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. Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Ride Count: 7
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. The opening of Toy Story Land in 2018 at least added two (highly-decorated, but off-the-shelf) family rides, but concideded with the closing of the park's Lost Legend: The Great Movie Ride... at least until the new Mickey's Runaway Railway re-opens in that space in 2019.
And sure, you’d expect a movie-themed park to have shows and character encounters to augment the low ride count, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios does! But seeing that bare number – 6! – helps explain why fans feel ashamed of the dated park.
What’s next? In 2014, Disney CEO Bob Iger accidentally let it slip that Disney’s Hollywood Studios would soon kick-off a California Adventure sized rebuild that most expected to downplay the tired, dated, "studio" theme. Toy Story Land was certainly one piece of that reinvention... But of course, the new Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge land is highlight of the park. The new Star Wars themed land opened with just one attraction – Smugglers Run. A second, Rise of the Resistance, will follow in December, then Mickey & Minnie's Runaway Railway in 2020. When all is said and done, Disney's Hollywood Studios will have 9 rides – still have the fewest rides of any Disney or Universal Park, but at least it’ll be mostly flashy, headlining ones!
16. 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, plus two transportation rides (a train and a quickly-closed boat ride). Since then, Kali River Rapids, the Modern Marvel: Expedition Everest, and two carnival ride additions in Chester and Hester’s Dino-Rama had 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 rides, both stunning. The headliner is Flight of Passage – a simulated Banshee flight journey through the distant moon – but fans are also enamored with the Na’vi River Journey, a good old-fashioned boat ride through a bioluminescent forest to encounter the flora and fauna of Pandora.
What's next? Nothing's on the docket officially (given the recent Pandora opening) but rumors are always swirling. Right now, the two most talked-about contenders are a copy of the Zootopia-themed land currently under construction in Shanghai, and/or having Indiana Jones overtake Dinoland, replacing the prehistoric dig site with a South American land and temple excavation.
15. 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.
13. Walt Disney Studios Paris
Ride Count: 10
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. Still, each piecemeal addition was a Band-Aid on a broken bone... a dozen flashy E-Tickets wouldn't fix the fundamental problem with a cheap and tiny studio park.
What’s next? It's long been known that Walt Disney Studios Park needed a California-Adventure-sized redo of its own. In February 2018, one was announced. Now in the midst of a €2 billion investment, when the Parisian park's facelift is complete it'll have a central lagoon with World Showcase style pavilions situated all around... but rather than international countries, these pavilions will be "best-of" snippets of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, a Frozen land, the existing Toy Story Land, a Marvel land, and more. While we don't have a final ride count, we can expect at least one major ride in each when the transformation is complete - likely 2023 or so.