Our theme park enthusiasm is no secret. We love ourselves a good theme park! We caught up with expert, Sasha Bailyn to get her picks for her must-see rides and attractions. Sasha is a creative consultant and the founder of Entertainment Designer , the largest website in the entertainment design industry. She works with top designers to develop concepts and bring projects to fruition. Sasha has been quoted in InterPark Magazine, Redbook, and The Huffington Post. We figured, who would know the best theme park rides better than someone who works with the creators! Here are Sasha’s Theme Park faves!
Most Thrilling Roller Coaster: Kingda Ka (Six Flags, NJ)
You don’t know what “fast” is until you ride this coaster. It only lasts a few seconds, but at 128 miles per hour, that’s more than enough. The ride starts on a long straightaway, where you are left sitting for a few moments to contemplate the stretch of track and the towering vertical shaft in front of you. Just when the anticipation becomes unbearable, you shoot off down the straightaway, reaching 128 mph in 3.5 seconds. As you rocket up the 450 ft vertical section of track, the moisture from your eyes gets sucked out and your cheeks reverberate. At the apex of the vertical climb, the coaster lingers for a couple seconds, giving you an awesome view of the parking lot and distant buildings. Finally, the ride finishes by plummeting down a corkscrew drop.
Just to give you an idea of how fast this ride is: On one of my visits to Six Flags, NJ, it was raining. They kept closing and opening Kingda Ka as the rain started and stopped. Finally, I got on the ride just as a light drizzle had subsided, and couldn’t understand why a light drizzle had mattered. As I shot down the straightaway, there was no more rain, but the tiny moisture particles in the air pricked my face like hundreds of pins. I quickly realized why they shut the ride off in the rain!
Best Themed Coaster: it’s a tie between Revenge of the Mummy (Universal Studios, FL) and Expedition Everest (Disney’s Animal Kingdom, FL)
Revenge of the Mummy has everything a themed thrill ride should: a menacing bad guy (the mummy), pyrotechnics, great drops, and directional shifts (the ride goes backwards at one point). It’s also in the dark, which adds to the thrill factor and thematic ambience. What Revenge of the Mummy doesn’t have is the presence of a strong narrative, especially in the ride line. Expedition Everest has much higher-quality line sets and props, and overall the ride’s theme is more cohesive. This coaster, while not entirely in the dark, travels through Mt. Everest and has fun elements such as a yeti monster, the illusion of a broken track, backwards movement, and a drop that’s impressive for a Disney ride.
Best Themed “Family” Ride: Hollywood Tower of Terror (California Adventure Park, CA)
Tower of Terror redefines the “tower drop,” a ride that is usually quite mundane and found mostly at carnivals or boardwalks, and gives it new life with a seamless set and plotline. This ride’s theming is strong all the way from start to finish. Even the ride building is cohesive with the story: from a distance, Hollywood Tower of Terror actually looks like a real hotel. The ride line passes through the hotel lobby and basement, which are expertly staged and really convey the feeling of being in a long-abandoned hotel frozen in time. The theming also extends to the ride itself: as you drop in the “twilight zone elevator,” the doors of the elevator open up to reveal different floors of the eerie hotel. The elevator drops are a lot of fun and strike the right balance between being thrilling and kid-friendly.
Best Dark Ride: The Haunted Mansion (Disneyland, CA)
When it comes to the classic dark ride (a car or buggy ride through an indoor environment), I’m a fan of the old-school approach. Keep your shoot-em-up laser gun dark rides – I will always choose quality theming like the Haunted Mansion over tacked-on gamification. The Haunted Mansion’s special effects are a bit simplistic in this day and age, but they never fail to captivate me; from the lengthening elevator in the very beginning, to the candlestick-holding ghost at the end of the hallway, and the ghostly birthday party in the dining room. This ride is an ageless classic.
Most Interesting Ride Line: Indiana Jones (Disneyland, CA)
The minute you start waiting in line for this ride, you feel as if you’re part of an adventure. When I visit Disneyland, I get a Fastpass for a ride and go wait in line at Indiana Jones in the meantime because I enjoy it so much. The line starts in a tropical jungle setting with scattered explorer equipment, including a Jeep and a power generator. A bamboo bridge leads you from the jungle and into an ancient temple, where you journey through dimly-lit hallways with symbols on the walls and small vignettes of booby traps set off by unfortunate explorers years ago. By the time you get to the ride, you’re deep in the mindset of being an adventurer.
Best Wooden Coaster: GhostRider (Knott’s Berry Farm, CA)
I have high expectations for drops, thrills, and speed. When I went on GhostRider, I expected to be bored because most wood coasters aren’t that fun for me. I was completely surprised by how much fun it was! Though I have only been on GhostRider once, no other wooden coaster so far has compared (this could have to do with the fact that it’s one of the longest and tallest wooden coasters in the world). It has the speed and thrill of a steel coaster, along with lots of great drops and sudden dips. It’s also a great value for the line wait because it lasts a relatively long time.
Best Non-Ride Attraction: Disney Animation Building (California Adventure Park, CA)
I stumbled upon the Disney Animation Building by accident one day when I needed a break from the California Adventure rides, but ever since, I have made a point to visit it on purpose. Upon entering, the first thing you see is a giant room displaying huge images of classic Disney illustrations set to iconic music and sound bites. From the lobby, there are several choices of where to go. You could explore the Beast’s Library (a replica library from “Beauty and the Beast”), and take character quizzes while sitting in palatial chairs, or you could check out “Ursula’s Grotto,” where you can record your voice into classic Disney movie scenes or songs. There is also the “Animation Academy,” where you can learn to draw Disney characters, and “Turtle Talk with Crush,” where you can have a conversation with one of the best characters from the movie “Finding Nemo.”
Best Theme Park Land: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (Universal Studios Islands of Adventure, FL)
Even if you’re not a fan of Harry Potter, Wizarding World is a magical place. The snow-capped, quaint English village is full of charm, mystery, and fantasy. Unlike so many theme park lands these days, the shops and eateries actually fit seamlessly into the overall theme. A stunning replica of the Hogwarts Castle marks the entrance of the main attraction, “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey,” which is a dynamic ride that blends digital simulation with physical sets. My only complaint is that Wizarding World is not an entire theme park on its own.