Roller coasters get most of the glory, carousels get plenty of PR spin, and whirling rides get lots of...dizzy passengers and the occasional visit from a clean-up crew. But haunted attractions, also known as spooky rides or by the industry term, dark rides, have been, and continue to be, an integral part of the theme park and amusement park experience as well. Herewith, in no particular order, are the best haunted attractions at North American parks.
Sure, the freefall drop tower part of the ride is thrilling, but the pre-show and effects leading up to the finale, particularly in the original version at Disney's Hollywood Studios, is downright chilling. The "fifth dimension," as the elevator cars move horizontally through a star field towards impending doom, is haunted attraction nirvana.
Universal incorporates so many innovations into its utterly unique dark ride/coaster, it has coined a new label for Revenge of the Mummy: psychological thrill ride. With its inky darkness, creepy scarabs, and other freak-out inducers, the ride plays a winning mind-games hand. But Universal, never shy about its in-your-face fun, also unleashes physical thrills, including a surprisingly potent coaster experience, to produce a wild, kinetic, frenetic attraction. You'll be screaming for your mommy. How the CA and FL Mummy Rides Compare
Coming on the heels of the wildly successful and innovative Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion was part of an incredible burst of creative energy from Disney and one of its high watermark moments. An overnight sensation (that was actually many years in the making), the classic ride has remained enormously popular; casual and ardent fans alike typically pair it with Pirates as the archetypal Disney attractions. More funny than scary, Haunted Mansion nonetheless includes some classic and modern-day haunted attraction gotchas.
While it may not have the cachet of Nathan's hot dogs, the Cyclone roller coaster, or the Wonder Wheel, the Spook-A-Rama at New York's Coney Island is nevertheless a seminal piece of living amusement park history. One of the few remaining classic haunted attractions, enthusiasts consider the Spook to be the Sistine Chapel of dark rides. Read on mortals...IF YOU DARE!
Think of a traditional amusement park dark ride. On steroids. Curse of DarKastle is a 20th-Century-style romp through a haunted, Gothic 15th-Century castle using 21st-Century technology. As with the dark rides of yore, there are spooky corridors, things that go bump in the faux night, and loads of scary "gimmicks" or gotchas. But Curse's gotchas use 3-D CGI animation, roving motion-base vehicles, and other new-age features. It's an incredible achievement, particularly for a seasonal park.
Dead men may tell no tales, but Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean have entertained millions with their salty tales. A landmark achievement in theme park storytelling when it debuted in 1967, Pirates remains one of Disney's--and all of parkdom's--most beloved attractions. This isn't strictly a haunted attraction, but those scary pirate skeletons and cries of "Dead men tell no tales," can get pretty spooky.
No, not that Haunted Mansion. While the more famous Disney dark ride relies on a lot of big-budget Imagineering trickery, the Haunted Mansion at Knoebels is a retro dark ride that owes more to classic amusement parks of yore. Designed in-house and partly using sets and components from closed dark rides, the Knoebels attraction is generally regarded as one of the best modern-day examples of a traditional spooky ride.
An E-Ticket tour de force, Indiana Jones Adventure immerses guests into the world of the popular movie series through the use of Disney's innovative Enhanced Motion Vehicles, highly elaborate sets, and a stunning array of effects. Rather than retell one of the film's stories, it creates a new plot and casts riders in leading roles. It is one of Imagineering's crowning achievements. This isn't a "haunted" attraction per se, but Indiana Jones Adventure does incorporate all kinds of dark ride gotchas, such as snakes, "poisonous" darts, and--of course--a giant, forbidden eye.
An interactive dark ride, Ghostwood Estate arms each passenger with a blaster to shoot at haunted characters and rack up points. While there are a number of similar shoot-em-up rides, Kennywood's attraction is among the best.
Looking for More Haunted Attractions?
Sadly, many of the classic amusement park dark rides have closed, but to find a directory of those that are still operating as well as a look back at the rides' glorious history, go to Laff In The Dark. Lovingly maintained by dark ride fans, it is a wonderful ode to the rides as well as a treasure trove of feature articles and info.