10 Dark Rides at Disneyland Ranked and Rated

by on August 10, 2012 25 Comments

Filed under: Disneyland (CA)

Lately I’ve been thinking about dark rides and what constitutes a dark ride. We’ve all heard that term before, but what does it mean? We were in Elitch Gardens in Denver recently, and we came across a ride I hadn’t seen there before called Ghost Blasters. It was essentially a very low tech Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters. We boarded a vehicle on a track, proceeded into the dark building and through a haunted house where we shot ghosts and other targets with our laser guns. My sister called it a dark ride and said they have something similar at their Six Flags. That got me thinking. Was that a dark ride? Does it even deserve to be called the same thing as the fully immersive, heavily themed dark rides at Disneyland?

For this list, I’m going to go with no. For the purposes of this list, I’m going to define a dark ride as an indoor ride where guests sit in a guided vehicle and travel through elaborate scenes. And when I say travel through, that’s all I mean. Not shooting at things, not holding on for dear life and ducking as invisible poisonous darts fill the air above you, just travel through. I feel dark rides are one of the things that Disney does best. Three of them were there at the beginning of Disneyland. Before the awesome thrill rides of today, there were seemingly simple dark rides. While I love the Indiana Jones Adventure and Buzz Lightyear and would never miss a chance to ride either one, sometimes things are happening so quickly, it’s easy to miss the glorious details.

So this is a list of 10 dark rides at Disneyland where you can just sit and look on in wonder.

1. Haunted Mansion – Haunted Mansion fits my qualifications but, admittedly, not perfectly. There is an excellent pre-show that doesn’t fit the “ride” part of “dark ride”, but the ride itself definitely does. Slide into your doom buggy for a not so scary ride through the best dark ride in Disney’s repertoire. Excellent special effects, elaborate scenes, and even some hidden Mickeys make this ride a visual feast. The holiday overlay of Nightmare Before Christmas characters and themes from September through December is not to be missed.

2. it’s a small world – I can’t leave out this classic feel good ride. The update in 2009 with some beloved Disney characters even adds to the enjoyment for me. I love picking the characters I recognize out from the beautiful singing and moving dolls. Unlike Walt Disney World’s version of the ride, Disneyland breaks out yet another elaborate holiday overlay at small world every year around November. It’s just another reason to visit Disneyland during the holiday season.

3. Finding Nemo Submarine VoyageNemo is different than the other dark rides in that it’s not particularly fast or easy to board, but once you do, you just sit back and enjoy the ride. And the genius of these scenes that you travel through is that they’re underwater! And so are you for that matter, although you are safely and dryly encapsulated in a traveling yellow submarine. The scenery is beautiful, but the wait to ride can be exceptionally long, so go early in the morning, late at night, or during parades.

4. The Little Mermaid–Arial’s Undersea Adventure – This relatively new dark ride is exceptionally well done. The boarding is quick, and the ride itself at 10 minutes is long enough to make you feel like it was worth waiting in whatever line you did. You’ll find all of the beloved, and not so beloved (I’m looking at you giant octopus Ursula), characters from the movie in life size form. Just try not to sing or dance along with Sebastian when he’s conducting “Under the Sea” while you’re surrounded by dancing sea creatures!

5. Monsters, Inc. Mike and Sully to the RescueI’ll be honest, my hubby walked off this ride for the first time saying he was not impressed. I, on the other hand, loved it! I laughed out loud at the name of the snacks in the snack machine in the queue. I do agree that you probably have to see the movie, and maybe even had to like the movie, to appreciate everything that’s happening. Randall disappearing in stages is cool and all, but cooler when you know the story line. At the end of the ride, make sure you listen and even talk to Roz. She’s hilarious! Or, as she would say in a very deadpan voice – huh-lare-eee-us. It will be interesting to see what Disney does with this ride (if anything) when the Monsters, Inc. sequel (Monsters University) comes out next summer.

6. Peter Pan’s Flight – On this lovely dark ride, you sit in a ship that flies from the Darling children’s bedroom on to the beautiful Neverland. That’s right, your ship flies! Your ship is actually suspended from the ceiling! Peter Pan is one of the original Disneyland rides and it has stood the test of time. You can see evidence of that just about every afternoon when it has the longest wait in all of Fantasyland. If you want to ride it, ride early! Unlike its Disney World counterpart, there is no FASTPASS!

7. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh – Sing it with me, “Winnie the Pooh, Winnie the Pooh, cutie little patootie Old Bear!” Or something like that. It’s Pooh! He doesn’t care if you’ve got the words right, he’s just happy you’re singing. And in true Pooh fashion, his ride is an explosion of happiness! You ride in a honey pot for goodness sake!

8. Alice in Wonderland – Alice in Wonderland is a delightful ride in a caterpillar through colorful scenes from the animated story. The scenes are a bit confusing and a somewhat random, but really, wasn’t the movie? Just soak in the vibrant chaos and enjoy.

9. Snow White’s Scary AdventuresSnow White and Mr. Toad’s had to make the list because they are originals. There from day one! And now, since both rides have closed at Disney World, they’re the last of their kind! I do like Snow White and I like the improvements through the years. It may have even ranked higher if not for the scary factor. Scary is certainly okay, but scary when you are expecting only a charming little princess ride is not! Speaking of scary, don’t forget to watch the tower outside for a few minutes to catch a glimpse of the evil queen glaring at the revelry happening in Fantasyland below.

10. Mr. Toad’s Wild RideAgain, it’s an original. It’s not the best dark ride by any means, but it’s got some serious sentimental value. It’s just a cute little twisting spin through the dark with some funny and some “what in the world was that?” and “Did we just get hit by a train and die and go to Hell?” scenes. No, really. Not like, that scene was so awful I feel like I died and went to Hell, but that’s really what your vehicle does. Gets hit by a train and goes to Hell. Okay, it’s too hard to explain, you have to ride it.

So what do you think? Are any of these your favorite? Did I leave any off that you love?


Posted on August 10, 2012

25 Responses to “10 Dark Rides at Disneyland Ranked and Rated”

  • I love this post! I appreciate the strict adherence to the definition – it makes the “game” of it more fun! No “go with me here’s” like a certain podcaster I know! 😉

  • Interesting list but I do have one question? Are you not counting Pirates of the Caribbean as a dark ride? Granted there are two drops, but they are there functionally as opposed to aesthetically. I’ve only been on the one at WDW but it always seemed to me to be the ultimate dark ride.

    • by Tammy Whiting on August 10, 2012, at 3:29 pm EST

      Hi Robert! I did not count Pirates. It’s not because I don’t love it though. Pirates is awesome and it’s definitely in my list of top 10 favorites overall. I didn’t count it for this because you’re not just travelling through. True the drops aren’t huge like splash mountain, but they were enough to terrify my nephew. And by the way, it’s even better at Disneyland! 🙂

      • Tammy, after 5 trips on Disneyland’s Pirates I have come around to your side. I saw the effect the drops had on some of the smaller kids. They can be a little scary for them. I never saw that at WDW.

  • I agree with Robert. I love Pirates of the Caribbean. And, while those drops are functional (especially in California), I love how you pass peacefully through and by the Blue Bayou (mmmm…Monte Cristo) and then drop into the middle of a pirate story. For my money, Pirates is my #2 dark ride (Haunted Mansion is a clear #1) in both parks, even if I prefer the DLR version quite a bit more than the WDW version.

    …but that’s just me.

    • by Tammy Whiting on August 10, 2012, at 3:31 pm EST

      I love it too! I just didn’t count it for this list. But I agree, if you count it, it would definitely be in the top 2. I have reservations at Blue Bayou in two weeks by the way and I can’t wait! 🙂

      • We’ve got Blue Bayou reservations in 10 days and I’ve been reading Jason Surrell’s Pirates of the Caribbean book so I have POC on the brain. I see your point about the drops, but personally I would have counted it. The plunges in say Splash Mountain are a big part of the experience. In POC they are part of the “natural” route. After we pick up our Photpass+ and grab a fastpass for Indy, we’re heading straight for it!

  • Just wondering if the Tomorrowland Transit Authority Peoplemover counts as a ‘dark ride’ since a good chunk of it is in the dark! It certainly meets your ‘relaxing/look around’ criteria otherwise!

    • by Tammy Whiting on August 11, 2012, at 8:38 am EST

      Good question. That’s only at Disney World now, so it wouldn’t have made my list, but I don’t think I would have counted it just because so much of it is outdoors. But it is a peaceful ride, so that’s a tough one!

      • I always thought of the Peoplemover as a transportation ride in which the mode of transportation was the main point of the attraction. It was conceived as a future mode or mass transit much like the monorail. The vehicle is as important or more so than the scenery. The Mark Twain and the Columbia are good examples of this. They travel the same path but they are different experiences. I wouldn’t mind seeing a blog that rates the different attractions that fit this type.

        • by Tammy Whiting on August 11, 2012, at 9:42 am EST

          That’s a great description, Robert. It’s also an excellent idea for a blog! I’ll have to work on that!

        • If you’re going with ‘mode of transportation’ as a category, you’d have to include the Monorail, which is really more of a ‘ride’ than transportation at DL.

          As for dark rides, you didn’t include Pinnochio. Yeah, it’s not the greatest, but it sure beats Winnie the Pooh.

          • by Tammy Whiting on August 11, 2012, at 1:31 pm EST

            The monorail would definitely be in that list. I like Winnie the Pooh better than Pinocchio, but others obviously do not. 🙂

      • I think the confusion here is because you left out of your definition, one of the key elements of a dark ride. It is enclosed where all of the lighting is controlled. It could be dark, but does not have to be. Some people consider It’s a Small World to be a dark ride and if you do, it would be an example of a well lit dark ride.

  • All due respect, but the idea of Winnie the Pooh being on this list is laughable. It’s one of the cheapest looking attractions in any Disney park! Plywood cut outs have NO place anywhere in Disney, least of all in an attraction honoring me of Disneys most iconic character. I assume you added this attraction because you needed to hit 10 to make your list. Having been lucky enough to ride the Winnie Attraction in Tokyo Disneyland, (a MASTERWORK in dark ride making), I get insulted every time I ride the domestic knockoffs. Well written article, and I love your zest for Disney, but I can only shake my head at the inclusion of, what I believe to be, Imagineerings greatest failure.

    • No worries, Jimmy! To each his own. I actually included it because I wanted to. I had a couple of other options to include which I didn’t, like the aforementioned Pinocchio for example. I enjoy the Pooh ride, I like the whole atmosphere. I haven’t ridden the Tokyo version, however, and wouldn’t doubt that it’s better. 🙂

  • Good list. I hadn’t considered Finding Nemo at DL but of course it’s not too different from the “true” dark ride at Epcot, so sure.

    I’d rate Alice higher. Or at least I did before the outdoor portion was ruined by the safety measures (hope the upcoming refurb will restore the attraction to it’s former glory).

    There’s no sin leaving Pinocchio off the list. I’d rate Peter Pan higher but to each her own.

    • by Tammy Whiting on August 11, 2012, at 5:43 pm EST

      Thanks, Kevin! I do hate the safety measures. It took away a lot of the beauty of it. Maybe that’s why I haven’t taken any pictures of it recently?

      My husband said the exact same thing about Peter Pan.

  • I don’t know about Finding Nemo taking the #3 spot. I had more fun watching kids do the Jedi thing while I waited in the line.

  • “Plywood cut outs have NO place anywhere in Disney,”

    You must hate Toad.