My Top 20 Best Dark Rides in the World

Photo: DisneyPhoto: Disney

A few months ago, The Los Angeles Times columnist dedicated to theme parks posted a Top 25 Best Dark rides in the world. Of course it wouldn’t be an online listing article if it didn’t include some divisive choices. And a lot of questions as well. Why it didn’t include hybrid dark rides like immersive water rides, free fall towers and rollercoasters? Why it didn’t feature the fantastic Spaceship Earth and Gringotts? And how is the half-baked Ratatouille ranked number 3, before Mystic Manor and best-attraction-in-the-world-Spider-Man?

Anyway, it gave me the idea of making my own, totally arbitrary ranking too. I had the chance to visit most major dark ride master theme parks except Tokyo Disney Resort. So I won’t include rides that surely should be included: Pooh’s Hunny Hunt, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Sinbad, Monster’s Inc. Ride and Go Seek.

Ok, let’s the arguing begin! Here is my Top 20 Best Dark Rides in the World, including hybrids, then make sure to let me know what would be your own ranking in the comment section!

Note: This list has been updated on July 15th 2016 to include dark rides from Shanghai Disneyland – read full review here!

Photo: Cory Disbrow

Photo: Cory Disbrow

22. Men in Black – Alien Attack

This interactive dark ride is a lot of fun, has large scaled sets and animatronics, an awesome minimalistic alien queue line and a brilliant 1964 New York World Fair architecture. Interactivity allows you to shoot at invisible targets displayed on dozens of aliens and shoot at the opponent vehicle to make them spin, puke, lose points and puke again! 


Photo: disney

Photo: disney

21. Dinosaur

Same ride system as Indiana Jones Adventure in Disneyland but very different achievement. Nasty budget cuts have literally left the second half of Disney’s Animal Kingdom action packed dark ride free of any setting, leaving you riding a jeep in complete darkness. The first half is pretty decent thought, with lush vegetation and loud, hungry dinos, and it’s a valuable option if you’re into watersports and want to pee your pants.


Photo: Disney / Guy Selga

Photo: Disney / Guy Selga

20. Universe of Energy

So you think size does not matter? So you think trackless vehicles are the theme park novelty of our era? Think again. See this large theater audience seats? Ta-daah, it’s actually multiple massive, trackless vehicles that ride through large scaled sets! Plus, it has dinosaurs animatronics and Ellen! Epcot’s larger than life homage to fossil energy is so impressive and ahead of its time it will make you love your terrible carbon footprint again.


Photo: Girlscene

Photo: Girlscene

19. Droomvlucht

This gem is located in Dutch theme park/national treasure Efteling. Here slow paced, suspended vehicles takes you for a flight right into your dreams: above floating castles, fairy forests and other mildly kitsch settings. The overall art direction has left European theme park nerds polarized for decades, but it’s certainly an unbelievable, peaceful journey that’s worth your attention.


Photo: Disney

Photo: Disney

18. Roger Rabbit Car Toon Spin

This sleeper hit has unexpected qualities: you can make your vehicle spin like Alice’s tea cups (and add vomit in the scenery), it features a lot of humor, genius tricks and special effects and the queue line is surprisingly elaborate for a mid-sized, classic style dark ride.


Photo: Universal

17. Transformers – The Ride

This one uses the same 3D projection screens and motion-based vehicles combination as best-attraction-in-the-world-Spider-Man so that’s a great start. While the storyline fails at making the rider feel involved and engaged in the story (you’re basically the spectator of giant robots fighting on every scene), this high octane experience certainly don’t let you down on thrills. It’s basic. It’s raw. It’s over the top. It’s like you’re inside Michael Bay’s head.


Photo: Don Sullivan

Photo: Don Sullivan

16. Alice in Wonderland / Peter Pan’s flight (Shanghai Disneyland)

It might sound totally weird to associate these attractions like they’re the same. They’re not. But the reason why they both made it to this list is because these two classic style dark-rides have a bunch of contemporary effects mainly made of video mapping projection. The Alice ride from Disneyland has been upgraded while Shanghai’s Peter Pan got these effects from day one. The combination of old school animatronics, black light and cutting edge media is incredibly neat and seamless. This is really promising for the future of dark rides, old and new ones.


Photo: InsideTheMagic.net

Photo: InsideTheMagic.net

15. Test Track 2

The new, modern iteration of Epcot’s automobile attraction looks neat, sharp and futuristic. It features a great use of black light, video mapping projection and a whole new take on interactivity (design your own virtual car in the queue line, and see how it would perform in real life on the attraction’s SimTrack). While I’m not exactly sure what the overall experience is supposed to be, it’s done really well and, I assume, provides a sleek preview of what Shanghai Disneyland’s Tron Lightcycle Power Run rollercoaster will look like.


Photo: Kris Van de Sande

Photo: Kris Van de Sande

14. Ratatouille – L’Aventure Totalement Toquée de Rémy

Despite it sort of fails at immersing you into a blend of physical sets and 3D screens, Ratatouille has many qualities you won’t find anywhere else: a peaceful night-time Paris atmosphere in the queuing and loading area, massive 3D domed screens, super smooth trackless vehicles, giant reproductions of everyday objects that doesn’t look cheap and a romantic fantasy-Paris area. Read my full review here.


Photo: Matthew Cooper

Photo: Matthew Cooper

13. Pirates of the Caribbean (Disneyland Anaheim)

Saying that I have a thing with water rides is a major understatement. I’m obsessed with it. Plus, the father of all pirates boat ride (rip offs) in the world has rich and detailed theming, hundreds of well maintained animatronics, a long ride time, surreal scenes thanks to fog effets between batteling pirate ships… That said, if the Paris version wasn’t constantly less good than it was on your previous ride because of DLP’s lack of upkeep, I’d choose Les Pirates des Caraïbes over the Disneyland version because it has a couple of more elaborate scenes.


Photo: Matthew Cooper

Photo: Matthew Cooper

12. Spaceship Earth 

Epcot’s massive icon is also the host of the park’s flagship attraction. Yes, a full dark ride actually fits into that giant geosphere. That alone is mind-blowing but that’s not all. This old school educational omnimover ride takes you through various key moments in the history of mankind communication until a grand and miraculous climax at the top of the sphere, into space. The feeling it provides is truly inspirational and makes you believe in the possibility of a brighter future again. Not every Transformers ride can do that.


Photo: Inside The Magic

11. TRON Lightcycle Power Run

This might be the most eye-catching and thrilling indoor rollercoaster that I’ve ever been on. When you watch TRON Legacy, all you wish is to ride the iconic Lightcycles into the dark and glowing world of the Grid (aka an inside-of-a-computer fantasy) and it’s exactly what Disney delivers to lucky Shanghai Disneyland guests. The atmosphere looks neat and exactly like the movies, there is a jaw-dropping preshow, the tension heavy original soundtrack from Daft Punk and countless theming elements inside the show building including screen projections and a clever, uncommon use of mirrors and lights. TRON is basically a modern version of the usual Space Mountain. Despite my love for everything vintage, I prefer a truly contemporary looking ride like TRON than a ride system from the 60’s that’s been updated since then but looks like 80’s visions of space fantasy. More info in my Shanghai Disneyland review.


Photo: Cory disbrow

Photo: Cory disbrow

10. The Twilight Zone – Tower of Terror (Walt Disney World)

I prefer the Pueblo-Deco style of the Paris and Anaheim versions, but the one in Orlando has a different ride system that calls for more mystery. It also has an awesome random program for the way your elevator falls down so you never know what thrills to expect. Also, the whole storyline and abandoned hotel environment is fascinating.


Photo: DisneyTouristBlog.com

Photo: DisneyTouristBlog.com

9. Phantom Manor / Haunted Mansion

All together, Disney’s classic haunted houses have so many qualities. Phantom Manor has a more mysterious, darker storyline and the most amazing soundtrack ever made for a theme park attraction. The original US versions are goofier and received amazing new effects and animatronics in recent years. It’s the quintessential haunted style dark ride, one of these initiatory rite attractions that daring children will remember forever.


Photo: Matthew Cooper

Photo: Matthew Cooper

8. Splash Mountain

First, it’s a water ride!! Besides this indisputable quality, Splash Mountain has so many differents settings, outdoor and indoor portions, a plethora of lovely animatronics, steep slides, a picture-perfect outdoor mountain theming, and Disney had the bright idea to remove all racist shit from the movie the ride is based off. Plus: Splash Mountain really gives you a run for you money: that ride is a gloriously long one!


Photo: Universal Orlando

Photo: Universal Orlando

7. Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts

Half dark ride, half rollercoaster, Gringotts seems to have a painful time getting some love from the theme park fandom. Too many screens for a dark ride, not enough trills for a rollercoaster they say. Maybe it’s because people compare it to Forbidden Journey and its more innovative ride system? While this debate *seems* obvious, I’m not sure it’s that relevant though. I think Gringotts delivers intense drama and action, and 3D media projection is mastered like no other attraction. Despite they play a less important part, physical sets are incredibly immersive (that loading station! <3 ) Also, Gringotts greatly succeeds at creating a fun, exciting ambiance among the riders of the train. Read my full review here.


Photo: Universal Orlando

Photo: Universal Orlando

6. The Amazing Adventures of Spider Man

Universal’s marquee attraction from their second gate in Orlando set a new, important trend in the industry when it opened. For the first time a dark ride attraction used media projection as the main component, supported by practical sets that play a minor, yet crucial role: making hard for the riders to realize what’s surrounding them is real (physical sets) or virtual (3D media projection). Spider-Man is the first attraction to feature the amazing technology of “image perspective shift“, also called Squinching by Universal. Nearly two decades later, media based rides are the name of the game in the theme park industry and no attraction of the genre Spider-Man created exceeded it so far at delivering such a stunning, disorienting experience.


dca

5. Radiator Springs Racers

Can mediocre movies make outstanding attractions? If they’re done right, heck yeah! (Gentle) thrills, immersive and detailed sets, well balanced use of media, amazing animatronic moves, and massive outdoor environment quickly make you forget that you didn’t like the Cars movies. The queueline down the cliff truly makes you believe you’re somewhere else and the final side by side racing cars section is so much fun. Alternatively, you can just sit on a bench in Cars Land and watch RSR cars go by for the whole afternoon, and be even more stunned after dark, when the mountain range is lit. Brilliant. Read my full review here.


Photo: CharacterCentral.net

Photo: CharacterCentral.net

4. Mystic Manor

Hong Kong Disneyland’s own iteration of the classic Haunted Mansion has everything you like: trackless vehicles, amazing architecture and theming, the cutest characters, jaw-dropping special effects, and the most brilliant and a seamless mix of physical sets and video-projection, despite it does not require 3D glasses. The ride’s climax on the two final scenes is so dramatic and intense that it gives you shivers. Mystic Manor is also one of the few recent rides of this scale that is not based on pre-existing movie content, which is refreshing these days. Read my full review here.


Photo: Orange County Register

3. Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure

Shanghai Disneyland’s headliner attraction is based off the Pirates movie franchise and greatly balances projection screen, physical theming, brilliant animatronics and mind blowing special effects. All scenes are larger than life no matter it’s just scenery or media. But the real secret weapon of POTC:BFTST is the unique ride system. Boats can spin, go faster or slower, go forward, backwards and even sideways like your boat is haunted. Also the powerful on-board audio and excellent sound design makes the whole experience feel like you’re into a movie instead of a typical boat ride where you’re more like a passive spectator. After the half baked Ratatouille, Battle for the Sunken Treasure is Disney’s first flawless attraction that heavily relies on large domed projection screens. It’s without a doubt Disney’s most ambitious and technically innovative attraction in years. Video and more details in my Shanghai Disneyland review.


Photo: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

Photo: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

2. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey

This is the most fascinating case of spectacular theming combined to a ride system so innovative that it set a new milestone for the whole industry. Universal’s guests sit on a four-seat bench that is attached on top of a multi-articulated arm, which is moving on a track. It allows never-experienced-before aerobatic movements like a true sensation of flying and 360° exploration, from traditional tangible sets and animatronics to domed projection screens. Both are thrilling in very different ways. Oh and Forbidden Journey’s queue line through Hogwarts castle is literally an amazingly detailed attraction in itself. Forbiden Journey is the modern dark ride complete package. Read my full review here.


Photo: Disney

Photo: Disney

1. Indiana Jones Adventure – Temple of the Forbidden Eye

Twenty years after it opened, it’s still the best combination of thrills and large scale, 360° immersive sets, even from the queue line. Disney’s breakthrough Enhanced Motion Vehicles (EMV) that act like a simulator on wheels plays a large role in this #1 position, but as we’ve seen on Dinosaur, an outstanding ride system is nothing without solid storytelling and serious attention to detail. With no 3D and no screen, Indiana Jones Adventure succeeds at delivering a stunning and epic experience that only screen-based rides can do these days. Not that screen-based rides are bad, but fully tangible sets make IJA more real and unique. Indy recently got some nice video projection effects though, which gives the ride a very welcome modern touch. Also noteworthy is this bumpy adventure does not compromise with comfort. Unlike Forbidden Journey, there is no risk of headache or motion sickness here. Indiana Jones Adventure is one heck of a ride that all European fans hope will ever come to Disneyland Paris, someday. Read my full review here.

So there it is: my own Top 20 best dark rides in the world. I’m sure you must be upset by some  choices, so let’s discuss! Whatever which parks you’ve visited – or not – make sure to let me know what’s your own Top 5, 10, 20 in the comment section below!

15 Comments

  1. Very interesting, even if it’s hard to rank all these fabulous dark rides! :-) Haven’t ridden all of your list, but my top 3 would be Spider-Man, Forbidden Journey and Phantom Manor.

    I’m dying to try some of these rides like Radiator Springs Racers, Indiana Jones Adventures, Mystic Manor and Journey to the Center of the Earth, among many others!

    • Le Parcorama

      Thank you François! How could I forgot to mention Phantom Manor’s incredible music score?! It’s the best soundtrack ever created for a theme park attraction in my opinion.

  2. Quite interesting, and thank you for explaining all your choices.
    Obviously, we don’t love exactly the same stuff as my top would be quite different.
    Old stuff or ride being impressive only thanks to the technology fascinate me, but I wouldn’t get them in the top (so, Universe of Energy… nope!)

    And that’s always the tricky question, but I would not qualify ToT as a DR.

    Anyway, my top would be this one but remember I’ve still not been in DL Anaheim, and not TDL. (last thing, the one in parenthesis are because I am very partial for professional reasons).

    (25 – Benno’s Great Race, Ferrari World)
    24 – Madagascar a crate adventure, Universal Singapore
    23 – Universe of Energy, Epcot
    22 – The seas with Nemo and friends, Epcot
    21 – Pharaoh’s Fury, Lotte World
    20 – Droomvlucht, Efteling
    19 – Challenge of Touthankamon, Walibi Belgium
    18 – Labyrinth of the Minotaur, Terra Mitica
    17 – Spaceship Earth, Epcot
    16 – Men In Black, Universal Orlando
    (15 – Maus au Chocolat, Phantasialand)
    14 – Test Track (new version), Epcot
    13 – Great Movie Ride, Disney Hollywood Studio
    12 – Dinosaurs, Animal Kingdom
    11 – Transformers, Universal Singapore / Orlando
    10 – Pirates at Paris
    (9 – Justice League, Six Flags Mexico)
    8 – Ratatouille, Walt Disney Studio
    (7 – Dragons Wild Shooting – Lotte World)
    6 – Mystic manor, Hong Kong Disneyland
    5 – Gringott’s, Universal Orlando
    4 – Phantom Manor
    3 – Splash Mountain, Magic Kingdom
    2 – Spiderman, Islands of Adventures
    1 – Forbidden Journey, Islands of Adventures

    So, by far the best place seems to be IOA, with a lot in EPCOT but at the end of the top…

    I’m quite surprised that GMR or The Seas ar not even in your top 20!

    • Le Parcorama

      Thanks Etienne! I’ve never been that impressed by Great Movie Ride. Despite it’s a nice tribute to classic movies, to me the vehicles seem like they don’t really belong in these environments, there’s something weird I can’t not explain properly.
      I agree The Seas with Nemo and Friends is cute and has clever tricks and special effects. I’d rank it not to far behind my #20.

    • Le Parcorama

      Salut Estelle! Ben non, pas Maus au Chocolat, ni Toy Story Mania. Il y a de beaux décors sur l’un (Maus) et une très belle montée en puissance sur l’autre (TSM) mais le principal attrait de ces attractions sont de simples jeux video de salon. On installerait les visiteurs sur un canapé dans une pièce, et on viendrait les chercher après 5 minutes de jeu que ce serait pareil. Les véhicules sont totalement obsolètes. Ca n’en fait pas moins de très belles réalisations.

  3. Maggie Simpson

    Et aucun dark-ride allemand en général ? :-O

    Histoire de faire mon lourd je distinguerai Phantom Manor d’Haunted Mansion. Mais comme toi je prendrai les 4 Pirates of the Caribbean existants comme un seul, avec les mêmes préférences que toi (pour les mêmes raisons).

    Il me manque Gringotts (pour bientôt) et les asiatiques.

    Mon top à peu près dans l’odre pour chaque type de ride. Entre parenthèses la localisation de ma version favorite. Je suis pas fan des dark-rides interactifs.

    Classiques :
    – Haunted Mansion (Walt Disney World)
    – Phantom Manor
    – Calico Mine Ride (Knott’s Berry Farm)
    – Droomvlucht
    – ET Adventure
    – Spaceship Earth
    – Alice in Wonderland

    Avec de l’eau :
    – Fata Morgana
    – Pirates of the Caribbean (Disneyland Paris)
    – Splash Mountain (Walt Disney World)
    – « it’s a small world ! » (Disneyland)
    – Valhalla (Blackpool Pleasure Beach)

    Bizarres :
    – Tower of Terror (Walt Disney World)
    – Indiana Jones Adventure (Disneyland)
    – Dinosaur
    – De Vliegende Holländer

    Nioue Générécheune :
    – Spiderman
    – Harry Potter and the forbidden Jouney
    – Transformers
    – Ratatouille

    • Le Parcorama

      Dark ride allemand? Tu penses au quel? Arthur? Bermuda Triangle? Je ne les trouve pas à la hauteur d’un top 20, même ceux du fond de mon classement.

      J’ai hésité à inclure De Vliegende Hollander, mais il est trop inégal: une très belle file et scène d’embarquement, puis pas grand chose dans la section dark ride (surtout vu qu’une lanterne sur deux est HS à l’avant des bateaux).

      Sinon toi tu classes Fata Morgana devant POTC et Splash Mountain? Inattendu. La scène finale qui se renverse est toujours sympa mais le reste a vraiment besoin d’une update je trouve.

      • Maggie Simpson

        Je pointais seulement la médiocrité générale de l’offre de dark-rides en Allemagne. Même des parcs aussi qualitatifs que Phantasialand ou EP proposent des dark-rides au mieux corrects mais souvent dégueulasses.

        Au passage je préfère le Dino-fahrt d’EP au soporifique Universe of Energy d’EPCOT. Certes ce dernier est techniquement impressionnant, mais les seuls moment sintéressants se passent sur écran soit à l’arrêt, soit pendant le pré-show.

        Et oui je place Fata Morgana assez haut. Je le trouve bien plus original et varié que POTC. L’ambiance y est plus malsaine et la musique plus recherchée. Et la scène de la fête me laisse toujours hébété. Je reconnais que Fata fait vieillot, mais ça ne me dérange pas. Un bon niveau technique me suffit si le reste est réussi.

        Après Fata, POTC et Splash se tiennnent dans un mouchoir de poche et il n’est pas une journée sans que je fredonne les musiques de ces trois rides. Plus Phantom Manor parce que quand-même voilà.

        La musique, c’est sûrement ce qui compte le plus dans un dark-ride classique. Et j’aime bien les ambiances malsaines et oppressantes comme dans les bonnes maisons hantées ou, justement, Fata Morgana.

        Je ne classe pas si bien Indiana Jones Adventure que ça parce qu’il y a une partie ultra bâclée à la fin. Mais c’est une tuerie.

  4. i have never been a fan of Indiana Jones – too fast, too jerky, too short. For me, there is still no change at the top: Pirates and Splash Mountain. They will probably stay there forever, because no projection system and no trackless nonsense will ever beat physical sets and a good old boat in water…

    • Le Parcorama

      Thanks for your comment John. I get your point, however trackless and media content technologies can do wonders when used properly. I hope that in the future those new technologies will be more balanced with practical decors and animatronics.

      • My problem with trackless systems is that imo, the “return on investment” is simply too low. Pooh at Tokyo Disneyland is reported to have cost an insane amount of money, much of which was spent on the trackless technology. I´d rather have a couple of additional scenes / rooms, because the ride experience really is not so different.

        • Le Parcorama

          In fact, trackless technology is not significantly more expensive anymore – compared to similar track based vehicle range. Not every manufacturer is Oceaneering expensive. I’d rather say that the “creative return on technology use” of trackless system is not that high: the ability of trackless vehicle to cross each other does not provide such a wow effect to me.It’s actually easy to miss that aspect of a ride.

  5. This is a great list–far better than the one by the LA Times (I’m betting the author of that article hadn’t been on many of those attractions). While I don’t agree with all of your rankings, my minor quibbles here and there are more personal preference rather than significant disagreement.

    Well done!

    • Le Parcorama

      Thanks Tom! I had the same impression about the LA Times editor.

      Feel free to share what your own ranking is though. I’m curious to know what’s your top 5 or top 10 because you’ve been on all these amazing theme parks. Why not making it a blog post on DisneytouristBlog? :)

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