So, you consider yourself a big Disney parks fan? You’ve gone to the Magic Kingdom more than a few times and maybe you’re even an annual passholder to Disneyland. Even if you’ve traveled across the country to visit all six American parks, you’ve only scratched the surface of what Disney’s Imagineers can do, and there’s so much to see and do around the world when it comes to Disney. For those who truly want the full breadth of the Disney experience, we’ve compiled the ultimate Disney rides bucket list.
While the majority of Disney history and its most iconic rides live at Walt’s original park Disneyland, this bucket list will take you to all 12 Disney parks across three continents, so it’s best to save up your money and pack smart. Get ready for a magical journey with these 21 must-do Disney rides.
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Disney tried time and time again to get a Nautilus-themed ride to work at their parks, but variations of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea at Disneyland and Magic Kingdom both shut down due to high operating costs, stemming from the fact that the rides’ submarines really went under water. Disney finally nailed it with the breathtaking 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea at Tokyo DisneySea. This ride is full of mind-blowing illusions and mysterious sea creatures that you need to see to believe. How do they do it all? It’s just Disney magic.
Some people claim that Walt Disney just built Disneyland so he would have a place for his railroad, and that may actually be true. All jokes aside, the man behind the mouse did have a passion for trains that shows in the iconic Disneyland Railroad. Board this vintage train and enjoy a relaxing ride through Main Street U.S.A., New Orleans Square, Mickey’s Toontown, and Tomorrowland. If you’re lucky enough, your train car will be pulled by the Lilly Belle, named after Walt’s beloved wife Lillian Disney.
One of the most underrated rides at Walt Disney World, Expedition Everest is a prime example of what Imagineers can do. The immersion and theming of this rollercoaster begins the moment you step in line. 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 board your mine cart and race upward, downward, and backward through a snowy mountaintop, you first encounter signs of this beast, and then, finally, the yeti itself. It’s expertly executed and an absolute must-see.
If you haven’t been yet, Pandora: The World of Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is a truly immersive area, with its own lore, unique cuisine, and bioluminescent landscaping. The landmark ride in this new land is Flight of Passage. 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 storytelling at its finest, and the race through Pandora is as thrilling as it is stunning.
Though it did not open its ominous doors until 1969, The Haunted Mansion was one of the first rides conceptualized and planned for Disneyland. This attraction had a group of truly iconic Disney Imagineers work on it: Marc Davis, Claude Coats, and X Atencio all played a part in developing The Haunted Mansion. The result of these brilliant minds and years in development is a mesmerizing omnimover ride where 999 grim-grinning ghosts scare and delight riders using a mixture of animatronics, old school effects, and projections.
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Originally built and debuted at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York, “it’s a small world” is perhaps best known for its song (which is either irritating or joyful, depending on who you ask). No matter where you look, there are adorable children figurines, playful animals, and yes, the song. This happiest boat ride to ever set sail is simply charming and a reminder of the early days of Disney.
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Tokyo DisneySea should be on any Disney parks fan’s bucket list, and if nothing else, it’s for this flagship attraction. 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 and continues throughout the attraction. You truly feel like you’re in the center of the world. Journey to the Center of the Earth takes you beneath the planet’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 and an experience worth a trip to Japan.
There aren’t many opening day attractions left (mostly) intact at Disneyland, but the world-famous Jungle Cruise is one of them. Here, you take a river journey through Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Amazon all in about 15 minutes or so. Originally, this ride was supposed to be like an informative trip through nature, but over the years a comedic spiel full of puns and dad-level jokes were added, making this relaxing boat ride a hilarious one too.
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Since Haunted Mansion was such a hit at Disneyland, slight variations on that attraction are a staple at Disney parks across the world. However, due to differences in Chinese culture, the haunted and ghostly experience was reimagined for Hong Kong Disneyland. And the results are a true marvel of modern theme park design: Mystic Manor. This trackless dark ride takes you on an 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.
Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean was the very last attraction that Walt Disney himself had a hand in designing, so it should be on any Disney fan’s bucket list for that reason alone. If the history of this ride doesn’t interest you, then the actual attraction sure should. You know the song and you know Captain Jack Sparrow, but in the original Pirates of the Caribbean attraction, you can marvel at the 120-plus animatronics as they fire cannonballs, pillage poor villages, and search for treasure. There’s so much to take in here, you need to ride it more than once to take it all in properly.
Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean set the groundwork for what a dark boat ride could be, but Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure at Shanghai Disneyland took it to the next level (and then some). In this new take on a classic attraction, guest travel underwater to the depths of the sea and encounter ghost ships, swordfights, and of course, Captain Jack Sparrow. The visual elements of this engaging, immersive ride cannot be overstated. It’s truly a sight to behold.
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Trackless dark rides are increasingly being used at Disney theme parks around the world, but Pooh’s Hunny Hunt in Tokyo Disneyland was the first. When it opened in 2000, this feat of Imagineering wowed guests by immersing them in Christopher Robin’s storytime, the Hundred Acre Wood, and Pooh’s dreams of Heffalumps and Woozle. The state-of-the-art technology is still a draw today in addition to the whimsical charm of Winne the Pooh.
Cars Land at Disney’s California Adventure truly transports guests to the world of Disney Pixar’s Cars franchise. The signature attraction in this immersive area is Radiator Springs Racers, which takes the technology of Epcot’s Test Track but launches you in to Radiator Springs itself. This ride has a little bit of everything, from stunning scenery to real-life Cars characters you sit in and a final, adrenaline-inducing race. The most expensive ride at Disneyland to date, Radiator Springs Racers is $200 million dollars well spent.
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As Radiator Springs Racers proved, trackless rides really can immerse you in a fictional world. The Ratatouille ride at Walt Disney Studios Park in Paris not only uses that technology but also incorporates 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; it’s simply wonderful. This ride has proven so popular across the pond, it’s coming to Epcot in 2021, making this one a little easier for Americans to check off their bucket list.
Wait, that giant geodesic sphere (aka golf ball) in the middle of Epcot is a ride? Oh yes it is, and it’s the perfect cross-section of education and entertainment that Epcot sought to achieve. In this omnimover ride, you travel through time to learn about the evolution of human communication, from the development of an alphabet to the space race and computer age. It may sound dull, but this ride is truly engaging and filled with sights and sounds that will amaze you (and make you forget you’re learning something along the way).
It doesn’t matter where you ride Splash Mountain; at Disneyland, Magic Kingdom, and Tokyo Disneyland the ride and its layout are nearly identical. What does matter when you ride Splash Mountain is that you take in the sights and thrills of a 50-foot drop. Take notice! 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 to catching their prey. It’s that attention to detail that makes this a classic Disney attraction.
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is officially going to take over Disney’s Hollywood Studios in 2019, but if you want a sneak peek in to what the out-of-this-world world is going to be like, look no further than Star Tours. This roaring adventure through the galaxy takes you in to hyperspace, jumping through timelines as you encounter everyone from Yoda to Kylo Ren. In the end, you crash land on Batuu, a brand-new Star Wars location developed for the ride. Before Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge debuts, this is the best ride possible for fans of Star Wars.
Yelp / Mike P.
The only thing Walt Disney may have loved more than trains? Miniatures, and that’s what’s on display on this relaxing boat ride through Disneyland. As you float through the river, you’ll see charming miniature sets of iconic Disney locations such as Geppetto's wood shop from Pinocchio, the dwarfs' cottage and mine from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and King Triton's underwater castle from The Little Mermaid. It isn’t full of big thrills, but Storybook Land Canal Boats was an opening day attraction at Disneyland, so it’s filled with Disney history.
Yelp / Lawrence Y.
Though this attraction is technically not a ride and more of a walk-through, La Tanière du Dragon (The Dragon’s Lair) is the most exciting, unique thing in all of Disneyland Paris. Underneath Sleeping Beauty Castle, a mysterious, enchanting beast has built his home, and you get to see it. The dragon animatronic in this walk-through is absolutely breathtaking, and this creature adds to the already incredible allure of this castle.
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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. Even the cast members get heavily in to character, sometimes joking about the true capabilities of your seatbelts as you journey through the cobweb-filled motel and are transported to the Twilight Zone. The free-fall drop at the end is honestly just a bonus.
Yelp / Lauren E.
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, highlighting the 1900s, ‘20s, ‘40s, ‘60s, and today. With the Sherman Brothers-penned song “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow,” this attraction is just oozing with Disney history. Is the final scene outdated? Well, yeah, a little bit, but this iconic attraction has Walt Disney’s name on it for a reason, and it’s truly one of the best Disney park attractions of all time.
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