Home » 5 Unsung Theme Park Attractions That Everyone Should Experience at Least Once

5 Unsung Theme Park Attractions That Everyone Should Experience at Least Once

Understandably, the focus of most theme park websites (including our own) tends to be on the most popular parks and attractions, such as Disney’s legendary dark rides and the monster roller coasters that dominate Six Flags and Cedar Fair parks.

Look beyond the big names, though, and there are dozens of smaller attractions that are well worth experiencing. Some of them match the quality of Disney and Universal’s attractions, while others are less costly but no less enjoyable.

Here, we’ve picked out 5 such attractions that we think are worthy of your attention.

5. Haunted House (Knoebels, Pennsylvania, USA)

Image: Knoebels

Legendary ride designer John Wardley (responsible for the likes of Nemesis at Alton Towers and Stampida at PortAventura) was asked in a recent Q&A session what his favorite dark ride of all time is. Disney’s Haunted Mansion, perhaps? Universal’s Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man?

No – Wardley’s answer was a more surprising one. He chose the Haunted House (also known as the Haunted Mansion) at Knoebels, the family owned, free admission amusement park that occupies a small wooded valley in Central Pennsylvania.

Opened in 1973, the Haunted House is a much more low-tech affair than its Disney counterpart. Indeed, it’s what Wardley would describe as a “good old-fashioned bump-in-the-dark ride”, one that is packed with simple scares designed to make riders leap out their skin.

Typically for Knoebels, the park took a hands-on approach in the ride’s creation. The park built many of the effects itself, bringing in others from the former Westview Park in Pittsburgh, PA and Rolling Green Park in Hummels Wharf, PA. These are loosely tied together by a storyline that revolves around a bride waiting for her long-lost husband-to-be to return.

The Haunted House consistently ranks highly in polls of America’s best dark rides, and has been recognized by organisations such as Funhouse Enthusiasts and The National Amusement Park Historical Association.

4. Lost River Ride (Flamingo Land, Yorkshire, UK)

Lost River Ride

Flamingo Land combines elements of a theme park with a surprisingly excellent zoo that many guests overlook completely. Fortunately, there’s one attraction that offers the best of both worlds.

Lost River Ride sees guests boarding large boats that feature five rows of seats. These float around the “African Plains” area of Flamingo Land’s zoo, offering views of rhinos, giraffes, hippos and lions. The ride takes a major change of pace at the end, climbing up a 60-feet-tall hill before plummeting down into a splash zone below.

Lost River Ride

One of the biggest and best water attractions in the UK, the Lost River Ride brilliantly combines a major thrill ride with a mini-safari. The zoo section offers great views of the animals, while the final drop is as thrilling as anything at Florida’s mega-parks.

Be warned: you will get soaked on the Lost River Ride. Bring a change of clothes if you plan to ride it. The safari section is nowhere near as fun if you’re too busy worrying about being soaking for the rest of the day.

3. Sledge Hammer (Canada’s Wonderland, Ontario, Canada)

Sledge Hammer

Like HUSS’s Giant Top Spin and Giant Frisbee, the company’s Giant Jump 2 model has come under fire for its unreliability and often month-long closures that strike the only example, Sledge Hammer at Canada’s Wonderland.

When it is open, Sledge Hammer is one of those rare rides that is as much fun to watch as it is to ride. Indeed, it’s a dazzling visual spectacle, with its six “claws” jumping into the sky at a seemingly impossible rate. Despite its problems, this is truly a marvel of engineering.

Of course, the ride is very enjoyable to ride, too. Those with a fear of heights may be put off, but it’s not an intense as it looks. In fact, the transition from spinning close to the ground to being high up in the air is surprisingly smooth.

2. Vortex (Kings Island, Ohio, USA)


Kings Island fans will need no introduction to Vortex, which has carried more than 38 million riders since its debut in April 1987. But outside of locals and roller coaster enthusiasts, it’s perhaps not as well-known as it deserves to be.

Created by long-time Disney partner Arrow Dynamics in one of the company’s last real successes before its collapse into bankruptcy, Vortex is a steel coaster that cost $4 million to construct. At the time it was the tallest full-circuit roller coaster in the world, the first to feature six inversions and also boasted the highest drop in the world at some 138 feet.

Arrow’s infamous trackwork makes Vortex a real treasure – six inversions over the course of the sprawing roller coaster may leave adults feeling a little unsteady, but the twisted steel contraption has earned a loyal following. Deservedly so.

As with most aging coasters, there are consistent rumors that Kings Island will one day look to replace Vortex. To be on the safe side, experience it while you can.

1. Cinemagique (Walt Disney Studios, Paris, France)


Although it’s frequently derided as the weakest of Disney’s theme parks, the (relatively) tiny Walt Disney Studios is home to one or two gems.

Completely unique to the park, CinéMagique uses a combination of live action and spliced-together footage from classic movies to celebrate the history of cinema. It is housed in a large theatre that can hold up to 1,100 guests, and performances take place at scheduled times throughout the day.


The storyline features actor Martin Short (or, at least, a lookalike) emerging from the audience and being sucked into a black-and-white movie that is showing on-screen. After meeting, and falling for, Julie Delpy, the character races through a series of recognisable movie scenes in search of his mobile phone.

The two love-struck stars are edited into sequences from movies such as Star Wars, The Magnificent Seven, Mary Poppins and The Wizarding of Oz. Will they escape back into the real-world before the end of CinéMagique’s 25-minute running time?

One of the big problems faced by Disneyland Paris is the need to present every ride in multiple languages – English and French at a minimum, and often several others. Although it features dialogue in both French and English, CinéMagique overcomes this constraint by making the majority of expression purely visual. Telling a convincing love story in 25 minutes is a challenge, but the attraction’s creators somehow pull it off.

As it’s not a major thrill ride, CinéMagique is overlooked by many guests at Walt Disney Studios. Don’t make this mistake – this is one of the very best attractions that the park has to offer, and it isn’t available at any other Disney park. Most crowds enter CinéMagique with relatively low expectations, and emerge grinning from ear-to-ear