The Best Attraction at Walt Disney World is…

by on February 28, 2012 39 Comments

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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.

The Criteria

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.

The Breakdown

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!

Posted on February 28, 2012

39 Responses to “The Best Attraction at Walt Disney World is…”

  • Well, completely agreed on SM and Soarin’

    SM lost a lot of its appeal when they remove the fosforescent white lines from the vehicles…

    And Soarin?… well, I love this attraction, but the way they edited the movie, makes it impossible to think of it as a well themed attraction

  • Oh wow. Kilimanjaro Safaris, hands down. Not only do the animals give this attraction an unparalleled repeat factor, but they add a grace and natural beauty to one of the most artificial places on Earth. Children and adults are in awe of the up-close encounters with giraffes, elephants, hippos, and the other majestic animals.

    Mostly what I love about Kilimanjaro Safaris is that it truly transports you out of Florida and onto another continent. This is the ultimate in Disney theming. I’m amazed every time I ride at just how immersive this attraction is.

    Now if only I didn’t have to go all the way out to the Animal Kingdom to do it!

  • Rockin’Roller Coaster!!! Hands down best attraction at WDW! It goes upside down! and does LOOPS!!! It goes zero to OMG-that’s-fast in nanoseconds!! And blasts Aerosmith music at you, what more could you want in a ride???

    Expedition Everest follows 1/2 a point behind RNRC only because the Yeti doesn’t work. If it did, they would be tied!

    • YA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
      Rock and roll rollar coaster is by far he most underrated ride at Disney!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • you are obviously a fan of roller coasters! but not everyone can ride those and that is what was taken into account.

  • From a Disneyland pov I would agree with tHM and Pirates getting top marks. Also, giving Soarin’ a C+ seems generous.

  • I’m sorry, but you can never see the back side of water too many times…Jungle Cruise 🙂

  • While a D+ might be a bit harsh, I do agree that the current WDW incarnation of Space Mountain is missing some key elements. It’s darker and more unpredictable as a ride, but the removed effects take away some what made it so unique. I haven’t ridden the rehabbed Disneyland version, but I’ve heard it’s a lot better in that regard.

    For Soarin’, it’s actually one of the rides with the most universal appeal. I agree that the queue needs help, but I can’t think of any other ride (even Pirates and the HM) that so many people across the board enjoy.

    Interesting post.

  • No points off for Haunted Mansion completely unoriginal ride design. It is an omnimover. Theme is amazing around it but I think you scored it too high because you like it. Based on your criteria, I’d probably choose Splash Mountain because it is themed well, but also provides a thrill, plus the height limit like Soarin’ is very low. My kids have been riding since they were 4 and they were small 4 year olds.

  • Too many choices but for my husband it’s Soarin- myself Haunted Mansion and Tower of Terror. Still wouldn’t miss any on the list on our net visit. Only minus is Pirates lack thrills.

  • I’d agree with Haunted Mansion for sure! I always seem to find something new each time I ride it. It’s brilliance personified in my eyes. However, I must add Kilimanjaro Safari also. I know it’s pretty specific to its area but the rideability factor is WOW!

  • I pretty much agree with you, but what about the new Star Tours?

    Get post by the why.

  • For my 6-year old wanna-be-paleontologist daughter, Dinosaur at Animal Kingdom wins, because every time you ride, you get to bring an iguanodon back with you. We’re not sure exactly what happens to the rescued critter after we get it back because it always escapes, and we need to ride again to get another. Somewhere on the vast WDW property there’s undoubtedly a vast forest or swamp acting as a refuge for thousands and thousands of iguanodons. Or maybe they hide out in the dumpsters at the resorts and live off the leftovers.

  • Have to say I am surprised that Peter Pan isn’t on this list. For theming and “magical”, open to all ages, definite repeatability with all the detail, certainly deserves some mention.

    • I totally agree! Peter Pan is my favorite ride. Its a great story with lots of details and the fact that you’re flying over the track makes it unlike any other ride at Disney! Talk about a unique ride vehicle.

  • by Kevin Crossman on February 28, 2012, at 2:51 pm EST

    It’s a good criteria but lacking a “thrill” element will skew towards “tame” attractions such as Pirates or Mansion. Don’t get me wrong, if those two aren’t in the top 5 then something is wrong. But, I think your criteria does punish Everest and ToT. There’s a lot to be said about the “re-rideability” of thrill rides.

    Personally, I think there a lot more people who are “adverse” to ToT or Splash than Everest, and as such I’d bump EE up to at least an A-. I think Soarin’ comes as close as possible to a “for everyone” attraction that you could given a height requirement.

    As for Space Mountain… yep… a D+ sounds about right to this Disneyland native.

  • My fave rides include Star Tours, Mission Space (green), Dinosaur & Spaceship Earth. All missing here and Space Mountain (decidedly average) is included…Agree with Haunted Mansion & Pirates as they are stand out brilliant rides still.

  • Good evaluation. Haunted Mansion never ever lets me down. We will ride it many times on any given trip. I also love ToT. My only problem with Pirates is that after riding the one at DL I feel like the WDW version is woefully incomplete. I too love Space Mountain for the intro music and spaceport theme, but pretty much just endure the ride for the sake of the family.
    RnRC ranks high for me; I think it pulls off just teh right amount of theme and thrill.

  • According to your criteria, I completely agree with Haunted Mansion. Good choice!

  • Out of interest, how would you (or others) rate some of the Universal rides against these on the same criteria? I don’t like their parks that much overall but they have some very good rides like Spiderman, The Mummy and Forbidden Journey…

  • Agree about Soarin’ – it is a great ride but desperately needs a new movie – one going to all sites around the world would be great. Also needs cleaning up – they might as well make it 3D while they are it as well.

  • Would not think of missing Universal. Love the thrill rides there. The Mummy is the greatest and can’t wait to see Potterland. Disney is more glitz and story telling- Universal is all rides. We do 4 days Disney and 2 Universal.

    • The Mummy is a great ride; I love it. However, it has a 48″ height restriction, eliminating a large part of the theme park crowd. Even after my children reached the magical 48″ plateau, they still were really scared of the Mummy. The Mummy is intended to be a “scary” ride. A lot of people don’t like being scared. It’s also a very rough ride, making it a poor choice for those with medical concerns. Given these factors, the Mummy should rank low on the “Appeal to all” scale. Thus, I think it’s great but feel it does not deserve consideration as the “best” ride.

  • I have trouble understanding the pirates ride. First we see dead people (skeletons), then drunk men selling women, then drunk men setting fire to the town. What part of this is kid friendly again? At least the movies were funny and somewhat exciting.
    I love space mountain. My kids love peter pan. Disney does a great job with all of their rides and everyone’s taste is different. I think that original date of design and building should count for something too. For an older ride to hold it’s own or surpass a newer one ought to add points to the grade.

  • It’s like choosing between your Children, or Grand Children. Give me a top 2 or 3 per park, by age group…I don’t know.

    MK- Grand Kids -Splash, Space, Thunder Mt. Me- the same.
    Epcot – GK – Soarin, Mission Space. Me – same.
    AK- GK – Everest, Safaris, Rapids. Me -Same (I must be a kid.)
    HS – GK-RRC, TT,TS Mania. I AM a Kid! SAME for ME!

  • Someone mentioned Universal, I think Forbidden Journey is probably the greatest ride I have ever been on.

    As far as the criteria for Disney rides I’d have to go with Star Tours. Its a different ride each time.

    • Completely agree! We went to IoA last year and my dad and brother who have never seen or read a Harry Potter book agreed that it was the best ride they’ve ever ridden. Needless to say as a HP nut and a theme park fan, I agree!

  • Completely agreed with Lynn

    I think Universal is a horrible theme park, but some of the attractions are amazing. Mummy being the best to my tastes (though the animatronics suck big time)

    The thing that I hate the most, is how many attractions they closed to create new attractions, even though they have a lot of free space!

    Not to mention that the new attractions are never as good as the originals, like simpsons VS Back to the future, or Shrek VS Hitchcock

  • I was surprised that Big Thunder Mountain Railrad or the Magic Kingdom Railroad or Kilmijaro Safari were not named. I love the Pirates of the Caribean and my absolute favorite, The Great Movie ride. Although I know it needs sorely updating, but I still love it. I might have enjoyed the Rock N Roll Roller Coaster and Expedition Everest when I was younger, but am way too old for those.

  • I have a thought to share about Soarin’ that I’ve never seen shared elsewhere before and given the nature of this post, it seems appropriate as a means of increasing value for the attraction.

    Why not have a “Soarin’ over Florida” ride? It seem like the best part of the ride at Disneyland is the connection to the state in which it is located. There are not as many topographical differences in Florida as California, but there are enough flight related themes to make a film, such as flying near a rocket at the Kennedy space center, coasting along with dolphins in the Florida Keys, floating over the Everglades, riding along with other parasailers on a lake, watching the sun rise from the sky along the Atlantic Coast beach near Miami, flying over pine forests near Tallahassee, and the final iconic shot: soaring along fireworks near Spaceship Earth, with the reflections of the fireworks off of the ‘big ball’.

    Gives me shivers thinking about that final shot.

  • I’m going to have disagree with Universal is a horrible theme park I think both Disney and Universal have their pluses and minuses for sure. Being a local and Having passes to both I really enjoy both for what they have to offer.
    I still say the best ride at Disney following the above criteria would have to be Star Tours.

    If I had to say the greatest ride ever, hands down Forbidden Journey. There is no ride anywhere that comes close.

  • Brian, its funny you should say “soarin’ over Florida” because I can’t count how many times I’ve mentioned it myself. How had would it be to make one for Florida since its in Florida?

    Florida has very cool Geography too!

  • Your reasons are very sound, and obviously the whole thing is subjective as hell. That said, here are the top 6 attractions at Walt Disney World:

    1. Haunted Mansion
    2. Splash Mountain
    3. Space Mountain
    4. Pirates of the Caribbean
    5. Spaceship Earth

    I know Spaceship Earth is an unlikely choice, but to me it encapsulates everything great about EPCOT, and EPCOT is a great, great park, nearly the equal of Magic Kingdom. Space Mountain may not have the theming of the others on the list, but it’s indescribably fun and one of the true classics of Disney World.

    So there.

  • The Haunted Massion is not a bad selection but you are WAY under estimating it’s scary factor. It has the potential to absolutely terrify the 8 & under crowd, Disney’s prime audience! I’d seen plenty of crying children exiting HM. Using your GOAT scale, significant points should have been deducted for “Appeals to all”.

    Conversely, Soarin’ is underrated. It’s “greatness” lies its ability to please equally across all age groups. I’ve never seen anyone exit the ride for the first time and not be talking how much they enjoyed Soarin’.

    Thinking about it a bit more, the fairest criteria for determining the “best” ride is simply to watch people’s reactions as they exit. Based on the number of crying children I’ve seen, you simply cannot identify The Haunted Mansion as the “best” ride. A ride is supposed to be fun!

    I like HM more than Soarin’ but I think there are a lot of 5 year-olds who would disagree with me!

  • Soarin’ at WDW should be a trip Around The World. Think: “it’s a small world” without music and fly from Florida to landmarks from all continents, ending up back at Florida for Illuminations.

  • Splash mountain is my favourite 🙂