Without License: 10 of the Most Original Attractions Ever


I’m a huge fan of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and the movies and films that it’s based off of. I love the Disney dark rides based off of the classic Disney animated movies of old. They make for some great rides with old fashioned story telling. The movies that these rides are based off of just scream to be made into a ride.

Then there are the other rides NOT based off of movies, books, big properties or licenses. Or if they are based off of a property they go so far away from the concept of that book, TV show, or movie that you could operate the attraction without it and still make a cohesive ride experience. It seems today that there is a lack of those rides and attractions because, in this economic climate, parks want a sure fire thing. And what better way to draw crowds into a park than to have some of the most recognizable characters gracing their way across your attraction?

It’s the same in Hollywood and your favorite movies. Everything is a sequel, a reboot or remake. You rarely get anything that’s an original idea because the studios are afraid to take a chance. The bottom line is the only motivator, and instead of going with the amazing imaginations of creative minds we are stuck with a formula. Sounds like every single attraction I’ve been on lately.

Does this sound familiar: You’re taking a tour, training, or making a trip that should be normal to maybe an extraordinary place when….da da….DA!!! Something goes wrong. We then must rely on our skills, or an escape route, or a hero to get us out of this mess. Yeah, it’s the plot line for almost every single new attraction in the past few years.

So here’s a list of the top ten attractions with original ideas that do not rely on recognizable characters to drive an attraction. No, you’ll find no Pixar, no boy wizards, or comic book super heroes here. Just your imagination, storytelling and great effects.

10. Cheetah Hunt-Busch Gardens Tampa:
Yes the name is a load of Sheikra, but this coaster that hasn’t opened is taking the “Spirit of the Cheetah” and turning it not only into a coaster that will go as fast as a cheetah, but into an immersive animal encounter that evokes the strength, speed and agility of these remarkable cats. Plus you can “feel the spirit” throughout the entire attraction as the entire area is landscaped, and designed to evoke the spirit.

9.Big Bad Wolf-Busch Gardens Williamsburg:
Okay so it’s gone now, and yes it was a coaster. But better than that, it was a coaster that had you slink across the German countryside, through the woods and in the midst of a village, prowling for a chance to pounce on some little girl in a red jacket. The ride was a fun coaster, but apparently something new is going in place of it.

8. Journey Into Imagination-EPCOT:
No, not the current incarnation that has “figment” being an invention and nods to the Disney “inventors”. No, the original version of the attraction that opened with the park. Dreamfinder was our guide through imagination. We went on a wonderful voyage with him and Figment finding out just what could happen when we let our imaginations run free. It was closed, and reopened having nothing to do with Figment, then eventually fans were so detested that they brought Figment back..but still no Dreamfinder

7.Manta-Sea World Orlando: Yes it’s another coaster, but it’s not just ANOTHER coaster. It’s a B&M Flyer that is inspired by one of the oceans most misunderstood and graceful creatures, the Manta Ray. You glide effortlessly through loops and skim over the water. What does a Manta have to do with flying? To see these creatures in the water is a kin to watching a bird fly. Plus they are huge jumpers. But the coaster, like Cheetah Hunt, is just the beginning. It takes the beauty of the ocean puts it right in front of your face with a huge aquarium and a chance to see stingrays fly. Unfortunately there is not one Manta in the attraction.

6. Maelstrom-EPCOT: Honestly you can take all of Epcot from the late 80’s/early 90’s. That entire park used such different things to inspire. And aside from the occasional Mickey, there was not really much else in the way of licensed characters, unlike today where a few rides have been “updated” to include Pixar or Disney characters as the main protagonist. Maelstrom was one such wonder. The beauty and mystery of Norway, steeped in history and folklore, plus at one point you went almost completely over the falls.

5.Mystery Mine-Dollywood: I love this coaster and what the park did with it to build the anticipation. A whole series of videos told the story of the Mystery surrounding Mystery Mine, even before the park revealed what it was. They combined the legends of the area, along with the terrain to create an experience that the little park had never seen before. They created a ghost story, where the coaster was the centerpiece.

4.Poseidon’s Fury-Islands of Adventure: So it was based off of myth, and the gods of the story are fairly recognizable, but when’s the last time you bought a “Lord of the Sea” action figure? It was the use of fairly recognizable names in a way that had never been done before that made this walk-through attraction unique. It was (and still is) one of the most impressive demonstrations of special effects and visual trickeration.

3.Alien Encounter-Disney Parks: This one could be any of the Disney non-story based rides. Space Mountain, Thunder Mountain, any of them…but the only draw to this one that it has other than being scary is that it was created by George Lucas. For a geek that would be enough, but for the average rider they couldn’t care less. So here is the idea of a inter-planetary transport. Of course it goes wrong, it follows that formula, but it was the first of it’s kind in what happened next. You go on an amazing trip, without going anywhere. In fact, your ride car doesn’t move one tiny bit, it uses special effects and a complete and total mindfuck. It gets in your head, and you feel, see and hear things that aren’t really there. Of course now it’s crap as Stitch, but this wasn’t E.T. or Yoda.

2.Tower of Terror-Tokyo Disney Sea: The original ride at Hollywood Studios is touted as an innovator. In fact that one would do just as well in this as this version, because without the Twilight Zone it’s still a great ride. Disney knew this, and took it to Japan without the Twilight Zone, but with a creepy as hell demonic totem. They changed the Hollywood Tower Hotel into an abandoned mansion, and set the evil powers of this little demonic bastard out onto the world. Then they took you straight up and let you go…several times.

1.Dueling Dragons-Islands of Adventure: Before this was “Dragons Challenge” and took you through artifacts of the 4th Harry Potter movie and book, it was Dueling Dragons. In fact the entire area was known as Merlinwood, and held such fantastical beasts and movies that could rival anything that J.K. could write. Again, based loosely off of myth, it told the story of a kingdom besieged by dragon demons, and a wizard who came around to help, only he was too old to defeat them. The queue line was an attraction in and of itself, as you watched moving stained glass screens, had spells cast on  you to protect you, and even saw the dragons handy work as they had knights frozen in place, and melted against the walls. Plus there was an entire catacomb of skulls and bones. That was used this year for the Halloween Horror Nights house, Catacombs. At the end of the line you were actually disappointed that it was two coasters and not real dragons! Still, the ride sits as a testament to great imagination.

Yeah, there are A LOT of great attractions missed here, like Haunted Mansion, Pirates, Horizons, The Living Seas…I could easily have made a whole list of nothing but Disney attractions. I think that drives the point home even more, all of the Disney attractions are pretty much older attractions. Nothing really in the last 15-20 years has stood out, with the exception of Expedition:Everest (and that’s just a remake of Matterhorn!) It shows that Disney is really afraid to step outside of that mold that they’ve created. Familiar characters get people in the park, on the ride, sell merchandise, keep kids screaming. With the Wizarding World of Harry Potter being a success it solidifies it for the parks and makes them all want a merchandising machine just like that! Meanwhile the really great original concepts go by the wayside. Beastly Kingdom anyone?