From Disney parks in Florida to fantasy lands in the Netherlands, theme parks large and small compete for your hard-earned dollars each year. Not all amusement park rides are created equal, however.
Here are 25 must-do theme park attractions for 2018. Some are brand new, and some are oldies but goodies, but all will be irresistible to theme park aficionados.
1. TRON at Shanghai Disneyland
This particular Shanghai Disneyland ride is well worth the price of admission. According to the Los Angeles Times, TRON’s 62 mph speed likely makes it Disney’s fastest coaster ever.
“What makes TRON so special is, unlike most attraction rides where riders sit on a seat, TRON has a unique setup where you kneel down and assume a cycling/riding position, similar to how the actual actors rode in the movie,” said Sam Huang, owner of TopMiles.com. “While the actual ride is a bit short, nothing beats racing inside ‘The Grid’ with the wheels lit up, while dodging an exploding Light Cycle.”
Admission price: 370 Chinese yuan ($55.83) for a one-day ticket.
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2. Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure at Shanghai Disneyland
“The second mind-blowing ride [at Shanghai] is Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure,” Huang said.
The ride steers visitors through encounters with giant ocean creatures and drops them in the middle of dazzling battles on the rough seas.
“The gigantic panoramic animation screens make you feel like you’re inside a battle,” Huang said. “Like TRON, the POTC ride at Shanghai Disneyland completely changes the way that future amusement rides should be built.”
In fact, Disney filed a patent for a magnetic mechanism in the ride’s vehicles. Said Huang, the new tech lets Disney engineers manipulate the speed and position of the boats, so riders feel as though they truly are falling into an abyss.
Admission price: 370 Chinese yuan ($55.83) for a one-day ticket.
3. Haunted Mansion at Disneyland
“Considering the first Haunted Mansion opened in 1969, it is still as magical today as when it first opened,” said Scott Wolf, Disney expert and owner of the Mouse Clubhouse blog. “Disney has continuously updated the attraction as technology has improved over the years.”
The attraction, which is eerie yet gentle enough for children of all ages, features a ghost house, spooky Madame Leota and hitchhiking spirits.
“This remains my go-to attraction for people who have never visited a Disney theme park,” Wolf said.
The Haunted Mansion is particularly dazzling over the holidays at Disneyland. During the Christmas season, the classic ride features theming from Tim Burton’s 1993 film, “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”
“Haunted Mansion Holiday at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., is an attraction within an attraction,” said Nate Nelson, travel and Disney blogger and owner of DeepForestOutpost. “Everyone from Disney fans to film fans to holiday fans will be entertained and charmed by the characters and music.”
Admission price: Disneyland tickets start at $97 per day.
4. Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland
“If you are a theme park fan and have not visited Pirates of the Caribbean in Disneyland, then you are missing the single greatest theme park attraction ever built,” Nelson said.
The classic ride transports visitors to the swashbuckling golden era of high seas piracy — and it’s been wowing audiences for about half a century. In fact, Nelson believes that nothing tops the ride’s combination of pacing, music, theming and storytelling.
“Pirates of the Caribbean has been a consistent draw since opening in 1967 and was the last attraction Walt Disney helped design,” Nelson said, going so far as to call the ride “The Beatles of theme park attractions.” Riding Pirates of the Caribbean is a must-do, but there are still creative ways to save money at Disneyland.
Admission price: One-day tickets start at $97 per day.
5. Tower of Terror at Disney’s Hollywood Studios
“Tower of Terror is a favorite attraction of mine because it accomplishes what Disney does best: mixes the perfect amount of storytelling with a thrill ride,” said Greg Antonelle, chief brand officer for MickeyTravels, a Disney-specific travel agency.
Part of the ride’s charm, said Antonelle, is that cast members don’t just operate the ride, but they also participate in the storyline.
“From the second you enter the queue, you are transported to a different time and place,” he said. “Most interesting is the fact that each ride is different, since the computer generates a unique drop sequence every time you ride.”
Admission price: One-day tickets start at $99 per day.
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6. Toy Story Mania! at Disney’s Hollywood Studios
“Hollywood Studios’ Toy Story Mania! is one of the best attractions out there,” Antonelle said.
And unlike some other attractions, this ride can be enjoyed by visitors of all ages.
“It has an amazing theme and immersive technology, so you really feel like you are participating in some great carnival attractions,” Antonelle said. “It builds friendly competition with those in your vehicle with you, and it blends Disney’s animation with lots of interactive fun.”
Admission price: One-day tickets for Disney’s Hollywood Studios start at $99.
7. Splash Mountain at Magic Kingdom
“Splash Mountain is a ride that the entire family can enjoy and experience at the same time because we all fit in one log,” Antonelle said.
He went on to laud both the ride’s majestic appearance and its thrills.
“We sing along with the catchy tunes. We scream at every drop, big and small,” Antonelle said. “You feel like you are in the Deep South, running with Br’er Rabbit.”
Admission price: One-day tickets for the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World Resort start at $107. Let’s face it: Disney parks are expensive. Use these tricks to turn things a little more in your favor.
8. Wave Breaker: The Rescue Coaster at SeaWorld San Antonio
“Wave Breaker: The Rescue Coaster boasts a variety of features inspired by the reality of jet skiing across a body of water,” said Suzanne Pelisson Beasley, corporate communications manager at SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment.
Riders lean into steep, winding turns on a coaster that reaches a height of 61 feet. Most of the Wave Breaker’s 2,600-foot track soars above the water. Pelisson Beasley said riders feel as though they are flying over the park’s Ski Lake.
“The unique jet ski-style car design is the first such coaster design in North America and engages riders in a straddled seating position,” she said.
Admission price: $68 for a one-day ticket.
9. Roar-O-Saurus at Story Land, New Hampshire
“A new coaster designed and built for Story Land’s unique natural setting, Roar-O-Saurus is the only wooden roller coaster of its kind in Northern New England,” said Lauren Hawkins, marketing manager for Story Land.
The coaster rises over 40 feet and features 12 unique airtime moments during a race across 1,200 feet of track.
“Roar-O-Saurus was voted one of the 2014 top 10 new coasters in the U.S. by CNN and one of the most anticipated theme park rides by USA Today,” Hawkins said.
Admission price: Tickets start at $34.99 per day.
10. Giant Canyon Swing at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, Colorado
“We are in the unique position of having a theme park on top of a mountain, with sheer cliffs dropping down to the valley floor,” said Steve Beckley, owner of Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park.
To get the most out of the landscape, Beckley says builders perched the Giant Canyon Swing on the edge of a steep cliff.
“It swings riders out at speeds up to 50 miles per hour over Glenwood Canyon, 1,300 feet above the Colorado River,” Beckley said. “The response has been phenomenal.”
Admission price: $42 per day for adults and $37 for children.
11. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey at Universal Orlando
For Harry Potter fans, a trip to Orlando is a must. At Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, guests can step inside the Gryffindor common room, visit Dumbledore’s office, tour the Room of Requirement and even see a Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom.
These familiar landmarks are just some of the many sights that await visitors as they cruise through the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry before being lifted in the air high above the castle grounds.
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Admission price: Admission tickets start at $110 per day.
12. Blue Fire Megacoaster at Europa Park in Rust, Germany
Those courageous enough to face the highest-looping catapult coaster in Europe will be launched from zero to 62.14 mph in just 2.5 seconds.
Opened in 2009, the Blue Fire Megacoaster boasts tight turns on a terrifyingly thin track and a beautiful Icelandic-themed landscape below. Brave guests will also encounter a 360-degree corkscrew turn and four loops.
Admission price: Tickets cost 49.50 euros ($58.16) in the summer and 41 euros ($48.18) in the winter per day.
13. Frozen Ever After at Epcot
In the Frozen Ever After ride, you’ll hop aboard an old-fashioned Norwegian boat for a journey through the magical world of Arendelle. Join Anna, Elsa, Olaf, Kristoff and the rest of the “Frozen” friends for an inside look at their wintry world, including a visit to Elsa’s ice palace on the North Mountain.
The stunning audio-animatronics and blue-hued landscape are enough to make you forget you’re at an amusement park. Plus, you’ll get to hear all your favorite “Frozen” songs.
There’s at least one more great thing about Epcot: With a food court that serves alcohol, it’s the perfect theme park to visit for some grown-up fun.
14. The Demon at Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, Denmark
If you hear blood-curdling screams while visiting Tivoli Gardens, it’s likely that they’re coming from The Demon. Nearly 92 feet tall, the ride features three enormous loops for passengers to endure while dangling from their seats.
As an added bonus, riders have their photos taken at the end of the experience, so friends back home can see the terror on their faces firsthand.
Admission price: Three tickets for 75 Danish krone ($11.88) per ride, but unlimited passes are also available.
15. Furius Baco at PortAventura World, Spain
PortAventura World in Spain is home to Europe’s fastest roller coaster. A catapult coaster, Furius Baco launches riders from zero to 83.9 miles per hour in just three seconds. And it all starts when a professor’s mischievous monkey pulls the wrong lever on an experimental contraption.
During the ride, visitors plummet toward the ground, skim water, cross ditches and travel through tunnels. Plus, the floorless coaster offers spectacular views of the entire park and the surrounding landscape as you race along .53 miles of track.
Admission price: Tickets start at 47 euros ($55.42) per day.
16. The Edge at Paultons Park, U.K.
If you feel like you’re floating when you ride The Edge, don’t worry — that’s the idea.
Riders board a giant disk that whizzes across a nearly 300-foot track at 43 mph. The ride reaches a height of almost 50 feet as riders spin on the disk and swoop along the track at the same time.
Admission price: 19.95 British pounds ($26.40)
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17. Walk the Big One at Blackpool Pleasure Beach, U.K.
Think climbing the initial hill of a coaster is scary while strapped inside a ride car? Try walking up it yourself. Pleasure Beach, one of the most celebrated theme parks in Europe, takes daring visitors on an escorted trek to the 235-foot peak of The Big One, which is among the world’s tallest roller coasters.
Currently, the first date you can ride in 2018 is Feb. 14, when the park encourages guests to take a romantic — and terrifying — stroll to the summit. For an added charge, you can also enjoy a two or three-course dinner at the Blues Bar & Brasserie restaurant at the Big Blue Hotel.
Admission price: A standard ticket costs 50 British pounds ($62) per day.
18. Galactica at Alton Towers, U.K.
Visitors to Alton Towers stop being mere guests the moment they enter Galactica — they become Galactinauts. An ultra-light virtual reality headset is the Galactinaut’s entry into the future — 3016, to be exact — where they are led on adventures by Eve, an Onboard Artificial Intelligence System.
The resort’s famous flying coaster acts as the propulsion system that powers the journey through the Launch Portal, a multi-dimensional gateway that transports Galactinauts from Earth to a futuristic universe.
Admission price: 54 British pounds ($71.47) per day
19. Fairytale Forest at Efteling, Netherlands
Visitors to Efteling’s Fairytale Forest quickly realize that the magic is real as they wander through enchanted woods alongside childhood storybook characters brought to life.
On the journey, a dragon menaces passersby from his lair, while Pinocchio scurries around Geppetto’s workshop. Visitors can play games with the Wolf and the seven dwarves and watch Tom Thumb outrun an angry giant. And, of course, no enchanted forest would be complete without Hansel and Gretel trying their best to avoid becoming dinner for a hungry witch.
Admission price: Basic admission is 35.50 euros ($41.62) per day.
20. InvadR at Busch Gardens Williamsburg, Va.
If you head to Busch Gardens, beware — the Vikings are invading. Sort of. When you board InvadR, which is designed to look like a classic Viking longship crossing the rough northern seas, hold onto your helmet. You’ll drop 74 feet and reach speeds of 50 mph while crossing nine airtime hills.
Admission price: Day passes purchased at the box office are $49. Discounts vary for online purchases.
21. The Joker at Six Flags Great Adventure & Safari in Jackson, N.J.
At Six Flags New Jersey, the joke’s on you. The coaster takes you up a 90-degree, 12-story vertical climb, only to send you plummeting down a weightless fall. You’ll careen through a 4D journey of twists, turns and terror that only the Joker can produce. The I-box frame coaster features a two-tone track reminiscent of Batman’s most legendary villain.
Admission price: $56.99 for a one-day ticket.
22. Hershey Triple Tower at Hersheypark in Hershey, Pa.
Defy gravity on the Triple Tower, which is actually your choice of three towers: Hershey’s, Reese’s and Hershey’s Kisses, which stand 189 feet, 131 feet and 80 feet, respectively. If you’re a brave enough chocolate lover to challenge the first tower, you’ll experience two gravity-defying plunges from the sky to the Earth.
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Admission price: $24 for one-day tickets until January 1, 2018; $66.95 for one-day tickets during the summer.
23. Mystic Timbers at Kings Island in Mason, Ohio
Amusement Today awarded this coaster the “Best New Ride in the World” for 2017. But you’ll have to find out “what’s in the shed” for yourself when you fly along 3,265 feet of track reaching speeds of 53 mph. Standing 109 feet tall, this wooden monster takes those brave enough to ride on a full 16 airtime movements.
Admission price: $39.99 for early purchase of 2018 tickets; $67.99 if purchased at the front gate.
24. The Extraordinary Journey at Futuroscope in Poitiers, France
Few attractions in Europe can compare to the Extraordinary Journey, which propels riders, legs dangling, through an imaginary journey that makes it feel as if they’re flying across the planet. Just the pre-show, which is based on the adventures of Jules Verne, is an adventure in itself.
Admission price: Starting at 45 euros ($52.85) for a one-day ticket.
25. DC Rivals HyperCoaster at Warner Bros. Movie World, Australia
Billing itself as “the greatest theme park attraction the Southern Hemisphere has ever seen” — the tallest, longest and fastest — DC Rivals HyperCoaster reaches forces of more than 4 Gs. Riders travel .86 miles reaching speeds of 71 mph as Wonder Woman, Batman, the Joker and Catwoman all battle for supremacy.
Admission price: $74.99 Australian dollars ($56.83) for a one-day ticket.
About the Author
Andrew Lisa has been writing professionally since 2001. An award-winning writer, Andrew was formerly one of the youngest nationally distributed columnists for the largest newspaper syndicate in the country, the Gannett News Service. He worked as the business section editor for amNewYork, the most widely distributed newspaper in Manhattan, and worked as a copy editor for TheStreet.com, a financial publication in the heart of Wall Street’s investment community in New York City.