The 15 Best Experiences in Theme Parks and Fan Destinations 2022

The 15 Best Experiences in Theme Parks and Fan Destinations 2022

Immersive highs from Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser, Halloween Horror Nights, interactive theater, San Diego Comic-Con, and more.

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Lumon, The Grabber, Gaya, Haunted Delusion
Image: Gizmodo/Universal Studios/Disney Parks

There was no shortage of fan-tastical avenues to take into our favorite imagined worlds within themed entertainment, amusement parks, haunts, and immersive activations in 2022. Walt Disney World welcomed two new attractions between Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind and Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser. Meanwhile, various shows like Apple’s Severance and Netflix’s Stranger Things offered up immersive activations. Then of course haunt season was held down by Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights on both coasts. Picking the best was a no-brainer. Here’s what we got!

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Jupiter’s Claim

Jupiter’s Claim

The inclusion of a new classic at Universal Studios Hollywood from horror master Jordan Peele was a big deal. The Jupiter’s Claim set of Nope was added to the studio tour at the park as a stop that invites the sonic presence of Jean Jacket in a way that will have you afraid to look up. We were lucky to visit on a special night for its opening, which included JFI Productions acting the part of the fictional amusement park’s workers, and lived through a simulated alien invasion—which you still get on the daily tours from the safety of the tram. There was also the creepy Terror Tram version at Horror Nights that featured more of Peele’s twisted nightmares too, which we really enjoyed.

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Ernesto de La Cruz at Oogie Boogie Bash

Ernesto de La Cruz at Oogie Boogie Bash

The character performer for Ernesto de La Cruz is the best walk-around makeup creation Disney has done in a long time, totally beating out Mando and Grogu (I said what I said). The Oogie Boogie Bash villain held up his trick or treat trail for hours because people just wanted to see him perform. He needs a Halloween stage show at the parks for more captive audiences to see.

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Severance at SDCC 2022

Severance at SDCC 2022

lumon office
Photo: Germain Lussier/Gizmodo

Part of the brilliance of the Apple TV+ show, Severance is when you enter Lumon, the company where many of the characters work, it’s in its own world. Everything else is blocked out. That makes for a perfect themed entertainment environment because everything can be so locked off, and at Comic-Con, Apple really went all out. Not only did the experience have all of the moments you’ve come to love and expect from the show (the boardroom, the break room, the kitchen, etc.) every time you went in, every person had a different experience. It was that varied. Each drawer, each room, and each corner had some little clue or Easter egg. The experience was truly immersive and cool; we only wish we could have done it more than once. - Germain Lussier

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Krofft Kon

Krofft Kon

theater marquee kroft kon
Photo: Cheryl Eddy/Gizmodo

Members of a very specific, very passionate fandom niche descended upon a historic movie theater in Orinda, California in May this year for the first-ever Krofft Kon—a day honoring the works of 1970s TV legends Sid and Marty Krofft. Both brothers (who are 93 and 85) were on hand, as were performers notable for their work in the duo’s colorfully weird, puppet-filled, fantastically psychedelic children’s shows, including H.R. Pufnstuf, Land of the Lost, Lidsville, and Sigmund and the Sea Monsters. There were screenings, there were on-stage interviews, there was a presentation on the short-lived World of Sid and Marty Krofft theme park, there was someone in a screen-perfect H.R. Pufnstuf costume, and also some incredibly authentic Witchiepoo cosplay. It was the koo-koo-kosokiest! - Cheryl Eddy

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Stranger Things Experience

Stranger Things Experience

We had to check out Netflix’s immersive Stranger Things: The Experience, which is touring the states. Part interactive theater, part story-propelled escape room, it takes you into Hawkins Lab and teams you up with Eleven, Max, and their friends on a journey through the Upside Down. It really pushes the boundaries of participatory entertainment and takes it to a whole new level.

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Back to the Future at the Great Movie Escape

Back to the Future at the Great Movie Escape

back to the future escape room
Photo: Universal Orlando Resort

The Great Movie Escape just opened at Universal Orlando’s CityWalk, which elevates escape rooms with a campy and delightful time travel adventure set in the Back to the Future universe. Fans of the Robert Zemeckis classic will be pleased at the amount of Easter eggs and level of immersion into the story, with a few surprises we don’t want to spoil.

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Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser

Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser

Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser is a hefty priced, luxury two-day experience offered at Walt Disney World that takes you into your own Star Wars story. It’s a huge gateway to becoming an immersive fan, as it’s one of the first experiences of this scale with a major IP to bring the niche industry to a bigger stage. The way the whole ensemble of characters brings you into the adventure is mind-blowing as you become deeply invested and participate in a life in a galaxy far, far away.

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Haunted Delusion

Haunted Delusion

haunted delusion
Photo: Sabina Graves/Gizmodo

The leading horror theater trope did it again with Delusion: Valley of Hollows, an eerie journey into the world of cults and the supernatural. Visitors live in this world for about an hour—at the end of which, you want to escape it but also kind of don’t. It’s still a standard-bearer for interactive theater and we can’t wait for next year’s play, even though this one had us crouched under a bed to get away from a giant animatronic fuzzy spider. I still have nightmares.

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Halloween Horror Nights Orlando

Halloween Horror Nights Orlando

The Weeknd house horror nights
Photo: Sabina Graves/Gizmodo

The East Coast Halloween Horror Nights reigned supreme with its big IP, including pop-star the Weeknd getting his own twisted haunted house and a house crafted around horror movie The Black Phone. But’s the original slate of houses that really wins. Deadman’s Pier Winters Wake was a gem of an original house filled with a whole dock to explore and aquatic monsters to face. Then there’s Lil’Boo, now officially a HHN icon after the anxious pumpkin gained a cult following. He’s now a prominent fixture of the event—truly the reason for the season, that Lil’Boo.

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Rainbow Connection Epcot Ball

Rainbow Connection Epcot Ball

With new lights adorning the Epcot ball, new shows have been illuminating the night based on the time of year. At the Festival of the Arts, was lit up in wondrous rainbow colors to the tune of the Muppets’ classic “Rainbow Connection,” which reduced me to happy tears.

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Danny Elfman at Coachella

Danny Elfman at Coachella

This was the wildest nerd thing to happen at Coachella. Composer Danny Elfman made his return to the stage with a full set of new original songs, his classic genre scores (like Batman, Spider-Man), and Oingo Boingo music. It was wildly outrageous and inspired the legend to take the set and make it bigger during Halloween.

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Cosmic Rewind

Cosmic Rewind

I’m not a big rollercoaster person (I don’t like drops), but even I loved Cosmic Rewind. It’s a fun Guardians of the Galaxy adventure that’s funny and thrilling; I loved the soundtrack and really enjoyed the holiday version, which features a cover of “Run, Run, Rudolph” with a Rocket Raccoon twist.

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Lost Spirits

Lost Spirits

lost spirits stage
Photo: Lost Spirits

Getting lost in a boozy wonderland with literary-themed rum amid a cozy, storybook-like setting with live performers was not a Las Vegas offering we expected. At Area 15, which is just off the Strip, Lost Spirits Distillery is a madcap slice of fantasy and fun with potent potions—I mean libations.

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Black Panther and More Marvel

Black Panther and More Marvel

Black Panther and Dor Milaje
Photo: Sabina Graves/Gizmodo

Marvel has really been on it with the synergy between the studio and Disney Parks. Whether it’s the theatrical release of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever or the latest Disney+ series, fans got the opportunity to meet their favorite heroes and villains at Avengers Campus. It’s one thing to be able to meet the new Black Panther the week of the film’s release, but it’s another to also get to meet unexpected characters from Moon Knight and Ms. Marvel.

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RRR at Beyond Fest

RRR at Beyond Fest

No other movie-going experience in recent memory could top seeing Tollywood titan RRR, S. S. Rajamouli’s epic historical fantasy action and musical film, in Los Angeles at Beyond Fest in IMAX. The excited audience reacted and even danced along with the film, and the energy was off the charts. Seeing it at home doesn’t compare.


Want more io9 news? Check out when to expect the latest Marvel, Star Wars, and Star Trek releases, what’s next for the DC Universe on film and TV, and everything you need to know about James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water.

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