SATURDAY SIX – The 6 Highest-Rated Rides at Walt Disney World

by on August 5, 2017 19 Comments

Filed under: Saturday Six, Walt Disney World (FL)

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at The Six Highest-Rated Rides at Walt Disney World! A couple years ago the SATURDAY SIX commissioned a special blue-ribbon panel featuring some of the biggest names in the online Disney community to rank the best attractions at WDW. This year, we’re looking towards YOU, Dear Reader, to see what you think are the best. Len Testa himself sent the results of this year’s TouringPlans surveys – via an armored car – for us to evaluate. This week we are going to countdown the top six rides, next week the top six shows and spectaculars, and after that the lowest-rated attractions (we’re looking in your direction Stitch’s Great Escape….) Enough with the pleasantries, today we’ll look at what WDW rides you like the most, and let’s kickoff the countdown with…

# 6 – Splash Mountain

With the upcoming closures of The Great Movie Ride and Universe of Energy, we’re losing two of the longer rides at Disney World. There’s something to be said about intense 3 1/2 minute experiences, but we also like the laid back 10-20 minute epic adventures. Splash Mountain is long, and a lot of it is really peaceful (along with a couple great “fake outs.”) There are a ton of animatronics in the ride, including the show stopping Showboat scene at the end. The big drop gives you an incredible view of the park, and makes for a truly magical moment if you begin your descent while fireworks are going off in front of you. A wonderful family ride, Splash Mountain can also be a way to introduce younger riders to the type of sensations they will have on roller coasters. They may be hesitant to try rides like Big Thunder when seeing the trains speed by, but one ride on Splash Mountain will more than likely get them in the mood to experience even more.

Overall Score: 4.5/5

Splash Mountain. (photo by Mike Sperduto)

The calm stretches of Splash Mountain are my personal favorite. (photo by Brian Carey)

Get ready for the big drop at Splash Mountain! (photo by Brian Carey)

A successful drop! (photo by Michael Carelli)

Hulk Hogan on Splash Mountain during an episode of Thunder in Paradise.

Boy Meets World goes to Splash Mountain in one of the more implausible scenes from that episode.

Splash at night. (photo by Michael Carelli)

Wait a minute. You never heard the Splash Mountain Rap?! Once you watch you will never, ever be able to forget it (believe us, we tried!)

# 5 – Kilimanjaro Safaris

Another great “long” ride, Kilimanjaro Safaris has a huge bonus in its “re-ride factor.” Each and every ride on the Safaris is literally a completely different experience and some can include once in a lifetime moments. The attraction’s footprint is so big that you could actually fit the entire Magic Kingdom inside of it, making the scope of the attraction larger than anything else at WDW. While the Cast Members driving your vehicle don’t have the jokes of a Jungle Cruise skipper, they do provide a wealth of knowledge on what you are seeing as you drive by. Animals such as Ankole cattle, wildebeests, pink backed pelicans, hyenas, giraffes, and even rhinos roam apparently free, while predators such as lions, and potentially dangerous animals like hippos and cheetahs, are separated from both prey and guests by all-but-invisible, natural-appearing barriers. For every other attraction on this list there is at least an equivalent you can compare it to at one of Disney’s competitors, except Kilimanjaro Safaris. This ride is one of a kind.

Overall Score: 4.6/5

Kilimanjaro Safaris. (photo by Brian Carey)

Kilimanjaro Safaris. (photo by Brian Carey)

Kilimanjaro Safaris. (photo by Brandon Glover)

The male Lion at Kilimanjaro Safaris as seen on 99 out of every 100 trips. (photo by Mike Sperduto)

Baobab tree. (photo by Brandon Glover)

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# 4 – Expedition Everest

We’re staying at Animal Kingdom for our next ride, and this is one attraction that made a HUGE impact on the park starting on day one. In fact, Expedition Everest is single-handedly responsible for so many guests visiting the park that Disney seemingly doesn’t want to risk shutting it down to fix a major story element: the non-working Yeti. For 99.44% of the audience, the fact that the Yeti does not move has no bearing on their love of the ride. It’s absolutely gorgeous to look at, has a wonderful story from the queue-through-the-ride, and is positively thrilling. Going backwards through the dark is one of the coolest experiences on any Disney attraction. Everest gets bonus points for being one of the only Disney rides with a Single Rider queue, and also has a underrated gift shop which offers a ton of unique merchandise (including the adorable snow leopard plush that in storyline Daisy Duck gave to The Yeti…like we could make that up.)

Overall Score: 4.7/5

Expedition Everest. (photo by Tim Grassey)

Everest in the background. (photo by Brandon Glover)

No matter how you look at it, this Disney Mountain is impressive. (photo by Brandon Glover)

The imposing first lift hill on Everest with a sun burst that JJ Abrahms himself would love. (photo by Mike Sperduto)

Speeding along on Everest. (photo by Mike Sperduto)

The famous “broken track” moment on Everest. (photo by Brian Carey)

The infamous bird on a stick, which can be rarer to see on Everest than a walking male lion on Kilimanjaro Safaris. (photo by Brandon Glover)

# 3 – Soarin’ Around The World

I may have to recuse myself on this one, because  – for me – the original Soarin’ at EPCOT is one of my all-time favorite attractions and its replacement, Soarin’ Around The World, at times drives me crazy. Clearly, I’m in the minority on this one as scores for the new version of Soarin’ are still through the roof. I can also personally attest that – just as the old version – the ride is the only attraction at WDW that you can count on an impromptu audience applause at the end of every single ride. I will say the appeal of having major cities from all over the world instead of just places in California is – in theory – a much stronger concept. I also love that the attraction itself ends with us flying over EPCOT. Soarin’ Around The World still delivers the wonderful sensation of actually flying, along with involving other senses to really amp up the enjoyment factor.

Overall Score: 4.8/5

Soarin’ Around The World. (photo by Tim Grassey)

Soarin’ Around The World, as seen by someone with an early morning ADR to Garden Grill before the attraction opens. (photo by Julia Mascardo)

Soarin’ queue in its normal state. To be fair, this has gotten MUCH better with the addition of the third theater. (photo by Julia Mascardo)

E-Ticket Ride with A-Ticket Queue. Actually, is there something worse than “A ticket?” A-minus ticket? (photo by Julia Mascardo)

Soarin’ pre-show. (photo by Julia Mascardo)

# 2 – Toy Story Midway Mania

With Toy Story Midway Mania, Disney achieved pretty much the impossible. It created a game that can be competitively enjoyed by every demographic. Young or old. Male or female. Skilled or unskilled. With its intuitive gameplay, Midway Mania takes our favorite characters from the Toy Story series of films and uses them in an interactive shooting gallery game that will entertain everyone in the family. The queue alone is going to bring a smile to every adult who walks through it, as it is filled with references to classic toys and games we grew up with. The actual Midway Mania game is a visual tour de force, with bright and colorful 3D CGI graphics that flow seamlessly and make the attraction ingeniously addictive.

Overall Score: 4.9/5

Toy Story Midway Mania. (photo by Brandon Glover)

Mr. Potato Head in his former state. We are hoping he returns when Pixar Place opens up next year with a new entrance for Midway Mania. (photo by Brandon Glover)

Burgan Fine Art. (photo by Brandon Glover)

Etch A Sketch. (photo by Brandon Glover)

Toy Story Midway Mania. (photo by Brandon Glover)

Toy Story Midway Mania. (photo by Brandon Glover)

Toy Story Midway Mania. (photo by Brandon Glover)

# 1 – Flight of Passage

Animal Kingdom back on the list with a THIRD attraction. Now that in and of itself is an incredible accomplishment. Disney put a lot of time, effort, and money into creating Pandora – The World of Avatar and for the land to truly succeed the Flight of Passage attraction needed to be a true E-Ticket. Not only did Imagineering create one of the best rides on property, they also built a queue that can go toe-to-toe with Universal’s Forbidden Journey and Escape From Gringotts, which is no small feat!

While the queue is astonishingly long, it is unique and contains so many incredible details for guests to look at and interact with, that even during extremely long waits people will be entertained by their surroundings (as compared to the queue for Soarin’ Around the World, where every minute in the queue feels like five.) The queue starts as guests are still enjoying the Na’vi world of Pandora, with gorgeous views of the outside plant life mixed with inside design features such as Na’vi artwork telling the story of their connection with Banshees. Further into the queue brings you to a wild jungle experience until you finally reach the research lab. The lab portion of the queue features tons of details that make it feel like a legitimate work environment, including drawings from the researcher’s kids. The lab also features a show-stopping moment featuring a Na’vi in suspended animation. This floating animatronic has one of those how did they do that qualities that is true Disney magic.

The actual Flight of Passage ride can best be described as the love child of Soarin’ and Star Tours, but it is better than that. Despite being loaded onto what looks like a stationary bike, it is not long before you feel like you are actually riding a Banshee. The sounds, the smells, and the movement of your ride vehicle mixed with the amazingly crisp 3D visuals on the screen before you, combine to deliver a truly remarkable experience that you’ll immediately want to do again. I mentioned earlier that the original Soarin’ is one of my all-time favorite rides, but Flight of Passage has now surpassed it.

Overall Score: 4.9/5

Cave drawings. (photo by Brandon Glover)

(photo by Brandon Glover)

Flight of Passage queue. (photo by Brandon Glover)

(photo by Brandon Glover)

Some pretty familiar handprints in the exit corridor of Flight of Passage. (photo by Brandon Glover)

So there you have it: The Six Highest-Rated Rides at Walt Disney World! See you next weekend for the latest installment of the SATURDAY SIX, where we’ll look at something fun from the world of Disney and Universal. If you enjoyed yourself, be sure to check out The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! articles, or, for your listening pleasure, check out the E-Ticket Report podcast. You can also follow Your Humble Author on Twitter (@derekburgan).

That’s how bloggers percieve money too.

If you enjoyed this article, you will surely like the following:

6 Disney References You May Have Missed in James Cameron’s AVATAR film

Six Reasons Animal Kingdom is NOT a Half Day Park

Six Reasons We Love Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge

The 6 Highest-Rated Shows and Spectaculars at WDW

The SATURDAY SIX Uses Disney Villains to Explain Theme Park Blogging

Six Pieces of Disney Merchandise That Don’t Exist (But Totally Should!)

Special Thanks to crack staff photographer Brandon Glover, my personal protege Hunter “Elvey” Underwood, photo wunderkind Mike Sperduto, the Sommelier of Tony’s Town Square Brian Carey, Outlet Intern Jammin’ Julia Mascardo, Mr. ‘Ohana Tim Grassey, hot shot Michael Carelli, and blogger to the stars Megan Stump for their invaluable assistance with this article. Be sure to also check out Brandon on The Park Blogger podcast with goofballs co-hosts Aengus Mackenzie and LitemAndHyde , while fellow Potterheads may enjoy Meg’s work on the Central Florida Slug Club.

FINAL PLUG! Did you know The 2017 Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando has a special edition of the SATURDAY SIX in it? Finally, someone came up with an actual reason to read a book. ORDER this baby now!

NOT an actual image from Flight of Passage. Not yet at least….

Posted on August 5, 2017

19 Responses to “SATURDAY SIX – The 6 Highest-Rated Rides at Walt Disney World”

  • Thank you for sharing this list. I’m curious in seeing the Universal ride list one of these days.

    Also, the top three rides are all projection/screen based rides. It’s as if you can justify having a majority of them in your park… The people have spoken!

  • These are nice picks, especially Splash Mountain. I have always thought, much in the way that the first version of Pirates of the Caribbean is Disneyland’s masterpiece, that the second, more elaborate version of Splash Mountain, with such a more tightly told story, is Magic Kingdom’s masterpiece.

    • Except all the ugly, poorly lit “sunny sky” backdrops that somehow make the show scenes seem smaller than the original’s use of darkness.

      • I’ve spent years thinking about that and I really don’t think that was intentional as much as they just decided not to fill anything in for budget constraints, and because the log flume ride at Knotts, which they were essentially inspired by, is similarly dark inside. The Anaheim version always leaves me wondering where everything else went. Or for the past few years, wondering whether something else was broken, like an AA, and just taken off show instead of being repaired and replaced. Like the dog that used to be in the bayou scene of Disneyland’s Pirates.

  • I think if Space Mountain was updated a bit it would definitely be on this list.

    • We love roller coasters but skip Space Mountain. It’s jerky, it hurts to ride, and the ‘indoor coaster in the dark’ has now been replicated multiple times at other parks.

  • One of my favorite Disney memories is from my first ride on Kilimanjaro Safaris – back when there used to be a storyline, the CM was talking about how baby elephants are rarely far from their mothers. We turn the corner, and there is a baby elephant, all alone, running across the plain and having a great time. The CM pauses, then adds, “…except that one, I guess.” It was such a fun, cute moment.

  • I would concur with those selections. First time my kids got off the AK Banshee ride, it was “all over, hands down, best ride ever!” I’ve always thought it was too bad how such a great and popular ride at MK that Splash Mountain is, they never let it run for Extra Magic Hours (at least every one I’ve been to.) And Ann, I miss the story line they used to have also at the Safairs ride at AK with the poachers and all that “drama.”

  • by T.Jon Kelly on August 5, 2017, at 7:47 pm EDT

    Oh, thank goodness! I thought I was the only person who preferred the old version of Soarin’! My family gives me no end of grief for that opinion! Something about it felt more like flying – maybe because I wasn’t so focused on the landmarks. Things like sharing the mountain air with actually hang gliders, cruising over the aircraft carrier and zooming down the interstate at night were just magical! We should start a support group!

    • Old version of Soarin was MUCH better, as you actually felt like you were flying around these real places. The new version has you moving so much slower that it’s like you’re just floating around instead of “soaring” anywhere, plus the scenes are filled with so many extra CGI distractions that it makes you question if ANTYHING you’re seeing is actually real.

  • My family agrees with you on Soarin’ Around the World. My dad in fact absolutely hates it and will just go on and on about how they ruined it. I don’t quite hate it as much but do agree it was a downgrade more than anything(the CG animals and lame transition effects are truly terrible). But as you say the concept is solid and the unique endings for each Park it’s in are great.

  • I love the new Soarin around the world movie. It made no sense to have a ride entirely about California in WDW.

  • If you love Toy Story Mania then THANK PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN at DisneyQuest 🙁

  • Avatar is just soarin with simulator effects on an uncomfortable ride vehicle. The ultimate destination in the direction that 2nd soarin stated to take.

    It would be interesting to know if Disney hits ridership targets over its first year. Or ticket sales increases…. But it’s hard to tie 1 ride’s impact on ticket sales. Or attendance.

  • I’ve yet to ride the Flight of Passage and am excited about it, but I’m still surprised by how well it’s doing. I’m curious to see how the ratings progress as the newness factor wears off for it. The other picks make total sense, even though I strongly prefer the original Soarin’. That was a pitch-perfect ride for me, and the new one is just good.

  • My favorite didn’t make the list, but not everyone is as much of a thrill-seeker as me! The opening seconds of Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster are my favorite in all of WDW. I just love the feeling of that launch! Also, I wish I could experience Expedition Everest again for the first time, so that the backwards moment could be a surprise again. That was so fun and unexpected the first time!

  • kind of surprised Tower of Terror or Haunted Mansion didn’t make the cut, I guess the attractions that appeal to everybody of every age and are newer get the best points even if they’re not necessarily better

    • Haunted Mansion is a really great one, too. A lot of people don’t know that it’s actually, in a way, the co-original version of the ride along with the Disneyland version. Because the parts and scenes for both the East Coast and West Coast versions were fabricated simultaneously. The only difference being that the parts for the Orlando version had to be stored because Magic Kingdom, itself, wouldn’t open until two years after the Disneyland version of the ride debuted.