is a big blue dinosaur named DuLuDuBi, and I don’t really think you can argue with that.
On the other hand, though, some of their rides are distinctly… well, questionable. Take the Chairoplane, for instance. As CNN Travel reports, Stefan Zwanzger (the Theme Park Guy) tried out this ride at the Qingdao Fantawild, and had this to say:
"I was the only rider, and once up in the air, the chains were making creaking and groaning noises and my chair was turning wildly on its own axis… it was a long ride. And cold. It was new so maybe my fear was just psychological, but I'd rather fly a plane from the 1970s than get back in that Qingdao chairoplane."
5 Gulliver’s Kingdom, Japan: When Your Kingdom Looks A Little Ropey These Days
Now, I’m no theme park designer, so I’m really not qualified to judge anybody here. All I’m saying is that, of all the themes you could build a park around, Jonathan Swift’s 1726 novel Gulliver’s Travels is an unusual one.
Still, there it was. Japan’s infamous Gulliver’s Kingdom was opened in 1997, right at the foot of Mt. Fuji. It boasted some distinctly unconventional attractions, and lasted only five years before closing in 2001. It mouldered away abandoned for six further years (looking increasingly eerie as it did so), before finally being demolished in 2007.
4 Disney’s Hollywood Studios, United States: Mickey Can’t Save You Now
Generally speaking, Disney resorts are supposed to be happy, friendly places. The Happiest Place on Earth, you might even say. Even so, these are legitimate parks, and some of the attractions here are not to be taken lightly.
The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, for instance, is every bit as bad as it sounds. Freefalling of just about any kind is completely out of my vocabulary, and doing so in a faux-elevator is probably one of my worst nightmares. As TripSavvy puts it,
“Sure, the freefall drop tower part of the ride is thrilling, but the pre-show and effects leading up to the finale… is downright chilling. The "fifth dimension," as the elevator cars move horizontally through a star field towards impending doom, is haunted attraction nirvana.”
3 Pripyat, Ukraine: Tragedy Strikes
The catastrophic accident at the Chernobyl Power Plant remains one of the worst disasters in recent memory. On April 26, 1986, a series of unforeseen circumstances during a routine test caused a meltdown, the effects of which are still being felt over thirty years later.
Much of the town and the surrounding area is abandoned now, a silent and poignant reminder of the incident. The same is true of Pripyat’s amusement park. Its grand opening was due to take place on May 1 of that year, but it wasn’t to be. In the end, the park was opened for just hours on April 27, before the order to evacuate was given.
2 Universal Studios, United States: An intimidating (Yet Magical) Experience
How do you feel about the Harry Potter phenomenon? Opinions differ wildly. Were you there at midnight for every book release (in witch/wizard’s robes, naturally)? More of a casual fan? Did the whole thing pass you by entirely?
Whatever your views on the franchise, one thing you need to know is that it isn’t kid’s stuff at all. Accessible for younger readers, certainly, but there was some super dark stuff going on here. Those Dementors do not look friendly.
Theme park attraction Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is not to be taken lightly either. As reported by TripSavvy, “With Dementors, spiders, dragons, Death Eaters, and other creatures waiting to pounce on you, the ride inside Hogwarts Castle can be quite scary. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is not only one of the spookiest rides, it is also one of the best theme park rides, period.”
1 Dinosaur Land, United Kingdom: The Land Time Forgot
Yep, I hear you, friends. When it comes to dinosaur-related theme parks, there’s only one place that comes to mind. Sadly, Jurassic Park is not real, and you’re unlikely to have Jeff Goldblum demonstrate chaos theory with water droplets on your hand as you drive into Dinosaur Land.
This was actually a large exhibit within Drayton Manor Theme Park in England. The newly-developed Dino Trail, built in another area of the park, replaced Dinosaur Land, and it was left to decay. As was the case with Spreepark and its forgotten reptile residents, there’s nothing sadder than a forgotten dinosaur. Oh, the humanity!
Resources: Trip101, Thrillist, Places You’ll See, Scribol, The Bates Motel, CNN Travel, Atlas Obscura, TripSavvy.