How can you visit a Disney or Universal park without a ticket? It's not as impossible as you think. Last month, we took an emotional trip down memory lane by seeing how Disney Parks background music can instantly transport you back to the happiest place on Earth. But even if the music of Main Street, the energy of Adventureland, or the techno-tunes of Tomorrowland can bring a tear to your eye, there's one sense that can do better...

It's been suggested that smell is more closely connected to memory than any other sense. Don't believe us? Take a read through our absolutely unforgettable theme park scents (good and bad!) and just imagine... it's almost like you can smell them right here, right now...! Which have we missed? Add your favorite Disney and Universal park smells in the comments below!

1. Soarin' scents

Image: keut kate, Flickr

Attraction: Soarin'
Smells: rain-covered evergreens, orange zest, salty waves

When the Lost Legend: Soarin' Over California opened in 2001, it changed what simulators could do. Instead of wild, extreme trips through the galaxy, into the human body, and back to the future, Soarin' was graceful; elegant; simple. Though the ride featured spectacular scenes of California's deserts, mountains, cities, and coasts synched with a cinematic score by composer Jerry Goldsmith, one of its most talked-about features was also its most subtle: scents of evergreens, orange groves, and salty ocean surf were released at key moments during the ride, adding an incredible layer of detail.

Today, four Soarin' attractions exist in the world – in California, Florida, China, and Japan. All have updated to or premiered with a new flight film touring over modern and natural wonders of the world. Though the new ride film and score (inspired by the original) have been met with mixed reviews, new scents have been swapped into the experience, like fresh-cut roses as you soar over the Taj Mahal, soil and grass in the African savannah, and sea breeze in Fiji. None have quite reached the iconic status of the original's "orange groves," but the scents are still spectacular.

2. Sailing through PIRATE WATERS

Attraction: Pirates of the Caribbean
Smells: musty water, low-hanging fog, moonlit bays

The smells of Pirates of the Caribbean are truly special to Disney Parks fans, capable of instantly setting the ride's tone. Floating along gently-churning channels carved through ancient grottos, sailing directly into the midst of a fog-enshrouded pirate battle as cannon fire explodes, drifting through a Caribbean village set aflame... What is it that makes Pirates smell... well... like Pirates?

At least part of the answer lies in a chemical called bromine. Like chlorine, bromine is a chemical cleaner used to treat water that comes in contact with people (which, as you know, the water on Pirates sure does!). The difference is that bromine's unique and difficult-to-describe smell is less noxious than chlorine's. So why don't more pools, fountains, and splash pads cut down on the chlorine smell and adopt the more agreeable scent of bromine? Simple: bromine is more expensive.

3. Dining in the THREE BROOMSTICKS

Image: Universal / Warner Bros.

Attraction: The Three Broomsticks Tavern

The village of Hogsmeade is a legendary storybook location beloved by generations of Harry Potter fans, and the snowcapped Scottish town is recreated in staggering detail at Universal's Wizarding World of Harry Potter in California, Florida, and Japan. Owing to series creator J.K. Rowling's insistence on maintaining the town's "real" scale even in a theme park setting, Hogsmeade's authenticity literally created the idea of remaking physical places from films into to-scale habitable lands, letting guests shop where their favorite characters shop... and eat where they eat.

One escape from the hustle-and-bustle of jam-packed shops is the Three Broomsticks tavern, legendary home to the iconic Butterbeer shared by Harry, Ron, and Hermione in the series. The Three Broomsticks serves British fare and Wizarding World drinks (like Pumpkin Juice, Fizzy Otters, and specialty beers) with no Coca-Cola in sight. The smell of sweet Butterbeer, roasted meets, and the cluttered wood of the interior creates a one-of-a-kind scent that feels like home to Potter fans.

4. Excavating a LOST TEMPLE

Image: Disney

Attraction: Indiana Jones Adventure
Smell: ancient passageways, musty tunnels, stale air

We've already sung the praises of the Modern Marvel: Indiana Jones Adventure many times, so it won't surprise you when we call out the spectacular smell of the ride and its half-mile queue weaving through the Temple of the Forbidden Eye and its pre-tripped booby traps. As guests tour through the collapsing temple en route to the Chamber of Destiny where Mara's three doors await, they descent further into the temple... and into its ancient, musty, stale smell...  

Like Pirates of the Caribbean, Disney isn't intentionally pumping a given scent into the Temple of the Forbidden Eye to create the smell in question. Rather, it's a lot of things coming together in a memorable way, like the open-air bits of the queue shaded by tropical flora and wafting scents from the Jungle Cruise, sealed-off subterranean chambers farther along in the queue, and eventually the ride's antechamber where hydraulically-powered vehicles join the mix. The ride itself features misty lava pools, fog explosions from Mara's deadly eyes, and those delicious dark ride smells, coalescing into a distinct scent identity that's become synonymous with "Temple of the Forbidden Eye" in guests' minds.

5. Smelling the FALL OF ROME

Image: EasyWDW.com

Attraction: Spaceship Earth
Smell: burning logs, crackling campfire

The fall of Rome may not be highlight of human history, but it sure is a memorable moment on Epcot's anchor attraction, Spaceship Earth. After a scene depicting the Roman Empire's roll in expanding global communication with chariots converging on Rome from afar, the city's pillaging by mercinary invaders follows. 

The Fall of Rome may be one of the first times Disney intentionally pumped scents into a dark ride to increase its effectiveness, and boy is it effective. Some are reticent to say it smells good (it is the destruction of a bulk of humanity's recorded knowledge, after all), but the smoking, fiery scent of the city in ruins is definitely unique.

6. Queuing in a REDWOOD FOREST

Image: Universal

Attraction: E.T. Adventure
Smell: Forest, wet moss, wood

There's something absolutely magical about E.T. Adventure, the opening day dark ride at Universal Studios Florida. The king of all throwback attractions, the ride is set up as a sequel to the 1982 film featuring a unique story developed by Steven Spielberg. In a pre-show video, Spielberg himself explains that E.T.'s "Green Planet" home is dying and needs his magical touch to come back to life. Our job is to get him there by boarding unique bicycle-stylized seats that will fly through the stars to the barren (and frankly, scary) planet just in time to bring it back to musical, colorful, watery life. 

Believe it or not, one of the highlights of the attraction is its queue, in which guests are instantly transported into a massive Californian redwood forest of towering trees disappearing into the dark canopy above. The misty, moonlight forest is caked in moss with replicas of film props (like the Speak & Spell) and even an impressive queue animatronic. But the real highlight is the smell. Ostensibly matching the deep, wet, mossy forest, it could very well be that the smell of E.T. Adventure's queue has merely been "ret-conned" into smelling like forest when really no forest on Earth smells like it. In any case, the intoxicating and powerful smell of night time air, wet wood, evergreens, and moss is well-loved by almost everyone.

But not all theme park smells are so beloved... One of our least favorite is up next...


Add new comment

About Theme Park Tourist

Theme Park Tourist is one of the web’s leading sources of essential information and entertaining articles about theme parks in Orlando and beyond.

We are one of the world’s largest theme park guide sites, hosting detailed guides to more than 80 theme parks around the globe.

Find Out More About Us...

Plan Your Trip

Our theme park guides contain reviews and ratings of rides, restaurants and hotels at more than 80 theme parks worldwide.

You can even print them.

Start Planning Now...