10. Star Wars Hyperspace Mountain – Disneyland Paris
We’d like to extend an olive branch to those of you who are frustrated (or even furious) with the Star Wars overlay that we (as Star Wars fans) so love on Disneyland Paris’ Space Mountain. Obviously there’s the matter of clashing themes and an ugly queue (we dream of getting back the windows and illuminated show scenes of Mission 1), but we just can’t help ourselves: Star Wars Hyperspace Mountain is simply the best Star Wars ride out there, despite its shortcomings. The ride may not be a total-package-from-queue-to-exit like more modern themed experiences, but from dispatch to brake run, Star Wars Hyperspace Mountain has the game locked up. The dialogue, music, visuals, thrills – they’re all there. The launch was practically born to be a jump to Hyperspace – I won’t believe otherwise. The projection mapping of exploding ships on repurposed planets hugged by the corkscrew? Mind-blowing every time. The rolling stock? Our beloved Vekoma MK-1212s looking their very best in embellishments taken directly from the ride’s Columbiad cannon, no doubt foreshadowing a return to a Jules Verne storyline in the next couple years. As much as we love Hyperspace, we’re eager for the ride’s next phase of life, which will hopefully include a return of the ride’s true aesthetic and storytelling – and from there you can bet on an even higher placement in our Disney lists.
9. Mystic Manor – Hong Kong Disneyland
A testament to how well Disney handles rides of the spooky/supernatural variety, Mystic Manor is just one of the two Manor/Mansion rides in our Top 10. In a conscientious move, Disney observed the cultural differences between The West’s relationship with ghosts/the dead and China’s, which lead to a from-scratch experience that would take the place of Haunted Mansion at Hong Kong Disneyland. Instead of skeletons and ghosts, Mystic Manor explores a world of spirits and folklore, wherein a magical music box turns inanimate objects sentient – with delightful and hair-raising results. Arguably still the best use of Disney’s trackless dark ride system, Mystic Manor quickly became the envy of the patrons of Disney’s US-parks, who yearned for both a ride of local-positioning-system variety, as well as a ride with an original theme unrelated to existing intellectual properties. However, thanks to that embargo with Hong Kong’s government, Henry Mystic, Albert the Monkey, and all of Mystic Manor‘s other inhabitants and artifacts will remain a unique asset to Hong Kong Disneyland for the foreseeable future.
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 at other parks and made better than the original. Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Forbidden Eye was the greatest achievement in dark ride execution when it opened in 1995, so its no surprise that a clone was issued for Tokyo Disney Resort’s pie-in-the-sky, money-isn’t-an-issue second gate, Tokyo DisneySea. Anything that saw slight faltering in the Anaheim version was addressed in Tokyo, specifically troublesome or inefficient effects (the now-dormant “three pathways” scene was phased out, and the fire effects were also omitted – probably due to having the very fire-centric Journey to the Center of the Earth one area over), and the addition of the “smoke ring scene” where Anaheim’s ride was just a dark corridor due to budget constraints. This cleaned-up Indiana Jones Adventure, here located in the Temple of the Crystal Skull, has some other tricks up its sleeve for anyone familiar with the California original – perhaps the most memorable being no mile-long walk to the station from Adventureland.
7. Phantom Manor – Disneyland Paris
We don’t consider ourselves the most massive, die-hard Haunted Mansion fans on the block (though we never pass up a ride on Magic Kingdom’s iteration if the line is short), but we need to talk about the Wild West Haunted Mansion: Phantom Manor. With the Anaheim and Orlando Mansions fitting in their own park-specific areas, Tokyo Disneyland resorted to wedging their Haunted Mansion into Fantasyland, which, to be brief, didn’t really work. The Euro Disney project, in its infinite wisdom (we mean that genuinely in this case, but facetiously in other cases. Seven hotels for a one-gate resort? Seriously?) elected to give Haunted Mansion some thick, Frontierland flavor, and even went as far as tying in the ride’s story with that of the area’s other signature ride, Big Thunder Mountain. 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’ really leaves an impression – while most of the ride is just a high-budget, sepia-flavored revisit of Mansions before it, Phantom Manor really shines in its final moments. Instead of the iconic graveyard scene at the end of each Haunted Mansion, Disneyland Paris took a risk with their one-of-a-kind “Ghost Town” finale, which depicts the residents of Frontierland as ghosts living their best after-lives in what’s left of their dry-cracked withering goldrush town. The risk paid off, and the scene remains of the most unique and detailed sequences on any Disney ride.
6. Radiator Springs Racers – Disney California Adventure
Nothing would be “too good” when it came to fixing the very broken Disney’s California Adventure. Too much compromise, too many budget cuts – there was a line, Disney crossed it, and it was no secret. The only way to undo the “brand withdrawal” ushered in by California Adventure would be to throw some serious money at the problem and set the imagineers loose – budgets be damned. Good things came to those who waited, and after a decade of troubled life on the other side of Disneyland’s titanic shadow, California Adventure would finally be a force to be reckoned with: we of course speak squarely to Carsland and its crown jewel, Radiator Springs Racers. Reports that the duel-track incarnation of Test Track would be the most expensive ride ever built was a good start – but how would that money be spent? To the delight and relief of those who’d grown accustomed to the disappointments of California Adventure, Radiator Springs Racers gave the park a superb dark ride experience followed by a radiant, high-speed sequence outdoors – the area’s rock work building depth and a sense of envelopment not yet seen in Anaheim’s 2nd gate. The park was saved, and from there the work was cut out for Disney to make sure everything in California Adventure was elevated to Carsland standards.
5. Pirates of the Caribbean – Disneyland Paris
“Classic” Pirates of the Caribbean (not to be confused with Shanghai Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure) of course is the definition of Top 5 material, so imagine our surprise when we realized it was just *barely* in our own Top 5 for Disney rides – someday, it may even get squeezed out. For now and forever, though, we will keep singing the praises of this unparalleled slam-dunk of a classic flume ride, especially Disneyland Paris’, for which this placement is truly for. Is the original Pirates at Disneyland basically perfect? Yes. Is Pirates in Paris somehow even better? Also yes. For those unfamiliar, take 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 Blue Bayou (or in Paris’ case, Captain Jack’s Restaurant des Pirates), fill the ride with MORE scenes than any other Pirates, relocate the drops so they’re evenly spaced out along the ride, and cover the ride in an extra layer of pixie-polish. Now you have Pirates of the Caribbean fit for the French.
4. Journey to the Center of the Earth – Tokyo DisneySea
Tokyo DisneySea’s unlimited budget and immense Imagineering fortitude graced us with a cornucopia of top-shelf rides: some were improved takes on existing attractions, while others tell entirely new stories for a Disney ride. 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, however, 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 more and more sinister before an unspeakably terrifying lava monster chases adventurers up and out of the active volcano for a brief moment of daylight and, believe it or not, airtime (Yes, on a Disney ride. Airtime).
3. TRON Lightcycle Power Run – Shanghai Disneyland
TRON is, in a word, the favorite. It is our sentimental and practical roller coaster #1. Nothing prepares riders for the sensory feast of this electric tour de force – from the launch and outdoor canopy to its show building of dark-ride-level scenes and events, TRON Lightcycle Power Run is the purest marriage of roller coasters and storytelling. Even the queue, though minimalist at times, sticks the landing with its pre-ride explanations and demonstrations of the matters at hand. We’re curious to see how this all translates to Walt Disney World; a sense of danger and seriousness surrounds the ride (the penalty for losing in the Power Run is death, after all) – 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
I know we said earlier that Star Wars Hyperspace Mountain at Disneyland Paris is the best Star Wars ride out there. We mean that. However, when it comes to the complete package, there’s no arguing that Star Wars Rise of the Resistance is the best overall Star Wars experience out there. As major coaster enthusiasts and Vekoma fans, we’re inclined to say that a white-knuckle Star Wars launched Vekoma looper is as good as it gets – as far as actual rides go – but Rise of the Resistance is more than a ride. Shortcomings include inconsistent operations, crazy rings of fire through which guests jump to claim a boarding pass and get in line, and of course the fatigue and continuity errors that we’ve reached with the sequel trilogy. Nevertheless, Rise of the Resistance, from its pre-shows and pre-ride sequences, to its clever use of multiple ride mediums simultaneously to tell an elaborate (albeit convoluted) story, are nothing if not dazzling, and about as good as anyone with reasonable expectations could’ve hoped for.
1. Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure – Shanghai Disneyland
Laying anchor at our top spot on our list is, of course, Shanghai Disney’s iteration of Pirates of the Caribbean. A mistake we made on our last Disney rides list was only including Shanghai’s version of Pirates, despite similarities between this and the “classic” Pirates rides being nothing more than a name, a theme, and some easter eggs. 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, or even verbally gasping at the impossible 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.