4. Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain, Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Climb aboard a new-fangled steam engine with direct, non-stop service from quaint village Serka Zong to the mighty Mt. Everest! Famous for its impressive height (199.5ft; because anything higher would require a blinking red light for airplanes) and staggering price tag ($100,000,000; the most expensive roller coaster ever built), the world’s largest tourist destination finally received a proportionately-sized snowcapped peak.
The Matterhorn Bobsleds-inspired Space Mountain helped anchor the growing Magic Kingdom’s sparse Tomorrowland in 1975, and while subsequent Space, Thunder, and Splash mountains quickly peppered the Disney landscape well into the 90s, a second Matterhorn mountain never materialized. Concepts for the cancelled phase 2 of EPCOT Center called for a large Swiss Pavilion dominated by a Matterhorn Bobsleds clone, but setbacks and changes in direction (particularly in the directions of filmmaking-themed and wildlife-themed attractions) put the Florida Matterhorn on the back burner for nearly 20 years. Walt Disney World’s ambitious growth plan led to some serious areas of underdevelopment by the year 2000; the not-even-two-years-old Animal Kingdom park was deemed a success despite several hallmark concepts (including a mystical dragons-and-unicorns area featuring a major coaster and Kali River Rapids’ original intentions of being a water-based wildlife safari) being thrown out entirely.
With a new coaster and the beefing-up of the park’s Asia area becoming the top priorities, Animal Kingdom dusted off the old Matterhorn concept and moved it 2000+ miles due east. Bobsleds were traded out for a fleet of six 34-passenger steam locomotives, the abominable snowman exchanged for a yeti, and the relatively modest Matterhorn replica was replaced with, not one, but a range of three Himalayan mountains (plus a towering village from which Expedition Everest bridges to the first peak). Crowd-pleasing elements including an 80ft drop, a dead-end of shredded track, two helices (an indoor, backward one and an outdoor, forward one), and a high profile run-in with a yeti directed all roller coaster-seeking eyes squarely on central Florida’s new toy. Ten years later, Expedition Everest still commands the most attention of any ride in Disney’s arsenal, and rightfully so; the same was also true for the original Matterhorn well after its first ten years of thrilling bobsled rides.
3. Journey to the Center of the Earth, Tokyo DisneySea
Everest might be the tallest of the Disney Mountains, but the title of most spectacular Disney Mountain belongs to the boiling, bubbling, geothermally volatile Mt. Prometheus, located in DisneySea’s central Mysterious Island region and home to the resort’s star attraction.
Tokyo Disney Resort has a reputation for being simply “the best.” It’s not the biggest or the oldest, but thanks to the tremendous budget (fronted by resort owner/partner Oriental Land Company) and insatiable local demand, Tokyo DisneySea became the most highly-regarded theme park in the world when it opened in 2001, establishing the Japanese resort as Walt Disney Theme Parks’ magnum opus (much to the jealous chagrin of Anaheim fans who sifted for what goodness they could find in the relatively dismal California Adventure Park that opened earlier that year). Crowning the $3billion theme park is Journey to the Center of the Earth, a serendipitous sojourn through the Earth’s depths, inspired by Jules Verne’s novel Mysterious Island. Derived from Euro Disney’s Discovery Mountain project, Journey to the Center of the Earth received a substantial upgrade from drop ride to next-gen TestTrack ride, amid which dark ride elements became the main focus. The high-speed finale of Journey is shorter than that of TestTrack or Radiator Springs Racers, but a pitch-black upwards helix followed by a dive through the side of Mt. Prometheus makes for an even more resounding climax than its contemporaries.
Before the white-knuckle blitz back to Captain Nemo’s base camp, explorers are first treated to a dazzling array of environs unmatched by all dark rides before it; crystalline caverns, fiery pits, the stormy Subterranean Sea, and an entire ecosystem of bioluminescent organisms captivate and mystify riders as they tunnel further and further into the Earth’s crust. Accidentally waking up a hostile centipede-like creature the size of a school bus is the catalyst for Journey’s final race to the surface, though the increasingly violent seismic tremoring of Mt. Prometheus is also reasonable cause to evacuate beyond the immediate threat of a 2-ton lava monster. Sound like a good time to you? Get your FastPasses early; this one has an 1+ hour wait on even the quietest days. Rain in the forecast? Fear not; with the exception of a brief moment near the peak of Mt. Prometheus, Journey to the Center of the Earth is entirely enclosed – including its entrance, exit, queue, and FastPass distribution. Rain or shine, make a play-date with the lava centipede today!