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The best theme park dark rides use a lot of razzle-dazzle to immerse guests in their alternate universes, but they never forget to effectively tell a story. Engaging your senses, enveloping you, and placing you at the center of the action, great attractions make you forget about the technology behind the illusions and transport you to magical places.

The best ride designers know that parks are all about shared experiences. By taking the themed journeys together, families and friends create treasured memories.

Many, but not all, of the top theme park rides, use well-known characters as the basis for their story lines. By tapping into the cultural zeitgeist, the rides are able to jump right into the action without having to acclimate riders. Parks are also able to generate anticipation (not to mention ticket sales) among the characters’ built-in fan base.

1. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey

From the queue that winds through the Hogwarts School, to the innovative robotic arm ride system, to the combination of real sets and projected media, everything about the attraction conspires to wholly immerse guests into the world of Harry Potter. It is a remarkable achievement that immediately leapt to the top of the best attractions list.

Location: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal

2. The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man

This incredible—OK, amazing—attraction combines a groundbreaking roving motion base simulator technology with a 3-D film experience to totally immerse riders in the world of Spidey and his archenemies. The height of park design and creativity when it debuted, Spider-Man borders on mind-altering.

Location: Islands of Adventure at Universal Orlando

3. Avatar Flight of Passage

Flight of Passage takes the “flying theater” concept that Disney developed for its Soarin’ rides (which also make the list of best theme park attractions) to the next level. Riders not only take wing aboard a banshee to fly above Pandora, they can feel the creatures’ diaphragms expand and contract as they breathe. It is an utterly convincing, transporting, and ethereal experience.

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