10. Gaurdians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind – EPCOT
Ringing in our current Top 10 is the new kid on the block, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind. Forty years after opening, EPCOT finally got its roller coaster, and it’s one for the books: at an estimated $500M, Cosmic Rewind is, by a considerable margin, the most expensive roller coaster ever built. The ride at times doesn’t quite feel like a half-a-billion-dollar project (to be blunt, the launch sequence area looks unfinished), but its brighter moments push the envelope on what can be accomplished with a “story coaster”. Additionally, the “Wonders of Xandar” pavilion preserves the essence of EPCOT while giving the resort one of its best queues.
9. Star Wars Hyperspace Mountain – Disneyland Paris
We’d like to beg pardon from those who are frustrated with the Star Wars overlay on Disneyland Paris’ Space Mountain. Obviously there’s the Jules Verne vs Lucasfilm converging of themes and the ugly indoor queue, but we just can’t help ourselves: Star Wars Hyperspace Mountain is simply our favorite roller coaster. The ride may not be the total-package-from-queue-to-exit that Rise of the Resistance is, but from dispatch to brake run, Star Wars Hyperspace Mountain is unbeatable in our eyes. The dialogue, music, visuals, thrills – it’s all there. The uphill launch was begging to be used as a jump-to-Hyperspace sequence – I won’t believe otherwise. Mid-ride scenes? Nothing but bangers. The rolling stock? Vekoma MK-1212s looking their very best in embellishments inspired by the ride’s “Columbiad Space Gun” launch tunnel, signaling a return to the original storyline in the next couple years. There are other rides (and even a coaster) that we have ranked higher on this list because we think they’re (probably) objectively better, but there’s not a coaster on Earth that reflects our tastes as enthusiasts better than this mid-90s screwball Vekoma indoor looper.
8. Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Crystal Skull – Tokyo DisneySea
Like a few rides on this list, we have the original Disneyland to thank for the “first editions” of rides that were duplicated and improved upon for other parks. Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Forbidden Eye was the most spectacular ride in the world when it opened in 1995, so its no surprise that a “clone” was issued for Tokyo DisneySea’s 2001 opening. However, each scene was either fine-tuned, partially re-imagined, or totally replaced for Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Crystal Skull, and the queue is a more traditional temple excavation than Anaheim’s seemingly endless walk to the station. In any case, both installations remain among some of Disney Imagineering’s best work.
7. Phantom Manor – Disneyland Paris
We don’t consider ourselves the most massive, die-hard Haunted Mansion fans on the block, but we need to talk about the “Wild West Haunted Mansion”, a.k.a. Disneyland Paris’ Phantom Manor. With the Anaheim and Orlando Mansions fitting in their own park-specific areas, Tokyo Disneyland resorted to awkwardly wedging their Haunted Mansion into Fantasyland. The Euro Disney project elected to give Haunted Mansion some thick, Frontierland flavor, (going as far as tying in the ride’s story in with that of the area’s other rides) and Phantom Manor was born. We want to clarify that all Haunted Mansions are good (the same can’t be said for Pirates, sadly. We’re looking at you, Magic Kingdom), but Paris’ is especially unique. Scenes you love from the original have been beautifully remastered, and new scenes will steal your heart and challenge your favorite Haunted Mansion for omnimover supremacy.
6. Radiator Springs Racers – Disney California Adventure
For all of Disneyland Resort’s spoils, only a handful of its attractions are totally unique to the resort – such is the nature of the business model. Everything that worked at Disneyland was inevitably applied to the other parks, which is why we’ve now seen so many Haunted Mansions and Pirates of the Caribbeans, among others. For the short roster of attractions that are completely unique to Disneyland Resort, dark-ride/thrill-ride heavyweight Radiator Springs Racers is the crown jewel. Even if Cars isn’t your favorite franchise, California Adventure’s Carsland is a sight to behold – full of naturalistic beauty and cheeky Americana references. Something as good as Carsland seems destined for duplication at an overseas resort (Racers’ alone could anchor a 2nd gate for Shanghai), but California Adventure can likely revel in its the exclusivity for the foreseeable future.
5. Journey to the Center of the Earth – Tokyo DisneySea
Tokyo DisneySea’s unlimited budget graced us with a cornucopia of top-shelf rides – some were improved takes on existing attractions, while others tell classic stories in a totally new way. The timing was right for Tokyo Disney to implement the state-of-the-art Test Track ride system for the centerpiece ride at Tokyo DisneySea, which was poised to debut as one of the dark ride capitals of the world. Without a major roller coaster in the plans, high octane thrills would instead be packaged inside of Mount Prometheus, home to Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth. The ride starts out innocently enough, but beautiful scenes of bioluminescent wonders grow increasingly sinister before adventurers must evacuate up and out of the active volcano for a brief moment of daylight and, believe it or not, airtime.
4. Pirates of the Caribbean – Disneyland Paris
“Classic Pirates” (not to be confused with Shanghai Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure) is, for us, the most significant point on Disney’s dark ride timeline: we would argue that no other advancement in the craft compares to the seismic leap that Pirates of the Caribbean was in 1967. Is the original Pirates at Disneyland basically perfect? Yes. Is Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland Paris somehow even better? Also yes. Paris took the original Pirates, give it a lengthy indoor/outdoor queue full of lush foliage and unique scenes, put the lift hill at the beginning – right after the drift past the obligatory fine dining restaurant – filled the ride with additional unique scenes, and optimized the ride’s pacing. It’s Pirates of the Caribbean perfected for Europe’s ferociously competitive dark ride landscape.
3. TRON Lightcycle Power Run – Shanghai Disneyland
TRON is, in a word, the best. Hyperspace in Paris is our favorite, but we think TRON is the world’s premier roller coaster experience. Nothing prepares riders for the sensory feast of this electric tour de force – from the drool-worthy rolling stock to the dazzling launch sequence to the show building of dark-ride-level scenes, we think TRON Lightcycle Power Run is the most compelling marriage of roller coasters and storytelling. Even the queue, though minimalist at times, commands attention with its preshows. We’re curious to see how this all translates to Walt Disney World; tonally, the ride is quite bleak (the penalty for losing in the Power Run is death) – will the experience be softened-up for American audiences? We’ll know for certain soon enough, although probably not as soon as we’d like.
2. Star Wars Rise of the Resistance – Disney’s Hollywood Studios & Disneyland
As major coaster enthusiasts and Vekoma super fans, we’re inclined to say Hyperspace Mountain Paris is as good as it gets – as far as actual rides go – but Rise of the Resistance is still the better overall Star Wars experience. The story is a bit laborious, but as far as traditional dark rides go, Rise occupies the current peak of dark ride technology, storytelling, and multimodal applications. There’s still one other Disney ride out there that wins in terms of sheer creativity, but by several different units of measurement Rise of the Resistance remains unequaled for now.
1. Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure – Shanghai Disneyland
Laying anchor at our top spot is, of course, Shanghai Disney’s iteration of Pirates of the Caribbean. Just like how the original Pirates of the Caribbean marveled its riders with unbelievable scenery and technology, Battle for the Sunken Treasure routinely leaves first time (and even repeat) riders with mouths agape, often verbally gasping at the impossibly adept performances of mere machinery. Without giving away any spoilers, the long-short of Shanghai Pirates is that this is exactly how you enter the world’s largest theme park market: with such an exceptional signature attraction at the helm, there’s no questions as to how Shanghai Disneyland became one of the highest-attended parks on Earth in its first calendar year.
We hope you enjoyed our ranking of Disney’s 20 best attractions – we look forward to seeing the metamorphosis of this list continue as more highly-anticipated Disney rides open in the next few years. Until next time!