The Scare Factor At Walt Disney World

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One of the reasons that I love Walt Disney World so much is the magical shift that is made from reality to fantasy.   While WDW is known as the “Happiest Place on Earth,” it can also be a scary place.  The Scare Factor is often not considered when planning a trip to Walt Disney World.  Disney has the ability to scare the young and old.

I spent some time discussing this with a foremost Disney expert, Matt Hochberg.  Matt hosts the podcast WDW Today and runs a number of Walt Disney World web sites based upon Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  Matt, like most of us, is a big kid at heart.  He’s a super nice guy with great insight on all things Disney.   He is willing to take the journey that the Walt Disney World imagineers created to the land of fantasy. 

Things are scary at Walt Disney World and most people don’t take that into consideration.  It  has always puzzled me why there is such a scare element.  Matt gives credit to the imagineers for selling the audience on the mood.  The scare factor is part of the transition from reality to fantasy. 

“Disney World is not so scary that you wouldn’t go,”  Matt said.  It is something to be so considered when following a touring plan.  Matt also makes a great point, “while an adult may be able to shake off being scared and then move to the next thing, it can set the tone for a child and it can also limit what the child is willing to ride or see in the future.”

Many an unknowing parent cues up for “Snow White’s Scary Adventure” — what looks to be a “rainbow and butterfly” experience, only to discover it’s dark and death themed.  When my son, Tyler, was 4 he rode “Snow White.”  He left so scared he wouldn’t go on any other attraction that looked or loaded the same way.  He missed out on “Peter Pan” one of the sweetest attractions in all of WDW.  The tone was set.  In his eyes “Peter Pan” looked suspiciously like “Snow White.”  Just because an attraction is in Fantasyland doesn’t guarantee it’s all sweetness and light.

Matt and I talked about what we thought were unexpectedly scary and just downright scary.  What is scary to one person may not be so scary to another.  The imagineers do such a great job of setting the mood that there are lots of attractions that scare teenagers and adults as well: It’s Tough To Be A Bug, Stitch’s Great Escape, Tower of Terror, The Great Movie Ride, Expedition Everest and the number one scary attraction to both Matt and me: Dinosaur.  We both ride with our eyes closed.

Because the imagineers do such a fabulous job separating you from reality, know that part of that may include some dark elements.  While Walt Disney World is “The Happiest Place on Earth” there is a scare factor that’s part of the world.  Consult the Unofficial Guide and review the “Special Comments” section listed under each attraction.  This may help you decide what attractions will appeal to your family.  Enjoy the ride from reality to fantasy.

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Posted on May 31, 2009

22 Responses to “The Scare Factor At Walt Disney World”

  • When My son was 4, he was so terrified of It’s tough to be a bug that he refused to see The Little Mermaid attraction. He is now 8 and still refuses to visit either attraction. Disney is so able to blur the lines of fantasy and reality that all the attractions immerse all the senses. Anything has the potential to scare.

  • by Caroline Baggerly on May 31, 2009, at 6:33 pm EDT

    Hi Cathy,
    It’s funny how Disney makes that first impression on you and that is what you remember. One time is enough for some of us.

  • by Rebecca Benson on May 31, 2009, at 8:01 pm EDT

    I agree, everytime I ride Dinosaur I end up with my head in my partners shoulder by the time we reach the end and the point where the photo is taken! My Mum got so scared in its tough to be a bug the first (and only) time she did it (because of the spiders) that she walked out.
    I totally agree with the sentiment of your article, there’s a lot of scary stuff in Disney, brilliant!

  • by Caroline Baggerly on May 31, 2009, at 9:09 pm EDT

    Rebecca,
    Thank you!!! I love the story about your mum!! Was it hard for her to walk out in the dark?
    I hate being scared too.

  • We went to Disney last November. My two kids were so terrified by ‘Honey I Shrunk the Audience’, I didn’t think they would go on any rides that were not open air rides. It took a day and a half, but finally convinced them to ride ‘it’s a small world’. That ride saved our trip. We are going back in August. We won’t be going to Epcot because the kids don’t even want to set foot back in the park – too scary.

    • Too be honest I rode it’s a small world the WHOLE thing broke down and I mean it too the lights and electricity it was so scary I had to walk out myself

  • Bug’s Life did my 6 year old in. He would ride very little else after. My 9 year old hated it too.

    The Unofficial Guide needs to put stronger emphasis on the scary-ness of this ride. (My 9 year old asked that I tell you this! :) )

  • by Caroline Baggerly on June 2, 2009, at 6:42 pm EDT

    Beth,
    I hate to hear that you won’t be going to Epcot — maybe when the children are older. In “Honey I Shrunk The Audience” I always take my glasses off and close my eyes when they even mention that snake. Have fun on your next trip.

  • by Caroline Baggerly on June 2, 2009, at 6:45 pm EDT

    Hi Chris,
    Please tell your 9 year old that I am on it and will give the “Unofficial Guide” the message. I don’t like to be scared either.

  • Ok, so I just have to comment, because I just went to Disney World with my almost 4 1/2 year old son. I had not been in 13 years (had never visited Animal Kingdom). As a kid, I was never scared of Haunted Mansion, Thunder Mountain, Tower of Terror, etc., but Snow White absolutely traumatized me. I’m not sure if I ever went on that ride again as a teenager. Needless to say, I did not take my son on it. We did go on Haunted Mansion…he wasn’t thrilled, but wasn’t terrified. I did explain to him that they were nice ghosts and Mickey would protect him, though. However, after going to Animal Kingdom and riding Dinosaur, all bets were off! This ride absolutely traumatized him! I have to admit, I didn’t exactly enjoy it either…you should have seen our faces in the picture! After that, not only was he worried about scary rides, but he was also worried about very rough rides. I took him on Thunder Mountain for the first time after riding Dinosaur, and he did NOT enjoy Thunder Mountain AT ALL. He was worried about it being rough before we even got on the ride. It turned out to be not at bad as he expected (he was worried about falling out), but I think the anticipation was a bit more than he could handle. We also went to EPCOT after riding Dinosaur, and he must have asked me 100 times if there were going to be scary and rough rides there. He was worried about Mission Space and Test Track in particular. We didn’t even try Universe of Energy…didn’t figure dinousaurs of any type would go over too well with him! Anyway, my point is to remember that one very scary or intimidating ride may affect your child’s perception of other rides at Disney. To my son’s credit, he did go on both Mission Space (loved it) and Test Track (seemed to think it was ok, but worried about falling out), as well as Tower of Terror (didn’t like this so much, but was a good sport), even after Dinosaur. Nothing came even close to scaring him as much as Dinosaur, but there was a lot of nervous anticipation generated as a result of this ride. On a good note…he absolutely loved Splash Mountain…rode it 8 times…the dark part and drop didn’t bother him one bit! You just never know with kids, but you do have to be careful!

    • Hi Katherine,
      I agree with this. We just got back from WDW for the first time and the first day I took my son on the Dinosaur ride. He loves Dinosaurs and this ride scared the heck out of him. After that it took a lot of coaxing to get him on any ride that remotely looked like it would be dark. However he road the go carts over and over and over again. Prior to going on anyride he asked me over and over, what are we going on on? is it scary? and it made him very anxious…

      • Jim, It sounds like our boys were cut from the same cloth! My son loved the Indy Speedway, too…he still talks about it (had a conversation in the car just this morning)!. I’d love to be able to hear the two of them discuss their impressions of the rides at WDW!

  • by Caroline Baggerly on June 2, 2009, at 9:58 pm EDT

    Katherine,
    Wow, what a trip. It is amazing how one scare at Disney World can shape the entire trip. The son that I mention in the blog was was so scared in Snow White is 17 now and still doesn’t like it.
    I am thrilled your son liked Splash Mountain — my favorite.

  • I’ll chime in as well. Wife and I hadn’t been on the Studios’ Great Movie Ride for several years, decided to go on in summer 2008 with our 6 year old, friends’ 5 year old and 4 year old, plus sleeping/sleepy toddlers. We apparently didn’t recall some of the scary stuff (Alien, etc.) but the “real-life” hijacking of the ride car pushed our 6 year old and the others over the edge. Only Toy Story Mania (repeated rides) and Fantasmic saved the day. Little one still talks about it, though.

  • YouTube has lots of videos that we’ve been sharing with our rather timid almost 3 yr old to get her excited. We’re planning to avoid the notably frightening attractions and shows and are using the videos to prepare her for what she’ll see on all the rest. Hopefully it will work!

  • You never know what is going to scare someone, young or old, until it is too late.

    My 6 y.o. enjoyed the Tower of Terror more than anything, whereas my 9 y.o. Indiana Jones mad son had problems with the visuals in the Indy ride in Disneyland. I was traumatised by a Snow White book as a 4 y.o. and had to have my 6 y.o. daughter hold my hand through the Scary Adventures ride.

    If rollercoasters of any kind are a problem for someone in your party, I suggest (through experience) that you start off on something a bit more sedate and work your way up the ladder one ride at a time by degrees. This worked perfectly for us and our reluctant rollercoaster rider. Sometimes jumping off the deep-end is NOT the answer, but rather a gradual transition approach to become accustomed to the speed/jerkiness factor. When we found the limit, we stopped there.

    Doing your homework is probably the most important rule of all. If you have an idea of your child’s scare potential the YouTube idea is fantastic (have used it effectively myself). As parents wanting to give our children a magical time, we walk a fine line between maintaining the magic only to risk scaring the pants off them, and de-mystifying the experience by explaining how it works and what is involved. It is tricky, but if you explain that although Mr. Disney and his team have tried really hard to make it look real, there is no way they want anyone to be hurt or upset, and that it is all about the fun. I worked overtime in the lead up to our first family Disney experience explaining how it can be fun to feel a bit scared, as long as you know that it is always going to end well. We found this was an extremely useful tool in the scare-factor issue.

    If you are still not confident of a positive experience after trying these methods, my advice is this – IF IN DOUBT, LEAVE IT OUT. No-one wants to have their experience ruined by a traumatised child (or adult!). Remember that it is ALL ABOUT THE FUN.

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  • I took my twin girls to disney when they were little there 13 now and I have a son now (Olivia=youngest twin Madison=oldest twin Joey=son) I let them ride snow whites scary adventures of course being a 21 year old at the time I just let them on there selfs they were old enough and I figured they have eachother if it’s too scary and it’s Snow White so they should be fine but man was I wrong I expected too come too the end of the ride and see my two happy little girls jumping up and down screaming “mommy that was awesome I wanna go again” but instead they came out terrified of all their surroundings and basically parilized wide eyed I asked how the ride went I heard “mom Snow White is the worst ride ever I went on myself it is totally inappropriate for kids! I am researching disney to go back I will not let Joey get on any ride alone though that ride ruined our trip!

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