What makes a great theme park ride? Is it the speed, the height, the drops? Everyone has a different idea of what qualifies a ride as the “best”, but we’ve done some fact-gathering and compiled a list which, we think, has something for everyone. Whether you like to be scared out of your wits or charmed by magical characters, find out which rides you should bother queueing for in our Top 10 Theme Park Rides.
10. Most Magical: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey (USA)
Not the fastest ride, and not even a rollercoaster, but certainly a contender for most magical theme park ride in the world. Based at the Islands of Adventure theme park in Orlando, visitors enter Hogwarts castle and walk through various rooms, faithfully recreated from the books and movies, until they reach a flying bench that whisks them away on a journey through the world of Harry Potter. Along the way are dragons, Quidditch and lots of spells, along with video projections of scenes from the movies. Riders even get their souls sucked out by Dementors, before being rescued by Harry himself. A great one for fans of the franchise or anyone who enjoys a bit of magic alongside their theme park ride.
9. Longest-Lasting: Ultimate (UK)
It must be fairly galling to the the owners of Ultimate that it’s no longer the ultimate rollercoaster in terms of length, but it was for 9 years. At a length of 7,442ft it was the longest in the world when it opened in 1991 but was eclipsed in the millennium by Steel Dragon 2000 in Japan. Still, it retains the record as the longest-lasting ride, at a staggering 7mins 34secs. It’s also said to be surrounded by beautiful woodland, although that proved to be a problem with a rogue woodland creature (a deer) stumbled onto the track in 1994, causing an accident. It can be found near Ripon, in Yorkshire, so somewhat off the tourist track, but worth visiting if you’re in the UK.
8. Tallest Flat Ride: Tower of Terror (Australia)
Found on Australia’s Gold Coast, at the Dreamworld amusement park, this ride is the 4th tallest in the world but the tallest one based on a tower. Riders board what is perhaps ironically named an “escape pod” (there is no escape) and pulled up to the top of the tower before plummeting down again. The entire experience takes 28 seconds, or just 6% of the time it takes to ride Ultimate. Opening in 1997, this ride was notable as the first one to reach 100mph and it’s still the 4th fastest in the world. It almost goes without saying that this is not one for those with a fear of heights….but if you do get stuck on it by accident, at least you know it’ll all be over quickly! It offers beautiful views but only if you look quickly and you don’t have your eyes tightly screwed up…
7. Most G-Force: Millennium Force (USA)
Opening, appropriately, in the year 2000 this set a clutch of new world records but only retains one – the most G-force used on a rollercoaster at any one time (4.5Gs). It is also one of the tallest and fastest in the world, although its neighboring ride, Top Thrill Dragster, means it’s no longer even the fastest in the park (Cedar Point in Ohio).
It is,however, very popular. It’s had a lot of industry recognition, with several wins at the Golden Ticket Awards for best steel roller coaster in the world. Its design was very innovative at the time, being the first to use a cable-lift system, and many others have followed its design in the years since. It’s widely acknowledged as a design classic, and even its engineer, Werner Stengel, has stated that its his favorite out of the 500 rollercoasters he’s engineered. When it opened, there was a 4-hour wait – 21million rides later, the wait has decreased but it remains a top draw for the park.
6. Most Anticipated: RingRacer (Germany)
Certainly the most freshly-opened on our list, there is some skepticism among Formula 1 fans over whether the RingRacer has opened at all. After all, it’s been a long and arduous labor and numerous delays have meant that the July 2013 opening date seemed for a time like an unattainable dream. For those not in the know, the RingRacer is a rollercoaster based at the racing circuit known as the Nürburgring. It’s perhaps fitting that such a tricky race circuit should give birth to a tricky rollercoaster, that opened with great promise in 2009, only to shut a few weeks later. Then an explosion further delayed things, and the rollercoaster remained out of action until now. Intended as a record -breaker, it has since been eclipsed by newer rides, with its intended 105mph looking quite pedestrian now. Only time will tell whether this rollercoaster becomes a success after such a difficult start.
5. Most Entertaining: Pirates of the Caribbean (USA)
While many theme park rides are based on movies, there aren’t many that can claim to have inspired a movie themselves. Yet this classic ride at Disneyland California spawned not only 2003’s “Pirates of the Caribbean:The Curse of the Black Pearl” but an entire franchise, starring Johnny Depp as the lovable rogue Captain Jack Sparrow, flanked by Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom. After the film’s runaway success, the ride was subtly changed to incorporate the movie characters but parts of the epic boat ride remain unchanged from the original 1967 version, as designed by Walt Disney himself. Whether he was directly responsible for the saucy pirate wenches being chased by randy pirates is unclear, but sadly those were removed in the modernizations.
4. Steepest: Takabisha (Japan)
With so many of these stats, it’s a close-run competition between which ride is the fastest, longest etc. And when it comes to the steepest category, no-one quite knows for sure. There are two contenders -the winner for the Southern Hemisphere is the Green Lantern, named after the comic and movie of the same name. It features a 120 degree drop and a G-force of 3.5Gs.
For those not comfortable with geometry, a 90 degree angle would mean straight down from horizontal. A 120 degree angle means beyond straight down. It’s impressive but there’s a 121 degree drop in Japan, at the Takabisha rollercoaster, which opened in the same year (some say it’s actually 120, hence the debate). It has 7 twists and last 112 seconds, during which time you may be able to glimpse Mount Fuji in the background. But chances are you won’t, as you cling on for dear life. In typical Japanese mind-altering style, the ride starts in total darkness before doing a 360 degree roll and then plunging down the steep drop. Takabisha means “dominant” in Japanese, and this is definitely not a rollercoaster to mess with.
3. Longest – Steel Dragon 2000 (Japan)
And there’s more Japanese action in the next entry, which stole the position of longest in the world from Ultimate when it opened in the Year 2000. You can find it at the Nagashima Spa Land, and it’s an astounding 8,133ft long. On opening, it also took the record for world’s tallest complete-circuit coaster from Millennium Force, which itself had only held the record for a few months. It closed for 3 years in 2003 after an accident caused two serious injuries, but reopened in 2006 and has been incident-free ever since.
2. Tallest – Kingda Ka (USA)
Formerly the fastest and the tallest rollercoaster in the world, it is now just the tallest, standing at an impressive 456ft – the equivalent of 45 stories. It’s found at Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey and is still the fastest rollercoaster in North America, going from 0 to 128mph in 3.5 seconds. It’s a terrifying ride, and nervous riders are psyched up by listening to “Eye of the Tiger” while queuing, presumably to make them ready to take on the “Top Hat” tower at the end of the ride. The whole thing lasts 28 seconds, but if you’re scared of heights it’s probably the most stressful half a minute of your life. The ride was closed in 2011, with the onset of Hurricane Irene and subsequently suffered some damage in the storm, re-opening in 2012. However extreme you like your rides, taking on Kingda Ka in a hurricane just doesn’t seem smart…
1. Fastest – Formula Rossa (UAE)
However impressive the rest of these stats seem, there’s really only one that matters to die-hard rollercoaster fans and that’s speed. Opening in November 2010, this Formula 1-themed ride in the United Arab Emirates broke Kingda Ka’s record, by going at speeds of up to 149mph. Acceleration to top speed takes just 5 seconds and is supposed to simulate the feeling of being in a real Formula One car. It’s part of Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi, which is heaven for all petrolheads. Even the 7,200ft track is inspired by the shape of a racing circuit (Monza, in Italy). Awe-inspiring speed, awe-inspiring views and a worthy winner of fastest rollercoaster in the world.