When you hear the word Disney, there are likely a hundred different images that instantly pop into your head.
It might be Cinderella riding in her pumpkin carriage on the way to the ball, or Peter Pan soaring through the skies over London, or a small lion cub held over the heads of his kingdom in The Lion King moments after his birth.
The magic of Walt Disney World is that you’re able to live out these immortal cinematic moments in person, experiencing these fantastic childhood memories firsthand.
Essential Walt Disney World Attractions
With Walt Disney World recently beginning its 18 month-long celebration for its fiftieth year anniversary (and because the parks tend to be at their most crowded during the holidays) we thought we’d make a list of some of the essential rides at Walt Disney World. These include attractions at Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom, for anyone planning on visiting the “Most Magical Place on Earth” soon.
1. Space Mountain
That’s not to say Disney doesn’t have any good coasters at all. In fact, they offer plenty of diverse great choices, all of which are enjoyable in their own right, with none more iconic and famous than Tomorrowland’s pièce de résistance, Space Mountain.
From its famous, retro-futuristic exterior alone, you know Space Mountain is bound to be something different from your average, run-of-the-mill rollercoaster.
Entering the building it’s housed in, you walk through a similarly retro 1970s vision of an intergalactic space station. From there, you board your “ship” and blast off through a darkly lit area emulating space, complete with glistening stars flying overhead and sci-fi sound effects and music playing in the background.
Bookended by a neat queue and exit area (providing travel images for off-world vacation spots) and an incredibly fun, unique ride experience, Space Mountain is one of the oldest rides at Magic Kingdom, and one that continues to delight riders from generation to generation.
The ride itself may not go very fast (it reaches speeds of about 27 mph, but feels a lot faster), but its originality and design all make it a one-of-a-kind experience that may be slightly intense for those new to roller coasters, but still manages to offer plenty of thrills and excitement to anyone looking for a fast-paced thrill ride hurtling amongst the stars.
Park: Magic Kingdom | Land: Tomorrowland
2. Pirates of the Caribbean
Before the name Captain Jack Sparrow became synonymous with the word pirate, Pirates of the Caribbean was entertaining people through its various versions across all of Disney’s worldwide parks.
One of Disney’s most famous attractions, it’s Pirates of the Caribbean’s relative simplicity that continues to make it so endearing among park visitors.
After entering the queue and traveling through an 18th-century Spanish fortress, you take a low-speed board ride through various scenes inhabited by carefree, chaotic pirates running amuck in a coastal village, launching a naval battle against a fort, or trying (and failing) to escape from prison.
With a level of detailed design unheard of for its day, the original Pirates of the Caribbean became one of the defining rides at Disneyland, so much so that when Florida’s location first opened, one of the most frequently asked questions staff received was where they could find Pirates of the Caribbean. (Imagineers originally planned a Wild West-style ride-through before realizing how significant the demand for Pirates at Walt Disney World was, resulting in Florida’s location as we know it today.)
It’s a ride perfect for the whole family, and one that feels just as fresh and entertaining as it did 50 years ago.
Park: Magic Kingdom | Land: Adventureland
Out of all of Walt Disney World’s parks, Epcot and Disney’s Animal Kingdom are arguably the most underrated. With the addition of Avatar‘s Pandora to Animal Kingdom in recent years, though, Epcot tends to lag behind in terms of popularity, momentarily lacking in attractions that match the excitement of Disney World’s other three parks.
That’s not to say Epcot rides are boring or the park is worth skipping on your next vacation, though. With the crowds Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios draw, it actually makes for a relatively quiet destination still offering great rides, many of which tend to be unfortunately overlooked.
There’s the calming but still hilarious boat ride Gran Fiesta Tour in Mexico, the high-speed thrill ride Test Track, or the gravity-defying Mission: Space, among other underrated gems.
For our money, though, Epcot’s best ride tends to be also one of its gentlest, the flight simulator Soarin’.
Unlike other simulator-type rides that tend to be a little violent, nauseating, or vertigo-inducing, Soarin’ is a far more calming, easygoing attraction that sees you soar across the world onboard a hang-glider.
The ride utilizes its signature smellitzer to pump in various natural scents (salty but pleasant Caribbean air, African dirt, etc.) and a mechanical lift system, suspending you in front of a massive IMAX screen displaying various well-known locations across the globe (the Eiffel Tower and the Great Wall of China, among many others).
For younger guests or those who tend to veer away from intense thrill rides like Mission: Space, Soarin’ is a welcome change of pace, allowing you to enjoy a calming flight, atmospheric scents, and an awe-inspiring soundtrack perfect for just about everyone.
Park: Epcot | Land: Future World (The Land pavilion)
4. The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
Free-fall drop rides aren’t exciting. It doesn’t matter if you’re at Six Flags, Hershey, or Knott’s Berry Farm, these tend to be some of the more generic, unremarkable rides at most amusement parks, lacking a strong “theme” or facade that other rides possess.
Luckily, Disney has never done anything by the books, and when they set about building their own version of a drop ride in the early 1990s, it was destined to be something different. And when the ride eventually opened in 1994, it most certainly was.
Taking inspiration from Rod Serling’s legendary sci-fi/horror anthology, the Tower of Terror takes guests literally into the Twilight Zone, building a completely singular experience from the moment you lay eyes on the dilapidated hotel settled at the end of Hollywood Studios’ Sunset Boulevard.
From that ominous first sight onward, the Tower of Terror is an attraction like no other, with guests winding their way through a foreboding, once extravagant hotel now abandoned for decades, boarding a service hotel that travels through the hotel, and dropping them straight into the Fifth Dimension.
The impressive queue, the numerous nods to Twilight Zone episodes, and randomized drops in the dark all make this a must-ride, but it’s the atmosphere of this attraction that makes it so distinct.
From the moment the hotel comes into view all the way until you’re exiting your drop elevator, it really feels like you’re in a Twilight Zone episode, right down to the period music, the minimal lighting, and Rod Serling himself (through clever editing) providing introductory narration as you prepare to hop on your elevator.
One of the staples of Disney’s Hollywood Studios, it doesn’t matter how long you spend in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge or Toy Story Land; no Hollywood Studios trip is complete without checking in at the Tower of Terror.
Park: Disney’s Hollywood Studios | Land: Sunset Boulevard
5. The Haunted Mansion
Walt Disney himself always wanted to bring a haunted house-style attraction to Disneyland, with his Imagineers working on the concept on and off again since the park opened in 1955.
The idea may have taken years before it reached fruition, but the end result was well worth the wait, with Disney managing to deliver one of their absolute best attractions, the Haunted Mansion, in 1969.
In the Magic Kingdom version of the ride, guests wind their way through an interactive cemetery, making their way into the mansion and boarding a “Doom Buggy.” Guests then spend the next 10 minutes or so receiving a guided tour through the Mansion, narrated by the infamous Ghost Host, witnessing numerous ghouls and happy haunts having a grand old time in the afterlife throughout the attraction’s various scenes.
Even by today’s standards, Haunted Mansion is one of the most off-kilter and unique experiences you’ll have at a Disney park. A haunted house itself was an outside-of-the-box concept for the otherwise family-friendly Disney, but the ride manages to balance its ominous atmosphere with plenty of dark comedy, producing an almost fever-dream-like effect.
The Haunted Mansion may be somewhat dark or intimidating for younger riders, but it still remains a ceaselessly interesting ride that stands apart from all others.
Like the Tower of Terror, you know the minute you see that Gothic mansion standing alone in Liberty Square, or hear the opening narration by the Ghost Host in the Stretching Room, that you’re in for a one-of-a-kind ride you won’t find at any other park besides Disney.
Park: Magic Kingdom | Land: Liberty Square
6. Peter Pan’s Flight
Disney offers several rides that essentially summarize the events of any of their movies within the span of five minutes. Some of them are good, some are okay, but the absolute best and the one that will get disproportionately longer lines is the undisputed classic, Peter Pan’s Flight.
One of the original rides at Magic Kingdom when it opened in 1971, Peter Pan’s Flight takes on you a magical journey aboard a small pirate ship, sailing out of the Darling children’s bedroom and into the night skies of London on your way to Neverland, eventually witnessing Peter Pan’s repeated clashes with his mustache-twirling nemesis, Captain Hook.
There’s something about Peter Pan’s Flight that sets it apart from The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh or Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid. Perhaps it’s just how well the ride manages to capitalize on every child’s dream of one day flying out of their home, taking to the sky and battling pirates in Neverland.
If you’ve been to Magic Kingdom before, you likely know how long the lines get for this ride. By midday, it has one of the longest waits in all of Walt Disney World. If you’re really serious about setting sail on Peter Pan’s Flight, we suggest making it your first stop when the park opens or visiting it when everyone’s on Main Street watching the fireworks; otherwise, you’re in for a long wait.
Park: Magic Kingdom | Land: Fantasyland
7. Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain
Disney has plenty of good roller coasters within their parks.
Some are a little slower and ideal for younger visitors (the Barnstormer), some are intermediate and ideal for those new to coasters (Seven Dwarfs Mine Train), and some are a bit more intense, going at fairly high speeds through either meticulously designed settings (Big Thunder Mountain Railroad) or mostly through the dark (Space Mountain and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster).
Few rides manage to merge those high-speed thrills with a beautifully atmospheric setting quite so well as Animal Kingdom’s Expedition Everest, easily the best roller coaster Disney has ever constructed.
Your ride experience first takes you through the offices of the “Himalayan Escapes” travel agency, winding you through an outdoor temple, a tea garden, and a Yeti museum showcasing artifacts collected from various mountain expeditions.
Boarding your train, you then head up into the mountains themselves, coming face to face with the Yeti, and traveling both forwards and backward at 50 miles per hour to escape.
In many ways, Expedition Everest feels like a new and improved version of Big Thunder, relying on a carefully-researched and designed setting, and adding in numerous improvements (a central storyline, the detailed queue, and the fact that the roller coasters move forwards and backward).
One of the top three rides at Animal Kingdom right now (along with Avatar Flight of Passage and Kilimanjaro Safaris), Expedition Everest might not be as closely associated with Disney as Space Mountain or Big Thunder, but it certainly has every right to be.
Park: Disney’s Animal Kingdom | Land: Asia
8. Country Bear Jamboree
Walt Disney World offers its fair share of sit-down shows to take in when the Florida heat gets to be a little too overwhelming.
However, these shows are anything but mere air conditioning breaks, managing to deliver quality entertainment and fully holding your attention, making it a 5-10 minutes definitely well spent.
When it comes to such shows, you can’t go wrong with classics like the Enchanted Tiki Room or the Hall of Presidents, but perhaps the one most worth going to is one of Frontierland’s star attractions, Country Bear Jamboree.
A 12-minute long stage show, Country Bear Jamboree features various audio-animatronic bears and other woodland creatures descending from the ceiling and from behind curtains singing old-fashioned country music (more of the Disney “Davy Crockett” variety than Garth Brooks) and playing various homemade instruments.
Another of Magic Kingdom’s original rides since when the park first opened, Country Bear Jamboree is a staple at the park. By the end of Magic Kingdom’s opening year in 1971, it had quickly become one of the most successful new rides unique to Florida’s location, prompting Disney to instantly recreate it at Disneyland by the following year.
It’s silly, good old-fashioned fun, with the bears all singing songs that are impossible not to clap or tap your foot along to. Each bear has their own distinct individual design, with each new bear that begins their performance having you chuckling from their outward appearance alone (especially the doe-eyed fan-favorite Big Al, picking his guitar and practically spilling out of his chair).
If you’re planning on watching any shows at Walt Disney World, Country Bear Jamboree should be at the top of your list.
Park: Magic Kingdom | Land: Frontierland
9. Avatar Flight of Passage
Since Pandora – The World of Avatar opened in 2017, Disney’s Animal Kingdom went from being one of the more mediocre parks in Walt Disney World to one of the best (at least until Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and Toy Story Land opened at Disney’s Hollywood Studios).
Unlike the other areas within Animal Kingdom which are based on real locations (Africa and Asia) or geologic periods (DinoLand USA), Pandora takes visitors into the fictional setting of the award-winning science fiction film, Avatar, a bioluminescent world full of various alien flora and floating rock formations.
It’s a sight that will take your breath away, and an even better experience at night. The ride is all the more enhanced after you hop aboard the area’s crowning achievement, Avatar Flight of Passage.
In a simple synopsis, Flight of Passage features guests climbing on the back of a bicycle-type seat, simulating a ride atop a banshee (one of the movie’s pterodactyl-like aliens the Na’vi use for travel) through the vivid 3D world of Pandora.
There’s no singular expression that adequately summarizes Flight of Passage; it’s just too beautiful for words.
A state-of-the-art simulator ride, it feels like a bit more intense version of Soarin’, utilizing similar technology but vastly improved from its Epcot counterpart.
Like most Disney rides, it has you pretty much sold from the get-go, featuring a queue that takes you through the exterior mountains of Pandora to detailed indoor labs, eventually seeing a full-sized Na’vi in person.
Because it’s one of the newer rides on this list, it may not be the first ride you think of when you think of Walt Disney World, but no doubt in a few more years, Flight of Passage will be mentioned in the same breath as Space Mountain or Pirates of the Caribbean. It’s that good.
Park: Disney’s Animal Kingdom | Land: Pandora – The World of Avatar
10. Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance
Hands down the best modern ride at Walt Disney World, Rise of the Resistance is simply groundbreaking. A 15-minute long attraction combining motion simulation, a walk-through segment, a drop ride, and a trackless dark ride, it’s the kind of ride you have to see for yourself to believe.
Your ride-going adventure begins onboard a small Resistance transport shuttle piloted by Nien Nunb that is eventually captured and brought into the hangar bay of a First Order Star Destroyer.
On foot, you make your way into an interrogation cell, until Resistance fighters are able to break out and smuggle you onto an eight-person transporter.
Traveling through the Star Destroyer, you witness an epic battle between the Resistance and the First Order, encounter famous Star Wars characters like Finn and Kylo Ren, and board an emergency pod to escape from the sinister clutches of the First Order.
Not to take anything away from Galaxy Edge’s other featured attraction, Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run (you come close to tearing up being able to actually hitting the switch and jump to lightspeed), but any ride that combined four different kinds of ride systems was bound to be something spectacular.
One of the most complex and advanced attractions on the planet, Rise of the Resistance may be one the newest rides on this list, but from its opening day, it was more than able to measure up to the best that Disney’s parks had to offer.
The technology the Imagineers used designing this ride is so meticulous and thorough, every detail, no matter how small, will leave you scratching your head, wondering how they managed to pull it off so well.
Given how universally loved the ride has already become, lines tend to get absurdly long (along with Avatar Flight of Passage, it probably has the longest waits of any Disney attraction), but it’s absolutely worth the wait.
Park: Disney’s Hollywood Studios | Land: Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge
Since its opening day in 1971, Walt Disney World has remained one of the most famous theme parks on the face of the earth.
It’s a place where you’re able to board a rocket ship and sail among the stars, to get a haunted tour of a ghost-filled mansion, to come face to face with a Yeti, or to step into the Twilight Zone.
Whether you’re visiting Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, or Magic Kingdom, there are no shortages of attractions that will help you live out your greatest childhood fantasies and create unforgettable memories with your loved ones.
If you’re looking to visit Walt Disney World any time in the future, we highly recommend these 10 attractions located throughout the various Disney parks.
If you’re feeling ambitious, we also recommend you stop in at the Hall of Presidents, Muppet*Vision 3D, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, It’s a Small World, Test Track, Slinky Dog Dash, Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, Star Tours – The Adventures Continue, and Toy Story Mania!
This post was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.