Action Park’s crazy concrete Alpine Slide

Credit: Charles Willgren via Disasterthon

Opened in 1978, Action Park was one of America’s first modern waterparks, but it soon gained a reputation for being almost biblically wrathful in nature. Many of its attractions were dangerous or downright deadly, and the most extreme of all was the Alpine Slide, which was a concrete and fibreglass luge accessible only by a ski lift. The rough concrete meant that falling off the cart would result in skin being painfully ripped off. Over the course of its life, the Alpine Slide caused one fatality, 14 fractures and 26 serious head injuries. Ouch.

Disney World’s terrifying Extra TERRORestrial Alien Encounter

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As incongruous as it might sound as a Disney attractraction, Extra TERRORestrial: Alien Encounter opened in the Magic Kingdom in 1995, as part of CEO Michael Eisner’s efforts to make the park edgier and more appealing to teens. The immersive theatre experience featured evil robots, a shady tech company, and even an adorable baby alien being fried to a crisp, all before audiences were ushered into a pitch-black room where they could hear a Xenomorph crunching on guests right beside them. Needless to say, the attraction was closed not even a decade later.

Action Park’s deadly Tidal Wave Pool

Credit: Joe Shlabotnik via Wikipedia Commons

Action Park in New Jersey was a beloved local attraction precisely because of how it was run: with lax rules, extreme attractions and uninterested staff. But while wave pools are supposed to be gentle and relaxing, Action Park’s ‘Tidal Wave’ pool really lived up to its name. Not only could the waves themselves reach one meter in height, but the pool also steeply increased in depth at one end, which guests weren’t always aware of. Throughout the 80s, the park’s lifeguards admitted to having to rescue up to 30 guests from the pool in a single weekend, and at least two drownings can be attributed to the attraction.

Efteling’s out-of-date Monsieur Cannibale

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Efteling park in the Netherlands is beloved for its fairytale imagery and timeless charm, but one particular attraction had crowds begging for an overhaul long before it was closed down. The teacup ride, Monsieur Cannibale, saw guests riding in giant cooking pots as an offensive stereotype of an African cannibal loomed down at them, while a song with lyrics like “He drove his truck to Africa to chase African butterflies / the Cannibals there thought he was a spy and soon captured him” played in the background. After years of discussion, Monsieur Cannibale was closed for re-theming in 2021.

Knott’s Berry Farm’s ultra Perilous Plunge

In 1999, Knott’s Berry Farm in California announced that they would be building the world’s tallest water ride, with a 121-foot climb culminating in a 115-foot water chute drop into a splashdown lagoon. After a delayed opening due to technical difficulties, ‘Perilous Plunge’ opened to guests in September 2000 and was received well by critics and audiences. However, in September 2001 a 40-year-old guest fell out of her correctly closed and locked restraints during the drop and was killed by multiple instances of blunt force trauma. This led to an overhaul of the seat belt and lap bar design.

Disneyland’s blasphemous Mr Toad’s Wild Ride

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If Magic Kingdom is the most explicitly family-friendly Disney park, then Fantasyland is the most ‘for kids’ of all its areas. That’s why it’s so surprising that Disney chose Mr Toad’s Wild Ride to be one of Fantasyland’s opening day attractions in Disneyland Park, Anaheim. Yes, the dark ride is based on the wholesome The Wind in the Willows, but it also contains some content that it’s hard to imagine targeting kids with today. Riders end up crashing headlong into a train. Then shockingly, having died in the collision, the car of guests descends into Hell as punishment for their irresponsible driving. Yikes!

Six Flags Great Adventure’s flaming Haunted Castle

Credit: Myk Streja via Wikimedia Commons

No theme park is complete without some kind of spooky attraction. Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey had the Haunted Castle, a walkaround attraction with employees hiding behind every corner, periodically jumping out and scaring guests. The attraction was a hit but its reign came to a tragic end in 1984, when a fire broke out at the site, the result of a teen who used a lighter to see down a corridor with a malfunctioning light. Eight teenagers were killed with many more treated for smoke inhalation, and an inquiry revealed that the attraction had no sprinklers, no smoke alarms and no building permit.

Indiana Beach’s claustrophobic Lost Coaster of Superstition Mountain

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Going on a roller coaster is maybe the only thing capable of convincing people to strap themselves into a dangerous, high-speed machine next to a bunch of total strangers, knowing that they may be trapped there next to them for several hours if something goes wrong. Indiana Beach’s Lost Coaster of Superstition Mountain aims to compound this social agony, by trapping people not lucky enough to have three other friends in enclosed carts where they have to face two random people…

Alton Tower’s frown-inducing Smiler

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Alton Towers is Britain’s most famous theme park, thanks to its high-concept, elaborately-themed rides, over-the-top promotional efforts and celebrity collaborations. Unfortunately, Alton Towers also gets a lot of attention due to how many accidents have occurred within the park, all the way from simple vending machine fires to train cart crashes. The most famous Alton Towers incident happened in June 2015, when sixteen people were injured on The Smiler, a roller coaster themed around psychological brainwashing. Five people were seriously injured, with two requiring partial leg amputations.

BonBon-Land’s wacky Dog Fart Roller Coaster

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At BonBon-Land in Denmark, you will find a steel family roller coaster called Hundeprutterutchebane, which to enthusiasts is better known simply as the Dog-Fart Roller Coaster. The ride lives up to its name, allowing riders to journey through a landscape of defecating dogs, kennels, piles of bones and lots and lots of dog poop, all while fart noises play on the speakers. It is apparently based on a popular “Dog-Fart flavour” developed by candy maker Michael Spangsber, which were popular enough to fund an entire theme park!

Idlewild’s too-wild Rollo Coaster

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The Rollo Coaster in Pennsylvania’s Idlewild is by all accounts a pretty modest ride. It was built in 1938 and doesn’t feature any large hills or immense drops, instead seeming intense only because of its tight turns. Until 2016, it was popular due to its lax restraints comprising of just a lap bar, but everything changed in August of that year, when a three-year-old boy was thrown from the ride and rushed to hospital with critical head and chest injuries. The boy lived, and it was eventually determined that he and a family member had swapped places after their restraints had been checked. Nevertheless, the Rollo Coaster was closed for years.

Pattaya Park Funny Land’s overly-ambitious Formula One

Credit: Malcolm’s Down Under Trip

Plenty of roller coasters get replaced after wearing out their welcome over several decades, but what’s almost as common is rides that are badly conceived from the beginning barely making it out of the gate. The racing-themed Formula One coaster was built for Pattaya Park Funny Land in Thailand in 1999, but never actually opened to the public. Enthusiasts suspect that this is down to its reverse freefall launch structure, which launches riders from 0 to 70-100mph in less than seven seconds, and is infamous for being unreliable, occasionally unsafe and simply not enjoyable for park-goers.

Gatlinburg’s bruising Mountain Coaster

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Gatlinburg is known as the mountain coaster capital of the world, owing to the proliferation of independent coasters that take advantage of the steep and rocky landscape to create unforgettable thrills. Though safe for the most part, in 2021 a rider was thrown from one such coaster as it reached a tight curve just after its camera spot, travelling ten feet and breaking both kneecaps, ankles and wrists. It was not the first such accident either, as in 2016 a woman was thrown from a two-person mountain coaster sledge after opting not to wear her safety restraint.

SeaWorld’s nauseating Manta

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It’s fair to say that, despite its popularity amongst Florida-going tourists, the roller coasters are not the primary draw for people visiting SeaWorld. Nevertheless, the underwater-themed park does boast one incredibly unique ride: the Manta. Opened in 2009, the coaster features four inversions and reaches a top speed of 90mph, all of which is relatively standard fare. What is more unusual is the riding position, which sees passengers soar above the park while laying flat on their bellies, just like a ray!

Kings Dominion’s hyper-painful Hypersonic XLC

Credit: Jeremy Thompson

As the name suggests, if you wanted to experience truly extreme coaster speeds during the mid-2000s, the Hypersonic XLC at King’s Dominion in Virginia was where you went. The ride began with an 0 to 80 mph launch up a 90° incline, before treating passengers to an immediate 90° drop without fully slowing down. This intensity made the Hypersonic enormously popular, but also led to a lot of dislocated shoulders and elbows, as riders who threw their arms up upon launch would find them snapped back by the pure force operating on the coaster cart.

Derren Brown’s galling Ghost Train

If Britain’s Alton Towers is famous for anything other than using In the Hall of the Mountain King in its TV commercials, it must be the theme park’s wacky attraction ideas, often with promotional tie-ins involved. Named after the famed TV mentalist, Derren Brown’s Ghost Train: Rise of the Demon had everything; motion simulation, virtual reality, a haunted house-esque walkaround segment and live actors. The result? A baffling experience in which the plot was confusing, the illusions barely ever worked and the scares were lacklustre. Thankfully Derren Brown can predict lottery numbers, so coming up with the ride’s £13 million budget probably wasn’t that difficult.

Expoland’s terrifying Fujin Raijin II

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From 1970 to 2007, Expoland was one of the biggest attractions in Osaka, Japan. The park’s crowning jewel was Fujin Raijin II, a six-car coaster that reached speeds in excess of 120kmphs. The coaster’s reputation was instantly destroyed in 2007, and with it went the fortunes of the entire park. Due to an axle that had not been replaced in 15 years, one of the coaster carts derailed, seriously injuring 18 passengers as it threw them off the track. One 19-year-old girl died instantly when her head hit a guardrail. The ensuing scandal and enquiry led to the park’s closure just two years later.

Disney California Adventure’s sickening Superstar Limo

All Disney fans are aware of the failure of California Adventure’s Superstar Limo, which was derailed by a combination of bad timing and upsetting coincidences. Originally, the dark ride was supposed to be a thrilling dash through Hollywood at night, with paparazzi hot on the rider’s tail. This version of the ride was never built, however, as it had to be changed due to the tragic death of Princess Diana under similar circumstances. As a result, the ride was retrofitted to be an agonising crawl past waxwork figures of B-list celebrities, with a sleazy Hollywood agent screeching at you at all times. How fun!

Gillian’s Wonderland Pier’s fatal Wild Wonder

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The Wild Wonder coaster at Gillian’s Wonderland Pier in Ocean City, New Jersey was popular for many years. It was a fairly gentle ride, featuring no inversions and only small bunny hills, making it popular with families looking for a less intense experience. Nevertheless, in August of 1999, the coaster’s old anti-rollback dogs were replaced with locally made ones, which failed as a mother and child were nearing the top of the lift hill. As the dogs lost contact with the track, the cart rolled back towards the station at an alarming speed, and both riders were killed upon impact after being hurled from the ride.

Kennywood’s baffling Garfield’s Nightmare

Credit: Jeremy Thompson

Kennywood’s history is a pretty idyllic one. Originally a picturesque Pennsylvania picnic spot following the Civil War, it evolved into a recreation epicentre with dance halls, swimming pools and most famously, a boating dark ride called The Old Mill that worked perfectly as a tunnel of love. Built in 1901, this attraction was the park’s most beloved and historical attraction until 2004, when it was hastily rebranded as Garfield’s Nightmare. The prevalence of orange cats, lasagne and scary spiders did lead to a drop in teen canoodling, but it was decided by park directors that the ends didn’t justify the feline means, and so the Garfieldification was reversed in 2020.

Galaxyland’s flawed Mindbender

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It’s not an exaggeration to say that the Mindbender coaster is the thing around which Galaxyland is built. Unfortunately, Mindbender’s troubles started just a year after it opened, due to a design flaw that caused the wheel on the fourth car to detach from the track. This happened in 1986, causing the lap bar to spring open, and all four passengers to be ejected from the ride as the train continued to move down the track. Three of the four riders died on impact, while the fourth was left with life-altering injuries.

Gatlinburg’s shaky Earthquake: The Ride

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Disaster!: A Major Motion Picture Ride… Starring You was an innovative Universal Studios dark ride that simulated what it would be like to experience a disaster movie-level earthquake, with the help of special effects actually used in the movie business. It spawned numerous copycats, with the worst of them all being Earthquake: the Ride at Gatlinburg Park in Tennessee. Instead of immersive 4D techniques and millions of dollars spent on detailed sets and thrill elements, Earthquake: The Ride had inexplicable gorilla-based jump-scares, plagues of stuffed rats and incredibly cheesy fire effects. Whoops!

Tibidabo’s precarious Pèndol

Credit: Jorge Franganillo

Tibidabo Amusement Park in Barcelona is not the oldest theme park in history, but it’s still a piece of history, having had its groundbreaking ceremony in 1899. The Pèndol swinging pendulum ride was not an opening-day attraction, but it was a mainstay of the park for a considerable amount of time before disaster struck in 2010. In July of that year, a 15-year-old girl died and three other teens were injured when the arm of the Pèndol detached without warning, throwing the basket carrying the group into the air and then onto another ride.

Ocean Beach Pleasure Park’s confusing Ghost Hunt

Credit: Circus_Monkey via TripAdvisor

Very few kinds of theme park attractions are more foolproof than the ghost train. All you need are cobwebs, flickering lights and corners your employees can hide behind in masks; how could anyone go wrong? Well, you’d better ask Ocean Beach Pleasure Park in England, as their Ghost Hunt bafflingly asked riders to climb into flying saucers and shoot laser guns that didn’t work because the score screens were covered in duct tape. Even worse, the props tasked with setting the spooky atmosphere varied wildly, with everything from naked prisoners in cages to Captain Birdseye making an appearance!

Tivoli Friheden’s unreliable Cobra

Credit: Martin Lewison

Tivoli Friheden is another European theme park with a long and storied history, having been a folk music festival site, a children’s play park, a theatre and a sprawling mini-golf course by 1958, before finally becoming the roller coaster-laden attraction it is today. Unfortunately, Tivoli Friheden’s Cobra coaster did not have the same longevity, as it was closed in 2022 after a 14-year-old girl was killed. On July 14th, the rear cart broke from the rest of the train and was left suspended, killing one teen and trapping many others. No explanation was ever given for how this happened, but the ride was closed immediately.

Pigeon Forge’s prehistoric Jurassic Jungle Boat Ride

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Earthquake: The Ride isn’t the only cut-rate attraction that has attempted to cash in on a successful Universal Studios formula over the years. Universal’s Jurassic World – The Ride features some of the best dinosaur animatronics you can see outside of a movie set, so it makes sense that Pigeon Forge in Tennessee would want a piece of the action. Unfortunately, Pigeon’s Jurassic Jungle Boat Ride features significantly sadder dinos that range in condition from torn, arthritic and drunkenly lurching to fully headless or with their bones showing. How scary is that?

Battersea Park’s deplorable Big Dipper

If you’re not a theme park enthusiast, you might not have heard about the so-called Big Dipper curse, but it’s worth bearing in mind if you want to ride a lot of roller coasters. Essentially, theme park folklore states that coasters named after the constellation experience catastrophic breakdowns and accidents at much higher than average rates, with the Big Dippers in Britain’s Blackpool and Battersea and Australia’s Sydney all having a treacherous history. Most infamous is the 1972 Battersea tragedy, which resulted in the deaths of five children when the wooden coaster car disconnected from the track.

Oakwood Theme Park’s sloppy Brer Rabbit’s Burrow

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Brer Rabbit is a famous figure in African-American folklore, appearing in various forms in oral traditions throughout history. So of course, Oakwood Themepark in Pembrokeshire, Wales would be totally equipped to represent his stories authentically, right? Well, maybe they could have done with the right research and planning, but they didn’t put in the effort. The Welsh Brer Rabbit’s Burrow is one of the most infamously half-baked dark rides in theme park history, featuring mismatched rabbit figures getting sloshed, going to the bathroom with their trousers on and passing out. How festive is that?

Lightwater Valley’s treacherous Twister

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Lightwater Valley is a humble UK theme park that basically lucked into holding the record for the longest rollercoaster in the world thanks to their coaster The Ultimate. Unfortunately, Lightwater Valley has also been in the papers for less positive reasons, such as the infamous Twister disaster. The Twister opened in 2001 and just one month later, a 20-year-old woman died as a result of two cars colliding, after which the coaster attendant explained that he had never seen the ride’s manual and had only had a single hour’s training. Yikes.