I hesitated to post two Disney lists in a row, but what can I say, I have Disney on the brain lately. A few notes: I’ve included each country pavilion from Epcot as its own attraction. If the pavilion includes a movie or a ride, that is listed as a separate attraction as well. This list is relatively comprehensive; if a ride or attraction is not included, I’ve probably never ridden it. Water parks are not included, because other than wave pools and lazy rivers, I hate water parks.
Here they are, my seventy favorite attractions in Walt Disney World (with a bunch of dark, grainy, shaky YouTube videos!):
70) Stitch’s Great Escape! (Magic Kingdom)
A horrible attraction. Who would’ve guessed that putting people in a dark theater, touching them with things, spraying them with water, and spraying bad smells into the air around them would result in a negative experience?
69) Journey into Imagination with Figment (Epcot)
The old version of this ride was one of my favorites as a kid. I had a Figment stuffed animal and everything. The new one is absolutely terrible, and one of the attractions in Walt Disney World least likely to spark a child’s imagination. Maybe the original was terrible, too, and I just didn’t realize it at the time.
68) United States Pavilion (Epcot)
By far the most boring of the World Showcase pavilions. It could have been so much better. There’s not really much going on here. The quick service food is just standard fast food stuff, and the building itself is an uninspired Colonial-style place. Why go with a single building here? Wouldn’t it be more interesting to have a street scene like so many of the other pavilions? They could have gone with an old-timey Boston scene. I haven’t seen the animatronic show, The American Adventure, in a long time. I’ll make an effort to see it the next time I go and maybe my opinion will change.
67) Cinderella’s Golden Carousel (Magic Kingdom)
Yeah, this is just a carousel.
66) Dumbo the Flying Elephant (Magic Kingdom)
Notorious for its long lines. There are two other versions of this ride (that are actually better) in other parts of the park. See below.
65) The Hall of Presidents (Magic Kingdom)
I haven’t seen this one in a long time, but I’m definitely going to check it out when I’m there in May since they’ve rehabbed it and added Barack. While I usually skip it, I like knowing it’s there.
64) Sounds Dangerous (Hollywood Studios)
Like so many other attractions, this is ridiculously dated at this point, but it has some cool moments. It’s surprising what can be done with sound alone; this is like the aural version of Avatar.
63) Country Bear Jamboree (Magic Kingdom)
I usually pass this by nowadays; it is, after all, a glorified Chuck E. Cheese show. It has a nostalgia factor that keeps people coming in, I guess.
62) Frontierland Shootin’ Arcade (Magic Kingdom)
A rare Disney World attraction that is not included in the initial ticket price of the park, this wouldn’t be out of place at a county fair. There’s really nothing much to like about it, but somehow I loved it as a kid. Getting excited about this rather than the attractions that surround it is a case of the kid liking the cardboard box more than the toy that came in it.
61) Honey, I Shrunk the Audience (Epcot)
OK, it’s hard to get excited about a 3-D show based on a movie that came out over twenty years ago starring an actor that retired in 1997. How has this not been updated? The real shame is that it replaced the outstanding Captain EO, the Michael Jackson/Francis Ford Coppola collaboration, with a cameo from Doug Benson as a back-up dancer. Captain EO came back to Disneyland in January, and is headed to Tokyo Disneyland in June; hopefully it will make its return to Epcot sometime soon.
60) Innoventions (Epcot)
There is actually a lot going on here. My sister reports really enjoying it during her most recent trip to Epcot. The problem is that it’s housed in what looks like a hotel conference room. Also, it takes some time and some digging to really enjoy oneself, and Disney is a place designed for instant gratification. Someday I will really try to invest some time here.
59) The Seas with Nemo & Friends (Epcot)
There is almost nothing going on in this ride. Basically, you sit in a clam and move on a track as scenes from an uninteresting story starring characters from Finding Nemo are projected in front of you. And then at the end, you get to hear a really annoying song. A desperate attempt to incorporate Pixar characters into the parks, and a real missed opportunity for what could have been a great ride.
58) Maharajah Jungle Trek (Animal Kingdom)
Basically a small zoo-ish area, but in typical Disney fashion it’s themed so well that it has its own story and is more than the sum of its parts.
57) Dinosaur (Animal Kingdom)
This ride is a herky-jerky mess with unconvincing animatronic dinosaurs popping out of bushes towards your jeep every once in a while. Johanna and my sister are both fans, but I mostly think it’s boring. It’s worth a visit, though, because there is practically nothing else going on at Animal Kingdom.
56) Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress (Magic Kingdom)
Originally designed for the 1964 World’s Fair in New York, and it shows. You could argue that it desperately needs a rehab, but really, how could it be changed? There is no way to bring this sort of attraction into the 21st Century without stripping away what charm it has. And this sort of thing, minus charm and nostalgia, is a waste of everyone’s time.
55) Club Cool (Epcot)
I’m guessing a lot of people don’t even know this place exists. It’s tucked away next to Innoventions in Epcot, and looks sort of like a snack bar. But inside you can sample soft drink flavors from around the world! For free! Sure, it’s not that big of a deal, but random little nooks and crannies like this are often my favorite things about the Disney parks.
54) Tomorrowland Speedway (Magic Kingdom)
I haven’t bothered with it as an adult, but I loved it as a kid. I would give it another shot, but the line is always ridiculous. The turnover must be really slow or something. This is up there with Dumbo as one of the rides with the worst fun-to-wait-time ratios.
53) Studios Backlot Tour (Hollywood Studios)
Nowhere near as good as it used to be. Look at this line from the Wikipedia page: “The line moves guests up and down aisles of props used in different major productions including Marvin’s Room, The Santa Clause, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Honey, I Blew Up the Kid, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and George of the Jungle.” I know you’re all champing at the bit to see those famous Marvin’s Room props.
52) Pangani Forest Exploration Trail (Animal Kingdom)
Basically the same thing as the Maharajah Jungle Trek above, but I like this one better because it has gorillas.
51) The Enchanted Tiki Room (Under New Management!) (Magic Kingdom)
The in-the-round bench seating lends this an intimate feel that is unusual at Disney. But any thoughts about whether or not this was the work of an Imagineer are quickly forgotten when 150 animatronic birds descend from the ceiling and pop out from the walls. As good a place as any if you’re in the Magic Kingdom and looking for a place to sit down.
50) Jim Henson’s Muppet-Vision 3-D (Hollywood Studios)
This is getting old, but the Muppets are relatively timeless, and the show is actually pretty good. Not that I get all that excited about it, though.
49) Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros (Epcot)
Sure, I miss the old version, but if I’m being honest, this is pretty much the same thing. This is a great ride if you’re waiting for a Fastpass or a dinner reservation; there usually isn’t much of a line.
48) Swiss Family Treehouse (Magic Kingdom)
Another great place to kill some time while waiting for another ride. There is never a line for this one. There isn’t much going on here, but it’s fun to climb the tree, and there are some decent views of Adventureland when you get to the top.
47) The Magic Carpets of Aladdin (Magic Kingdom)
Remember up above when I said that there were two other rides in Magic Kingdom where one could have pretty much the same experience as Dumbo with a fraction of the wait time? Here’s the first. This is Aladdin themed, too, so that’s a bonus.
46) The Seas Main Tank (Epcot)
Aquariums are great, especially when they’re surrounded by Epcot. This is another great place to relax for a few minutes without having to wait in a line.
45) It’s Tough to Be a Bug! (Animal Kingdom)
I’m a big fan of A Bug’s Life; it may be the most underrated Pixar movie. The story here lives up to the original movie. It was also one of the few saving graces of Animal Kingdom before Expedition Everest opened. Again, though, while I know they’re trying to make it a complete, immersive experience, this suffers from the same problem as Stitch’s Great Escape. I don’t like to be poked or prodded when I’m sitting in the dark.
44) Canada Pavilion (Epcot)
There isn’t anything wrong with the Canada pavilion, but once you take away O Canada! (listed separately), there isn’t that much going on. Le Cellier is a good restaurant, but I’m not a huge steak guy, really. It always seems like there should be more in the back area here; I wonder if they had something planned for that at one point.
43) Test Track (Epcot)
Considering that this is basically a GM commercial that you wait in line to see, it could certainly be worse. It’s OK, I guess, but the grand finale is that you get to go 65 mph in a car. Not exactly a novel experience.
42) Germany Pavilion (Epcot)
Con: Unlike the soft pretzels sold throughout the rest of Walt Disney World, the ones at the Germany pavilion don’t come with a cup of awesome, piping hot nacho cheese on the side.
Pro: There is a great model train set that might possibly have been the inspiration for my desire to some day have a huge outdoor model train.
41) Snow White’s Scary Adventures (Magic Kingdom)
Fantasyland is always overrun with people, and the line for this ride is usually much too long, considering the quality. Also, this ride sort of blends together in my head with the Pooh ride and the Peter Pan ride. But I still feel obligated to ride each of them every time I go.
40) O Canada! (Epcot)
The problem with these Circle-Vision 360 movies is that I always feel like I’m missing out on what’s going on behind me. I want to look in every direction at once. Also, this movie is only a few years old, but feels a bit dated already because Martin Short, who hasn’t been relevant since like 1991, narrates it. It’s still a good show, though.
39) Mad Tea Party (Magic Kingdom)
Basically, just a well-made fair ride, but it’s still a staple. More fun than it has any right to be.
38) China Pavilion (Epcot)
I’ve never eaten here, but there’s a nice, big store full of random stuff, and the performances by the acrobats are a good time. Do NOT try to enter the movie theater from the exit in the store, though. They really frown on that.
37) Astro Orbiter (Magic Kingdom)
And here’s the other Dumbo alternative. This one ranks highly because of the great views it affords from above Tomorrowland.
36) Morocco Pavilion (Epcot)
Again, I’ve never been to the full service restaurant here, but I would like to try it. The structure of the pavilion follows the pattern of my favorite countries in Epcot, with simulated streets with nooks and little shops. One of the more evocative of the pavilions. Maybe not evocative of Morocco, but evocative of something.
35) Universe of Energy: Ellen’s Energy Adventure (Epcot)
I was shocked to learn when researching this ride that Ellen’s Energy Adventure dates back to 1996. Ellen wasn’t even out of the closet at that point! All she had on her resume was a couple of seasons of that terrible sitcom. How did she get this gig? It’s a good show/ride, though, and Bill Nye co-stars, so that’s a plus. It holds a ton of people and takes 45 minutes, so the line can be misleading. Time it right and you can pretty much walk in.
34) Maelstrom (Epcot)
A tame little boat ride for which I’ve always had a big soft spot. Fast pass is available but never necessary, as far as I can tell. Don’t let them fool you into sitting through the movie at the end; it’s boring and a shameless tourism video, and you can just go straight to the exit when the doors open.
33) Reflections of China (Epcot)
Another Circle-Vision 360 movie. This one is a few years older than O Canada!, and feels even older than that, but it has more charm. And as beautiful as Canada is, it’s got nothing on China.
32) The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (Magic Kingdom)
This ride was very controversial when it opened in 1999 because it replaced the beloved Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. I was a big fan of Mr. Toad, both the ride and the movie, and I was disappointed to hear it had closed. But who can blame Disney for wanting to focus on the obviously much more popular Winnie the Pooh? I wish they would take that approach with some of their other ridiculously outdated attractions, like, say, Honey, I Shrunk the Audience.
31) Norway Pavilion (Epcot)
The Norway pavilion has always been one of my favorites. I did a Princess breakfast at the restaurant here, and what would be a lackluster breakfast for most people was actually right up my alley. Cheese cubes and cantaloupe. They got rid of the Viking ship for some reason, but the stores are still some of my favorites. During my last visit I finally fulfilled my life-long dream of buying one of the little troll figures. He is now very good friends with my Harry Truman bobblehead.
30) It’s a Small World (Magic Kingdom)
This ride, and the accompanying song, is something of a punch line. This is admittedly an easy one to make fun of, and probably what most people that don’t like Disney World would point to when explaining why they felt that way. But it’s a classic, and there is a ton to look at while you’re riding it. Johanna and I did get stuck in the last room of the ride for an uncomfortably long time once, though. I will admit that things became very grating very quickly.
29) The Great Movie Ride (Hollywood Studios)
A ride, like Jungle Cruise below, where the appeal is very dependent on the tour guide assigned to your ride vehicle. Sometimes you get someone who is great at his or her job, and it’s excellent. Sometimes you get someone who is having a bad day, or worse, someone who is still relying on his or her high school drama class techniques, and it can be excruciating. However, even a bad guide can’t ruin the montage of classic movie moments at the end of the ride. I’m a sucker for a good montage.
28) Impressions de France (Epcot)
Not quite Circle-Vision 360, but still sort of IMAX-esque, with three big screens wrapping around the front of the theater. My opinion of it is definitely enhanced by the prominent use of one of my favorite songs, “Aquarium” from The Carnival of the Animals by Saint-Saëns.
27) Peter Pan’s Flight (Magic Kingdom)
My favorite of the Fantasyland dark rides, mostly because I like the movie Peter Pan more than I like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. I also always liked the fact that the cars in the nighttime London scene are just bits of glow-in-the-dark paint on a rotating bicycle chain. That is some great Imagineering.
26) Tom Sawyer Island (Magic Kingdom)
It probably seems odd to rank this so highly, but I couldn’t get enough of it as a kid. There’s nothing like some unstructured running around on an island crammed with caves and rope bridges to let off some steam after a day of waiting in lines.
25) Kilimanjaro Safaris (Animal Kingdom)
The storyline gets old, and takes away from what is just an amazingly well-designed ride through a zoo. There are a lot of factors here that can affect how much one enjoys the ride, from the quality of the driver to the visibility of the animals. You always get to see the baobab trees, though, and I love them, even if they are fake.
24) Mission: SPACE (Epcot)
This is a sort of fun, sort of realistic space travel simulator. There are horror stories about people supposedly dying from heart attacks and strokes after riding this ride, and Disney tries to scare you by making you choose between a spinning and a non-spinning version when you get in line. Granted, I’m not one to get motion sick, but I don’t really see what the big deal is. If you go, do the orange, spinning version. Even Johanna didn’t think it was bad.
23) Italy Pavilion (Epcot)
The restaurant here is very good, and the shops are nice enough. It’s more peaceful than some of the pavilions in the World Showcase, possibly because it has less for children to do than some of the others. I can’t help but feel like it would have been better had the designers gone with a Roman theme as opposed to Venetian.
22) IllumiNations (Epcot)
The fireworks at the Magic Kingdom end with tens of thousands of people trying to get on the Monorail, and Fantasmic, at the Studios, requires one to wait in line for seating. IllumiNations at Epcot is my favorite of the night-ending Disney World extravaganzas because it’s visible from pretty much anywhere in World Showcase, and it’s relatively easy to get out of the park at the end. I’ve still made Johanna watch it while walking towards the exit on several occasions, though.
21) The Haunted Mansion (Magic Kingdom)
There are a lot of things that I love about The Haunted Mansion, but I think my favorite part is how the “Cast Members” (as Disney calls their park workers) at this ride have to stay in character and be creepy and rude as they load you onto your ride vehicles. Between that and the fact that the loading platform is moving and they have to be constantly walking, this has to be one of the more demanding jobs in the park.
20) Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin (Magic Kingdom)
So, I discussed with Johanna whether or not I should use this opportunity to tell the story of the time I inappropriately used the word “retard” after riding this, but we both agreed it would require too much exposition to be both funny and non-offensive. Let’s just move on.
19) Jungle Cruise (Magic Kingdom)
As mentioned above, this one is heavily reliant on the guide you end up with. Also, the line is always way too long for what the ride actually delivers. But it’s a classic, and the rare example of a great Disney ride that is neither based on a movie nor has a movie based on it (like the next entry).
18) Pirates of the Caribbean (Magic Kingdom)
I’ve mentioned before on this blog that when I was twelve I took a somewhat ill-fated trip to California with my grandparents. On that trip, after some time in San Diego and at the Lawrence Welk Resort in Escondido, we did the rounds of the theme parks in L.A. We started with Universal Studios, and knowing that the Back to the Future ridewas just a motion simulator and didn’t actually go anywhere, I convinced my grandma to ride it. It was a bit wilder than I was expecting, and certainly took her by surprise. She was not happy. Later, when we went to Disneyland, I convinced her to ride Pirates of the Caribbean. I wasn’t trying to be cruel; this is seriously one of the tamest rides I’ve ever been on. Young children sleep through this ride. There’s a drop of about one foot in the early part of the ride. It’s like going over a very relaxing speed bump in a car with outstanding suspension. It took my grandma by surprise, though, and I’m pretty sure she still hasn’t forgiven me.
17) Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (Magic Kingdom)
The least exciting of the “Mountain” rides at Magic Kingdom, but it’s still a lot of fun. The line is generally not as bad as that of Splash or Space, but the payoff is also smaller. This is a great one to ride after dark; it gains a lot from the nighttime lighting.
16) Tomorrowland Transit Authority (Magic Kingdom)
Formerly known as the PeopleMover. I’m sure this seems out of place in the top twenty, amongst the heavy hitters of Walt Disney World, but I’ve always been a fan. Magic Kingdom can be a tiring place, and sometimes you just want to sit on a bench and relax for a bit. This is basically a bench that takes you on a tour of Tomorrowland. You even get to see the inside of Space Mountain. And if you’re nice, the Cast Members will let you ride multiple times without getting back in line.
15) France Pavilion (Epcot)
Another of my favorite type of country pavilions, with a street and a few small shops. I’ve been to one of the two restaurants here and enjoyed it, although I prefer Mexico and Italy for food. The French girls working here are cute and vaguely rude, just like you would expect.
14) Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular (Hollywood Studios)
I didn’t go to the Stunt Spectacular the last time I was at the Studios. It’s starting to get old, even to an Indiana Jones fan such as myself. Besides, nothing can ever live up to the time my friend Jason got picked to be in it and even got to act out a death scene. One of the funniest events of my life.
13) Mexico Pavilion (Epcot)
Ah, the Mexico Pavilion, which my friends from high school and I only somewhat jokingly refer to as the most romantic place on Earth. Johanna and I shared a delicious dinner there once. Our waiter was memorably great, although possibly high. If you ever go, get the tortilla soup.
12) Spaceship Earth (Epcot)
This gets bonus points because it’s actually inside of the iconic geodesic sphere in Epcot, which is awesome. It’s a good ride on its own though, especially if you like educational animatronic dioramas. I do, obviously.
11) Japan Pavilion (Epcot)
The Mitsukoshi department store is maybe the best store in World Showcase, with all kinds of weird crap, from action figures to Hello Kitty stuff to bonsai trees to live oysters with pearls in them. Japan also features the delicious (and famous among my family) plum wine.
10) Living with the Land (Epcot)
I am legitimately shocked by how much I love this ride. I can ride it multiple times in a row and enjoy it every time. For anyone who is unfamiliar with it (although, to be honest, if you’re unfamiliar with Disney rides I’m guessing you haven’t made it this far), this is a boat ride through the Epcot greenhouses with narration describing all the weird things that are being grown and the normal things that are being grown in weird ways. Like “vertically grown” tomatoes and pumpkins in the shape of Mickey Mouse. Johanna and I are endlessly fascinated by it.
9) Soarin’ (Epcot)
This was imported to Epcot from the Disney’s California Adventure park, which explains the weirdly out-of-place Cali theme. This is a really fun, unique ride, but the line is just killer. I have waited a long time for this ride even with a Fastpass. Even in January. I can’t imagine what it’s like in July. I guess the payoff is worth it, though, because I continue to line up.
8 ) Mickey’s PhilharMagic (Magic Kingdom)
This was the coolest 3-D thing I’d ever seen until I saw Avatar. It sort of blends into the background in Fantasyland, and I almost passed it by, which would have been a shame. One tip: try not to sit next to little kids (easier said than done in Magic Kingdom, obviously). There are some parts that are a bit scary, and by the end of it Johanna and I were surrounded by a ton of crying and screaming.
7) Star Tours (Hollywood Studios)
Technologically, this ride is a creaky old dinosaur at this point. It desperately needs to be updated (apparently happening later this year). I will always love it, though, because this is what introduced me to Star Wars. As far as I know, I had never even heard of the movies when I first got on the ride, and I was obsessed with them by the time it was over. I spent the rest of the trip sketching X-Wing fighters, and the first thing I did when we got home from Florida was force my mom to take me to the video store to rent the trilogy.
6) United Kingdom Pavilion (Epcot)
My favorite pavilion in the World Showcase, which is, in turn, my favorite thing in Walt Disney World. The pub is sort of realistic (by Disney standards, at least), you can buy Lion bars at one of the stores, and Mary Poppins is running around. It’s also home to The British Invasion, the Beatles cover band that Johanna and I wish we could have hired to play our wedding.
5) Splash Mountain (Magic Kingdom)
Tragically, Splash Mountain has been closed for refurbishment during both of my past two trips. I guess that’s what I get for going to Disney World in January. The final plunge is fun, but the extended Song of the South-themed floating bit before it is what I really love. I do find it a bit curious that Disney decided to base a high-profile theme park ride on a movie that they’ve refused to ever release on VHS or DVD because it’s too, well…racist.
4) Space Mountain (Magic Kingdom)
I have yet to ride the updated version, but the changes sound great. This is maybe the most iconic theme park ride of all time (well, that might be Pirates of the Caribbean, but this has got to be the most iconic roller coaster). Pretty much everyone I know has the same story about Space Mountain, which starts with their dad making them ride this when they were too young and ends with them in tears.
3) Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster (Hollywood Studios)
I love roller coasters, and I’m very happy that Disney has started adding some legitimate thrill rides to their parks in recent years. This is a really fun, exhilarating ride that is held back only by being really short and starring Aerosmith. I’ve heard that Disney originally contacted The Rolling Stones and U2 about starring in the ride, but both wanted too much money. And that’s how we got stuck with “Dude Looks Like a Lady” blaring through speakers three inches away from our heads while we ride this.
2) The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror (Hollywood Studios)
As far as I can tell, this is considered to be the best “themed” ride ever. Like, it carries a consistent theme throughout, from the queuing area to the exit. I can’t argue with that, really, although I think there is an argument to be made for the ride at number one below. Johanna has a love/hate relationship with this ride. The first time she rode it, I had to almost physically drag her on. The second time she was so scared that she grabbed the knee of the middle-aged stranger sitting next to her. That said, when I started this list and asked her what her favorite ride in the parks was, this was her answer without a bit of hesitation.
1) Expedition Everest (Animal Kingdom)
In a list that is so dominated by nostalgia, it’s a bit odd that I have one of the newest rides in Walt Disney World ranked number one. But Disney got absolutely everything right about this attraction. I don’t even mind waiting in line, really, because of all the detail in the Yeti museum that the line winds through. This is the only ride where I’ve actually purchased the photo they take of you screaming as you head for a drop. If not for Everest, I probably wouldn’t even bother going to Animal Kingdom any more.
Park by Park, Quantitative Measure
Magic Kingdom: 27 attractions
Epcot: 29 attractions
Hollywood Studios: 8 attractions
Animal Kingdom: 6 attractions
Park by Park, Qualitative Measure (#1 = 70 pts, #70 = 1 pt)
Magic Kingdom: 906 pts.
Epcot: 1043 pts.
Hollywood Studios: 346 pts.
Animal Kingdom: 188 pts.