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This Modern Marvel is Disney's Best Ride EVER... And You've Probably Never Ridden It!

Our path forward has been cut off. Miles below the surface, claustrophobia is setting in...

With brakes sparking, the cart regains control just as a new view appears before us.

Now, the rocks around us appear to have changed. The smooth, gentle swirls and sweet mossy rocks have given way to more jagged features... razor-sharp stalactites loom perilously overhead as noxious steam and gasses hiss from craggily openings... The music – once idyllic – shifts to something more... anxious. Suspended from the harsh rocks are strange, glowing orbs... They're an otherworldly green, glowing from behind the molten sediment they're encased in, dripping in some unusual, thick goo.

As the music swirls and we race forward through the steam, we slow to marvel at an unimaginable sight: an endless, gargantuan chamber so vast, it carries its own weather pattern.

Image: Disney

The misty subterranean sea appears to stretch on into infinity, its cavernous "ceiling" too far to concieve, supported by jagged, harsh rocky pillars that look as if they could crumble at any second. Clouds suspended in the distant haze flicker with bolts of lightning. As we breathlessly look off into the eternal sea, a bolt of lightning strikes inches from the car, leaving all on board jumping out of their skin.

The car accelerates away and we find ourselves at last in a climactic position: deep within the gnarled, endless, molten walls of the planet's core. It's hot, and these otherworldly rocks glow with an immense heat. A shrill, hissing roar echoes from somewhere within these endless tunnels... escaping gas? It must be... And yet, those dripping, molten eggs... they must belong to something...

Suddenly, to the left, movement catches our eyes... it's the silhouette of a hideous, spider-like leg slamming against a wall, trying to break through to us... 

As the sound of flickering heat and roiling flames surround, the car dips and dives along the uneven, newly-cooled pathways of the cavern, which grow narrower and narrower. Steam bursts from twisted cracks in the walls, spraying from vents desperately trying to release pressure... An underground gas plumes and ignites, sending flames tearing through the glowing red walls that surround. The cart aligns with a steep incline, mustering all its strength to forge up the hill toward the glowing volcanic core.

Another hissing screech... But this time, it's closer. 

As fire plumes again, we see, on our right, something so incredible, it's practically indescribable. It's towering and incandescent, perfectly camologued against the lava tube's molten, liquid walls... it's some sort of arthropod... an ancient, prehistoric crustracean forged by deep earth pressure and immense heat... the spider-like creature is at once beautiful and horrible, no doubt capable of swimming and crawling through lava tubes much faster than you and I... or our vehicle.

And at once, it's clear what we've discovered... the mother of those eggs whose nest we disturbed. And make no mistake: the amazing, oversized Lava Monster is so beloved by Disney Parks fans, it singlehandedly topped our must-read Countdown of the Best Animatronics on Earth. Yes, this subterranean arachnid earned the highest marks in our global-spanning list for its size, power, and (if you can believe it) subtlety...

Image: Disney

Because the gargantuan creature – half-submerged in boiling, steaming lava – turns to us. When it spots us, her glowing, hypnotic eyes narrow... horrific, alien-like fangs gnash and the massive creature rears back, throwing her head wildly and filling the height of the chamber as it shrieks and roars. Steam begins pouring out of the lava tube, encasing the subterranean monster as she roars before lunging forward at us.

As steam and fog fill the chamber, our cart seems to understand just how dire the situation is. With hissing, trembling, and rumbling all around us, the car accelerates, racing headlong into the darkness to escape the lava monster. From 0 - 60, we escape mere feet ahead of the eruption, fog and light chasing just inches behind. The upward acceleration races into a breakneck turn as we spiral continuously higher and higher, faster and faster...

Image: Disney

Then, ahead: light. Without so much as a breath, the vehicle races upward and toward a craggily opening into the blinding sun. Surely it'll slow... but it can't. Instead, we literally burst out of the side of Mount Prometheus in a flurry of smoke, floating helplessly in a moment of sincere roller-coaster-style airtime before slamming back to Earth, racing through the outer rim of Mysterious Island's caldera.

Its power expelled, the cart gradually slows as it completes its perimeter run of the caldera, finally crossing an oxidized bridge and providing unbeatable views of the Mountain we just conquered, still bellowing forth fire and smoke from the eruption we caused. 

As the vehicle returns to a a surface-level unloading dock, we exit and race down the stairs back to Mysterious Island (which, clandestinely, gives away one of the ride's best kept secrets... your Terravator really did move... it took you up to the ride's loading dock on the land's second story... But shh...). On the way out, we can't help but to pass by a plaque that offers a sage piece of advice.

Image: Joel, Flickr (license)

We always end our in-depth ride features with the best on-ride video we can find to bring the experience to life for you. As always, we turn to our friends at SoCal Attractions 360, who made the trek to Tokyo to record what may be the best low-light video available. Their point-of-view shoot reveals more than the human eye can see on its own. Take a Journey to the Center of the Earth with this must-watch video:

Buried

With our Modern Marvels series, we've set out to chronicle the in-depth experiences of the world's best rides. From Mystic Manor to The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, the beloved Indiana Jones Adventure and the one-of-a-kind Verbolten... Still, it may be that none of these world-renowned rides can hold a candle to Journey to the Center of the Earth.

Image: Disney

So when will Journey to the Center of the Earth find its way to a Disney Park near you? Unless you already live in Japan, chances are slim.

Years ago when PANDORA – The World of Avatar was still nothing but a vague concept, we created a just-for-fun list of seven other concepts for Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and proudly listed Mysterious Island among them. Not only does the land celebrate natural wonders and man’s eternal hunger for exploration, but its two iconic rides – 20,000 Leagues and Journey – just happen to be expeditions into the unknown with iconic (if imaginary) animal interactions as their highlights…

Image: John Carkeet, Flickr (license) 

The truth is, Journey to the Center of the Earth was custom-built, creatively charged wonder… but it was also a big-budget risk. Only the Oriental Land Company’s no-holds-barred financing could’ve seen it through to opening. After all, Journey is one of countless incredible attractions at DisneySea – rides like the Twilight-Zone free Tower of Terror and the definitive Indiana Jones Adventure – potential subjects for future Modern Marvel entries… (Let us know in the comments if you’d be interested in learning more about DisneySea’s one of-a-kind versions of Internet classics.)

Meanwhile, fans of U.S. Disney Parks believe that, evidently, they’re unlikely to ever again see another modern, intellectual-property-free E-Ticket… that’s fair, given that the powers in charge of Disney’s operations in Anaheim and Orlando seem determined to only green-light projects tied to proven box office successes… and rightly so! After spending billions to acquire Pixar, Lucasfilm, and Marvel, wouldn’t Disney be downright daft to ignore the pop culture phenomena that have joined their canon?

Image: Disney

And yet, Journey to the Center of the Earth isn’t based on a hit movie or a current franchise. It doesn’t feature a beloved character or a familiar setting. It doesn’t cross-promote a Disney film, and it cannot be duplicated at every Disney resort around the globe to save on research and development. Maybe that’s exactly what makes it one of the greatest rides in the world. Exclusive, elusive, and unbelievable, it may forever be regarded as Disney’s height. Journey to the Center of the Earth reminds us just what Disney Imagineers are capable of – where they’re able to take us – when untethered from the box office. And that is a much-needed reminder.

The incredible story of Journey to the Center of the Earth doesn't exist in isolation... in fact, it's just one of dozens of entries in our In-Depth Collections Library, home to the detailed stories behind disastrous failures, closed classics, and modern masterpiece attractions. Make the jump there to set course for your next astounding journey.

Now, we want to hear your thoughts. Is Journey to the Center of the Earth on your bucket list? Is this worldwide wonder enough to catapult DisneySea into the rank of Disney’s greatest theme park ever? Were you surprised by Disney’s decades-long race to earn Jules Verne and his fantastic adventure novels a place in the parks? 

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