What's on your theme park bucket list?

September 4, 2018, 4:38 PM · With the passing of the Labor Day holiday in the United States, almost all kids are back in school and summer vacations are over. So many of us right now are at the farthest point in the calendar from our next big theme park trip. But if theme park fans aren't traveling to the parks, we at least are planning (or at least dreaming about) our next visit. Right?

Why not dream big? To inspire your theme park vacation planning, let's share our ultimate "bucket list" to-do attractions from theme parks around the world. These are the rides that by themselves make you want to book a trip — either to try something new or revisit a beloved favorite. Most important, these are unique experiences that you won't find cloned at other parks, though they might share individual elements or ride systems with other attractions. A "bucket list" experience isn't one that you can find just anywhere, right?

I wanted this to be a Top 10 list, but I came up only with nine rides that ticked every requirement for me: A unique, un-cloned attraction that either left me desperate to ride again or has me jealous of those who've experienced it, if I haven't been on it myself yet. These aren't necessarily my picks as the top rides in the world — mostly due to the "no clones" requirement. But they are all dear to me and, I hope, will inspire you to get out there and try something new one day. (Rides are listed from west to east, geographically.)

Studio Tour

Studio Tour
Universal Studios Hollywood

Universal's original attraction earns its place on this list for the history it welcomes you into. This isn't some studio-themed park built in a vacation resort. It's the real-life home of Universal Studios — the very backlot where Carl Laemmle shot silent films a century ago. But Universal's Studio Tour offers more than a history lesson — it's a fun ride that brings the movies to life.

Flight of Passage

Flight of Passage
Disney's Animal Kingdom

The otherworldly queue brings you into a lab that, frankly, descends into a moment of cheesiness before taking you on what might be the most transcendent experience in theme parks today.

Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts

Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts
Universal Studios Florida

The actual ride is here is just the climax to the entire experience of its Diagon Alley home. But the ride itself is a master class in "wait, how did they do that?" You might say it all feels like... magic.


An astonishing preshow moment ushers you into a delightful, family-friendly adventure in a magical castle... without any Hollywood IP. Now that's something unique!


Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi

My new favorite shooter ride brings a Looney Tunes cartoon to life, from the amazing detail in its queue through its pitch-perfect finale.

Formula Rossa
Ferrari World Abu Dhabi

The only roller coaster on my list is best when ridden in the front seat, where you can see that Ferrari F1 nose in front of you... and that all that track you'll soon be blasting across at nearly 150 mph. With an actual Formula 1 track next door, this is the closest you can come to experiencing life like Sebastian Vettel.

Mystic Manor

Mystic Manor
Hong Kong Disneyland

This masterpiece employs a variety of classic and innovative stage effects to create illusions that will baffle and amaze riders of all ages.

Pirates of the Caribbean Battle of the Sunken Treasure

Pirates of the Caribbean Battle of the Sunken Treasure
Shanghai Disneyland

Disney updates its most popular attraction franchise for the 21st century, blending digital and practical effects with a new ride system to create the most immersive Pirates adventure yet.

Journey to the Center of the Earth

Journey to the Center of the Earth
Tokyo DisneySea

The best attraction in one of the best theme parks in the world includes a breathtaking moment that will have you circling around to queue and experience it again.

What other attractions deserve a spot on this list? Please share up to 10 of our "ultimate bucket list to-do attractions" in the comments. Happy travels!

Replies (11)

September 4, 2018 at 5:32 PM

I'm going to Tokyo in April for DisneySea, and back to Dubai in 2020 for the Dubai Expo so maybe I can make a run to Warner Brothers then. I can't say there is one ride in particular but a few rides with emmersive theming and unique food/dining experiences. Im a sucker for the butterbeer and blondie ice cream at Florean Fortescues Ice-Cream parlor. Outside of that, I visited all the parks mentioned above, but Alton Towers (Nemesis), Phantasialand (Taron), Port Aventura (Shambhala) & Europa Park (everything) still remain on my list for now.

September 4, 2018 at 5:27 PM

Pooh's Honey Hunt - Tokyo Disneyland - OK, there are other Winnie the Pooh attractions out there. There are other trackless dark rides out there. But there is nothing else quite as joyful as Pooh's Honey Hunt. It's the first and still the best.

The Monster (Plantation) Mansion - Six Flags over Georgia - Proof that parks other than Universal and Disney are capable if creating engaging and enduring dark rides without external IP source material. Mizzy Scarlet has opened the doors to her flooded Mansion to Humans for visit during a big Monster Picnic since 1981. It features a wonderful theme song, a reminder of the days when the score on a dark ride was about its music, not how keen the rider's aim is.

Spaceship Earth & Living with the Land - Epcot - The last two mostly original attractions of Epcot's Future World. Yes - both have been updated and modernized since the park opened, but the experience on both is still relatively the same. They are big, grand and each provide infotainment, something Epcot is sadly moving away from.

September 4, 2018 at 5:59 PM

Escape from Gringotts absolutely blew me away. Much better than anything Disney so far although I haven’t yet been to Avatar. Disney’s best is all over the world.

September 4, 2018 at 6:29 PM

Sindbad's Storybook Voyage in DisneySea is my last meal ride. I'm in tears from start to finish. The soundtrack is so moving. It's a simple emotionally driven boat ride. The hallow Navi River Ride should take a page from this attraction.

September 5, 2018 at 9:48 AM

Tron. I'll never make it to Shanghai so I'll wait impatiently for Orlando.

September 5, 2018 at 12:08 AM

Mystic Manor
All of Disney Seas
Tron Light Cycles
Shanghai Pirates
Harry Potter Gringotts
Radiator Springs
Haunted Mansion with Nightmare Before Christmas overlay

September 5, 2018 at 1:26 AM

Too many to list, but if I had to pick ten bucket list rides, I'd say (in no particular order)...

Journey to the Center of the Earth
Mystic Manor
Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure
Shivering Timbers
Sindbad's Storybook Voyage

Intentionally excluded are attractions I already have plans to hit in 2019, namely the RMC's of Texas and several rides at Silver Dollar City.

September 5, 2018 at 6:20 AM

".................unique, un-cloned................"
is exactly what makes a real theme park great !
It's my standard towards conceptual work, also for myself.
I usually add a few more qualities : unique, un-cloned, multi senses and make-believe.

September 5, 2018 at 10:56 AM

Well, well, well...so Robert's going to visit 2 parks which are primarily coaster parks. Yay! I like two of the Texas RMC's so much that I go to SFOT and SFFT every year; in fact I didn't think there was a better hybrid than Iron Rattler until I rode Steel Vengeance. Although New Texas Giant is the only RMC makeover w/o inversions - maybe b/c it was the 1st- it's one of my favorite rides. Wonder Woman Golden Lasso Coaster, which I rode for the 1st time 2 weeks ago, was exciting enough but with both comfort and capacity issues.

September 6, 2018 at 1:23 PM

My bucket list is more oriented towards parks.
-Cedar Point
-Disney's Animal Kingdom (cross that one off the list this December)
-Universal Studios Japan
-Universal Orlando's third real theme park

I would love to see the version of POTC that Disney built in Shanghai but it will have to be built elsewhere before I make plans to go see it.

September 7, 2018 at 8:56 AM

I'm with Tim. There's not a single attraction that I'm going to travel halfway across the world to experience. However, if there's a great theme park with a number of must-do attractions and an overall solid experience (along with a surrounding region that interests me), it would be part of my bucket list. These parks would include...

Tokyo DisneySea/Tokyo Disneyland
Hong Kong Disneyland
Efteling/Europa Park
Alton Towers/Thorpe Park
Disneyland Paris/Disney Studios Paris
All the Dubai/Abu Dhabi parks

I'm not the kind of person that is going to hop on a plane just to ride the hottest new ride, and any trip that requires more than 5 hours of travel is probably going to be more than just a single theme park.

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