20 Can’t-Miss Theme Park Attractions in Orlando

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Orlando’s theme parks—namely Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando—have become enmeshed in the pop-culture mainstream with classics (think Pirates of the Caribbean and Space Mountain) and modern-day engineering marvels (a Harry Potter thrill ride utilizing advanced robotic arm technology). Tallying up the very best on offer in the city by way of its leading theme parks and lesser-known finds, Orlando’s the only place in the world where you can zip through the heights of Mount Everest, plunge into the depths beneath a mammoth T. rex, and test your limits on a launch coaster in a single day. Here are the 20 theme park attractions you cannot miss—a handy checklist for your next Orlando getaway. —Zachary Laks

Courtesy of Fun Spot America

White Lightning Roller Coaster

WHERE: Fun Spot America, Orlando

With plenty of air-time and some hair-raising turns, White Lightning might surprise those who judge it based on its meek appearance. Standing only 69 feet tall, the region’s first wooden coaster arrived at Orlando’s family-owned Fun Spot America theme park in 2013 and has since won the hearts of coaster fans with its smooth ride and classic out-and-back layout. Reaching speeds up to 44 miles per hour, opt for a seat toward the back of the train to get the full effect of the track’s many bumps and hills.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Orlando Travel Guide

Courtesy of SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment

Mako

WHERE: SeaWorld Orlando

Set to open this summer, Mako will be SeaWorld Orlando’s newest attraction, breaking records as Orlando’s tallest, fastest, and longest roller coaster. The hypercoaster features a 200-foot drop with speeds reaching up to 73 miles per hour on nearly a mile-long track. Expect an unrelenting ride as the train barrels over steep hills and nearly-inverted turns. Named for one of the fastest sharks in the ocean, Mako will anchor SeaWorld’s new shark area that will include the park’s Shark Encounter underwater viewing tunnels and the Shark Underwater Grill.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s SeaWorld Orlando Travel Guide

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Manta

WHERE: SeaWorld Orlando

A top thrill ride at SeaWorld Orlando since 1999, Manta is a themed flying roller coaster that aims to replicate the movement of a manta ray. Charging through loops and twists led by a stylish manta ray trellis in front, riders are suspended beneath the track in a prone position that’s meant to evoke the feeling of flying. The attraction begins with a peak into a manta ray aquarium and extends its theme throughout the ride, including a close encounter with a waterfall and a much-loved dive into a pond of water—where no one gets wet—that’s met by the rush of a wall of water cannons.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s SeaWorld Orlando Travel Guide

Courtesy of Disney

Mission: Space

Mission: Space

WHERE: Epcot, Walt Disney World Resort

A new classic in Epcot since its opening in 2003, Mission: SPACE offers a fun spin on the typical flight simulator, enlisting the help of riders to journey into the galaxies. Groups of four are assigned roles prior to boarding the ride, and your role as either navigator, pilot, commander, or engineer plays a crucial part of the action throughout the 5:38-minute ride. A few years after the ride was introduced, Disney retooled the attraction to welcome those who are more prone to motion sickness, offering a non-spinning, limited-motion simulator that has greatly increased accessibility on the ride.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Walt Disney World Orlando Travel Guide

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Space Mountain

WHERE: Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World Resort

A journey to space by way of a nearly pitch-black roller coaster, there’s as much thrill as there is nostalgia on board Disney World’s beloved Space Mountain. A top attraction since 1975, the indoor coaster remains a family favorite as trains race up to 28 miles per hour on a smooth steel track. An architectural marvel, the attraction houses two identical tracks named the “Alpha” and “Omega” that can hold up to fifteen trains each on the 2:30 ride.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Walt Disney World Orlando Travel Guide

Courtesy of Disney

Expedition Everest

WHERE: Animal Kingdom, Walt Disney World Resort

A feat of modern engineering and inspired Disney magic, Expedition Everest is the rare themed roller coaster that is genuinely thrilling. Rumored to have cost $100 million, topping the list of the world’s most expensive roller coasters, you can see where the money was spent in the extraordinary detail and unique track plotting of this wild ride. The 2:50-minute coaster begins with an ascent up Animal Kingdom’s towering Everest, in search of the Yeti that has been terrorizing the mountain. The train races around a bend at the peak of the mountain to reveal an expanse of track destroyed by the Yeti. Without delay, you’re headed straight back into darkness, spiraling into the mountain where a few chance encounters with the Yeti are imminent.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Walt Disney World Orlando Travel Guide

Courtesy of Disney

Star Tours – The Adventures Continues

WHERE: Disney's Hollywood Studios, Walt Disney World Resort

Turbulence is to be expected on Disney's Star Tours—The Adventures Continue in Hollywood Studios, the immersive Star Wars simulator that thrusts riders through a 3-D journey on the Starspeeder 1000. Dazzling effects whiz by as each flight through the galaxy is randomized, meaning a variety of video segments link together seamlessly to create 96 possible experiences.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Walt Disney World Orlando Travel Guide

Courtesy of Disney

Frozen Ever After

WHERE: Epcot, Walt Disney World Resort

Cruise along the banks of Arendelle and prepare for your time spent among royalty, as Epcot’s most anticipated ride of the year, Frozen Ever After, is set to open this spring—no launch date has been confirmed, but there are rumors that it could be as early as May 1. Expect to see highlights of Disney's blockbuster movie Frozen including appearances from Olaf, Hans, Kristoff, and of course Anna and Elsa, during a slow boat ride that takes up much of what was once Maelstrom. While the complete details of the ride are still under wraps, there’s no doubt the movie’s quintessential “Let It Go” scene will dazzle riders with “frozen fractals all around.”

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Walt Disney World Orlando Travel Guide

Courtesy of Disney

Fantasmic!

WHERE: Disney's Hollywood Studios, Walt Disney World Resort

Pulling out the stops nightly since 1998, about 50 performers and 60 crew members bring Fantasmic! to life each night at Disney's Hollywood Studios. An amalgamation of all things Disney, Mickey leads the 26-minute stage, water, and fire spectacle featuring many of the company’s most iconic heroes, princesses, and villains. From custom-built water jets that provide a screen for animation projection to a fire-breathing dragon that rises 50 feet into the air with a wingspan of 50 feet, the nightly performance of Fantasmic! is the perfect way to end a long day in the park.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Walt Disney World Orlando Travel Guide

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The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

WHERE: Disney's Hollywood Studios, Walt Disney World Resort

Perhaps the scariest hotel you'll ever check in to, Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is a genuinely terrifying themed drop ride. After the queue takes you through a brief tour of the front lobby and decrepit operations hub of the 1939-themed hotel, only the brave enter into the elevator shaft for a thrilling ascent and descent. Beloved for its random drop configuration, each ride is randomized among four drop sequences, keeping all riders on their toes while the sudden drops make them hover over their seats.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Walt Disney World Orlando Travel Guide

Courtesy of Disney

Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith

WHERE: Disney's Hollywood Studios, Walt Disney World Resort

Hold onto your hats on board the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster® Starring Aerosmith, an indoor steel launch—zero to 57 miles per hour in 2.8 seconds—roller coaster that careens through the highways of Los Angeles. Maxing out the speed limit, the coaster is Disney World’s only attraction that features an inversion—three of them actually: two rollover loops and one corkscrew—and is the park’s second-fastest attraction after Epcot’s Test Track. And for the integrated music, expect no less than the greatest hits of Aerosmith, one of the most legendary rock bands, perfectly synced to the track’s many twists and turns.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Walt Disney World Orlando Travel Guide

Courtesy of Disney

Pirates of the Caribbean

WHERE: Magic Kingdom Park, Walt Disney World Resort

A park classic that dates back to 1973, the Pirates of the Caribbean represents some of the best in Disney synergy, having spun a wildly successful movie franchise led by Johnny Depp. A dark boat ride that follows a band of pirates, now featuring Depp’s role as Captain Jack Sparrow, the attraction’s fully automated sequences are visual stunners. Giant-scale pirate ships mid-battle and lively town scenes play out along the 8:30-minute ride. Favorite scenes include the Prison Dog with the jail cell’s ring of keys in its mouth and the townswomen pursuing the pirates carrying looted goods.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Walt Disney World Orlando Travel Guide

Courtesy of Universal Orlando Resort

Transformers: The Ride 3D

WHERE: Universal Studios Florida, Orlando

Billed as a “next-generation thrill ride,” there are a few breathtaking moments in Transformers: The Ride 3-D, where reality and fantasy merge. Strapped into a roving vehicle that’s maxed out with high-tech hydraulics and a powerful sound system, you’re the newest N*E*S*T recruit and your mission is to head to front lines of the battlefield, where an intergalactic war is being waged between the Autobots and Decepticons. Regardless of whether you’re able to keep up with the fast-paced narrative, Transformers: The Ride 3D represents the cutting edge of animation projections that seamlessly pair with the movement of your vehicle.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Universal Orlando Travel Guide

Courtesy of Universal Orlando Resort

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey

WHERE: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Islands of Adventure, Orlando

A mecca for Harry Potter fans, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, now in its fifth smash year at Universal’s Islands of Adventure theme park, brings Hogsmeade to life in vivid detail complete with Ollivanders’s wand shop—Makers of Fine Wands since 382 B.C., The Three Broomsticks pub overflowing with Butterbeer, and the park’s most sought-after attraction, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Creating a multisensory experience utilizing advanced robotic arm technology, the ride clips through the Harry Potter saga with a few choice action sequences following the boy wizard and his friends in and around Hogwarts.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Universal Orlando Travel Guide

Courtesy of Universal Orlando Resort

Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts

WHERE: Diagon Alley, Universal Studios Florida, Orlando

Built in response to the gate-crushing demand for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Diagon Alley arrived in 2014 as a wizarding park extension. With it came Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts, a new indoor roller coaster that deploys a barrage of dazzling 3-D effects as you travel through the vaults of Gringotts. The 4:30-minute journey ends with a climactic battle against Lord Voldemort, sure to send tingles down the spine of any muggle.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Universal Orlando Travel Guide

Courtesy of Universal Orlando Resort

Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit

WHERE: Universal Studios Florida, Orlando

A steel roller coaster with verve, Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit rises 167 feet above the Universal Studios lot, instantly recognizable as one of the world’s highest vertical lifts. Tearing through its red track at speeds up to 65 miles per hour, the coaster offers a unique customizable audio feature, allowing riders to choose one of 30 songs—from the Beastie Boys to Gloria Gaynor—to play throughout the 1:45-minute ride. Because it has no inversions, the main thrills of the track come from a non-inverting loop along with a few “near-miss” encounters on its winding course.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Universal Orlando Travel Guide

Courtesy of Universal Orlando Resort

Revenge of the Mummy: The Ride

WHERE: Universal Studios Florida, Orlando

Riding the success of the Mummy trilogy—one the most successful movie franchises of all time—Universal Studios unveiled the Revenge of the Mummy: The Ride in 2004, which plunges fans into the dark depths of Hamunaptra, the city of the dead. Expect the unexpected on this black-out steel roller coaster as cars are launched from zero to 45 miles per hour in seconds through a track of sudden drops, banked turns, and a few surprises that are best kept secret prior to boarding this top thrill attraction.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Universal Orlando Travel Guide

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The Incredible Hulk Coaster

WHERE: Islands of Adventure, Orlando

Ready to roar back into flight this summer after a little more than a 6-month hiatus, The Incredible Hulk Coaster remains a fixture of the Islands of Adventure skyline in its twisted Hulk-green style. A groundbreaking ride when it opened in 1999, The Incredible Hulk Coaster begins its 1:30 journey with a blast, shooting riders on a climb up a hill straight into a zero-g roll inversion. Six more inversions follow as the train reaches speeds up to 65 miles per hour, with a few harrowing dives toward the lake beneath the track. 

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Universal Orlando Travel Guide

Courtesy of Universal Orlando Resort

The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man

WHERE: Islands of Adventure, Orlando

On assignment to uncover the theft of the Statue of Liberty in New York City, riders are enlisted to follow Spider-Man for a night of fighting crime high above the city streets. The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man is one of the park’s most treasured motion-based 3-D dark rides, having perfected the animation to emulate the superhero’s web-slinging flights. Boggling effects are packed into the 5-minute ride, culminating in a simulated 400-foot perilous ascent, only to be rescued by Spider-Man’s webbing and brought back to the station in one piece. 

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Universal Orlando Travel Guide

Jurassic Park The Ride: River Adventure

WHERE: Islands of Adventure, Orlando

Adventurers have been lining up in droves since 1999 for Jurassic Park River Adventure to catch a glimpse of the chaos and destruction left in the wake of a T. rex on loose. Based on the wildly successful Steven Spielberg film Jurassic Park, the 5:30-minute boat ride starts at an easy pace as peaceful herbivore dinosaurs are seen grazing. Things start to take a perilous turn as an unexpected parasaurolophus pops up in front of the raft, diverting the course to the dismantled raptor containment area. Making a long ascent up through the Environmental Systems Building, a few turns lead to the much-anticipated encounter with the T. rex, as it emerges from behind a waterfall and lunges toward the raft moments before an 85-foot plunge into a big splash finale. 

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Universal Orlando Travel Guide