I already gave you the inside scoop on how adults can dominate Disney World and Universal Orlando… but now you need to learn about the only rides you need to ride while there. These are the rides that you focus on and ride repeatedly before the parks get busy and the lines get long. The quality of rides after the ones I list falls off drastically so tread lightly and only try more if you have little kids to entertain.
Pro tip: I know it sounds ridiculous but if roller coasters make you nervous/sick – sit in front. The first car of any roller coaster experiences the slowest ride and fewest g-forces since it has to pull the rest of the train. Try it once and you will feel that the front is actually well over the first drop before it reaches top speed. However, if you are in the back… that last car will be whipping over the top at full speed and with all of the tear inducing g’s that accompany it.
Bonus tip: If you love roller coasters… still ride in front. Best views and the reduction in g’s is more than made up for by the sheer joy of feeling alone while you dive, dip, and turn at 70 mph.
1) Hollywood Rip Ride Rocket: Most pure joy I have ever received from a roller coaster. It was able to limit the number of stomach compressing g-forces and simultaneously increase the thrills.
As you approach the ride from ground level, you see the riders in the coaster before you being pulled straight up, 90 degrees. Read that again. The coaster starts by being pulled straight up into the sky and you have to watch those going before you deal with this traumatizing experience. Amazing.
When it is your turn to hop in, you realize that instead of the now customary over the shoulder harness you only have a waist bar to stop you from you hurdling into space. The mad geniuses at Universal have designed a new safety bar technology that is safer that a shoulder harness while also making you feel less secure… those bastards.
Each seat has its own private head speakers with 30 popular songs to choose from. Each song is calibrated to hit its crescendo as the coaster dives out of that first 90 degree climb. The rest is a blur, but trust me, you are going to want to ride this more than once.
2) Incredible Hulk: It’s hard to miss as it feels like half of the park is designed so that you walk under the Hulk’s spine tingling turns. So why try to avoid it? If you are are someone who can’t deal with the anticipation of that first agonizing climb to the top of the coaster than the Hulk solves this for you… by launching you from 5 mph to 60 mph up to the first twist and drop.
With insane amounts of loops and twists, it is definitely not for the coaster novices. But if you are nervous, try our pro tip and ride in front. You will get a much better view and the wild loops will feel much easier as you will only experience half of the g-forces.
Ride the Hulk, but just be sure to do it before you eat… or your seatmate might not be too happy.
3) Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey: The best non-coaster you will ever see! You are on a 4 person car that can be lifted 30 ft in the air and pivoted in any direction while moving forward on a track. This is key since you are following Harry and friends through Hogwarts while trying to avoid man-eating spiders and Dementors.
The wizards at Universal blend 3D graphics and insane amounts of movement so that you are tricked into thinking that you are falling hundreds of feet, racing through the air at 100 mph, or being hit by a bludger.
I found out after the ride that the trick in making the brain think you are actually experiencing all of the wild events is to have screens that move with each car. So when the screen shows you falling, it actually pivots under the car as your car rolls forward and then falls mildly. The physical effect might be light, but the mental effect is truly extraordinary.
Great for all ages, so it is one of the few rides that parents might actually want to ride repeatedly, even after their kids have had their fill.
4) Dueling Dragons: Who would have thought that The Wizarding World of Harry Potter would have 3 ridiculously good rides? How? Well Dueling Dragons is actually two coasters in one, each with their own unique track.
These were my first hanging coasters where your feet are dangling into the air, so I was nervous… and with reason! The coasters intertwine and are timed so that each ride has several moments where it feels like the coasters have no choice but to collide. There is a moment where you will not be able to stop yourself from trying to lift your feet for fear of hitting the other coaster twirling beneath you.
But no worry, nobody has yet lost a toe on Dueling Dragons.
5) Jurassic Park: This is Disney’s Splash Mountain updated for the 21st century, which is not a bad thing. A lazy river ride around some animatronic dinosaurs followed by a 50 ft drop into a pool of water. A great ride to do before lunch, just make sure to ride the Hulk after so you can air dry quickly.
6) The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman: A bit of a throwback as this is a 3D ride based on the cartoon series from when I was a kid. The amazing way they make you feel like the characters are jumping on to your moving car is not to be missed. Lacking the thrills of some of the coasters, Spiderman makes up for it by sheer uniqueness in the way it blends real effects, like water spraying and fire erupting, with the 3D effects of Spidey and friends jumping all over you and your seatmates.
1) Space Mountain: No loops, you ride single file on an eight person train, and you can bring your backpack in the seat with you. Seems like a ride built to those specifications would be terrible, right?
Nope! The entire ride is in pitch black with only glimmers of twinkling stars off in the distance. The ride zigs when you think it will zag and is old enough to be all kinds of rickety. The 8ft drops feel much bigger when you can’t see them coming and your head will be spinning by the time the ride finally halts.
2) Expedition Everest: Over at Animal Kingdom we were not expecting much, so this blew our minds! The ride can be seen from any point in the park as the mountain climbs obscenely high into the air.
The first half of the ride seems lame as you are constantly being pulled up… and up… and up. Every now and then the coaster will come to a crest and drop 15 ft and do a few turns, only to find another pulley that lifts the coaster ever higher. After 3 lifts, the coaster finally drops and speeds up to coaster speeds. However, right as you get comfortable you realize it is heading towards broken tracks. The ride stops just short of spilling over the edge and crashing to the park below.
Ten seconds pass until you hear a click and the coaster starts barrelling backwards with twists, sharp turns, and half inside the mountain. When the coaster jarringly stops, you are facing utter blackness with only a small portal of light in the distance. Another click and you start crawling towards the light, picking up speed on the way. As you emerge from the mountain’s belly you are going 50 mph straight down hill, through a hair pin turn, and then whipping in and out of the mountain.
Disney definitely loves to spice up its coasters with darkness and for good reason. By the time the ride is over, you will have had one of the more unique roller coaster rides of your life. Going backwards and forwards? Badass.
3) Rock ‘N’ Rollercoaster Starring Aerosmith: Surrounded by darkness (see the theme with Disney coasters?) with only neon guitars and Hollywood signs to light your way, this coaster is just pure fun. Way too short for my liking but ridiculously smooth with its magnetic propulsion system and with tons of interesting thrills.
All of the Disney rides let you bring your backpack with you, so you would think none go upside down. At least I did. So when the Rock ‘N’ Rollercoaster does a complete loop after the first drop, I was more than a little shocked. Hold on tight to your bags!
4) Tower of Terror: You might wonder how Disney is able to differentiate the Tower of Terror from all of the other up-and-down rides you see at theme parks. They do it by the art of surprise.
The ride starts with a slow moving tour in the elevator as it drifts through the hotel seeing ghoulish phantoms. Then, right when you question if you are on the correct ride, the lights go out and you drop 3 stories! Yes, they somehow start you 3 stories up so that when the lights go out and you expect to shoot up, they actually drop you. After that all you can do is hold on to the limited armrests they provide as you are shot up at lightening speed only to be dropped, repeatedly.
Also, another ride you might want to try BEFORE lunch. You would not be the first to get sick on the ride, but you could at least try to avoid the embarrassment.
5) Splash Mountain: Lacking the thrills of the other rides, Splash Mountain makes up for it in pure nostalgia of childhood stories. A nice lazy river guides you through some animatronic bears, foxes, and alligators while you experience some mild dips and climbs. It is punctuated by a 50 ft drop into a pond where you will most certainly get soaked. Do it once, enjoy it, and then get on with your day.
Bonus tip: DO NOT try Soarin’ at Epcot. You will be tempted because it is the most popular ride in all of Disney and the 120 minute lines will seem to be proof of its greatness. Do not be tempted. Here is the ride summed up in one sentence: A two minute hang gliding simulation through different parts of California while you hang in a warehouse studio and slightly turn left, right, and tilt forward. That’s it! Seriously, do not do it. As Meg famously said: “My bus ride back to the hotel was a more thrilling adventure!”