Top 10 Most Innovative Attractions of the 2010s Decade – Attraction Awards

Welcome to the final installment of the Attraction Awards of the 2010s! This month, we’ve been highlighting the best roller coasters and attractions that opened (or closed) over the last 10 years. In November, we asked readers to nominate their favorites in each of these five categories:

The Coaster101 team then gathered the nominations, narrowed them down and ranked them in a list of 10 for each category. We’ve been revealing those lists throughout December.

Last but not least, we’re counting down the top 10 most innovative attractions that opened in the 2010s. Whether it was a new type of track or new dark-ride technology, these attractions redefined the theme park experience.

10. Ghost Town Alive! (2016)

Knott’s Berry Farm – Buena Park, CA

Photo © Knott’s Berry Farm

Knott’s Berry Farm’s wildly popular Ghost Town Alive! event redefined live, interactive entertainment for the modern-day theme park experience. The seasonal event allows guests to interact with a cast of characters who call the Calico Ghost Town home. The Knott’s Berry Farm website describes the Wild West experience as one that offers guests “a firsthand experience to play an important part in the unfolding story of the wild west, with specific tasks and activities and an essential role as an honorary citizen of Calico.”

Photo © Knott’s Berry Farm

9. Lightning Rod (2016)

Dollywood – Pigeon Forge, TN

As the world’s first launched wooden coaster, it’s no surprise that Lightning Rod at Dollywood earns a spot on this list of most innovative attractions of the 2010s. The Rocky Mountain Construction (RMC) coaster uses a linear synchronous motor (LSM) — a form of electro-magnetic propulsion — to launch the coaster’s trains at speeds of up to 45 mph up to the peak of its 20-story “lift” hill. The coaster reaches a top speed of 73 mph and has retained the record for the fastest wooden coaster in the world.

This is RMC’s first of four appearances on this list of top 10 most innovative attractions of the 2010s.

Read our review of Lightning Rod here.

8. Hogwarts Express (2014)

Universal Orlando Resort – Orlando, FL

What happens when you need to transport guests between two theme parks through a backstage area while maintaining a Harry Potter-inspired, immersive environment? Enter the Hogwarts Express train ride at Universal Studios Orlando. But this isn’t your typical in-park steam train. Linking the Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley areas of Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida, respectively, the Hogwarts Express utilizes curved screens to project video that matches the fictional journey from London to the village of Hogsmeade with a different video for the return trip. Universal touts it as the world’s first attraction to transport guests between two theme parks.

Learn how the Hogwarts Express works here.

7. Outlaw Run (2013)

Silver Dollar City – Branson, MO

Photo © Silver Dollar City

RMC’s patented “Topper Track” made its ground-up debut on Outlaw Run at Silver Dollar City in 2013. Topper Track replaces the traditional top two layers of wooden track with prefabricated steel. While previously only used to rehab the track and ride experience of aging wooden coasters, Outlaw Run was the company’s first built-from-the-ground-up coaster to use the track style.

The graphic below compares traditional wooden coaster track (top) to RMC’s Topper Track (bottom).

According to the RMC website, Topper Track can “maintain the aesthetic and general feel of a traditional wood track while minimizing maintenance costs.”

Photo © Silver Dollar City

Topper Track also allows for elements previously unheard of on wooden coasters such as extreme banking, steeper drops and inversions. Speaking of which, Outlaw Run featured the world’s first double barrel roll on a wooden coaster

Read our review of Outlaw Run here.

6. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey (2010)

Universal’s Islands of Adventure – Orlando, FL


Images © Universal

First opening with the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal’s Islands of Adventure in 2010, Forbidden Journey uses the Kuka robocoaster technology, which allows the four-person ride vehicles to pivot while being held above the track by a robotic arm. The technology creates a new, immersive ride experience that allowed designers to turn riders in any direction at nearly any angle, pointing riders’ eyes wherever they choose. Matched with the wildly popular Harry Potter franchise, it’s no wonder that Forbidden Journey has become one of the most innovative dark ride attractions of the 2010s — and is now located at three Universal parks with one more on the way.

5. RailBlazer and Wonder Woman Golden Lasso Coaster (2018) — TIE

California’s Great America – Santa Clara, CA and Six Flags Fiesta Texas – San Antonio, TX


RailBlazer — Photo © California’s Great America

RMC made waves in the roller coaster world again with the debut of the company’s patented single-rail “Raptor” track on two identical roller coasters in 2018: RailBlazer at California’s Great America and Wonder Woman Golden Lasso Coaster (below). According to RMC’s website, Raptor track “utilizes less steel, requires less installation time and space, making it an affordable option for parks of all sizes.”


Wonder Woman Golden Lasso Coaster — Photo © Six Flags Fiesta Texas

The coasters’ single-seat cars offer riders an open-air ride experience as they “speed around tight turns and inversions” at speeds of up to 50 mph.

Read our review of RailBlazer here.

4. Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure (2016)

Shanghai Disneyland – Shanghai, China

Photo © Disney Parks

Not simply a copy of the beloved, original iteration of Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland, Disney Imagineers returned to the drawing boards to create an innovative ride system and a new take on the Pirates of the Caribbean story. Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure places guests in the midst of a swashbuckling battle in the pirate-ridden territory.

Photo © xiquinhosilva

Learn the secrets behind Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure here.

3. New Texas Giant (2011)

Six Flags Over Texas – Arlington, TX


Texas Giant (left); New Texas Giant (right, photo © The Dallas Morning News/ AP )

In 2011, RMC debuted New Texas Giant, a massive overhauling of Six Flags Over Texas’ aging Texas Giant wooden coaster. This marked the start of RMC’s lengthy and ongoing career of transforming rough, near-forgotten wooden coasters into hybrid wood/steel coasters that introduced numerous new elements to the coaster community.

While all of the track of the original Texas Giant was removed, large sections of the 1990 Dinn Corporation wooden coaster’s supports were retained.

RMC then built on that structure their patented all-steel “IBOX” Iron Horse track, which is shown at the bottom of the graphic above. This type of track rests on steel ledgers, which eliminates the need for the traditional wooden stack. RMC has since completed 11 hybrid conversions using the IBOX track and even opened a built-from-the-ground-up coaster using the track (Zadra at Energylandia in Poland).

Photo © Wikipedia user SFOTPR

Learn more about the different types of wooden and hybrid coaster tracks here.

2. Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance (2019)

Disney’s Hollywood Studios – Bay Lake, FL

Photo © Disney Parks

While its Disneyland counterpart isn’t scheduled to open until January 17, 2020, Disney’s Hollywood Studios’ Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance attraction has already received critical acclaim in its first few weeks of operation.

Photo © Disney Parks

Hailed as redefining the concept of a theme park attraction, Rise of the Resistance combines multiple ride systems and sensory effects to immerse riders in a mission to help the Resistance conquer the First Order:

When your transport is captured by an imposing First Order Star Destroyer filled with legions of stormtroopers—and even Kylo Ren!—you’re going to need all the help you can get. Fortunately, a covert team of Resistance fighters—including Rey and BB-8—is at the ready to give you a fighting chance to escape… and a chance for the Resistance to rise.

Rise of the Resistance has undoubtedly set a new precedent for both Disney Imagineers and other top-tier theme park designers for many years to come.


1. Avatar Flight of Passage (2017)

Disney’s Animal Kingdom – Bay Lake, FL

Image © Disney Parks 

Avatar Flight of Passage employed a state-of-the-art ride system to inject guests into Pandora while riding on the backs of the legendary Banshee creatures. The immersive attraction combines unique ride vehicles with high-definition video that immerses guests in the famous Avatar universe.

Learn more about Avatar Flight of Passage and why it’s so immersive.

What do you think is the most innovative attraction that opened in the 2010s? Let us know in the comments section below.

That’s a wrap for our Attraction Awards of the 2010s. We hope you enjoyed our top-10 lists. Below are the other four categories:

We’ll see you again next year for the 2020 Attraction Awards!

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