Have you heard the news? Universal Orlando's newest "E-Ticket" attraction, Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure is the first "story coaster" in the world...! Or is it?
What exactly makes a coaster "worthy" of being called a "story" coaster? Of course, there's no official definition, so to help us make sense of what's what, it got us thinking about four categories of classifying roller coasters by their storytelling. And though the lines can be blurry, we tend to think of it this way:
- "THRILL" COASTERS. Most of the bare wood or steel coasters at your neighborhood amusement park probably would fit here. Think of Six Flags’ Batman: The Ride, Knott’s Berry Farm’s Silver Bullet, or Cedar Point’s Millennium Force. Though some amount of decoration or style might exist in the name, queue, or station, the point of these coasters is to be coasters. It’s what they’re good at!
- "SENSATION" COASTERS. Think of Universal’s Incredible Hulk. Though ultimately it is a thrill ride, there’s something a bit deeper - experiencing the rage of the Hulk. Cedar Point’s Maverick has the personality of a buckin’ bronco, twisting through canyons and racing along water as cannons fire. Busch Gardens Tampa’s SheiKra is named for the African bird known to dive straight down to pluck its prey, matching the coaster’s ultra-wide winged train and its vertical drop and elegant splashdown. It’s not just about riding a coaster; it’s about experiencing a particular sensation.
- "THEME" COASTERS. Though Big Thunder Mountain, Space Mountain, and even Seven Dwarfs Mine Train don’t walk us through a plot, they do have a unifying idea; they take us on a journey or through a process, often wrapped in a world. But do these rise to the level of a “story” coaster? To our thinking, they don’t. Though guests are part of these worlds - even briefly - they’re not active participants whose actions “influence” a story’s progression. Instead, they’re sailing through space or riding a wild mine train. Though perhaps wrapped less elegantly, even Six Flags, Cedar Fair, and Merlin parks can and do feature coasters of this caliber, like Smiler, Adventure Express, and more.
- "STORY" COASTERS. A relatively new term reserved for the most elaborate rides, we argue that a story coaster would need to bring guests along for a plot - a beginning, middle, and end. Through these experiences, guests would need to disembark having played a role. Though background and exposition may happen in the queue, the ride itself would need to present rising action, a climax, falling action, and a conclusion - a lofty mark to hit when you’re traveling at roller coaster speed!
It's not that one is better than another or that every ride should strive to move "up" a level. But thinking of it this way help us to decide if Hagrid's really is the first "story" coaster on Earth (hint: it's not) and what other rides might fit into this class... Take a look at the ones we decided on, then let us know which we missed!
1. Revenge of the Mummy
Location: Universal Studios Florida
One of the early adopters of Universal’s relentless push to modernize its “studio” park, Revenge of the Mummy was once billed as the world’s first “psychological thrill ride.” Especially given that its max speed is 40 miles per hour and its largest drop is technically the same as Seven Dwarfs Mine Train’s, it’s quite a feat that the attraction largely lives up to the hype! Even 15 years later (a lifetime in Universal years), the ride is still considered among Universal’s best, earning it an in-depth making-of feature here, Modern Marvels: Revenge of the Mummy.
But what’s most impressive is that Universal really pulled out all the stops in adapting the Mummy franchise and its heroes into a more-or-less coherent story that guests ride through. Our motivation? Imhotep is risen, has sucked the soul out of a stagehand, and is determined to kill us. Our goal? Find the symbol of the Medjai - the ancient protective order tasked with returning Imhotep to the grave - before it’s too late.
Along the way, Revenge of the Mummy is equal parts frightening and fun, with nimble 12-person “mine carts” that first act as dark ride vehicles before twisting, diving, slamming to a halt, and launching. Along the way, the ride uses animatronics, dead-end track, backwards sections, a turntable, and - in its most memorable moment - a “fake unload” station that then sees guests dive into a pit of fiery steam. Peace is restored when the Mummy is seemingly sealed away once again.
2. Expedition Everest
Location: Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Though Disney’s “mountains” are among the most iconic roller coasters on Earth, we’d argue that most of them don’t really rise to the level of “story” coasters. Take Disneyland’s Matterhorn Bobsleds. While riders slalom along the icy mountain, through glacial grottos, and even encounter the Abominable Snowman, the ride isn’t really bringing them along for a plot. Instead, it’s merely conveying the fanciful theme of bobsledding as a joyful and freeing adventure.
However, its sister ride at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is a whole different beast. The Modern Marvel: Expedition Everest benefits from being layered into the park’s photorealistic Asia, which already has enough plot baked in (thanks to legendary Imagineer Joe Rohde and his team) to instantly add context and realism. The queue for Expedition Everest sets up what we need to know by sending guests through a Yeti museum with artifacts for and against the existence of the legendary guardian of the Himalayas.
Once on board, guests trains head for a Forbidden Mountain only to be intercepted by track that’s been mysteriously uprooted… What follows is a descent through the mountain’s caverns with the protective Yeti in pursuit. The voyage through the Himalayas and the Yeti’s attack feels like a story guests are a part of. It’s happening to riders, not just around riders. And though it may feel like a story coaster would be the same every time and thus reduce re-ridability, Everest proves it’s not true, consistently considered one of the resort’s key attractions.