Home » The 7 “Ancient” Wonders of the Theme Park World

The 7 “Ancient” Wonders of the Theme Park World

“Ancient.” You know what that means: curses, booby traps, and angry gods. We’re counting down our lists of the Wonders of the Theme Park World. If you missed our collection of the Seven “Natural Wonders take a step back and see the incredible mountains, trees, and valleys all built by… well… we’ll call it “nature.” Then step ahead to the Seven Technological Wonders of theme parks today!

Today, we’ve got a countdown of the Seven “Ancient” Wonders of the Theme Park World. Luckily, theme parks have sprung up around these temples, citadels, and tombs, giving us the chance to see what thousands of years of history have led to. In the comments, let us know which of these Wonders you’ve seen first hand, and which ones are the most magnificent up close and personal.

7. Atlantis

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Location: SeaWorld Orlando
Journey to Atlantis

Are you ready to journey to Atlantis? Located in sunny Orlando, Florida, the mesmerizing city of Atlantis is indeed a wonder. Newly risen from the depths, the magnificent citadel tells a story all its own, of a lavish civilization predating the Greeks and Romans and perhaps even inspiring their style. Here, Atlantis houses a dark ride / water coaster combo (think Splash Mountain) wherein our poor fishing vessel is drawn into the ancient city where an evil siren plans to sink the whole city back to the ocean floor… with us inside of it.

Our only saving grace is a golden seahorse named Hermes who perpetually races ahead to save us from the collapsing city and the siren’s evil curse. Even once you’ve taken the waterfall plunge from the city’s golden-domed atrium, it’s still not over as the ride’s surprising finale and a last encounter with the siren leave a lasting impression. In all, the sand-colored building with its misty blue turrets and gold adornments make for a compelling image of the sunken city of myth.

6. Port of Entry & Pharos Lighthouse

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Location: Universal’s Islands of Adventure

When Universal first stepped into “theme park” territory with their 1999 park, Islands of Adventure, the industry was stunned by the detail and storytelling they had implanted, which met and perhaps even surpassed Disney’s contemporary efforts. Befitting a park based on adventure and myth, the common “Main Street” at Islands of Adventure is the compelling Port of Entry, a rustic, ancient seaside port literally designed to resemble all corners of the globe coming together in harmony. There are pagodas, windmills, arabesque domes, and Irish cathedral towers all along the ancient boulevard. Check out this great feature written by our friends at Touring Plans for six incredible secret details hidden in Port of Entry.

Image via themeparksushi.com

Fittingly, the land contains the park’s icon: the daunting Pharos Lighthouse. The 130 foot tall lighthouse is based – in theory – on the Lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the real Seven Wonders of the World, which fell in an earthquake in the 1300s after a thousand years standing. Universal’s version, made of sunbleached red stone, leans lightly with a spiral staircase built into it. At the top, a pointed silver cap glows with flames each night while a very real beam radiates out, circling the park. Some sort of genius psychology, the beam draws people to the park’s exit each night at closing. As if left as a cosmic hint from the ancients, the pavement around the Lighthouse forms an aureole of light visible only from above.

5. Tomb of Imhotep

Revenge of the MummyRevenge of the MummyClick for source.

Location: Universal Studios Singapore
Revenge of the Mummy – The Ride

When Universal built their second park in Asia, they took all they had learned from the “themed lands around a lagoon” layout of their Islands of Adventure park in Florida and combined it with the best of their Studios-style movie parks. The result was an entire land dedicated to The Mummy. In Florida, the famed Revenge of the Mummy coaster is located in the New York section of the park, behind the façade of a Museum of Antiquities. In Hollywood, little effort was made to disguise the ride’s studio-showbuilding.

© Yuriy Buriak

But in the highly themed Ancient Egypt land of Singapore, the ride takes place in the “real” ancient Tomb of Imhotep. Since there’s a whole land to explore, the ride is complimented by giant toppled statues, scattered temples, and an antique car style ride called Treasure Hunters that passes by animatronic crocodiles, condors, and scarabs that reinforce the Mummy’s story and setting. Revenge of the Mummy itself is almost identical to Orlando’s much-loved version, but with added effects… and without Brendan Frasier.

4. Talocan

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Location: Phantasialand (Brühl, Germany)

One of the most unfortunately under-recognized parks in the world is Germany’s Phantasialand, which features incredible scenery, fantastic thrill rides, and unique dark ride experiences. One of those unique experiences is the park’s take on a carnival classic. Located in the themed Mexico land, the massive Talocan is truly nothing more than a typical HUSS Suspended Top Spin – standard flat ride fare at most local amusement parks.

© Phantasialand

But Phantasialand went the extra mile, disguising Talocan in a super-immersive corner of the park and theming it to the ancient Aztec deity Tlaloc who absorbed those who died of drowning into the underworld. The ride itself runs an out-of-control three minute cycle (synchronized to music) that puts most Top Spins to shame while bringing riders inches from water and flames, all in a truly claustrophobic setting. You’ve got to see this thing in action.

Honorable Mention: Talocan almost certainly took its inspiration from the very impressive TOMB RAIDER: Firefall (now The Crypt) at Kings Dominion in Virginia. There, riders strap aboard the ride – cast as a stone and steel altar – to test their faith. The ride features fountains, water blasts, flaming waterfalls, fog effects and a synchronized musical score along with a harrowing and death defying ride program. If only for its incredible location and inflated budget, Talocan takes the lead, but if you’re looking for an equivalent ride experience in the U.S., Kings Dominion’s is outstanding. Check out a video of it in action here.

3. Alton Towers

Location: Alton Towers
HEX – The Legend of the Towers

Hopefully we’re not spoiling anything for anyone when we mention that of all the attractions on this list of Ancient Wonders, Alton Towers is the only one with more than a few decades of history behind it. Indeed, the stately manor home at the center of the popular U.K. theme park began as the park’s main draw! The home, which was last occupied in 1924, is a few centuries old. While perhaps not “ancient,” it’s worth appreciating.

As the grounds around the home became home to shops, a model railroad, and eventually roller coasters, the Towers themselves remained a historic if not untapped element. In 2000, a walkthrough / madhouse dark ride was built in a new extension of the home.

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The ride told the [true-ish] tale of an Earl who lived in Alton Towers and a beggar woman’s curse upon him that whenever a branch from the old oak tree would fall, a member of his family would die. No surprise, down came a branch and down went Uncle John. The Earl, driven mad by the prophecy, had every branch of the oak chained up to prevent further disaster. That oak – which is very real – is still around with its rusted chains, a short drive and hike from the park.

The unusual tale and the magnificent manor may not be “ancient” in the classic sense, but we can’t turn down a historical building with a mythical ride inside. You can read much more about the history and legends of Alton Towers in the new book Tales from the Towers, available in paperback and Kindle formats.

2. Poseidon’s Fury

© Coaster Community. Click for source.

Location: Universal’s Islands of Adventure
Escape from the Lost City

Centuries ago, the grand Temple of Poseidon was a revered and holy sanctuary for denizens of the ancient world. That all changed when, one terrible day, the evil Lord Darkenon sealed the doors of the ancient altar and killed everyone inside. This gave him power enough to challenge the benevolent lord of the seas in an effort to control the almighty Trident. Poseidon’s power contained the beast, but he too perished in the ensuing battle. They say the god’s rage still fills the temple, so the ancients referred to it as Poseidon’s Fury.

Whether all that is true or not, we can’t know, but the astounding scale of the Fury was one of the immediately awe-inspiring elements of Islands of Adventure when it opened. The enormous temple – which appears minute in photos thanks to the grand scale of everything around it – is a sight to behold, and just as magnificent is the crumbled statue of Poseidon outside.

© Universal.

His feet still stand on sturdy foundation, with his massive head fallen into the water. It’s his enormous right hand and Trident that are so stunning though, forming a sort of entry arch to the ancient Lost Continent land. The attraction housed inside the temple is an exceptional walk-through including three enormous show chambers, fire and water effects, water screens, and one of the world’s most incredible special effects: a 100-foot long tunnel through a swirling vortex of water.

Fun Fact: The Poseidon’s Fury you visit today is quite different than the original. For its first few years, Poseidon was the bad guy, fighting the much more lovable Zeus. A few key effects and surprises from the original were left out of the “new” version. It’s unclear why the change occurred to begin with, but fans still ache for the original to return. Until then, they can rest easy knowing that the crumbled Poseidon head in front of the attraction is the old, animated, bad guy, merman Poseidon from the original, not the new one.

1. Temple of the Forbidden Eye

© Alan Rappa. Click for source.

Location: Disneyland Park
Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Forbidden Eye

When it comes to ancient wonders, there’s no one better to discover them than the incomparable Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones! Such is the case with the exotic, Southeast Asian Temple of the Forbidden Eye, located along the banks of the Jungle Cruise in Disneyland’s Adventureland. This temple was built in ancient times to honor the lost god Mara, who promised all who made the pilgrimage to his altar one of three gifts: timeless youth, earthly riches, or visions of the future.

But there’s a catch! “Any who looked into the eyes of this double-dealing deity would take a detour to doom!” Or so the hokey 1930s black-and-white documentaries in the queue line warn. But that’s all silly superstition, so we hop on board a converted troop transports from the Great War, turn the corner and face three locked doors – one for each of Mara’s three gifts.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to imagine what happens next, as the booming voice of Mara cries, “Foolish mortals! You looked into my eyes… Your path now leads to the Gates of Doom!” In a flash, the temple begins to collapse as Indy detours you into a massive three story chamber overlooked by a sixty foot tall carving of Mara, with half of his stone face crumbled away to reveal a flaming, laser-shooting Forbidden Eye.

© Disney Photoblography. Click for source.

When Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Forbidden Eye opened in 1995, it totally revolutionized dark rides with its motion-base vehicles, incredible special effects, and unique opening as Mara randomly selects one of his three doors for you, each leading down a unique path. As far as ancient adventures go, Temple of the Forbidden Eye has an incredible, cinematic story, an unbelievable setting, and a technologically advanced ride system that personalizes each experience. We’ve gone Behind the Ride on Indiana Jones Adventure; so if you’re dying to learn more about this Ancient Wonder, look no further. Literally, look no further. Or as Indy sighs at the end of the ride: “Next time, you wear blindfolds, okay?”

Honorable Mention: Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Crystal Skull at the extravagent Tokyo DisneySea borrows much of the Forbidden Eye’s story, layout, and special effects, replacing Mara with a malevolent South American crystal skull. Tokyo’s version benefits from a higher budget and more advanced special effects, but the original ride’s three doors and Mara storyline give it the edge in our books. 


What is it about ancient adventures that fascinate us? We just love a good curse or an ancient god, and these attractions give us the opportunity to feel the force of those mythical stories right in our face. For our Seven “Ancient Wonders, we chose the best stories and the most fun attractions we could find across the globe. What do you think? Have you experienced any of these mythological marvels? Which channel the fury of the gods best?

Don’t forget to check out our countdowns of the Seven Natural Wonders and the Seven Modern Wonders of the Theme Park World.