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.)
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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!Tweet
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