What are the most underrated rides at Orlando theme parks?
The Sum of All Thrills simulator ride helps spice up the Innoventions area of Epcot. (Joe Burbank, Orlando Sentinel File / October 14, 2009)
I almost stopped in my tracks: the very attraction that once made me refer to Epcot as an "overgrown science fair" was the very one where I was wishing I had more time to spend. That's unnerving.
Islands of Adventure's Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride.
Could it be that Innoventions is the most underrated part of Epcot? This is not to say the worst part of Epcot, but the attraction that doesn't get loads of attention (or billboards) but is worthy of guests' time nonetheless?
This spawned my latest list, a review of underrated attractions at our major parks. I expect howls of derision along the way, but maybe some of these rides and shows deserve another look.
•For instance, I give you the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular at Disney's Hollywood Studios. It has acrobatics, stunts, fire, bullwhips and gunplay. And I'm a sucker for the voluntary audience participation.
You may call it dated. I call it a throwback to a time when Orlando fancied itself as Hollywood East.
•Similar, but on a smaller scale, is Disaster at Universal Studios. It has hokey moments, for sure, but the Pepper's ghost effect near the beginning and the visual gardening gag at the end more than make up for it.
And whodathunk you'd virtually bump into Christopher Walken at a theme park?
•At SeaWorld Orlando, I like to take a respite at the underwater viewing areas of Dolphin Cove. They're sort of hidden and out of the sun, and you get a genuine and intimate animal experience without forcing Flipper's friends to jump through hoops.
•How can Dragon Challenge make this list when it's part of the hottest attraction in town, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Islands of Adventure? The two-sided roller coaster is living not only in the shadow of Hogwarts' Forbidden Journey, it's tucked behind a wall, separating it from the Hogsmeade area. It's also kind of old news because it's a modest revamp of the Dueling Dragons coaster, which already had trouble living up to the hype of sister rides Incredible Hulk Coaster and the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man.
Most Dragon Challenge fans prefer the Chinese Fireball option and its accompanying air time, but I'm a fan of Ice, er, the Hungarian Horntail rail — the underrated side of the underrated ride.
•Also standing in the shadows is Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, which must co-exist with neighboring mountainous monikers, the flashier Splash Mountain and the futuristic Space Mountain at Magic Kingdom.
But Big Thunder provides a lot of bang for the buck. The trip is always a little longer than I expect. And the nighttime version is one of the best after-dark attractions at Magic Kingdom.
Just don't get us started on that tedious queue again.
•Finally, we stroll through Disney's Animal Kingdom, which, to be honest, was the most difficult park to come up with an underrated element. Expedition Everest and the Kilimanjaro Safaris receive lots of love, deservedly so, and fans consistently line up for "Finding Nemo: The Musical."
It seems wrong, but I'll give the underrated crown to "Festival of the Lion King" even though legend has it that it scores very high on guest-satisfaction surveys. But maybe folks have the reaction that one of my co-workers had: "But it's so hot."
Not any more — not for years actually. The theater is enclosed and air-conditioned. Venture down that way again, and let the underrated roar.