Ah yes. The life of a theme park worker in the Central Florida land of attractions is indeed unique. From May of 2008 until December 2013, I worked for both the Walt Disney World Resort and Universal Studios Orlando. In my time, I worked a collection of different rides and shows:
-Kilimanjaro Safaris, Animal Kingdom.
-Disaster! A Major Motion Picture Ride Starring YOU, Universal Orlando.
-Beetlejuice’s Graveyard Review, Universal Orlando.
-Fear Factor Live, Universal Orlando.
-Revenge of the Mummy, Universal Orlando.
-Harry Potter & The Forbidden Journey, Islands of Adventure.
-Flight of the Hippogriff, Islands of Adventure.
-Ollivander’s Wand Shop, Islands of Advanture.
-Dragon Challenge (Frequent Rescue, non-safety only), Islands of Adventure.
-The Sum of All Thrills, EPCOT.
-Innoventions (Host & Presenter, Various Attractions), EPCOT.
-Living with the Land/Circle of Life, EPCOT.
I was privileged to work in some great parks and at some great rides, but there are still plenty more shows and rides that I love and have always loved. Today, I’m going to count down my top 10 favorite of those – that are still currently running as of this blog’s posting in April of 2017. Yes, that means a good portion of my own list is disqualified from appearing. It hurts to even type that.
With so many awesome things to do in every one of the parks, it’s very likely that I’ll be leaving out your favorite ride from this list. No worries, if you ask me nicely, I will tell you my honest opinion on anything I don’t list here! And if you’d like to see my favorite defunct attractions or my LEAST favorite of the lot, that will be presented in the near future.
So please keep your hands and arms inside the vehicle at all times. It’s time to count down:
MY TOP 10 FAVORITE (CURRENT) THEME PART ATTRACTIONS IN CENTRAL FLORIDA
As already stated above, I will not do honorable mentions as there will simply be too many to count off, but I will try to respond to every comment if you’d like my opinion on a ride not listed.
10. PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN (Magic Kingdom)
Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me! One of Disney’s true flagship attractions, Pirates of the Caribbean will always be one of my definite stops anytime a trip to the Magic Kingdom is in order. The ride has changed over the years, including the addition of Captain Jack Sparrow who appears three times during the ride (or four if you happen to be super lucky and ride while Johnny Depp is visiting). However the general theme of the ride hasn’t changed. Pirates love to do what pirates do, and the ride is filled with them rioting, looting, pillaging, chasing women (oh, that Disney) and singing a jaunty tune about how much they love being scoundrels. One trip through the land, and you’ll have the song in your head for days. Fun fact: I have a Christmas tree ornament of the photo above, only it’s Jack Sparrow trying to the dog with the keys.
9. THE SIMPSONS RIDE (Universal Studios)
I know this ride got a lot of heat when it debuted for replacing the AMAZING Back to the Future ride, and yes, I also do not feel this ride holds up against the trip in the DeLorean. But, as a huge Simpsons fan, I had to check this one out, and while it doesn’t do as well, it’s still one of my favorites. As much fun as the general ride through the shotty Krustyland is, the in-jokes, cameos, and shots at Disney and Sea World (as well as theme park stereotypes) will keep you laughing all the way. With Sideshow Bob as the ride’s antagonist, it really makes me wonder how much better the movie would’ve been if he was the main villain instead. From Atomic Maggie to a surprise cameo by Kang & Kodos (two of my favorite recurring characters), the Simpsons ride delivers on the thrills as well as the laughs. If only the show’s later seasons could be half as funny as this ride is…
8. STAR TOURS – THE ADVENTURE CONTINUES (Disney’s Hollywood Studios)
Much like The Simpsons Ride being a favorite of mine due to my love for the show, Star Tours has always been a fun ride due to my love of the franchise. While I admittedly enjoy the old ride’s storyline (and Rex) better, the new version of the ride is a lot of fun to check out. With the addition of new planets and the Rebel Spy possibly being you, you’ll never ride the same ride twice. Will you get Princess Leia? Admiral Ackbar? Will you be the Rebel Spy? Will you defeat the Empire? The possibilities are limitless! The old ride, if you were lucky enough to ride it, was even more fun (for me). Poor Rex, it was his first flight (every time) and he got us until the middle of a battle above the Death Star. Although the original destination was going to be Endor…so maybe he’s actually a hero for getting us away from the awful little Ewoks. Thank you Rex!
7. LIVING WITH THE LAND (Epcot)
There is a little bit of bias here since I did work at this attraction, but it was a favorite of mine long before I even started working at Epcot in general. While everyone flocked to Soarin’ (another fun ride) I was the guy who’d turn the other direction and have a seat on a relaxing boat ride through the greenhouses of Epcot. And yes, those were actual plants being grown and used in the parks. Tomatoes growing on trees?! The Behind the Seeds Tour is available to anyone who wants to actually walk around the greenhouses, but for the rest of you, you can enjoy a fantastic leisure boating while you kill time before you can use your Soarin’ Fastpass. Fun fact: in the old days of the ride, a Cast Member gave the tour instead of the automated voice you hear now. In the videos showing the boat touring the greenhouse on the ride itself (before you get into the greenhouse itself) you can see one of my old coordinators giving the tour! You have to look closely and it doesn’t last long, but she’s immortalized on video (for now).
6. HARRY POTTER & THE FORBIDDEN JOURNEY (Islands of Adventure)
More bias because I worked there. Opening team for that matter! Still, the Harry Potter ride (the one in Hogwarts…and yes this is the actual name of it) is one of the coolest attractions ever built. Using a Kuka robot arm, screens engulfing the ride vehicle, and live animatronics too, the world of Harry Potter springs to life! You board an enchanted bench to escape from a boring Professor Binns lecture, only to come face to face with a dragon, Aragog and his family, dementors, and a whole lot more! As much fun as the ride is, the queue line through Hogwarts is almost an attraction of its own. Professor Dumbledore greets you in his office, and Harry and his friends say hello to you too (before they help you escape). The Hogwarts founders make their debuts as talking portraits, and even the Sorting Hat sings a song about the ride restrictions. It’s everything a Harry Potter fan could want and more! Even if you’re not a fan of Harry Potter, odds are you’ll still get off the ride and still have a good time. Being there myself June 18, 2010 working the grand opening was an experience in itself. I will always have fond memories of my time as a student at Hogwarts. Also, make sure to check out the other rides too! They all rock!
5. ROCK N’ ROLLER COASTER STARRING AEROSMITH (Hollywood Studios)
What could be more fun than an indoor roller coaster with a magnetic launch? How about an indoor roller coaster with an Aerosmith soundtrack attached to it? Strap in to the super stretch limo and enjoy your ride through downtown as you head to the concert venue as Aerosmith’s personal guests! The storyline is that the band is called away to perform at their show downtown, and decide to bring you in as their special guests. You get a backstage pass and a ride in a SUPER stretch limo, through the neon lit streets while an Aerosmith song (or song montage) blasts in your ears the whole time. The ride was one of the first coasters to incorporate a musical soundtrack that plays while you enjoy the thrills, and in my opinion, still does it the best. Of course, my favorite part of the whole experience is the bad acting the band members – especially Steven Tyler – give you during the pre show in the recording studio. Or maybe they were just high when they recorded it. Just kidding, Aerosmith, you guys rock and always will!
4. KILIMANJARO SAFARIS (Disney’s Animal Kingdom)
You never forget your first attraction. Kilimanjaro Safaris was the first ride I worked at when I started at Disney, doing my college program in 2008. While the ride will always hold a special place in my heart, it is still a favorite of mine as a guest. I do miss the storyline with the poachers, and I don’t really think zebras are a perfect substitute for losing the theme, but there’s something to be said about getting a pretty authentic African safari experience, without having to travel to Africa and deal with all the mosquitoes. While you can see some popular African animals like giraffes, elephants, rhinos and hippos, you can also see some lesser-known species, like the oryx and the okapi. Plus you can see my personal favorite: lions and cheetahs! The ride itself lasts two weeks, but it’s so much fun it feels like it ends in only 20 minutes! Yeah, I miss that storyline too. And depending on your driver, you can have one of the best times you’ll have on your Disney vacation.
3. SPACESHIP EARTH (Epcot Center)
There is nothing quite as welcoming to me as a Disney fan, former employee, and Epcot fanatic than being greeted by the large globe at the front of the park. Of course, inside, you’ll find one of the coolest rides Disney has ever given us, Spaceship Earth. Whether you preferred the old narration to the new one, there is no denying that Spaceship Earth is still one of the best times you can have at Epcot. The slow moving ride takes you though the miraculous history of our planet, starting from ancient cavemen and ending with a look into the future. The newer version is narrated by Dame Judi Dench, and features an interactive portion with a photo of you in some super cheesy but fun futuristic scenarios. Some of my personal favorite moments include the smell of Rome burning, the music and atmosphere of the Renaissance painting period, and the Mousetrap Easter Egg during the moon launch. Spaceship Earth is a great attraction, and the globe itself is the icon of the Epcot park. To me, it will always symbolize my favorite park in Disney, and tell me that I’m truly home.
2. REVENGE OF THE MUMMY (Universal Studios)
When the Disaster ride went down for refurbishment, we were given a choice as to what ride we wanted to work at temporarily. Since the Wizarding World of Harry Potter was still being built, those of us already attraction trained went to various other rides. I chose the Revenge of the Mummy roller coaster, because it’s easily my favorite ride in all of Universal. Part dark ride, part roller coaster, and 100% pure fun! To think that a pretty fun action movie with corny Branden Fraiser dialog would become such a hit ride was almost unthinkable, but the Universal team managed to pull off what I still consider to me my favorite ride at any Universal park (currently). And hey, at the end, he does get his cup of coffee! Or does he? You’d have to ride it to find out. Not only is this ride one of the coolest coaster/dark ride combos out there, it was a huge amount of fun to work on. The epitome of truly playing a character at an attraction could be found once you put on your minion garb and acted creepy around the guests. This is also one of those rides that REALLY launches you out of your seat at times, so please use the provided lockers to store your bags! My heart broke several times when we’d clean up lost items after hours. Broken PSPs, Nintendo DS, and very expensive sunglasses…please don’t bring valuable items on this ride.
1. THE HAUNTED MANSION (Magic Kingdom)
Easily my favorite ride in any theme park, anywhere I’ve visited, is the Haunted Mansion attraction located at the Magic Kingdom. And really, the one in California is great too. Really it’s just the Haunted Mansion itself that holds a special place in my heart as my favorite ride. It was my favorite as a kid, and it remains my favorite as an adult. After journeying into the stretching room, you board a doom buggy and tour the house where the 999 happy haunts reside, looking for who will be the one to join them. The special effects are some of the coolest simple effects used anywhere, including the Pepper’s Ghost illusion in the ballroom. The mansion even has a story behind it, of the bride who murdered her five husbands on their wedding nights and everything she took from them. And of course, the music is amazing too. “Grim Grinning Ghosts” will be stuck in your head forever. I make it a must-play during my Halloween music collection. In fact, with my pure love of Halloween and Christmas, this is the best ride to at least get me one of my holiday favorites any time I want it! Now I just have to see California’s transformation with the Nightmare Before Christmas, and I’ll be all set!
What are your favorite rides when you visit the Central Florida attractions? Let me know in the comments! And yes, I’m likely a fan of something not mentioned here. But don’t worry, I’ll do a bottom list as well as a top list of defunct attractions coming soon! And it’s not likely one of your absolute favorites will make the bottom. No worries guys, I love Everest, Tower of Terror, most MK rides, most Epcot rides, Toy Story Mania even though the line is usually horrible, and the majority of the shows at all the parks. And Universal peeps, I ride almost everything over there, except for one ride, so your rides and shows are covered too.
So much for no honorable mentions…
See you real soon!