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In 1955 Walt Disney himself opened Disneyland in Anaheim, California, as the first true theme park in the world. Since then, further Disney parks have opened across three continents and the chain has become the most popular and profitable in the world, bringing in over 100 million visitors each year.

Disney parks lead the way in many fields: the immersive theming, the shows each park provides, the fireworks every night, and even the hotels. Rarely, though, do you hear about Disney's ability to design high quality roller coasters. There are many examples, though, which mix traditional Disney storytelling with high-octane thrills. Here’s a guide to my top 6 Disney roller coasters.

6. Space Mountain: Mission 2  (Disneyland Paris)

Space Mountain is eccentrically themed to Jules Verne's "De La Terre a la Lune". Image © Alan Taff

Just like Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, there are Space Mountains all over the place. In fact, every single Disney resort is home to one. But unlike the closely-related "wild west" coasters, the sci-fi versions are all very different. They share an indoor setting in common, but past that point they take you to very different parts of the universe. The majority of Space Mountains are small, wild mouse-style rides; they slam you around tight corners and down small (but steep) drops, the scariest part being that you’re in total darkness.

But as with Big Thunder, Paris has pulled one out of the bag. Inside Space Mountain: Mission 2’s dome, which is particularly well decorated, you are literally launched out of a canon at 44mph, reaching a height 105 feet, and then plummeting through a 3000 feet course and three inversions. Revamped in 2005 (hence the Mission 2 moniker) the ride is now home to some stunning special effects, including planets and even a black hole warp effect at the end, making you feel like you’re inverting. Overall, Space Mountain: Mission 2 is the most intense coaster at any of the main Disneyland style parks, and is one of the most enjoyable too (even if the over-the-shoulder restraints are starting to show their age).

5. Big Thunder Mountain (Disneyland Paris)

Splashing down in the surrounding lake. Image © Robin Peeters

There are Big Thunder Mountain Railroads at four of the five Disney resorts, (in Florida, California, Paris and Tokyo, but not Hong Kong) and all bear recognisable similarities. Each sees guests boarding mine train-style vehicles for a race around a faux mountain, and every version is packed with western oddities, such as wagons, water towers and oil pumps. However, Disneyland Paris' Big Thunder stands head-and-shoulders above the rest.

Manufactured by Vekoma, it is younger than all of its counterparts by at least 5 years (13 in California's case). Whereas the other three Big Thunder Mountain Railroads travel over about 2,500 feet of track and hit a top speed of 30/35mph, this bad boy covers 4,921 feet of steel and tops out at over 40mph. For a mine train coaster those are some impressive stats, and when you’re whistling around, under and over boulders and bridges you really feel it. There are some great little pops of "airtime", a great water splash down and an intense pitch black drop finale which all add up to make this one the best mine train roller coasters on earth.

4. Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster (Disney's Hollywood Studios and Walt Disney Studios, Paris)

Don't let the garish exterior fool you, Rock 'n' Roller Coaster is one slick ride. Image © Pieter Peeters

The success of Space Mountain at Disneyland Paris appears to have inspired the installation of Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster at two of its sister parks Both share a basic ride idea - a big launch, followed by 3 inversions, all set in the dark with strobes and loud music. The difference is of course the theme, and that Rock ‘n’ Roller coaster is much more extreme. The two versions of this ride are near-identical, although they have slightly different themes. The Florida version opened in 1999, three years earlier than the Parisian. Both star rock-and-roll legends Aerosmith, and feature intros with members of the band.

At Disney's Hollywood Studios the idea is that you need to get to a concert in a hurry, so you take an extra speedy trip in one of the bands limos. At Walt Disney Studios, you’re in a limo again, but this time you’re testing a coaster designed by Aerosmith (wait, what?!). The ride opens with a powerful 57mph launch with the help of huge magnets in the track. You then cycle through an 80 feet tall ‘rollover’ inversion, which turns you upside down twice, some fast banked turns, dives and finally a corkscrew. Both rides are great, although personally I feel the Florida version is a little better, and neither are for the feint-hearted.


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