Home » 5 Attractions from Non-Disney Parks that Would Fit In Well at Walt Disney World

    5 Attractions from Non-Disney Parks that Would Fit In Well at Walt Disney World

    As Disney fans, we sometimes get a bit smug when it comes to themed attractions and shows. Walt Disney World and Disneyland both feature some of the most intricately designed and meticulously planned attractions in the world, and we feel as though our experiences with those attractions have given us a refined palate. We appreciate quality, and we know when something is shoddily done.

    If you think I’m being ridiculous, think about the Fourth of July.

    All around the country, cities and towns launch off fireworks to celebrate America’s independence. But while most of the spectators are overawed by the sight, Disney fans are often nonplussed. “Sure,” we think. “These are OK. But, I mean, have these people seen Illuminations?!”

    That skepticism defined the first two decades of the Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando rivalry – but now, after a lot of work, Universal has clearly proven it is capable of producing very high-end attractions.

    But, Universal isn’t the only non-Disney place that features such well-designed attractions. In fact, there are some scattered all across the globe – attractions that, frankly, would fit in perfectly well at any of the Disney Parks.

    There are plenty spread all across the globe, but let’s take a look at just five of these well-themed, Disney-esque attractions. And just to make things fun, we won’t even include Universal.

    1. Timber Mountain Log Ride, Knott’s Berry Farm

    We all know Walt Disney. We don’t, however, all know Bud Hurlbut. Maybe we should, because while Walt Disney is the father of the modern theme park, Bud Hurlbut is the father of the modern theme park attraction.

    In the late 1950s, Hurlbut partnered with Knott’s Berry Farm proprietor Walter Knott in an attempt to transform his minor attraction into a leisure destination. His plan? Build themed attractions that guests would want to ride over and over again. In 1960, he opened his first hit: the Calico Mine Ride – a slow-moving train ride that took guests inside an artificial gold mine. It was one of the first dark rides built outside of Disneyland, and it was wildly successful, giving Hurlbut inspiration for a new attraction.

    Having already explored the inner workings of a gold mine, Hurlbut wanted to design an attraction based on another iconic California industry: logging. While he originally envisioned the resulting attraction as a roller coaster, plans shifted, and it became the log flume we all know and love today.

    Intricately themed to look like a 19th-century logging facility, complete with animatronic lumberjacks and taxidermied animals, the Timber Mountain Log Ride has been Knott’s Berry Farm’s most popular attraction since its debut. And, considering it inspired the Walt Disney Company to build Splash Mountain, it clearly has an unusually Disney-esque feel.

    2. Dreamflight, Efteling

    In 1992, the Walt Disney Company opened its now-infamous Euro Disneyland. While we all think of it as an initial flop due to Disney’s lack of consideration for the cultural differences between the United States and France, at the time, it was actually quite a scary proposition for anyone running a theme park in Europe. Disney was the crown jewel in the industry, and the idea of that behemoth coming to the largest city in continental Europe had theme parks all across the region on edge. It wasn’t just Disneyland Paris at the time, it was Euro Disneyland – a park for the entire continent.

    In Amsterdam, Ton van de Ven had other plans.

    Van de Ven was the creative director of Eftling at the time, one of the oldest theme parks in the world – predating Disneyland by three years. And while he and the Disney company actually were on good terms (Disney even consulted Eftling’s management for advice in building their new park), he still wanted to make sure he had something special planned to open around the same time as Euro Disneyland.

    What van de Ven came up with was nothing short of astonishing: Dreamflight.

    Although it ultimately was delayed until 1993, Dreamflight opened and was unlike anything that came before it. Eschwing narrative and plot for mood and feeling, Dreamflight uses Peter Pan-esque flying cabins to take guests on a journey through a dreamscape featuring castles, faries, and all kinds of expressionistic images. It’s so creative and so beautifully designed, you could put it in the middle of Walt Disney World’s Fantasyland tomorrow, and no one would know the difference. 

    3. Journey to Atlantis, SeaWorld Orlando

    In the 1990s, SeaWorld had a realization – one that, ultimately, might one day prove to be the company’s saving grace. After decades existing solely as a marine life park, SeaWorld decided to build a couple of thrill rides in an attempt to more directly compete with Disney and Universal in Orlando.

    The first was a standard motion simulator called Mission: Bermuda Triangle, which quickly became rethemed as Wild Arctic. The second was far, far more ambitious.

    Opened in 1998, Journey to Atlantis combined elements of a flume ride, roller coaster, and dark ride in what was, at the time, one of the most unique experiences in any theme park in the country. It was particularly notable in that, for a number of riders, the inclusion of roller coaster-style elements came as a complete surprise.

    From the outside, Journey to Atlantis looked like a normal flume ride. Only once you were already on the attraction did its secret unveil itself – thus, for many, the large drop on the front of the attraction wasn’t even the most thrilling part.

    But the reason Journey to Atlantis is noteworthy in this instance is that, while it is currently in need of a new coat of paint, it is brilliantly themed and designed. If the attraction were slightly updated and placed in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, it wouldn’t feel particularly out of place. Its ambition is in line with the kinds of things Disney tried in the late-90s and early-00s, and a lot of care went into its creation – those intricate story elements would make it fit in quite well.

    4. The Curse of DarKastle, Busch Gardens Williamsburg

    Even during the darkest years of the Disney-Universal Cold War, Disney fans at least understood that Universal was a step above the regional amusement park – a place like Six Flags or, even, Busch Gardens. Those parks, they thought, were ultimately, just seasonal distractions filled with low-cost, high-thrills rides – things like roller coasters or ferris wheels.

    And, for the most part, they were right. Even if Busch Gardens Williamsburg was a bit more well-themed than your local Six Flags, it wasn’t even approaching the specificity and creativity of Disney. There wasn’t anything wrong with that, certainly, but it wasn’t the kind of place you’d go to be immersed in story.

    Until 2005.

    Amid the craze of roving motion simulator attractions – such as Dinosaur and The Adventures of Spider-Man – Busch Gardens Williamsburg took a leap of faith and decided to build one of their own. The result was The Curse of DarKastle – themed to the park’s “Oktoberfest” area, the attraction tells the story of an mysterious evil king gone mad. Of course, he isn’t too thrilled that you’ve entered his castle – these things just never go quite right – and you must fight past his crazed antics in an attempt to escape.

    While the story is likely a bit more intense than Disney parkgoers are used to, its queue and pre-show are of the same level of storytelling that you’d expect from something at Disney. Even the exterior architecture of the attraction is authentic and believable – something Disney has always prided itself on, and something which Busch Gardens clearly wanted to emulate.

    5. Fata Morgana, Efteling

    Before our friend Ton van de Ven took over at Efteling, its principal designer was a man named Anton Pieck. He worked with the park from the time it opened until 1975, creating the fairy tale aesthetic the Amsterdam park would become famous for. He was obsessed with craftsmanship, insisting that every attraction built in the park be done with the utmost care and high-quality supplies.

    When he retired, he entrusted the creative stewardship of the park to his hand-picked heir, van de Ven, hoping that he would carry on in the legacy he constructed.

    And, indeed, van de Ven did. His first attraction, the Haunted Castle, largely paid homage to Pieck’s fairy tale style.

    But it wasn’t until 1986 that van de Ven came into his own as a designer, with the hugely important Fata Morgana.

    Combining the fairy tale-style that Pieck perfected with his own off-beat, expressionist, and modern vision, van de Ven pushed the Efteling aesthetic to a new height with Fata Morgana. It’s a Pirates of the Caribbean-style retelling of the 1001 Arabian Nights tale, lasting roughly eight minutes in total. For fans of the darker, more adult tone of Disney attractions like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride or even El Rio Del Tiemp, Fata Morgana will feel like a welcome return to that style. And, lest you think I’m using hyperbole, legendary Disney Imagineer Tony Baxter so loved Efteling’s attractions that he nominated the park for a TEA award.

    Ultimately, Disney doesn’t have a monopoly on intricate story, immersive theming, or inventive ride systems. But what they have done is inspire other amusement companies to try and reach the heights they’ve set for themselves. And, when those companies are successful in that quest, it’s always nice to acknowledge them. These attractions could absolutely fit in at Disney. I mean, would you rather have these, or Stitch’s Great Escape?