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Theme Park Showdown: Universal vs Disney

Discussing Disney’s finest

Image: Disney

Home field advantage is a thing in all sports, and it’s a part of theme park tourism, also. Disney invented the dark ride, and they’ve had every year since 1955 to perfect it. They have done that. I’m of the opinion that a dozen dark rides are A+ attractions. That doesn’t mean that the ones you picked are part of that list, though. Let’s take a look…

Haunted Mansion

Image: DisneyIf you asked my wife to name her one true theme park attraction, she’d either say Millennium Force or Haunted Mansion. For me, it’s Millennium Force, while Haunted Mansion isn’t even my favorite dark ride at Disney. As hinted earlier, my answer for that is Spaceship Earth. Even so, I happily acknowledge that Haunted Mansion is proof that genre mash-ups work at theme parks. The spooky/silly nature of the attraction is why it has stood the test of time. It’s obviously an A+ dark ride and one of the greatest ever.

Na’Vi River Journey

Image: DisneyHere’s the surprise of the list. While many critics suggest a chasm between Avatar Flight of Passage and its much less storied sibling, Na’Vi River Journey, you’re head over heels in love with both. Each attraction at Pandora – The World of Avatar is ranked in the top 10 in the world according to you. I wouldn’t pick both of them as the best overall like that, but I happen to agree that Na’Vi River Journey is an understated masterpiece of Imagineering. You genuinely believe that you’re riding a boat down the river on an alien planet, just as you accept that danger lurks everywhere. In that way, it’s a kindred spirit to Skull Island, only done better. Na’Vi River Journey is an A attraction…at a minimum. 

Splash Mountain

Image: Disney

Happiness is underrated on dark rides. A crucial part of efficient set design is constructing something that will entertain guests. Joyous sequences abound on Splash Mountain, one of the longest rides on this list. You'll delight in all the merriment from these anthropomorphic animals, chortling at their misadventures. Then, you'll splash into the water and wonder why life can't be that simple and pure all of the time. Splash Mountain is an A+ attraction. Period.

Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

Image: DisneyOnly Disney could take a simple concept like the drop tower and evolve it into one of the most brilliant dark rides ever. For no logical reason, you enter an elevator that Rod Serling has warned you is cursed. It’s terrible strategy on your part, but you regret nothing the instant your ride begins bouncing. Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is your favorite dark ride on the planet. Who am I to disagree? It’s also an A+.

Given the grades listed here, the conclusion here is obvious. Disney’s dark rides are all A+ attractions save for arguably Na’Vi River Journey. Universal has two that can definitely hang with the best of Disney. Then, they have two others that are solid theme park attractions, ones that you’d ride again and again on a light crowd day. They just can’t measure up to Disney’s standards…and again, Disney has a bunch more phenomenal dark rides not even listed here. They OWN the dark ride industry.

Round one undeniably goes to Disney over Universal, and even the most passionate Universal fan would have to acknowledge that.

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