Theme parks are living creatures. Sure, they grow and change and "will never be complete..." But even more, they're made of complex systems and elements all working together so effortlessly, you may not even realize they're working at all. Berms act as skin, protecting parks from the outside world; intuitive layouts are a skeleton, giving the park structure; pathways act as veins and arteries, pulsing guests instead of blood; restrooms are... Well...
The point is, when it comes to the heart, lungs, and brain of theme parks, the analogy is simple: rides! And don't misunderstand: the best theme parks are all about balance, featuring meet-and-greets, restaurants, shows, walkthroughs, scenery, and interactive exhibits that make a day feel complete and worthwhile... But if you were about to take a first-time visitor to your favorite theme park, chances are that the rides would be your first priority and theirs...
So today – just for fun! – we want to take a look at Disney and Universal's parks to do the numbers. Exactly how many rides does each of their parks really have? For our purposes, we’ll define a ride as a specific type of attraction wherein the rider moves – so that's excluding most shows, walkthroughs, and other "attractions." During our countdown, be sure to watch for links to Lost Legends and Disaster Files – in-depth features telling the full, unabridged stories of forgotten favorites and disastrous missteps – along the way. But before we start, ask yourself: which parks do you suspect have the fewest rides? Which parks would you think have the most? What about resorts? Think you can’t be surprised by any of the statistics here? Read on…
17. Walt Disney Studios Paris
Ride Count: 8
When Walt Disney Studios Park opened in 2002, it was meant to be the second gate that would save Disneyland Paris from financial disaster. Instead, guests encountered Disney’s most pathetic and pointless theme park ever. We chronicled the in-depth experience of the starved park in its own must-read feature, Disaster Files: Walt Disney Studios Park, but in short, the itty-bitty park contained only three rides: a clone of Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, an Aladdin-themed Dumbo spinner, and a Studio Backlot Tour even more pointless than Florida’s.
A few additions since have added a handful of off-the-shelf family flat rides in a Toy Story Land, the indoor Crush’s Coaster, a spinning Cars flat ride, and a version of The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. The piece de resistance arrived in 2014 when the Modern Marvel: Ratatouille: L'Aventure Totalement Toquée de Rémy opened in a custom-built Parisian mini-land.
What’s next? It's long been known that Walt Disney Studios Park needed more than just new rides, but a fundamental reinvention. In February 2018, one was announced. Now in the midst of a €2 billion investment, when the "studio" park will finally expand past its itty bitty footprint, adding lands themed to The Avengers, Frozen, and Star Wars alongside the newer Toy Story and Ratatouille lands. In 2020, expect two Marvel attractions plus yet another rebirth of the insipid Studio Tour, albeit now shortened to its smallest footprint yet and with a Cars overlay.
16. Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Ride Count: 9
When Michael Eisner commissioned the opening of the Disney-MGM Studios in 1989, the entire park revolved around the tram-led, multi-hour Backlot Studio Tour that promised to whisk guests through the park’s actual production facilities. Only problem is that, despite Eisner’s intentions, film production never came to Florida, leaving the itty-bitty “studio” park with just two rides.
Smartly, Disney set out to plus the park with can’t-miss E-Tickets like the Lost Legend: Star Tours, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster so that even when the Studio Tour finally folded in 2014, the park still had a purpose. That year, CEO Bob Iger let it slip that Hollywood Studios would soon kick off a California-Adventure-sized rebuild of its own, debuting a new identity that downplays the tired "studio" theme in favor of immersive, cinematic lands.
Since then, the opening of Toy Story Land in 2018 at least added two (highly-decorated, but off-the-shelf) family rides. Then, the park's once-starring Lost Legend: The Great Movie Ride was replaced with the equally ambitious Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway. But the park's true rebirth came with the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, Imagineering's modern take on the Wizarding World formula. The land represents both an original world designed by Imagineers and a massive, interconnected mythology. But its two standouts are certainly Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run and the modern magnum opus, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance.
In its relatively short life, Hollywood Studios has had a number of identities and directions. In Disney's long pursuit of plussing the park, they're created a unique situation. While it may have the fewest rides of any Disney World park today, most of its rides would be classified as "E-Ticket" headliners! Maybe that's why Disney Parks fans have invented a clever moniker for the Studios park: "the worst Disney park, with the best rides."
What’s next? Unknown.
15. Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Ride Count: 9
When Disney’s Animal Kingdom opened in 1998, it represented a new ideology of Imagineering. The hyper-realistic park was truly wild, inviting exploration into exotic, photorealistic African villages; entire collapsed Asian ruins, and archaeological digs worth digging into. Animal Kingdom was a creative triumph, with almost 600 acres of stunning detail.
What it didn’t have was rides. The park opened with only four. Sure, animal encounters, exotic dining, and exploration are really the bread-and-butter here, but the park Disney pushed heavily as being “Nahtazū” sure didn’t offer many rides – just the horrifying Lost Legend: Countdown to Extinction and the inspiring Kilimanjaro Safaris). Since then, Kali River Rapids, the Modern Marvel: Expedition Everest, and two carnival ride additions in Chester and Hester’s Dino-Rama upped the ride count to seven.
When Animal Kingdom’s newest land, Pandora – The World of Avatar opened in summer 2017, the park at last gained two new substantial rides. Avatar Flight of Passage is the park's new headliner, while the tranquil Na'vi River Journey is a peaceful tour through the bioluminscent jungles of Pandora.
What's next? Unknown.
14. Universal Studios Hollywood
Ride Count: 10
Universal Studios’ original park in Hollywood traces its theme park roots to the 1960s. But for the bulk of its history, the Los Angeles park has been unique among “studio” themed parks for, y’know, actually being a real studio. Universal’s Californian campus is, first and foremost, a real working movie studio that, over the years, began to add shows, demonstrations, and rides to augment the world-famous Studio Tour.
Even with additions like Jurassic Park: The Ride, Revenge of the Mummy, TRANSFORMERS: The Ride, and Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem, the hour-long Studio Tour remained the reason to visit. On-board trams, guests glide past real, historic and modern movie sets, may see actual live productions, and interact with increasingly-technological staged encounters with earthquakes, floods, King Kong, Jaws, and more.
The only thing that could’ve dethroned the Studio Tour as the park’s draw was the 2016 opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, a near-identical duplicate of the Hogsmeade Village that debuted in Florida years before. Its Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and Flight of the Hippogriff upped the park’s ride count by 2 to a reasonable 10, and it’s worth noting that most of the 10 are grand, big-budget spectaculars with only one family spinner.
What’s next? Fresh from the opening of Hogsmeade, the park isn’t slowing much. The Walking Dead Attraction opened in 2016 (though it’s not a ride and thus doesn’t count here), Shrek 4D made an even swap for the Dreamworks Theater in 2018, and Jurassic Park: The Ride is becoming Jurassic World in 2019 (another even swap), but a leveling of some of the studio facilities signals that Universal is ready to continue this studio’s transformation into a theme park proper, with Super Nintendo World taking shape on the lower lot. When it opens, it's expected to have two rides: a Mario Kart thrill ride, and a slow-moving Yoshi family ride.
Ride Count: 10
Epcot is unique among the theme parks on this list for the grand (and not-so-grand) transformative periods it’s undergone. Disney’s hopes of running an interactive, educational, immersive, permanent World’s Fair sponsored by corporations and highlighting areas of science and industry has seen its ups and downs.
In the park’s early years, lengthy, educational, Animatronic-heavy dark rides told the story of the park’s themed pavilions, but most have closed one-by-one to populate our series, Lost Legends: Body Wars, The Living Seas, World of Motion (and then the original Test Track), Journey into Imagination, Soarin’, Maelstrom, Universe of Energy, and the father of all closed classics, Horizons. Each has closed to make way for more modern rides altogether disconnected from the park’s original purpose.
In 2017, Disney took the unusual step of addressing the lowered gravity on the park's Mission: SPACE, effectively creating two distinct attractions to our way of thinking, which nullified the ride count lost by the continuing closures of classics - this time, the Lost Legend: Universe of Energy.
What’s next? At the semi-annual D23 Expo in 2019, Disney at last showed (part of) its hand when it comes to the future of Epcot... in this case, it means removing the future entirely. In fact, Future World will be subdivided into World Nature, World Celebration, and World Discovery. Over the next several years, the park will be reinvigorated by way of (you guessed it) Disney, Pixar, and Marvel characters, with Guardians of the Galaxy, Moana, Beauty and the Beast, Mary Poppins, and Ratatouille moving into pavilions across the park, with more announcements forthcoming likely to cover the Imagination pavilion and Coco replacing the Three Caballeros into Mexico.