Disney prides itself on leading the pack in theming and immersion for each and every attraction, so it can be difficult to pinpoint a handful of must-do’s for your vacation. Since its Walt Disney World, every ride has a cult following that will give you 100 reasons to go on their favorite attraction. But if you’re with first-time visitors or just want to get back to the Disney basics, go on these classic, unique and truly imaginative rides:
1. Tower of Terror:
Tower of Terror is arguably the best thrill ride at Walt Disney World, which is enough to cement its status as a mainstay. What’s more impressive is that Tower of Terror is also one of the best themed attractions on property. This attraction strikes that perfect Disney balance between exhilarating and family friendly that can give your whole party a memorable experience. This one-of-a-kind ride is suspenseful yet wildly fun from the moment you approach the ominous tower on Sunset Boulevard. The lobby looks like it hasn’t been touched since the 1950’s, the pre-show features the sophisticated storytelling that Disney is famous for, and the boiler room puts butterflies in your belly before you even board the elevator. Tower of Terror is one of the most well-rounded and Disney rides on property, and should be at the top of your list for any vacation.
While newer than most Disney classics and fan favorites, Expedition Everest is one of Disney Imagineering’s greatest feats. With an imaginative concept, unparalleled theming and innovative ride technology, Expedition Everest was probably Joe Rhode’s crowning achievement — until Pandora. Yet over a decade later, this is still a wildly fun attraction and potentially Disney World’s best roller coaster. This ride tells a story in its well-themed queue and takes you on an adventure that most rides just can’t replicate. You really feel like you’re being chased by a Yeti through the mountains of Nepal. If you want to see what makes Disney stand out as an immersive theme park company, ride Expedition Everest.
1. Spaceship Earth:
Simply putting an attraction in a theme park’s icon — the Epcot golf ball — displays the level of creative thinking that permeates through the Walt Disney Company and Parks & Resorts. Furthermore, Spaceship Earth is one of Disney World’s best “dark rides” — a slow moving ride that goes from scene to scene telling a story. In this case, it’s the history of communication and human development. While seemingly mind-numbingly boring, this subject is discussed in a very engaging and fun way that makes you feel like you’re transporting through time. This showcases Disney’s ability to “edutain” (educate and entertain) its guests at a level that no other theme park can. To get the essence of Epcot and see the epitome of the classic Disney dark ride, give Spaceship Earth a ride.
Don’t get me wrong, Soarin’ Around the World certainly has its flaws. However, it is one of the most imaginative attractions in the world and it can give your family a unique and unforgettable experience — if you sit in the middle of the top row. While the scenes aren’t particularly compelling, the ride vehicle really makes you feel like you’re hang gliding, and no other theme park can duplicate that experience. Soarin’ isn’t perfect, but few attractions on Earth can give you a “Wow” moment like when you first get thrust into the air overlooking a snow-capped mountain range.
1. Haunted Mansion:
Arguably the best attraction in Walt Disney World, the Haunted Mansion takes you on a tour through an estate that’s home to 999 ghosts. Not only is this well-themed ride spine-tingling and fun, but Haunted Mansion is a classic Disney dark ride that showcases immersion techniques, illusions and features that were ahead of its time and inspired countless attractions that would follow. From the second you enter the clever and hilarious queue, you and your party will be fully engaged, enjoying laughs and spooks throughout in a fashion that only Disney could execute.
Another classic Disney dark ride, Pirates of the Caribbean makes you feel like you’re really in the middle of a pirate siege. The immersive theming and captivating scenes take you on an adventure that most rides can’t. People of all ages can appreciate this ride and have a fun time watching pirates pillage a town up close. While it didn’t open with the park, Pirates helped make Disney World what it is today and can give your group the magical Disney experience.
3. Splash Mountain:
One of the best themed thrill rides in Walt Disney World, Splash Mountain takes you on a surprisingly long ride through Brer Rabbit’s adventures. Nothing takes your breath away quite like the split second you’re suspended above the steep drop, staring at Cinderella Castle with a bird’s eye view over Magic Kingdom. Perfect for a hot Florida day, kids will love getting soaked and parents will enjoy the heart-stopping drop. You and your family can bond over getting drenched on this fun and well-themed ride. Also, make sure to stop by the photo stand to see you and your party screaming halfway down the mountain. Splash Mountain is an iconic Disney World ride that everyone should experience.
This ride is part of Disney’s backbone. A classic that originated from the 1964 World’s Fair, which was influential in kickstarting Disneyland and Disney World, “it’s a small world” is one of the few Disney World attractions personally touched by Walt Disney himself. This simplistic yet fun, slow boat ride takes you all over the world. The song walks the line between catchy and annoying, and the animatronic children walk the line between cute and creepy, but this ride is undeniably Disney and should be a top priority when visiting the Magic Kingdom.
Why I Didn’t Include:
I love Space Mountain and it’s one of my favorite rides in Disney World, but I can’t confidently say that it is a uniquely Disney attraction and that no other theme park can give you a similar experience. While it’s fun racing through space, at the end of the day Space Mountain is just a wooden roller coaster with the lights turned off.
I also love Jungle Cruise and the sarcastically terrible puns, but it’s not a must-do. I wouldn’t consider missing this ride a vacation buster like I would with the attractions I mentioned earlier. Jungle Cruise can easily become a first-timer’s favorite, but I think it’s just missing a little Disney magic that would push it over the edge.
I would’ve included this before it was relocated to the new Fantasyland, which is funny because I actually like the new version a lot more. However, it is a simple ride vehicle that can be replicated at every Six Flags or carnival in the country. What made it Disney was the ability to fly through the air in the Happiest Place On Earth right next to Cinderella Castle. When it lost that, Dumbo lost a bit of its magic.
As a Disney nerd, this is a unique and irreplaceable attraction that visitors should appreciate more. However, it is objectively a boring ride if you’re not obsessed with all things Disney and Tomorrowland. It gives cool inside looks at fan favorite attractions like Space Mountain, but simply isn’t fun enough to be a must-do.
While no other theme park has a safari as deep and engaging as Animal Kingdom, visitors can get a similar experience from visiting their local zoo for a fraction of the cost. It’s an imaginative and fun attraction, but it doesn’t necessarily make Disney World Disney.
It has a strong connection to Walt and a lot of history with the parks within it, but Carousel of Progress just isn’t entertaining enough to encourage first-timers to ride it. Guests who aren’t die-hard Disney fans might think this attraction is terrible unless they already know its historical significance before riding it.