Don’t get me wrong, I love the thrill of a rollercoaster as much as the next person. But when it comes down to the nitty gritty of why I love theme parks so much, I’m all about the dark rides.
Although coasters can absolutely tell stories (Expedition Everest in Disney’s Animal Kingdom jumps to mind) they just can’t do it as well as the good old dark ride. I don’t know, I guess they speak to the writer in me.
I love that feeling of boarding a ride not know what the heck you’re about to experience. Of being absolutely enchanted by the world that’s been created inside a big old warehouse. So today I thought I’d share my top 10 unmissable theme park dark rides.
I found it really hard to choose a favourite, so these are in no particular order.
Toy Story Mania, Disney’s Hollywood Studios
I’ll never forget the first time I rode this attraction. My mum and I had to use the single rider line because the queue was so long and all the fast passes had run out. My mind was blown, I’d never been on anything like it. I adored it then and I still adore it now.
This is an interactive 4-D ride where you board spinning vehicles to take part in several mini classic carnival style games with some of the best Toy Story characters joining you along the way.
This ride isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but I just find it so bloody fun. I love that it’s so interactive and that the games are different as you journey through each section which keeps it feeling fresh. It isn’t the best ride on this list but it is my favourite ride in Toy Story Land and it deserves its spot in my top 10.
Wallace and Gromit’s Thrill-O-Matic, Blackpool Pleasure Beach
I couldn’t write a post about unmissable dark rides without discussing Wallace and Gromit’s Thrill-O-Matic at Blackpool Pleasure Beach.
This ride has so much going for it. Firstly, the ride vehicle is a giant slipper which is just flipping awesome. Secondly, Wallace and Gromit are such iconic characters that any ride telling their story would be a straight-up classic.
I have a deep level of nostalgia for Wallace and Gromit thanks to my late grandad so I always feel connected to him when I hop on this ride. It’s such a quintessentially British franchise so this ride is perfectly placed in Blackpool Pleasure Beach to tell Wallace and Gromit’s story.
Overall the animatronics are great, there’s a fab on-ride photo opportunity, the story is charming and there’s a few surprises along the way. The UK isn’t known for its ground-breaking dark rides but this is one of the best.
Pirates of the Caribbean, Disneyland Park
Situated in the beautiful land of adventure (or, y’know, Adventureland), the Disneyland Paris version of Pirates in the Caribbean is truly spectacular.
This ride tells the stories of buccaneers around the Caribbean Sea and is as dark, rowdy and exhilarating as you’d expect.
The first portion of the ride is probably my favourite as it involves a beautiful meander through the blue lagoon. It actually passes through Captain Jack’s restaurant which has an amazing atmosphere and is absolutely somewhere I’ll be booking the next time we venture to Disneyland Paris.
This ride fuses excitement and adventure, immersing you right in the middle of pirate life with stunning scenery, theming, smells and sounds. It truly is breathtaking.
Journey of the Little Mermaid, Magic Kingdom
I’ve made no secret of my love for Journey of the Little Mermaid. I think it’s the best dark ride in Magic Kingdom with the exception of maybe Pirates of the Caribbean.
To start with, it’s housed in Prince Eric’s castle which is honestly my favourite of all the Disney castle’s. So it has a strong start.
Moving from there to the queue is just as incredible as it’s gloriously themed and get’s you ready for your journey. The ride itself is a riot with bright colours, the wonderful little mermaid music and an under-appreciated Scuttle leading the way.
Then there’s the absolute joy of the twisting, turning clamshell ride vehicles. Although some of the Ariel anamatronics are a little ropey, the Ursula one is truly magnificent . This ride is an absolute must-do in Magic Kingdom.
Droomvlucht, or Dreamflight, is a stunning dark ride located in Efteling a beautiful fairytale theme park in the Netherlands.
This stunning flight through a magical world of fairies and forests was actually one of the biggest surprises of our European road trip.
The ride is so incredibly detailed and it feels like you’re taking a real-life journey through the illustrated fairytales of your childhood. I couldn’t believe how intricate everything in the ride was with every inch of space covered in foliage, animals, flowers and trees. It’s like nothing I’ve experienced before and the suspended ride vehicles put you right at the heart of the story.
It’s a truly sensational experience that epitomises exactly why I love dark rides and theme parks so much. On Droomvlucht, you are truly taken to a completely magical, dream-like place.
Ratatouille, Walt Disney Studios Park
There’s not a lot to love about Walt Disney Studios in Disneyland Paris, but Ratatouille is top of the list.
My wonderment at this trackless dark ride started as soon as I walked into the Parisian are of the park. It really is a jewel in Walt Disney Studios and fits the French location like a glove.
The queue is just as breathtaking, taking you into the rooftops of Paris. I think I spent the entire time queuing in awe, it’s just that beautiful
The ride itself takes place inside Gusteau’s restaurant and shrinks you down to the size of a rat. The rest of the ride is a riot of near-misses, gorgeous cooking smells and a fantastic mix of screens and super-sized theming that really does make you feel teeny tiny.
I was genuinely blown away by this attraction and can’t wait to get back on it. Oh and when the ride vehicles are in the station they dance around in-time to the French music and it’s absolutely beautiful. A genuinely clever ride that isn’t like anything I’d ridden before.
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Islands of Adventure
As a massive Potterhead, there was no chance I wouldn’t like this ride. What I didn’t know was just how much I’d adore it.
Like many of the rides on this list, the treats start outside the ride as you approach the marvel that is Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Inside the queue, you’re taken on a detailed tour of the inside of the castle complete with talking portraits and a few interactions with Harry, Ron and Hermione.
The ride itself uses robo-arm technology which can make some feel queasy. Taking you through the journey of Harry’s first few years of school, a mix of screens and practical effects are used in the ride which creates a truly unique experience.
This ride is thrilling, scary in parts and incredibly themed. It’s repeatedly been voted as the best dark ride in the world and it’s worth every accolade. A must-ride for anyone, Harry Potter fan or not.
Flight of Passage, Animal KIngdom
Before we rode Flight of Passage we were pretty sick of everyone telling us how amazing it would be. In fact, I was well prepared to be underwhelmed.
Set in Pandora and based on the blockbuster movie Avatar, you can be forgiven for not being particularly excited about the theming of this ride. And after a never-ending queue line, three-hour wait and a rambling pre-show I was all about ready to hate it when we boarded the motorcycle style vehicles – or banshees as the story will lead you to believe.
All that was diminished the minute the ride started. This is a truly immersive experience full of stunning scenery, gorgeous music and the most incredible smells imaginable.
There’s a few tricks along the way too that leave you marvelling at Disney imagineering and you don’t leave the ride disappointed. It’s a phenomenal attraction, but I still wouldn’t queue three hours for it.
Symbolica is a large-scale dark ride in Efteling in the Netherlands. It’s actually the most expensive ride Efteling has ever made and it shows.
The ride system is trackless, similar to Ratatouille at Walt Disney Studios, but the story isn’t based on a movie, it’s completely original.
During the ride you’re taken on a tour of King Pardulfus’ castle by Pardoes, a jester and Efteling’s mascot. There are three different routes to take on the attraction meaning you get a different experience the first three times you ride it.
A few moments stick out to me from this ride. The pre-show is incredibly magical, the queue is really detailed, the botanical garden scene has a really impressive whale animatronic and the ballroom scene at the end of worth a trip to Efteling alone. The way the vehicles dance to the song is what magic is made of and the scale of the set is just incredible.
This ride is as good as any Disney dark ride and is 100% worth all the hype it gets.
Amazing Adventures of Spider-man, Islands of Adventure
I’ve left this until last because although the rides in this list are in no particular order, this is actually my favourite ever dark ride.
I rode this for the first time well over 10 years ago and left the experience completely flabbergasted. Back then there really was nothing else like this out there and although dark rides have come a long way since, this still stands the test of time.
The ride itself is a 3D simulator on steroids with the vehicle you’re in reacting to the action around it. For example, there’s a section where Spider-man jumps on to the car and the mix of 3D visuals and simulator movement makes it feel like he’s really there.
Mix in physical effects such as water and fire and you get the best theme park dark ride around. Honestly, this ride is incredible. We rode this once with a group of people who hadn’t been on it before and I think it was my favourite ride experience ever. Hearing and seeing their joy and excitement as the ride progressed left us smiling from ear to ear.
You really don’t get much better than this!
What do you think of my list? Are there any you don’t agree with or think I’ve forgotten? Let me know in the comments!