A Valentine's Day tribute to 10 things I love most in theme parks

February 14, 2017, 12:01 AM · Happy Valentine's Day to theme park lovers all over the world. No matter to whom you might be sending flowers, candy, or cards today, if you're reading this website, you probably hold a special affection for theme parks, too. So in honor of all the love today, here are 10 things I adore in theme parks. (And I invite you to share your list in the comments, too!)

Let's start with my newest love, Bollywood Boulevard from Bollywood Parks Dubai. Paul Sierra's artistic design distills the spectacle of a Bollywood musical into a colorful street that offers more visual delights with every step. And with the wonderful Raj Mahal as the weenie at the end, Bollywood Boulevard won me over within moments of entering the park for the first time. That's what a great theme park entry ought to do.

Bollywood Boulevard

Keeping with international parks, my next-favorite theme park entryway is the approach to the Revenge of the Mummy ride at Universal Studios Singapore. Now this is how you set the scene for a thrill ride! And Singapore's Mummy delivers on this promise, with the darkest (and most wickedly entertaining) version of this ride yet.

Revenge of the Mummy

But my favorite moment in any park outside the United States happened when I walked into the Chamber of Planets in Fortress Explorations at Tokyo DisneySea. This impressive solar system model allows you to turn a handle... and make the heavens move. It's a sublime moment that demonstrates the power of great artistic design.

Chamber of Planets

Coming back closer to home, I love every moment I spend and every morsel I eat in The Three Broomsticks at Universal Studios Hollywood. My favorite quick-service theme park restaurant is your's too, as USH's Wizarding World of Harry Potter restaurant won our Theme Park Insider Award in this category last year.

The Three Broomsticks

But let me fly back to Orlando to cast spells in Universal Studios Florida's Diagon Alley — the most perfect single theme park land in the world.

Diagon Alley

And while I am in Orlando, take me to Epcot for the most perfect theme park movie ever made, Walt Disney World's Impressions de France.

Impressions de France

If you are in the park this month, be sure to check out the pop-up Animation Academy during the Festival of the Arts. I mourn the loss of this hands-on attraction at the old Disney Animation pavilion in Hollywood Studios, but never miss a chance to spend a class in the one that remains in Disney California Adventure.

Animation Academy

How many of you first heard of Theme Park Insider when you saw the sign outside Mythos Restaurant at Universal Orlando's Islands of Adventure? Our winner for Best Theme Park Restaurant from 2003-2008 continues to boast of its honors with a banner above its door, and I adore them for that.

Mythos Restaurant

But as much as I love the tastes of Mythos and The Three Broomsticks, the sight of Bollywood, the feel of the planets moving at DisneySea, and the music of Epcot's France, there is one smell that immediately makes my theme park loving heart melt. (And as crazy as this one might sound, I know many of you share this one, too.) I'll admit it, I love the unique smell inside the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.

Pirates of the Caribbean

And the final spot on this list is held for another one of my former homes, the attraction I most loved to work as a cast member at Walt Disney World. It was my favorite attraction as a child and my place where I spend so many of my favorite moments working in the parks. My dearest theme park valentine, the Tom Sawyer Island Rafts.

Tom Sawyer Island Rafts

What (or who) are your theme park valentines?

Replies (11)

February 14, 2017 at 4:25 AM · I'll just write what pops into my mind, let's see what comes out!

1- Splash Mountain, where I worked at as a cast members and still a great example of amazing storytelling, even if you have no idea what the original source is
2- Animation Academy - gotta agree with you on that one, Robert. Had the chance to do it once again at Walt Disney Studios Park and it is an amazing way to sit down, relax, learn and get a freebie
3- TRON Lightcycle Power Run - that sight, that ride. I dare anyone not to feel overwhelmed by the mere sight of it, to its amazing, detailed line, up to the ride itself. Less than a year and I miss it already
4- Cars Land - sorry Diagon Alley, but that is the truly best area in the entire world. The music and setting is on the spot, and it is home to my favourite ride, Radiator Spring Racers. Also, what about that late afternoon moment, when the lights turn on with the sound of "Sh Boom"?
5- Blues Brothers - as an adult, I've discovered the joy of getting a pint of beer at Finnegan's Bar and watching (more like dancing) to this. Best live concert, hands down
6- Hogwarts and the Forbidden Journey - another great example of amazing ride with an even more amazing building. I disagree with some opinions out there, don't think HP will get old any time so soon, and this is the main reason why
7- Blue Bayou - I've had some great meals, but the theming of Blue Bayou is stunning, and the Monte Cristo is an attraction on itself
8- Mystic Manor/Big Grizzly mountain runaway mine cars - this duo over at HK makes a trip all the way over there worth it. Close to each other, these two exclusive attractions are some of the best examples of storytelling without the need of IP
9- Spaceship Earth - sorry castles, but Epcot has the best theme park symbol of all

February 14, 2017 at 5:18 AM · Not to go off topic, but just what IS that smell inside of Pirates!? There are other boat rides but they don't have that specific smell so I can't blame it on water or animatronics.
February 14, 2017 at 6:50 AM · Me! Me! Mythos's sign was my first introduction to Theme Park Insider :-)

And you're absolutely right about the smell in Pirates!

To your wonderful list I'll add:

1. The feeling of wonder I got the first time I walked thru the Port of Entry at IOA -- the music, the detail...everything mixed for a memorable experience. And I still feel it each time I enter the park.

2. Being inside the Mexico pavilion at Epcot.

3. Any time I get to ride Haunted Mansion

February 14, 2017 at 8:42 AM · Not what I expected from a column about Valentine's Day. It should be about what's romantic about going to a theme park on Valentine's Day. Let me list the ways.

1. Enjoy a nice ice cream cone in a waffle cone and sharing it. Disneyland and California Adventure has some quite nice ice cream parlors.

2. Enjoy a romantic dinner at the Blue Bayou or other fine dining establishments.

3. Pirates of the Carribean is quite romantic. A boat ride in the dark. Why get a wench when you already have one.

4. Enjoy some red wine at California Adventure. Later ride the Little Mermaid while a little intoxicated.

5. Don't wait. Get a room at Disneyland Hotel. Then work your way there.

February 14, 2017 at 10:00 AM ·
1. Universal Orlando
2. IOA
3. WWOHP and Diagon Alley
4. Jurassic River Adventure ride
5. Hulk
6. Splash Mountain
7. Aquatica
8. BGT
9. Mickey Ice Cream Bars.
10. TPI – See what I did there... hahahaha

February 14, 2017 at 11:56 AM · 1. The feeling just after checking in for your vacation at a Theme Park resort.

2. Leaving Muggle London and seeing Diagon Alley before you.

3. A 100% relaxing lunch by the water at the Blue Bayou. Cool, quiet, calm. All cares and stresses fade away. Monte Cristo. Boats. Bliss.

4. Having Doc Ock levitate your SCOOP to the top of the Empire State Building.

5. ANIMATION ACADEMY! One of the best mementos you can get from any park. Looking at one of my drawings always calls up a lot of memories.

6. Surprisingly fun character interactions. For example, telling the Old Hag that she was shafted in the "fairest of them all contest" and watching her act all coy about it. Having a perfectly in theme Wizarding conversation in WWOHP.

7. Legoland's Miniland.

8. The surprising groundswell of pure emotion that bubbles up whenever Princess Leia advises your Star Tours vehicle.

9. Florean Fortescue's Peanut Butter and Jelly ice cream.

10. Getting the tall hitchhiker in your Doom Buggy at the Haunted Mansion finale.

February 14, 2017 at 2:25 PM · Things I love in theme parks.
1. Background music at turnstiles. Whether it's turn of the century Main Street USA tunes or famous movie scores at Universal Studios, hearing the music of the park for the first time gets me excited for the day ahead.
2. Sticking with music, the queue to the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at the former MGM Studios. A perfect mood setter for a perfect theme park ride.
3. The wand shop in Diagon Alley. An incredible immersive theme park experience, even for two then-30-something adults.
4. Five & Dime Show on Buena Vista Street. Never been so happy to wait for a pop-up show like this before. A revelation in an area of DCA full of them (Oswald meet & greet, Red Car Trolley also qualify.)
5. Men In Black. The detailed queue, the re-rideability, the World's Fair exterior. Everything.
6. Speaking of World's Fair, the Carousel of Progress. Lots of people have noted its optimism for the future -- of course, the theme song helps spell that out -- but I adore the appreciation and wonder for the world at that time as well.
7. Disneyland's Pirates of the Caribbean. Probably don't have to sell this one.
8. Hersheypark's Chocolate World. It's changed a lot of the years, but I always enjoy every minute on that ride.
9. Epcot Food & Wine Festival. Aside from the enjoyable experience of eating and drinking around World Showcase, it literally has brought our families together for vacations we otherwise would not take together.
10. The Electrical Water Pageant. It's almost like a theme park Easter egg. But when you know it exists, it brings me irrational joy.
February 14, 2017 at 2:52 PM · 1) Eating breakfast the very first morning of a week long vacation in WDW (or US), & knowing you have all week to enjoy.
2) Drinking a margarita at Mexico's cantina, sitting by the lake and relaxing.
3) Eating at the Sci fi dine in, & watching those B movie trailers.
4) Riding the Haunted Mansion several times.
5) The burnt smell in Spaceship earth's Rome scene.
6) Shopping in Indiana Jones Adventure Outpost.
7) Walking into WWoHP and hearing the music.
8) A glass of Pinot Noir in the Ale & compass after a long day.
9) Feeling the cool air conditioning in Pirates of the Caribbean
(and the smell) on a hot day.
10) The France pavilion at night.
I actually thought about you Robert when we rode the Tom Sawyer rafts last month, I wondered how long ago it was when you worked there, Ha!

February 14, 2017 at 3:02 PM · Oh damn, how did Sci Fi Dine In not make my Top 10? Call it a Top 11.
February 14, 2017 at 6:02 PM · 1. Walking into the Haunted Mansion
2. Going through Hogwarts
3. Butterbeer!
4. The music in the areas in the theme parks
5. World Showcase
6. Seeing the dragon breathe fire
7. The first time you experience a new thrill ride
8. The food at any Disney sit down restaurant
9. Space Mountain
10. The intense feeling of joy I will get when they rip out Stitch and put the Alien back in where he belongs
February 15, 2017 at 4:29 AM · All of the list's above plus walking in to any Theme park in the morning right after a summer rain. The smell of blacktop on a hot day as you walk from the parking lot. And last but not least the view from the Beast's first hill (all those trees) a sea of green.

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