Hurricane season is here and while these massive storms are no laughing matter, theme parks have been finding ways to turning these deadly disasters into thrilling experiences for decades.
Adrenaline junkies have always been fascinated by natural disasters– just ask any professional storm chaser. Thanks to the creative ride designers at some of the world’s best theme parks like Universal and Disney World, thrill seekers can quiet their curiosities without risking any actual danger.
Although some of these rides have since closed, their legacy lives on in never attractions and many have developed an eternal cult following.
And while theme parks have been setting the stage by simulating the feeling of real-life storms, independent attractions are also making their mark with massive adventures of their own. Just last year, the Ark Encounter opened in Kentucky allowing visitors to climb aboard the Biblical vessel that saved life from the most famous of floods. Meanwhile in China, a company is currently constructing a full-size recreation of the Titanic. Set to open in October, this attraction will feature a simulation of smashing into an iceberg and sinking.
But before we climb abord the Titanic, let’s blast through the top five greatest disaster-themed attractions of all time.
1. Dinosaur at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Disney pushes the disaster envelope into the realm of historical fantasy with its “Dinosaur” ride. When it first opened, the ride was called “Countdown to Extinction,” a nod to the animals’ tragic end. Now, this off-road adventure sends guests traveling through time back to the age of the dinosaurs trying to bring back one particular Cretaceous creature while racing the clock to return home before the asteroid impact that wiped out all lifeforms on Earth. Winding through dark environments, guests end up narrowly avoiding attacks by giant carnivores. It’s a ride that’s still thrilling Walt Disney World visitors to this day.
2. Disaster! at Universal Orlando
Universal Studios Florida first opened its “Earthquake” attraction with the park in 1990. This attraction placed visitors on a subway ride that went horribly wrong as “the big one” struck with an 8.3 magnitude. Amidst a crumbling subway station, onlookers were terrified as the tram shook violently while a gas tanker crashed down, erupting in flames. Sparks flew while electricity flickered. The grand finale? A flash flood rushed in, nearly soaking all aboard. Universal contemporized the ride under the new name “Disaster!” in 2008, retaining its classic chaos, but ultimately closed it in 2015 to make room for Fast & Furious: Supercharged.
3. Twister at Universal Orlando
Universal’s 1996 film “Twister” was a runaway success, so it was natural fit for Universal to recreate the namesake natural disaster as a theme park attraction in 1998. The special effects-driven show placed guests in the path of a massive tornado, created live on a set – five stories tall and twelve feet wide. Guests felt simulated glass shatter across their faces as the raging tornado swept through a rural town in front of them. The film’s signature flying cow soared by as a truck smashed into a gas tank, creating a three-story fireball, ending with the roof nearly collapsing on guests’ heads as the floor beneath their feet suddenly dropped. Though the “Twister” attraction closed in 2015, it lives on as a fan favorite.
4. Backdraft at Universal Studios Hollywood and Japan
Universal’s “Backdraft” attractions at their California and Japan theme parks truly turned up the heat. Based on the 1991 disaster film, this attraction instantly fired up the effects without warning, setting a warehouse on fire, then triggering a backdraft – an oxygen-fueled fiery explosion. The fire then grew seemingly out of control while explosions grew into a final blaze of glory. This attraction has since been extinguished in Hollywood, but keeps burning in Japan.
5. Journey to the Center of the Earth at Tokyo DisneySea
Set in the Mysterious Island area of Tokyo DisneySea, this ride draws inspiration from the classic Jules Verne novel of the same name. Combining multiple natural disasters with wild otherworldly encounters, this attraction brings big thrills as guests enter the Mount Prometheus volcano and board mine cars. Warnings of seismic activity quickly yield an earthquake-caused cave-in, followed by a near-miss from a lightning strike amidst an electrical storm. Passengers veer off course and find themselves in the fiery heart of the volcano just as a frightening lava monster attacks. Guests ultimately ride the volcanic eruption to safety.
- Ricky Brigante is a theme park expert and fan who edits InsideTheMagic, a blog focusing on Disney and theme park news and entertainment. He’s also host of the award-winning “Inside the Magic” podcast.