Theme Park Ranger
11:23 AM EDT, June 9, 2011
Now that there's a lull in our grand openings for theme park attractions, it's a good time to update my list of Top 50 attractions at Orlando's theme parks. It's a project I haven't updated since Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened, yikes, almost a year ago. Shame on me.
It's a purely subjective exercise, no science was used for this. And I didn't look at the old list until I had made a run at the update, which resulted in some rides and shows moving up my pecking order and some dropping off entirely. Today, they seem played out.
The top 10, which I'll write about here, had a minor shake-up. Blame it on a mood and the arrival of Harry. A common thread near the top, I've noticed, is that those attractions have the power to make me feel like I'm somewhere else. It's not the best marketing slogan: "Come here and feel like you're elsewhere."
To double-check my work, I gave it this sniff test: Would I rather experience this attraction or the one directly ranked above it? It falls in place that way. If you want to see the entire Top 50, go to OrlandoSentinel.com/attractions.
10. Dragon Challenge, Islands of Adventure. This double coaster was known as Dueling Dragons until it was repurposed for Wizarding World. The transformation ended up making its castle-based queue less appealing, especially compared to nearby Hogwarts, but the ride remains a thriller. The two tracks are intertwined, making for a series of near-collisions. If you sit and watch from the ground, you'll hear near-constant shrieking from the passengers. That's a good sign.
9. "Festival of the Lion King," Disney's Animal Kingdom. There are several worthy stage shows to pick from in the Disney parks, but "Lion King" stands out for sheer bulk: puppetry, outstanding singers, costumed dancers, tumblers, aerial acts, fire twirlers, fun audience participation and enough "wimeoweh" to keep guests humming the rest of the day. A friend recently turned up his nose at the show because it was "too hot." Just in case he's not the last to know: It's been air-conditioned for years now.
8. Soarin,' Epcot. Somehow this big-screen flyover of California is smooth and overstimulating at the same time. I try to relax and take it all in, from the smell of orange blossoms to the approach toward Disneyland's little castle. The more active scenes give me If You Had Wings flashbacks.
7. Kraken, SeaWorld Orlando. In some ways, it's a standard roller coaster but hits the mark perfectly in several aspects. It has just enough verve and inversion for just long enough to create a "wow!" factor.
6. Toy Story Mania, Disney's Hollywood Studios. It's like a king-size video game you want to play over and over. If only that didn't require getting back in its almost-always-too-long queue.
5. Manta, SeaWorld Orlando. This is still the most distinctive roller coaster experience in town, taking off in Superman position before climbing the dramatic lift hill only to head down headfirst. I can only cope with the G's in the loop because, intellectually, the pull on my head and cheeks will last mere seconds. From there, it's just a fantastic glide.
4. Haunted Mansion, Magic Kingdom. It's a Disney classic not based on a classic Disney film. Recent enhancements to the queue — more graves, more story — and improvement to the hitchhiking ghost effect at ride's end serve to cement its legacy.
3. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Islands of Adventure. You can argue that this is the best ride in town. I can argue that the technology in the ride vehicle is amazing, as is the Quidditch scene where passengers fly along, much as folks imagined when that element was announced. But to me it lacks that final, pleasing punch that we get from a certain nearby web master below. (We can probably agree on Forbidden Journey's queue being the best in the land, can't we?)
2. Tower of Terror, Disney's Hollywood Studios. This attraction stays true to its theme from entrance to exit. Heck, you probably get the vibe in the parking lot. It's a great shared terror, and the unpredictability of the drop sequences keeps guests on edge.
1. Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, Islands of Adventure. Here's what's amazing: A 12-year-old ride that still dominates with 3-D effects and the most exhilarating and realistic freefall around. And kudos to Universal Orlando for its plans for digital enhancements that will arrive next year.
View the full top 50 in our photo gallery.
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