The top theme park rides in Orlando, Florida

After visiting the Orlando theme parks countless times, I have noticed that I gravitate towards the same rides again and again. With so much to see and do within a limited time frame, you will want to know which rides are the best-of-the-best. Below is a handy guide of the top rides to put on your bucket list for your next Orlando theme park vacation!

1. The Hulk Coaster

Incredible Hulk Coaster of Universal Islands of Adventure in Orlando, Florida
  • Location: Universal’s Islands of Adventure
  • Why it’s great: Super fast takeoff, so smooth

The Hulk is hands down the most exciting, heart pounding coaster in all of Orlando. This is the one to put tops on your bucket list if you are a coaster fanatic. Islands of Adventure is a wonderful theme park, home to many rides just as spectacular as those found at Universal. The Hulk is the best here, and thus, tends to attract hefty crowds. Consider getting to this ride earlier in the day when the park is less crowded. Check the Universal Wait times app to stay updated on each attraction’s current wait time.

The ride takes off at an exhilarating 40mph and continues on a fast paced journey of 67mph through 7 inversions. There’s barely time to anticipate the next drops and curves as the ride is just too darn fast.

2. Harry Potter and the Escape to Gringotts

Harry Potter and The Escape to Gringotts ride at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida
  • Location: Universal Studios
  • Why it’s great: Great 3D effects

The Escape to Gringotts is the best of the three major Harry Potter themed rides located within The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The ride opened in July of 2014, and at one point had an average waiting time of over 4 hours! Today, the queue is much shorter, thanks in part to Universal’s newest addition, Hagrid’s Motorbike Adventure (another fantastic ride, although the wait time is crazy!).

This dark themed indoor 3D rollercoaster ride combines simulator effects for the ultimate thrilling experience. Unlike other motion simulators, it does not jam you around as much. The special effects and overall creativity are just incredible. Harry Potter fans will love traveling alongside Harry, Ron, and Hermione through the underground vaults of the bank. The queue is pretty cool too as you get to walk through Gringotts Wizarding Bank and see the goblin tellers in action.

3. Aerosmith Rock N’ Roller Coaster

Aerosmith Rock N'Roller coaster at Disney's Hollywood Studios in Orlando, Florida
  • Location: Disney’s Hollywood studios
  • Why it’s great: Aerosmith tunes blasting during the ride

Rock N’Roller is the faster coaster within the Disney theme parks. Any adrenaline junkie will definitely want to make room for one of Disney’s more exciting rides.

Get ready for a dark thrilling coaster adventure where you will zoom past many iconic Hollywood landmarks. Listening to classic Aerosmith favorites along the way like Walk This Way and Sweet Emotion is definitely the highlight of the experience. The walk through a Hollywood Studio queue is pretty cool as well.

4. The Haunted Mansion

The Haunted Mansion at Disney's Magic Kingdom in Orlando, Florida
  • Location: Disney’s Magic Kingdom
  • Why it’s great: Incredible special effects

Easily the most iconic of all Disney rides, The Haunted Mansion should top your Magic Kingdom bucket list. Get ready for a spooky adventure through an eerie haunted estate. As you travel along in your doom buggy, you will see ghosts and other frightful sights along the way. The ghosts are so realistic looking, and the ballroom dancing room is especially memorable. This is a slow ride in near complete darkness, and although it’s creepy, there are no drops or inversions. Basically, it’s one your whole party will love!

The attention to detail throughout the Dutch Gothic revival style mansion truly is spectacular. The overall dark ambiance really adds to the spooky excitement. This is one attraction where the wait is just as exciting at the ride itself. This one is at its’ best during Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party!

5. Pirates of the Caribbean

Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disney's Magic Kingdom
  • Location: Disney’s Magic Kingdom
  • Why it’s great: Fantastic set design & animatronics!

Next to The Haunted Mansion, Pirates is the other must-ride at the Magic Kingdom. Board your barge and set sail on an adventure back to the 17th century when pirates ruled the seas. From cannons blasting, to realistic animatronic pirates belting out “A pirate’s life for me,” to special cameos by Captain Jack Sparrow, you will feel as if you have stepped right into the Pirates of the Caribbean movie set.

This is one of Disney’s oldest rides, having opened back in 1973. While the ride did not inspire the popular series of the same name (Jack Sparrow was added in 2006), the setting is pretty spot on. If you are a big Johnny Depp/pirate’s fan, this will definitely be one of your favorites!

6. Expedition Everest

Expedition Everest ride at Disney's Animal Kingdom in Orlando, Florida
  • Location: Disney’s Animal Kingdom
  • Why it’s great: The most thrilling ending drop!

Expedition Everest is an amazing Himalayan/yeti themed coaster at Animal Kingdom. While Animal Kingdom is limited in the rides department, the few that do exist are pretty cool. The best-of-the-best is Expedition Everest, one of the most underrated rides in all of Orlando. Most of the ride travels through the dark with lots of exciting drops, twists, and turns. The ending 80 foot drop is beyond thrilling, especially with the unexpected surprise!

The special effects are really cool and the overall Himalayan mountain theme aesthetically pleasing. In 2011, the Guinness Book of World Records recorded it as the most expensive coaster in the world (100 million)!

7. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

Big Thunder Mountain roller coaster at Disney's the Magic Kingdom in Orlando, Florida
  • Location: Disney’s Magic Kingdom
  • Why it’s great: Relatively tame roller coaster choice for scaredy cats!

Big Thunder will always be one of my favorite Disney rides. The re-creation of a desert ghost town really makes this one of the most attractive rides in Disney. The design was actually based on beautiful Monument Valley in Arizona. If you do have the chance, this is a gorgeous natural vacation destination just a few hours north of Phoenix!

While it is not the fastest nor smoothest coaster, it is one of the most iconic. You cannot help but have a great time on this bumpy old-fashioned coaster. While newer, more tech enhanced rides continue to be added to the Orlando ride lineup each year, the old favorites continue to offer that predictable nostalgic factor each time we visit the parks.

8. Kilimanjaro Safari

Kilimanjaro safari ride at Disney's Animal Kingdom park in Orlando, Florida
  • Location: Disney’s Animal Kingdom
  • Why it’s great: Similar to a real safari ride, minus the crazy price tag!

Kick back, relax and enjoy a scenic ride aboard an open air safari. On this relaxing 18 minute ride, you will enjoy a prime view of the picturesque 110 acre Harambe Wildlife Reserve. Your safari guide will point out all the exotic wildlife including lions, zebras, cheetahs, rhinos, and crocodiles. The natural scenery is gorgeous and diverse, varying from woody areas, to serene open plains, to lush wetlands.

Pair a trip to the Animal Kingdom with a stay at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. This is a gorgeous African themed resort surrounded by lush savannahs which house hundreds of exotic species. Also, Sanaa is one of the best restaurants in Orlando!

9. Jurassic Park the Ride

Jurassic Park: The Ride at Islands of Adventure theme park in Orlando, Florida
  • Location: Islands of Adventure
  • Why it’s great: A true classic!

Jurassic Park is one of the older Islands of Adventures classics which never disappoints. As one of the few water rides, this is your best bet on a hot Orlando afternoon. As you slowly float around Isla Nublar seeing all the animatronic dinosaurs, you really feel as if you are right in the movies. The tech may not be as advanced as the newer rides, but the nostalgic factor is there. The giant drop at the end is so unexpected and exhilarating. And, if you are lucky, you will get totally soaked!

10. Tower of Terror

Tower of Terror at Disney's Hollywood Studios in Orlando, Florida
  • Location: Disney’s Hollywood Studios
  • Why it’s great: Gorgeous architecture, crazy drops

Walking into Hollywood Studios, the first thing you notice is the extravagant 1930’s era Art Decor Hollywood Terror hotel. The massive 199 foot tall building is viewable outside the park. If you are at all queasy over drops, you will definitely want to sit this one out. During the course of the ride, you will experience the stomach churning sensation of free falling many times. Because the level of the drop is different each time, you never know what to expect.

11. Men in Black Alien Attack

Men in Black Alien Attack ride at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida
  • Location: Universal Studios
  • Why it’s great: Fun theme & cool interactive experience

Take a step back in time to the days of old school arcades on this quirky alien themed ride based on the popular Will Smith Men in Black series. On this ride, you will head to the dark streets of NYC where you will get to compete with your party to see who can zap the most aliens. As intense spinning is also involved, shooting the targets is not as easy as you would think! Hands down, this is the best of the interactive park rides.

12. Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor

Monsters Inc Laugh Floor at Disney's Magic Kingdom in Orlando, Florida
  • Location: Disney’s Magic Kingdom
  • Why it’s great: It’s hilarious!

Monsters Inc. is one of the most underrated rides at the Magic Kingdom, and thus, never has too long of a line. Even if you have never seen/are not a fan of this movie, it’s totally worth visiting for the laughs alone. This is one seriously funny comedy show! Really, it is a great place to take a break from the heat for 20 minutes or so. Just hope you are not the poor guy/girl picked out of the audience to be the butt of Sully’s jokes!

13. Revenge of the Mummy

Revenge of The Mummy at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida
  • Location: Universal Studios
  • Why it’s great: Crazy special effects

The Mummy definitely is right up there with the best-of-the-best Universal rides. No matter how many times you go on this ride, it is a blast every single time. The ride blasts off at 45mph in total darkness. The amazing special effects seemingly pop out of nowhere in the dark surroundings, so you have no idea what to expect with each twist and turn!

The combination of special effects, 3D, and a super fast coaster really puts this ride way above your typical coaster. On a cool side note, there are some real Egyptian hieroglyphics on the walls.

14. Dudley Do Right’s Ripsaw Falls

Dudley Do Right's Ripsaw Falls ride at Islands of Adventure in Orlando, Florida
  • Location: Islands of Adventure
  • Why it’s great: You’ll get soaked (and cool down for at least an hour or 2)

Although Dudley’s is located in the kiddie section of Islands, this is no kiddie ride. It may look tame, however, there are lots of fun drops on this water coaster. As one of few water rides at Universal, this ride will be a real treat on hot, humid summer afternoons. Featuring an adorable theme based on the classic cartoon, it’s no surprise that the wait for Dudley’s is often one of the longest. Don’t worry – on hot Orlando summer day’s, it is more than worthy of the wait for the much needed cool down!

15. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Castle ride at Islands of Adventure in Orlando, Florida
  • Location: Islands of Adventure
  • Why it’s great: Incredible imagery and an awesome queue

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is an exciting motion simulator ride located within the Hogwarts Castle. This ride definitely wins the award for best queue. Instead of waiting in the hot sun, you get to walk through the beautiful castle. You will see many of your favorite characters here plus so many little movie quirks such as the interactive newspapers and talking portraits. The castle is so intricate and detailed – this is a great experience for all Potterheads!

The ride itself is visually stunning with many special effects. This is a thrill ride which twists and turns you around in every direction possible! On this ride, you will follow Harry on a broom to many of Hogwarts most iconic sites. Soar past Dumbledore’s office, the Gryffindor common room, and more while also avoiding dementors and other scary sights! As great as this ride is, it is a definite skip for anyone with motion sickness!

Honorable Mentions

Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge Rat Barges – Whitewater rafting style ride with many fun drops and big splashes. The one to go on if you want to get really wet!

Popeye and Bluto's Bilge Rat Barges at Islands of Adventure in Orlando, Florida

E.T. – You cannot visit Universal for the first time without enjoying one of the originals. This ride really is adorable and usually has no wait!

Hollywood Rip Ride Rock It – Musical coaster where you get to pick a song that only you can hear while you ride. Not for those scared of heights! Cool fact: this ride features the world’s first non inverting loop!

Hollywood Rip Ride RockIt coaster at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida

Hagrid’s Motorbike Adventure – Universal’s newest addition to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Not as great as the Forbidden Castle and Gringotts, but still well worth the wait! Fun, fast coaster with lots of surprises! Line up for this one first thing in the morning to avoid the huge wait!

Soarin’ – The iconic Epcot attraction where you will get to soar above popular world landmarks.

Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin – Fun interactive ride where you will get to zap targets.

Peter Pan – Classic ride based on the beloved Disney movie.

Space Mountain – Thrilling fast indoor coaster in a near pitch black setting.

Full guide to all rides at the 3 major theme parks!

Universal Studios Rides

Islands of Adventure Rides

Walt Disney World Rides