Home » 6 Lesser-Known Attractions Every Theme Park Fan Should Experience at Least Once

6 Lesser-Known Attractions Every Theme Park Fan Should Experience at Least Once

Roller coasters are among the greatest joys in life. The thrill of the air whipping in your face as you careen down the tracks at maximum velocity is a glorious sensation. Alas, it’s too good at times and causes theme park tourists to miss the forest for the trees on occasion. Many of the best rides at amusement parks around the world aren’t roller coasters, and they’re not produced by The Walt Disney Company or Universal Studios, either. Instead, they’re triumphs of engineering and architecture from underrated vacation destinations.

Let’s take this opportunity to celebrate the hidden gems that populate parks you should have on your travel bucket list. Here are six of the best non-roller coaster attractions in the world. Remember that we’re taking Universal Studios and Disney parks out of the voting here to celebrate the truly underrated!

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

Ominous build-up? Absolutely.

Rickety ride mechanics? Check.

Dark and foreboding tunnel? Is there any other kind?

Charmingly outdated indoor logging themes? You know it.

Bearded old men in underwear? Unfortunately yes.

Random moonshine stills? Why not?

Gentle waters that push you down the path to glory? But of course.

A breathtaking view on a sunny? YES! It’s California, people!

A splashdown that will leave your socks wet for the rest of the day? Hell yes! Well, sometimes. They kind of dialed that down during the renovation.

Timber Mountain Log Ride is a novelty in the amusement park industry. It’s ostensibly a flume ride, but it’s also themed, making it the spiritual ancestor of Splash Mountain. This Knott’s Berry Farm attraction dates back to the 1960s. It even shares roots with Disney attractions in that the ride designers brainstormed with Arrow Development, builders of The Matterhorn and other famed Disney attractions. In 2013, Timber Mountain Log Ride received an update to modernize it while maintaining its silly heritage. This attraction has remained one of the park’s most popular for almost 50 years now, and you’ll understand why if you watch the video above. It’s glorious fun, so much so that Disney basically ripped it off for Splash Mountain, which is not coincidentally one of their best rides.

2. Barnstormer – Dollywood

You’ve ridden swings since childhood. You know the sensation of pulling backward as far as you can in order to propel forward at maximum velocity. You relish in that feeling of soaring into the air, as it’s the closest humans can feel to flying on their own.

You’ve also take a spin on those pirate ships and space shuttles at amusement parks. You know the ones I mean. On the first rotation, they take your ship a quarter of the way up in the air. The next time, you go halfway. Soon afterward, you find yourself either upside down or spinning in a full turn, both of which are equally disorienting.

Barnstormer carries elements of both ideas and then elevates each one, creating an absolutely terrifying yet exhilarating ride experience.  The video above displays what the ride looks like from a distance. I intentionally chose that one to mislead you a bit. If you want to know what Barnstormer is like for the ride, watch this clip instead:

If your heart’s not in your chest right now, you’re a more courageous person than me. When I take a spin on Barnstormer, the challenge is keeping the contents of my stomach internal, and it’s not a battle I win every time. In my defense, it’s the only time I’ve ever gone 45 miles per hour while flying 11 stories in the air that didn’t involve an airplane. I’m also not the only one who feels this way. Do you remember the Never Again, Grace meme from a few years ago? That was about Barnstormer.

That loving father speaks for any sane person taking a spin on the world’s scariest swing. And speaking of questionable sanity…

3. Insanity – Stratosphere Las Vegas

Admittedly, you’ll have plenty of options for entertainment when you’re in Las Vegas. One of them needs to be this ride, though. You’ll claim a spot as one of the bravest thrill ride enthusiasts on the planet if you survive this monstrosity in one piece.

The Stratosphere has garnered a well-earned reputation for its thrill rides, featuring four of them at the top of its majestic 115 story façade. Insanity is the oldest and most notorious, for reasons good and bad. As you can see from the video above, riders board what is effectively a five-pronged harness that lifts them over the building’s structure.

The metal alloy from which they dangle is all that separates humans from a 1,150 foot plunge to their gruesome deaths. And this very scenario is something guests had to ponder in 2005 when the safety system noticed a fatal flaw with the system. It triggered a fail-safe that shut down Insanity immediately…with several passengers dangling helplessly away from the building. They had little choice but to stare down at the ground far, far, faaaaar beneath them for 90 minutes. If any of them ever returned to ride again, they’re equal parts hero and fool.

Hey, did I mention that Insanity spins? Yes, it’s the equivalent of those infernal tea cups on the Mad Tea Party at Magic Kingdom, only you’re spinning at a point almost as high as the Empire State Building. You’ve never seen a protein spill like one that happens at a thousand feet. Insanity isn’t for everyone, but it’s a daredevil’s dream.

4. Swiss Bob – Efteling

Okay, you may deem this one as something of a cheat. I don’t consider Swiss Bob a roller coaster in any way, but I will cede the point that it does have tracks at a few key points. That’s not the purpose of the ride, though. Instead, Bobbaan as the locals call it is an Olympic event disguised as an amusement park attraction.

Like Disneyland’s The Matterhorn, the Efteling attraction simulates the experience of bobsledding down the mountains. It’s a sport you’ve witnessed at the Winter Olympics and possibly even thought, “Hey, I could do that.” No, you can’t.

At least you can’t if we’re talking about the real thing. You’d hurt yourself and probably severely. A controlled version of the premise at a theme park is perfectly okay, though. In the case of Bobbaan, that means jumping into a six person cart and riding down un-railed sections of track at high velocity. Since Efteling controls the environment through frequent guidance tracks, you never go more than 38 miles per hour. Still, it’s the closest thing to a real bobsled you can ever ride without endangering your health.

5. maXair – Cedar Point

Again, you best appreciate this attraction by watching from two points of view. The one above is what maXair looks like from a safe distance. The one after the paragraph below is what you’ll experience should you dare to board Cedar Point’s most thrilling ride…which is really saying something at the Roller Coaster Park Capital of the World.

maXair is less an amusement park attraction and more of a lost bet. At least that’s how you’ll feel once you start to get onboard. You’ll join 50 of your closest strangers in strapping yourself onto the hub of a wheel. When you look down, things seem fine at first. Then, your view turns into this:

You will definitely enjoy views of the universe that you would never get otherwise. maXair twists and turns you at the strangest angles, propelling you along at 70 miles per hour while you sit helplessly. You can do nothing but hold your breath and look out at the stunning architectural feats spread throughout Cedar Point. And it’s named maXair for a reason. You’ll receive more airtime on this ride than anything else in the world. I think that Bert the Conqueror said it best in this clip:

“You feel like…you’re doing a figure-eight. You get so high.”

6. Falcon’s Fury – Busch Gardens Tampa

You’re probably non-plussed by this selection.You’ve ridden Sky Jump drop tower attractions before, after all. You think they’re all the same since they lift you up in the air then figuratively pull the floor out from under you. The thrill of such rides is the sensation of zero-gravity freefall for a time. Your heart shoots up into your chest as your entire body feels alive in a way that’s only possible for a few seconds here and there. Personally, I’m a big fan of drop towers, but I agree that there’s a degree of sameness to them.

Falcon’s Fury is different. The video above aptly demonstrates why if you haven’t watched it yet. This version of a drop tower does more than simply hurtle you to the ground. First, it shows you the danger. Pay attention to the 50-second mark of the clip. That’s the perspective the rider enjoys at the top of Falcon’s Fury. They have a lovely view of the clouds. It won’t last long. At the 57-second mark, the apparatus tilts the rider such that they’re now looking straight down. A plunge ride is exciting when you don’t know what’s coming. Facing the ground below is an entirely different proposition.

Falcon’s Fury is less an amusement park attraction and more a test of how well people can face their natural fear of heights. On this ride, you’re effectively a yo-yo, but the string is 310 feet long. If drop towers are endurance tests for the brave, Falcon’s Fury is the ultimate quest to overcome one’s fear. You literally have to face it as you plummet to the ground below.