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The Top 10 Rides of the Decade

Best Theme Park Attractions of 2000 to 2009

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The first ten years of the Millennium have been a prolific decade for North American theme parks. Between 2000 and 2009, ride designers capitalized on advances in technology and bold innovation, and combined it with plenty of creativity and solid storytelling to produce some terrific attractions. So what are the top 10 rides of the decade? The following list represents my picks. Note that with the exception of a couple of highly themed coasters, this best-of-the-Aughties list focuses on themed attractions, not roller coasters.

Please weigh in by sharing your picks for the decade's best rides.

10. Men in Black Alien Attack

Men in Black Alien Attack
Universal Orlando, 2000. Used with permission.
Location: Universal Studios Florida

Just squeaking in at number 10 (and just qualifying by debuting in 2000), Men in Black Alien Attack raised the bar for interactive shoot-em-up rides. Issued laser guns, passengers travel in ultra-sophisticated vehicles through an alien-infested New York City streetscape and rack up points by blasting the otherworldly bugs. The bugs, however, blast back. It's zap or be zapped time.

9. Turtle Talk with Crush

Turtle Talk with Crush
Disney. Used with permission.
Location: The Seas with Nemo & Friends Pavilion in Epcot at Walt Disney World.

Some might find it odd to choose the under-the-radar "Finding Nemo"-themed show on a top-10 list of best theme park attractions. But Turtle Talk with Crush, in which the surfer dude interacts with audience members via real-time animation, is an astonishing Imagineering breakthrough. Between laughs, adults scratch their heads in bewilderment, while young kids nonchalantly, if delightedly, chat with the witty reptile. If you haven't seen it, what are you waiting for, dude?

8. Expedition Everest

Expedition Everest at Disney's Animal Kingdom
© Arthur Levine 2006. Licensed to About.com.
Location: Asia land in Disney's Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World.

As a roller coaster, Expedition Everest is just OK. And as a themed dark ride, the attraction would be just OK without the coaster elements. But by combining the coaster, which is integral to the ride's story, with the attraction's lavish, immersive environment, the Imagineers have created another Disney E-ticket must-ride and a welcome addition to Disney's Animal Kingdom. Expedition Everest would have ranked higher, but it ended the decade with its humungous animatronic Yeti finale not operating as intended.

7. Nights in White Satin- The Trip

Nights in White Satin- The Trip
© Arthur Levine 2008. Licensed to About.com.
Location: Hard Rock Park
Note that Hard Rock Park closed in 2008 and reopened in 2009 as Freestyle Music Park. The new owners changed the dark ride, and Nights in White Satin- The Trip only operated for one season.

With its groundbreaking melding of classical and rock music, its evocative imagery, its haunting and plaintive melody, and its iconic station in the rock canon, the Moody Blues' "Nights in White Satin" was ideally suited to be reinterpreted as a dark ride. The Sally Corporation did a masterful job creating an immersive, dream-like soundscape that brought the song to life. With its eye-popping visuals and stunning effects, Nights in White Satin- The Trip was quite trippy.

6. Toy Story Mania

©Arthur Levine, 2008. Licensed to About.com.
Location: Paradise Pier in Disney's California Adventure at Disneyland Resort and Pixar Place in Disney's Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World.

The next generation in interactive theme park attractions, Toy Story Mania takes ultra-flashy video game technology, embellishes it with 3-D graphics (yep, riders wear dorky 3-D glasses), presents a game play experience that appeals to everyone from toddlers to the most experienced gamers, and wraps it all together using the engaging characters from the Toy Story films. The result is a giddy and highly addictive attraction that has nearly maniacal guests hell-bent on beating their ride-mates and jumping back in line to trounce them again and again.

5. Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage

© Arthur Levine. Licensed to About.com
Location: Tomorrowland in Disneyland at Disneyland Resort

OK, this isn't exactly a "new" ride from the Aughties, but it was significantly revised. With its Finding Nemo overlay, the classic ride appeals to today's Pixar-lated kids as well as their nostalgia-fueled parents. The combination of deft storytelling and Imagineering magic makes the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage an alluring, sea-worthy E-Ticket attraction.

4. Soarin' Over California

Soarin' Over California
Disney. Used with permission.
Location: Golden State in Disney's California Adventure at Disneyland Resort and Living with The Land pavilion in Epcot at Walt Disney World.

A captivating Disney E-ticket ride that incorporates technology in a new and exciting way, Soarin' Over California is a charming and giddy adventure up, over, and through the sights of the Golden State. It will engage your senses and figuratively, if not damn near literally, send you soarin'. The Epcot version is known simply as "Soarin'."

3. Curse of DarKastle

Curse of DarKastle
© Arthur Levine 2005. Licensed to About.com.
Location: Busch Gardens Williamsburg

Think of a traditional amusement park dark ride. On steroids. It is a 20th-Century-style romp through a haunted, Gothic, 15th-Century castle using cutting-edge 21st-Century technology. Like Spider-Man, Curse uses 3-D CGI animation, roving motion-base vehicles, "4-D" sensory enhancements, onboard audio, and other new-age features. It's an incredible achievement, particularly for a seasonal park like Busch Gardens Williamsburg.

2. Revenge of the Mummy

Revenge of the Mummy
Universal, 2004. Used with permission.
Location: Universal Studios Florida and Universal Studios Hollywood

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. But the ride also unleashes physical thrills, including a surprisingly potent coaster experience, to produce a wild, kinetic, frenetic attraction. The Florida version is better than the Hollywood one.

1. Mission: SPACE

Mission: SPACE at Epcot
© Arthur Levine, 2003. Licensed to About.com.
Location: Future World in Epcot at Walt Disney World.

A groundbreaking, awe-inspiring attraction that delivers sensations unlike any you have ever felt (unless you're an astronaut) and replicates space travel with an astonishing degree of reality. It figuratively--and literally-- takes your breath away.
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