My Top 20 Disney & Universal Themed Rides

Edited: December 16, 2014, 2:17 PM

I put this together simply because I like lists, which should put me in good company here, and I have been fortunate in the number of Disney and Universal parks I've visited. The only ones I haven't been to are the two Paris Disney parks (despite having been to Paris...) and the two Universal parks outside America (Japan and Singapore). In addition, I have been RECENTLY to all these parks. August 2013 for the California Disney parks, which allowed me to check out Radiator Springs Racers. March of this year for Hong Kong Disneyland (Mystic Manor!), April of this year for the two Tokyo Disney parks, and I JUST got back from tagging along to Tampa on my girlfriend's business trip during which I drove over to Orlando specifically to hit both Universal parks again.

As for the Florida Disney parks, I have been at least ten times in my life, the last trip being in 2012 (so I haven't experienced the Seven Dwarves Mine Train or the “Be Our Guest” restaurant). One thing I have done that perhaps not many others have is ride Expedition Everest in 2007 when the Yeti was fully functional. If he still was, that's a Top 5 ride. In fact, that Disney trip in 2007 is what got me back to an appreciation for all this stuff as an adult. I went along sort of begrudgingly, and ended up loving the experience. My #1 ride at that time, across all four Florida Disney parks and both Universal parks? Expedition Everest. That is how crucial the yeti is to the ride...he's the climax, the pinnacle of the whole thing. He was incredible. I rode the thing six times. I've ridden it at least five times since then and my disappointment can't be put into any words that Robert wouldn't be forced to axe in a keystroke or two...

Anyway, moving on...these are just my opinions and some rides can't be included (Ratatouille in Paris is out simply because I haven't been on it). Several don't make the cut intentionally because I just don't think they're Top 20 quality anymore, if they ever were (Star Tours: The Adventures Continue, The Simpsons Ride, Space Mountain isn't really themed enough for me, E.T. Adventure, etc.) Unfortunately, I have to start the list with a tie. I truly can't decide between these two...


1. (tie) JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (Tokyo DisneySea) & MYSTIC MANOR (Hong Kong Disneyland)

LOVE these two rides so much. Journey has the thrilling portion near the end, wonderful “dark ride” segments, that super awesome Lava Monster audio-animatronic, and it happens to take place within the greatest centerpiece of any Disney park (Mount Prometheus). In some ways though, Mystic Manor is the most perfect ride I've ever seen. It has, hands down, the most baffling special effects of any ride I've experienced. I have absolutely no idea how much of it was done, the animatronics and screens mesh so flawlessly. The only room with obvious screens is the room in which the climax takes place. It really makes a lot of Universal stuff and other Disney stuff look bad in that respect. For example, in Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, those awful random screens where Hermione's head appears. Not convincing at all. Ditto for the overly bright screens in Revenge of the Mummy, when you can SEE the screens the illusion is broken. Even the latest rides (Gringott's and Transformers) are bigger offenders in this respect than Mystic Manor. I just love this ride. Awesome original story, setting, queue, AA's, music, special effects...it's got everything.


3. HARRY POTTER AND THE FORBIDDEN JOURNEY (Universal's Islands of Adventure)

I know I just got done bashing the Hermione “head screens”. I could also ridicule the first transition to a physical set, as your feet leave the ground a terrible screen is seen (above what is basically a hole in the wall that appears to lead back into a maintenance area). But heck, this ride is awesome. There's just nothing else like it in the world. The KUKA arm “benches” provide a ride experience unlike any other, and I absolutely love the combination of screens, physical sets, and AA's. I don't give a damn that the story is a hodgepodge of highlights, I have too much fun on this ride to care. Also, let's not forget the brilliant setting that feeds right into this ride. Hogsmeade, Hogwarts, the queue inside the castle...it all adds up to MAGIC.


4. HAUNTED MANSION (Magic Kingdom version)

One of the most detailed and creative rides ever made, featuring special effects that continue to amaze, especially after the 2007 refurbishment. The Tokyo Disneyland version is VERY close here, and is in a better state of repair than any other Haunted Mansion I've seen. The only thing putting the Florida version at the top is the refurbishment which California and Japan didn't get.


5. THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF SPIDER-MAN (Universal's Islands of Adventure)

Still the best ride of its type, in my opinion. I love that they use more physical props here and real fire effects. The 2012 upgrades were wonderful as well, allowing the ride to stay fresh. This was my #2 back in 2007, despite the CG looking dated even then (the upgrades solved all that!)


6. REVENGE OF THE MUMMY (Universal Studios Orlando)

I can not stress enough that this high ranking is ONLY for the Mummy ride in Orlando, not that joke version in Los Angeles. This version has it all: a dark ride portion with real fire effects, an animatronic Imhotep (that I could swear seems a lot less awesome than it did back in 2007), a very cool launch into a Rockin' Roller Coaster style ride with terrific airtime, then a faux ending with another terrific real fire effect and a final rollercoaster portion. If I'm being picky they need to make the screens mesh better in a future refurbishment (the scarab beetle scene is especially ridiculous), and they should do something to make the static undead warriors move a little in the treasure room. Overall though, it's a heck of a ride. My group rode this about eight times in 2012 alone, and I just rode it three more times this past weekend.


7. INDIANA JONES ADVENTURE (Tokyo DisneySea version)

Please understand, the Indiana Jones in Anaheim is great too (I actually rode that even back in 1995 when it was new). I give this one the edge because of a few different effects (including a super cool fireball) and the superior maintenance in Tokyo that ensures all those fancy effects are ALWAYS WORKING. It's a great adventure ride with a nice queue, I rode it several times back in April.


8. TOWER OF TERROR (Disney's Hollywood Studios version for ride experience, Tokyo DisneySea version for story and setting)

I've always loved Tower of Terror in all its forms. The Tokyo version is probably my overall favorite (I love the way it ties in with Mystic Manor too!), but the ride portion is really best in Florida where the drop sequence is random, a bit more intense, and the elevator moves out of the elevator shaft and through the fourth dimension.


9. POOH'S HUNNY HUNT (Tokyo Disneyland)

A delightful trackless ride (the forebear of Mystic Manor) that really makes the other Disney Winnie the Pooh rides look like...Poo Rides.


10. SINBAD'S STORYBOOK VOYAGE (Tokyo DisneySea)

Another “greatest ride of its type” experience for me. I think it tops Pirates of the Caribbean, It's a Small World, and even Splash Mountain. The AA's are numerous and incredibly expressive. The Alan Menken score is wonderful. It's a long, relaxing, and rewarding journey.


11. SPLASH MOUNTAIN (Tokyo Disneyland version)

Still wonderful all these years later. Why does Tokyo's version win? Again it comes down to upkeep. Everything still looks new, but the same can not be said for the others (I noticed moss or mold growing on old AA's sitting near the water in Orlando, for example). Sure, they all get the job done and you might as well consider them all in this spot on my rankings. I just give Tokyo the edge here.


12. RADIATOR SPRINGS RACERS (Disney's California Adventure)

Incredible mountain scenery, some of the best AA's the world has ever seen, and a somewhat exciting racing portion at the end. It's a great ride indeed, one I would ride multiple times ANYTIME. I wouldn't rank it here if it wasn't a wonderful experience, it's just...not as wonderful as those above it. I think Journey to the Center of the Earth provides a far greater experience using the same ride system.


13. HARRY POTTER AND THE ESCAPE FROM GRINGOTTS (Universal Studios Orlando)

First of all, Diagon Alley is the only themed area I've seen anywhere that stands toe to toe with the level of theming at Tokyo DisneySea. It's unreal, topping even Hogsmeade next door. Walking into Gringott's Bank the magic continues. The queue is tremendous, the AA's are jaw dropping, and the elevator taking you to the vault reminded me of Journey to the Center of the Earth. Even the storyline of the ride makes perfect sense, which can not be said about Forbidden Journey! Unfortunately the ride just isn't Top 10 quality. I rode it three times this past Saturday and while I did appreciate it more during the second and third ride, it's just not as mindblowing as Forbidden Journey. It's like a far, far too tame version of The Mummy, with screen after screen of 3D effects a la Transformers. There are a few physical sets, but how incredible can stone walls and steel tracks be? I overheard no fewer than three people on the day I was there making negative comments about it. “I didn't like the new Harry Potter ride, the other one was much better.” The closest to my own impression following my FIRST ride came from a man in the row in front of me when he said, “That's it?” While I am still ranking this high and I came to appreciate it more as the day wore on, all things considered I feel that the ride sort of lets down Diagon Alley and the elaborate Gringotts queue. That was not the case, in my opinion, with Forbidden Journey, Hogsmeade, and Hogwarts.


14. EXPEDITION EVEREST (Disney's Animal Kingdom)

Maybe it's still here just for the nostalgia of what it once was... It's still kinda fun to ride, but it's so much more normal...perhaps even AVERAGE without the yeti. I'll always be grateful that it revived my love of theme parks back when the yeti was roarin' and lungin' properly. This is Top 4 or 5 RIGHT NOW if the yeti was working again.


15. PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN (Disneyland version)

We all know the Disneyland version beats the Magic Kingdom version. Easy call. I have a sneaking suspicion the Tokyo Disneyland version would be just as good as the one in Anaheim, but that was one of the closures during my April visit (the Tokyo parks always have something closed on any given visit, it's the trade-off for having everything working properly all the time!). Anyway, Pirates is a true classic. What more needs to be said?


16. MEN IN BLACK: ALIEN ATTACK (Universal Studios Orlando)

The best ride of its type, in this case a “shooter” ride. The only thing I don't like about this great ride is that it's not in a place where maintenance goes in and refreshes it every year, as far as I can tell. It would be even better if the targets were all RELIABLY working and counting properly in your point tally. Having said that, the ride would be very well done even without the score keeping, so it all works out in the end.


17. MONSTERS INC. RIDE AND GO SEEK! (Tokyo Disneyland)

Another "shooter" (using flashlights) but this one doesn't keep score. Some of the best AA's in a ride of this type, it makes the Disney's California Adventure Monsters Inc. ride look downright terrible by comparison!


18. TRANSFORMERS (any of them)

It's a fun ride, it's just not in the same league as The Adventures of Spider-Man. Fewer physical sets, no fire, screens that seem a little more obvious to me, etc. And quite frankly, it's not DIFFERENT enough. The ride follows almost the exact same pattern as Spider-man, complete with a big plummet and last second rescue at the end.


19. BIG THUNDER MOUNTAIN RAILROAD (any of them)

Tokyo's version is the freshest on my mind, but they are all pretty darn fun and have the detailed Western theme. EDIT: I have NOT seen the new updates on this ride in Anaheim. Apparently, they are awesome and may make that version the definitive Big Thunder Mountain ride. I hope to ride it very soon!


20. JURASSIC PARK RIVER ADVENTURE (any of them)

I was close to putting Hong Kong Disneyland's Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars here, but since I just mentioned Big Thunder Mountain... I went ahead and chose Jurassic Park, even though I am searching my brain right now for a better ride I may have forgotten. It's certainly not the most exciting selection (hence, 20th), and it feels like they could have done quite a bit more with it. But for a solid dino-themed boat ride with a great drop at the end, and the huge T-Rex...it makes the list. Just barely.

Replies (8)

December 16, 2014, 10:34 AM

Nice list - you spent some time on this..
Good effort..

December 16, 2014, 11:29 AM

In my opinion, Radiator Springs Racers should be in the top 5, but that's just me

December 16, 2014, 12:53 PM

Solid, through and through. Thanks for posting. I'll even forgive your omission of the Tokyo Tom Sawyer Island ;^).

I've gotta say, though, that the new interior scene on Thunder in Anaheim really pushes that version ahead of the other Thunder Mountains in my book. That's just great work.

December 16, 2014, 1:10 PM

Thanks for the feedback guys!

Robert, I haven't seen the new interior of Thunder in Anaheim. Did that come after August 2013? I wasn't even aware of it. Though, come to think of it, I believe Thunder may have been down when I was there last year. Anyway, that's really cool, I need to check it out. I'm in Texas so, sorta "between" the two U.S. parks. :-)

December 16, 2014, 3:27 PM

Yeah, Thunder was down for nearly a year while they rebuilt a good portion of the ride, including the installation of the new special effects on the "C" lift. It reopened last spring.

Edited: December 17, 2014, 3:41 AM

You definitely spent some time on this list, and it's much appreciated. I have never heard a bad thing about DisneySea, and I can't wait to go!!! I have no first plans to do so, but Journey to the Center of the Earth sounds incredible, and the theming, dedication, and passion of the Japanese Disney parks appear head and shoulders better than their American brethren. Plus, I admit I'm a big Duffy fan, and he's huge over there.

I can certainly vouch for your high praise of Mystic Manor, and I am really psyched to check out Ratatouille for myself as well.

Great list! It was a pleasure to read.

December 17, 2014, 3:03 AM

great read, thanks for posting!

December 17, 2014, 3:24 PM

Gabriel, the only bad things I've heard about DisneySea or Tokyo Disneyland involve the crowds. I've seen reviews where people complain about 3+ hour wait times on all the rides, the "misery" this caused them, and how they are "NEVER going back!". It drives me mad though because #1 there's a REASON the parks are so popular and #2 I feel people should do a little research on the best times to go!

The Tokyo park websites are all kinds of helpful in this respect. I chose a period in April that intentionally fell between the long Japanese spring break AND Golden Week. It shows as either Low or Moderate season on their website, so we were also able to book rooms at the Tokyo Disneyland Hotel (2 nights) and Tokyo DisneySea MiraCosta Hotel (2 nights) at reduced rates.

Furthermore, I checked the maintenance schedule to make sure that both Journey to the Center of the Earth and Pooh's Hunny Hunt would be running when I was there. We were very fortunate that the only things we missed were Jungle Cruise, Pirates, and Aquatopia...and I knew we would miss those about six months in advance!

Let me say, with a little research and proper planning, Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea are a complete joy. The parks were lively, all the Cast Members brought their A-Game, the Easter decorations were out as well as the Easter parade, and yet...we never felt packed like sardines and frankly we never waited longer than 30 minutes for a ride! We did use Fast Pass to our advantage, but we were walking on several rides (Indiana Jones, Sinbad's Storybook Voyage, etc.) as often as we wanted. On the fourth day we saw Toy Story Midway Mania get up to an hour wait and to our group that looked like absolute HELL compared to the rest of our Tokyo Disney experience!

I've noticed a correlation (not proven, of course!) between people loving these parks beyond all others or acting like they are nothing special depending entirely on WHEN THEY VISITED. I'll be honest...if I felt like a sardine and had to deal with consistent 3 hour waits, I might have a different opinion as well. I wasn't willing to let such amazing parks be ruined for us, so I did a little thing called RESEARCH. :-)

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