Want to start a fight between Disney fans (or between Matt and Len on WDW Today)? Say that X is the best attraction at Walt Disney World where X is absolutely any attraction. There are a few inherent problems with that question; a major one being that there a lot of great attractions. Another problem is that everyone’s definition of a great attraction is different. What I’m going to do is settle this argument once and for all with scientific, indisputable data…or not.
For the purposes of this post, I will be dealing with ride-on attractions only; no shows or movies. I’m going to start by laying out my four keys to success with any attraction:
- Good repeatability: Are you seeing more and more when you re-ride the attraction or is your focus on the same area of the same show scenes every time?
- Originality: Was it groundbreaking? Is it still?
- Appeals to all: Is there a height requirement? Does it look or sound scary? This one is only applicable, uh…where applicable. That is to say if you are an adult who is not scared of rides you will not care about this one.
- Theme: The difference between Disney and everyone else is their ability to craft, and follow through on, a theme. Does the attraction teleport you to another time, place, or dimension? Is that theme adequately carried all the way through to the end of the ride?
As you can see, the G.O.A.T. system is very well reasoned…and has a snazzy acronym.
There is no way I am going through every attraction (although it does sound like fun). Instead I have selected 7 that are, in some way, special. For the most part these attractions are on “must ride” lists on most trips and are often cited as favorites.
You will notice that Kilimanjaro Safari and Toy Story Midway Mania are not on the list even though they are great attractions. Both are fun rides, but both are too unique to compare to a true ride through attractions. I have also not included Stitch’s Great Escape because I just don’t like being that mean.
Here we go! Please note that I am not taking mechanical or maintenance issues into account, instead I am assuming that all of these attractions are in peak working order.
Pirates of the Caribbean – Pirates is extremely re-rideable (what do you mean that isn’t a word…dumb spell check). There are a whole bunch of figures, details, animals, and set work that can catch your eye on any given ride. The theme is also impeccable, from the moment you step into the queue you feel like you’re on a pirate’s quest.
Pirates is also a reasonably original attraction, with so many animated figures performing a variety of movements. I am knocking a few (imaginary) points off for originality because it is no longer a one-of-a-kind; there are other attractions that do the same at least as well. Plus, it’s a dark boat ride, not a unique ride vehicle by any means.
Overall Grade: B+
Splash Mountain – There is definitely a lot to look at on Splash Mountain, although the non-character detail work is not nearly as extravagant as Pirates. Splash is just as well themed as Pirates though, with the rockwork, mood changing music, and use of both indoor and outdoor scenes.
Although there are some very unique traits to Splash Mountain, specifically the Laughing Place (that I won’t mention rarely works…whoops), it is at heart a flume ride with a lot of limited-motion figures. It can also be intimidating and has a height restriction that cuts into its mass appeal.
Overall Grade: B
The Haunted Mansion – Using my G.O.A.T criteria, the only negative I can find on this attraction is the possibility of it scaring small children. It has a kazillion (I may be exaggerating, but it’s at least a bazillion) little details to look at on repeated rides, a completely immersive theme, and I have still yet to see anything quite like it.
Overall Grade: A
Space Mountain – Here comes one I might hear about in the comments. I don’t find Space Mountain to be fun to ride repeatedly (although I know some do, probably sadists), mostly because it is the same every time. Darkness…occasional stars…ride over. The extent of its originality is that a giant cover was placed over a Coney Island carnival ride (although it had never been done before). It also gets docked points for its height restriction and scariness.
The theme is…okay. I actually love the theme of Space Mountain, but only in the queue area. Once you “board” the theme is just darkness. Yes, I know it’s supposed to be space, but turning off the lights and putting star stickers on the ceiling does not a theme make.
Overall Grade: D+
Soarin’ – Another possibly controversial opinion here. I think Soarin’ is a fantastic ride, but how does it stand up against the others? It is still fun on a re-ride, but I find it lacking in details. Sure, there are a few extra things that you can pick up in the film, but not much. Originality is where it gets a chunk of points from me being a unique and inventive ride system.
Like many on this list, its mass appeal is hurt by a height restriction so that takes back some of those (arbitrary, fairly meaningless) points that its originality earned. And then there’s the theme, which is what bothers me the most about Soarin’. As far as I can tell, its theme is concrete, then airplane (as the preshow suggests)…no, wait, now it’s a hang glider. Either way, the vehicle you are in is apparently capable of teleportation because you jump to random California scenes without any transition for the entire ride.
Overall Grade: C+
The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror – Great attraction, enough said. Okay, not quite enough, but I’ll be brief. Good details, but only great in the queue area. Very original; even though the drop section was in existence elsewhere the system was completely re-designed. Appeal is dinged by the height restriction and general scariness. Theme is perfect, the end.
Overall Grade: B+
Expedition Everest – Everest is the only roller coaster I’ve ever been on that I can see the story; climbing the mountain and running afoul of the Yeti. That said, I don’t think it’s the best attraction. Roller coasters move too fast to see details (although there are bunches in the queue), and it is not original in its design. All their originality eggs were dumped into a giant Yeti-shaped basket that no longer works. Why they spent so much time, money, and marketing on a half second scene is a question for another time.
The appeal is narrowed since it has a definite scare factor and a height restriction. As mentioned, the theme is great, but it’s not enough to bring it above mid-level (compared to the others here).
Overall Grade: C
That’s all I’ve got. Agree/ disagree/ridicule in the comments, but if you dare suggest that I rigged this to put my two personal favorite attractions at the top…I’m sorry, I didn’t hear the question.
Thanks for reading!