If there’s one thing that theme park fans know about Disney, it’s that when they really try, they come up with top-notch attractions. Since Disneyland opened its doors in 1955, Imagineers have been churning out game-changing attractions that truly are the best. And these, well, they’re the absolute best of the best.
Luckily, all of these rides are still open and operating around the world, and many of them are brand new experiences using the best technology and effects that Imagineering has ever been able to dream up. Flagship rides such as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea at Tokyo DisneySea, Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure at Shanghai Disneyland, and Flight of Passage at Disney’s Animal Kingdom prove that no matter what, Disney attractions are the best in the biz.
But don’t think you need flashy effects to be an all-time great Disney attraction. Fan favorites like “it’s a small world,” Space Mountain, and Haunted Mansion prove that the fine folks at Disney have known what they’re doing for a long time.
These 20 rides make up a Disney World bucket list of sorts. They’re spread across all 12 theme parks around the world, from Pirates of the Caribbean in California to Pooh’s Hunny Hunt in Tokyo Disneyland and plenty of fun in between.
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Disney has long tried to perfect a ride based on the adventures of Captain Nemo and the Nautilus, to varying results. But, they finally nailed it with 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea at Tokyo DisneySea. Unlike previous versions of the ride at Disneyland and Magic Kingdom, you never actually go under water, but this ride is full of mind-blowing illusions, in addition to the stunning set pieces and sea creatures. How do they do it all? It’s just Disney magic.
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The immersion and theming on Disney’s most ambitious rollercoaster, Expedition Everest, begins before you even get in your cart. The queue is filled with artifacts and tales of the legendary yeti, which you are then told at the end of the line is not real. Or is it? As you race upward, downward, and backward, you first encounter signs of this beast, and then, finally, the yeti itself. It’s expertly executed and a must-do at Walt Disney World.
There are versions of the nighttime spectacular Fantasmic! at Disneyland, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Tokyo DisneySea, but none beat the original. The elaborate show features a dreaming Mickey Mouse as he travels through the world of Disney animation (and Pirates of the Caribbean). Featuring booming fireworks, beautiful water projections, daring stunts, and all of your favorite Disney heroes and villains, this show is simply breathtaking.
Immersion and theming is key to the best Disney attractions, and Flight of Passage in Pandora: World of Avatar has that down pat. Before you take a gorgeous 3-D ride on the back of your very own banshee, you’re assigned your own Avatar body, told the story of the Na’vi, and trained on how you connect with these flying beasts. It’s an all-encompassing experience that actually justifies its regular three-hour waits.
The Haunted Mansion is a bona fide Disney classic, with variations at Disneyland, Magic Kingdom, and Tokyo Disneyland. This family-friendly haunted house has marvelous sight gags and puns, spooky ghosts, and a narration that’s just a little creepy as you travel in your “doom buggy.” Visit the Disneyland Haunted Mansion during the holidays to get the lively experience of the Haunted Mansion Holiday with a Nightmare Before Christmas overlay.
Some may say the titular song is an irritating earworm; we call it iconic. First developed for the 1964 New York World’s Fair, this happy little boat ride is simply charming. No matter where you look, there are adorable children figurines, playful animals, and yes, the song.
Just one word describes Journey to the Center of the Earth at Tokyo DisneySea: Astonishing. This flagship attraction takes you beneath the Earth’s surface and under the sea in caverns and crevasses filled with adorable creatures (and some pretty intense monsters). The final race out of the Earth is simply a blast. Like all of the best Disney rides, the theming starts in the queue with lab materials readying you for your trip to the earth’s core.
Interactive rides are always a blast, so Tokyo Disneyland’s Monster’s Inc. Ride & Go Seek is a pure joy. This dark ride features those lovable, not-so-scary monsters creeping behind doors and corners and hiding in mailboxes, trash cans, and TV sets. What makes this ride so unique is that riders are given flashlights to seek these monsters out; no two journeys through Monster’s Inc. Ride & Go Seek are the same.
A Haunted Mansion-type attraction is a staple at Disney parks across the world, but due to differences in Chinese culture, the entire experience was reimagined for Hong Kong Disneyland. Enter: Mystic Manor. This trackless dark ride takes you on a truly enchanted tour through Henry Mystic’s house, which has been disturbed by a magical music box. The visual effects, animatronics, and set pieces in this ride are so detailed and so colorful that a new standard for Disney dark rides has been set.
There are variations of this ride throughout all of Disney’s parks, but we have to tip our hat to the original Pirates of the Caribbean in Disneyland, due to its length and attention to detail. This swashbuckling boat ride through time features that emblematic song we all know and love and enough stunning scenes that you need to ride it more than once to take it all in.
The latest twist on Pirates of the Caribbean is so immersive and so distinctive that it deserves its own spot on our list. Shanghai Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure takes you into the middle of a pirate battle for that always-alluring treasure. You travel underwater to the depths of the sea and encounter ghost ships, swordfights, and of course, the elusive Captain Jack Sparrow. The visual elements of this engaging, immersive ride cannot be overstated. It’s truly a sight to behold.
Gather around for storytime — Pooh’s Hunny Hunt at Tokyo Disneyland is a trackless dark ride that sends you bouncing and sprinting through the Hundred Acre Wood and Pooh’s dreams of Heffalumps and Woozles. Though Disney has done Pooh-themed rides before, this ride’s state-of-the-art technology and merry animatronics make this ride all-enveloping and a pure joy.
What if you took the technology of Epcot’s Test Track and themed it to the Pixar hit Cars? That’s what you get with Radiator Springs Ravers at Disney’s California Adventure, a trip and drag race through Route 66’s abandoned town of Radiator Springs. It has a little bit of everything, from an adrenaline-inducing race to stunning theming to beloved characters. It’s truly a spectacle of Imagineering.
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Walt Disney Studios Park in France has many woes, but its landmark attraction, Ratatouille: L’Aventure Totalement Toquée de Rémy, is not one of them. This 4-D trackless ride uses sights, sounds, smells, and sets to make you truly feel like an unwanted rat in a Parisian kitchen. You skate across a kitchen floor, avoiding angry chefs and gasping at massive French pastries. The Ratatouille ride is so beloved, Disney is bringing the attraction to Epcot in 2021.
Soarin’ is one of Disney’s fan-favorite attractions, both at Disney’s California Adventure and Epcot. In this ride, you hang glide around the world, dashing over mountains and pyramids, dipping below flying fish and savannah trees, and careening over the Great Wall of China and the Eiffel Tower. Through the use of screens and scents, you truly feel like you’re flying across the world.
Space Mountain may just be a standard state fair rollercoaster in the dark, but the lack of light and the space theme make all the difference. With the rest of your senses gone, each dip, twist, and turn feels intense. The theming here is the same retro-futurism that Disney has had a hard time perfecting in Tomorrowland, yet the result is a must-ride all-time classic.
The 50-foot drop may be what makes Splash Mountain a hit (and a thrill), but the theming and animatronics in this woodsy log flume ride are not to be ignored. As you travel through the briar patch with Br’er Rabbit, you’ll notice that as you get closer to that intense drop, Br'er Fox and Br'er Bear get ever closer. It’s that attention to detail that makes this a well-deserved favorite attraction.
This 3-D shooter game is just a pure delight. After being shrunken down to toy size in Andy’s bedroom, you ride in a carnival cart and challenge those riding with you to a series of mini-games featuring all your favorite toys from the Toy Story franchise. There’s little else to say about this ride except that it’s really, really fun.
The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror may be gone from Disney’s California Adventure, but the haunted hotel lives on at Hollywood Studios. From the moment you step inside the Hollywood Hotel, you’re fully immersed in the creepy, mystical place. The ominous atmosphere is captured in every corner of the attraction, and even the cast members get really into character. The free-fall drop at the end is honestly just a bonus.
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If there was one thing Walt Disney the man really believed in, it was the promise of the future. That spirit is encapsulated in Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress at the Magic Kingdom. Originally created for the 1964 World’s Fair, this ride shows how technology has developed over time. Sure, the final scene is a little outdated and the rotating theatre doesn’t always work properly, but this underrated ride is a bona fide Disney classic, and all fans of Disney should give it a visit.
Now that you know what Disney rides and shows should be on your bucket list, learn which ones to avoid — these are Disney’s worst attractions of all time.