Which Disney and Universal parks have the MOST Dark Rides? You might be surprised…

At Theme Park Tourist, we want to see the parks we love differently. One of the lenses we used is our “In numbers” mini-series, with each entry offering a unique lens to compare the incomparable Disney and Universal parks around the world! From number of rides to number of surviving “Opening Day Originals” and number of certifiable e-tickets, these just-for-fun comparisons offer new ways to discuss the industry.

Today we are going to add another one: the number of dark rides offered by each park. Count parks dark rides is not easy and is not objective. Traditionally, a “dark ride” is a kind of amusement park ride in which riders travel through indoor, painted or projected, theatrically lit scenes. But in the 21st century, it’s much more complicated than that…

What is a dark ride?

Picture: Disney

It depends on your definition, dark rides can be traditional (like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride) or technological (like Dinosaur); they can be slow (like Haunted Mansion) or thrilling (like Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey). Dark rides can be interactive and on screen (like Toy Story Midway Mania), or immersive and physical (like Rise of the Resistance)! …Where simulators (like Soarin’)! …Where walkthroughs (like the fury of Poseidon)! …Where water rides (like Na’vi River Journey)! …Where Russian mountains (like Revenge of the Mummy)! A dark ride doesn’t have to be dark (think “small world”) and arguably, it doesn’t even necessarily have to be indoors (after all, wouldn’t Jungle Cruise fit? )!

Of course, we need to agree on a definition for our purposes today, so we’ll start with our list of rides in each park, which means no tours, movies, or “attractions” without a ride – a guest must actually be moved by a transport system. For the sake of simplicity, we will also say no simulators – although, like the walkthroughs, you might personally consider them a subgenre of dark ride, and that would be fine! We will also require that theatrically lit interior scenes that created a sense of place or storytelling should be more than an incidental part of the experience. (Feel free to invent your own definition and recalculate!)

I get it? Then place your bets on which parks will come out on top as we explore another new way to see how our favorite parks compare in numbers…

15. Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Picture: Disney
  1. Dinosaur
  2. Journey on the Na’vi River

In what may come as a surprise, it’s Disney’s Animal Kingdom that lands in last place on our list, with just two dark rides. What is perhaps even more surprising is that for the first time in the park twenty yearshis only dark ride was the terrifying dinosaur (originally Countdown to Extinction). We embarked on the full story of one of Disney World’s spookiest rides in our DINOSAUR in-depth functionality, but the thrilling off-road ride through a smoldering prehistoric jungle filled with loud, angry, and hungry dinosaurs was never quite a family favorite…

Picture: Disney

Blacklight Price: The arrival of TRIP ON THE NA’VI RIVER in 2017 as part of Pandora: The World of AVATAR was a much needed reprieve. The slow boat ride through the glowing, bioluminescent valley of Mo’ara is a rare breed indeed – a ride where nothing “going horribly wrong”! The leisurely, thoughtful journey is a great introduction to “Pandora 101,” offering insight into the otherworldly flora and fauna of the distant moon, and the lives of the native Na’vi who connect to it.

After weaving layers of rainforest soundscapes into a musical tapestry, the ride ends with an encounter with one of the finest audio-animatronics on Earth – the Na’vi Shaman of Songs, who orchestrates the living world around of her in a symphony of images and sounds. The colorful, thoughtful and emotionally engaging ride only suffers from two things: it’s far too short and its line is far too long.

14. Walt Disney Studios Park

Picture: Disney
  1. Crush’s Coaster
  2. Ratatouille: The Totally Crazy Adventure of Rémy
  3. The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

Not yet counted: Web-Slingers: A Spider-Man Adventure (2022), Not-confirmed Frozen to drive (to be determined), Not-confirmed star wars to drive (to be determined)

Maybe the park you would have expect be in last place (it usually is, after all), the Declassified disaster: The Walt Disney Studios Park is finally going against the trend. After being the smallest Disney park with the fewest rides at opening (only three) and the fewest number of e-tickets, it has finally been elevated to following-at the last position in our Dark Ride Count! Of course, when the park opened in 2002, it had nothing (a rare accolade), each of its current three having been a metaphorical band-aid meant to bolster the very broken park.

CRUSH’S COASTERS meets our definition through an opening act of simple dark ride scenes, all encountered before they turn into a “cute but silly” family roller coaster in a dark soundstage. Also, THE TWILIGHT ZONE TOWER OF TERROR meets our requirements, as a more than incidental part of the experience is more than just a ride, with passengers ascending two floors of the haunted Hollywood Tower Hotel to relive its history.

Picture: Disney

Blacklight Price: Listen – we dedicated a whole functionality to REMY’S RATATOUILLE ADVENTURE do not because it is an infallible masterpiece of Imagineering (it is not) but because it represented exactly what the French park needed: a new foot. Ratatouille is a dark trackless ride that “shrinks” guests to the size of a rat, then sends them hurtling over the rooftops of Paris and through the kitchen of Gusteau’s restaurant.

It’s a fun and frenetic family ride, of course. But more specifically, it’s a pivotal point for the park, finally moving from its sketchy, stylized “Studio” solutions to bringing idealized, romanticized lands to life with immersive Disney-quality rides. This will continue with a multi-phase expansion bringing versions of existing avengers, Frozenand star wars from mini-pitches to the Parisian park. But for now, there is no doubt that Ratatouille was the show of faith that Walt Disney Studios needed.

13. Hong Kong Disneyland

Picture: Disney
  1. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Nano Battle
  2. “the world is small”
  3. mystical mansion
  4. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

Not yet counted: frozen forever (2022), Wandering Oaken’s Sliding Sleighs (2022)

It’s probably no coincidence that Walt Disney Studios is followed on this list by another one low-budget park built just a few years after… Hong Kong Disneyland. Disney’s first Chinese theme park opened in 2005 without much celebration. That makes sense, because the park was fairly quickly identified as the third strike in the infamous era of underbuilt, underfunded theme parks by then-CEO Michael Eisner (he left the company just months after its opening). Almost unbelievably, when the park started there were only two dark rides – the ubiquitous Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, and just a Fantasyland Dark Tower: THE MANY ADVENTURES OF WINNIE THE POOH. That’s right – a Disneyland without a Pirates, Mansion, “small world”, Snow White, or even a Peter Pan’s Flight.

Like its sister parks of the early 2000s, Hong Kong Disneyland required hundreds of millions of dollars in investment to become even a modest little Disney park. This included adding THE WORLD IS SMALL, Autopia, Toy Story Land and Grizzly Gulch (with a Big Thunder-esque roller coaster), and a mini-Marvel land with the Iron Man Experience simulator (not included here) and a cute grinch ANT-MAN AND THE WASP: NANO BATTLE! dark tower built on the bones of Buzz. A Frozen The themed mini-land is well underway, which will add two more dark rides to the park’s tally. Even after they’re done, Imagineering enthusiasts will have the park on their to-do list for a reason…

Picture: Disney

Blacklight Price: Opened in 2013 as the highest point in the park first mega-expansion, Mystic Point is a mini-land bringing to life the remote jungles of Papua New Guinea where the elusive retiree Lord Henry Mystic – longtime member of SEA – has built an eclectic Victorian residence filled with oddities. We explored every piece of MYSTICAL MANSION in an in-depth Imagineering entry, but this mythical and musical spiritual sequel to the Haunted Mansion instantly became Imagineering’s must-have masterpiece.

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