Having visited every Disney park in the world, we’ve gotten to ride a lot of great rides. While Disney clones a lot of rides to put them in multiple parks, each park has a few unique attractions that set it apart.
In this post, we're going to discuss some of our favorite Disney rides in the world. For each ride, we explain a little bit about why we like it, but sometimes it just comes down to thinking it's a fun ride.
This post also isn’t a ranking. Instead, we’re identifying two rides from each park that are our favorites. We try to avoid including clones more than once, but a few “interpretations” find their way in. Each park also gets an “Honorable Mention” ride that is either another ride we love or one we recognize is great even if it doesn’t appeal to us.
We're going to go through the parks by opening year, and for each ride we’ll specify the year it opened and the land it sits in. We start with Disneyland, the original castle park. You can read all about the rides of Disneyland—including our ranking of the best rides—here.
Indiana Jones Adventure (Adventureland, 1995)
Indiana Jones was a franchise six years removed from its last film when the ride opened in Disneyland in 1995. I actually rode DINOSAUR, the ride using the same vehicle system as Indy down in Disney's Animal Kingdom, before Indiana Jones Adventure. It wasn’t until I rode Indy that I understood why people hate DINOSAUR.
It isn’t that DINOSAUR is that bad, but that Indiana Jones Adventure is that good. For all the physical discomfort those ride vehicles cause, Indiana Jones Adventure offers a variety of great visuals and thrills.
The queue is detailed, the storyline is straightforward, and the ride itself is filled with effects. There’s also something we like about the openness of the ride.
While DINOSAUR takes you through a windy jungle path, maybe preserving a bit more mystery, the open temple layout on Indiana Jones Adventure allows you to (however briefly out of the corner of your eye) marvel as the scope of the ride.
Matterhorn Bobsleds (Fantasyland, 1959)
Matterhorn captivates me for mostly one reason—its position as a thematic ancestor of Expedition Everest. It’s actually awfully uncomfortable to ride, and its theming isn’t particularly deep, but somehow that doesn’t bother me. There was just something about seeing the abominable snowman that made me instantly love this ride.
Disney has put Matterhorn through a lot over the years as far as refurbishments, changed paint jobs, and increased animatronic usage. But the principle and design have remained the same, and that gives the coaster a distinctly “old school” feel.
Honorable Mention - Space Mountain (Tomorrowland, 1977)
Disneyland’s Space Mountain is arguably the best of the five versions of the ride, with a great soundtrack and the best ride mechanics. This is mostly a result of its being heavily refurbished between 2003 and 2005, but honestly we’d take two years away from the Magic Kingdom version to get it up to this quality.
Magic Kingdom (1971)
Next up is Magic Kingdom. Disney’s second park took the castle park experience to new heights. You can read all about the rides of Magic Kingdom here.
Haunted Mansion (Liberty Square, 1971)
It might be a bit strong to say Haunted Mansion transcends everything Disney did before or since. But there are two things about the ride that we love.
First, while we constantly harp on narrative, the story of Haunted Mansion is delightfully (or deceptively) simple—“999 happy haunts” have retired to a mansion. Beyond that, there’s some light development as the ghosts are summoned to appear before you, but identifying a deeper story is a real task that starts in the queue and really doesn't finish until you’ve passed through the ride’s exit.
The lack of a more consistent narrative beyond that really adds to the effect of the ride. You’re torn between basking in the chaos or trying to discern the depth of the story. Maybe ghosts don't have linear experiences anyways!
Second, the lack of an obvious narrative leaves us with exactly what you’d expect a ghost house to be—crazy and filled with the best tricks Disney Imagineering has to offer. With pretty minimal constraints, Imagineering was able to come up with some great effects.
While we went with the Magic Kingdom version on this list, we will note the ride’s best effect, the Hatbox Ghost, is found only in the Disneyland version. If you're interested in learning more about Haunted Mansion, we highly recommend Jason Surrell's The Haunted Mansion: Imagineering a Disney Classic.
Splash Mountain (Frontierland, 1992)
In a narrative sense, Splash Mountain is the anti-Haunted Mansion. Splash Mountain has one of the clearest, most linear narratives of any Disney ride. The integration of the drop into the story is undoubtedly clever, and it took me years to really understand the ride.
Even before the big finish, Splash Mountain offers everything that makes a good ride—narrative, fun characters, catchy tunes, and some nice design. This is one of the underrated features of the ride—it succeeds even without its climactic thrill.
In the past ten years, I’m not sure I’ve ever once ridden the ride and cared about the drop. It’s the rest of the ride that entrances me. While some rides (like Test Track) need a big finish to set them apart, Splash Mountain gets the job done before that.
Honorable Mention - Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (Fantasyland, 2014)
Seven Dwarfs Mine Train doesn’t blow us away, but it is solid and a fixture of New Fantasyland. It’s cute, smooth, and fun. Best of all, it features a new generation of animatronics, giving Disney a chance to pack a brand new ride with a modern take on some of its classic methods.
Epcot was Disney’s first park without a castle at its heart. As such, it has truly unique theming. You can read all about the rides of Epcot here.
Living With The Land (Future World, 1982)
If Disney parks have B-side tracks, Living With The Land is on Epcot’s B-Side these days. Maybe this is owing to its age (it was an opening day attraction), or maybe to its lack of thrills or modern IP. But it deserves its due.
In a park about human progress, Living With The Land reminds us that progress isn’t just about humanity—it’s about nature as well. Progress requires us to learn to live with the land.
That soap-box issue aside, the ride is a real treat. It’s a relaxing escape and a chance to see how some plans you take for granted are actually grown. From bananas to strawberries to squash, there are some interesting sights throughout the ride.
Finally, we have to mention the architecture of the greenhouse. You honestly might miss it taking pictures of every plant you ride by, but take a second to look up and around you inside the greenhouse—it’s a beautiful structure.
Spaceship Earth (Future World, 1982)
Spaceship Earth is—arguably—a perfect dark ride. It has an ambitious theme—communication. It uses some of the best animatronics on the planet to tell the story of communication through the history of mankind.
What’s sad is that it’s unlikely we’ll ever see a theme park willing to take risks on “boring” ideas like that ever again. Thrills and connections to other media (i.e. characters from films) are much more in vogue these days.
One area in which Spaceship Earth really can’t be beat—the ride building. Look at a satellite view of almost any other ride and it’s shocking how big a building actually houses the ride. Sometimes Disney does a good job of hiding these, but others (like the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy ride building) stick out like a sore thumb.
The Spaceship Earth ride building is exactly what you see and love—it’s the icon of the park. That’s a remarkable achievement and one we very well might never see matched.
Honorable Mention - Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros (World Showcase, 2007)
Not quite a B-side track, though somewhat overshadowed by neighboring Frozen Ever After, Three Caballeros is spunky fun the heart of one of Epcot’s most beautiful pavilions. If we had a “skip this, do this instead” list, we’d say skip Frozen, ride Three Caballeros. (And everyone would revolt and we’d be finished.)
Tokyo Disneyland (1983)
Tokyo Disneyland marked Disney’s first international park. Wanting to bring the best parts of the parks overseas, it is heavily inspired by the American castle parks. Nonetheless, we’ve picked two rides with something unique.
Monsters, Inc. Ride and Go Seek (Tomorrowland, 2009)
Ride and Go Seek is a different sort of dark ride than we’re used to, combining a quality dark ride with a touch (or more, depending on your interest level) of interactivity.
Shining a flashlight onto targets to make the scenes react isn’t the most revolutionary thing ever, but it doesn’t have to be. It allows for varied ride experiences, as you (and the people behind / in front of you) won’t quite hit the same marks every time.
I think it requires a certain appreciations for Monsters, Inc. that we don’t particularly have to truly love it, but that’s okay. We put it on this list regardless because it is still a great ride.
Pooh’s Hunny Hunt (Fantasyland, 2000)
In a park that doesn’t offer much by way of unique attractions, Pooh’s Hunny Hunt is an improvement on a dark ride that we already get a kick out of. Trackless designs are the future, and Pooh’s Hunny Hunt is a good exhibition of the technology in action.
Pooh’s Hunny Hunt should be the baseline for dark rides moving forward. With its varied sets and unexpected moments, it shows how animatronics and screens can work together to creating a dazzling experience.
Honorable Mention - Camp Woodchuck (Westernland, 2016)
Camp Woodchuck isn’t a ride, but a themed area inside Westernland at Tokyo Disneyland. Besides some minimal space to explore, the only attractions are character meet and greets. It makes this list as home to the stunning “Camp Woodchuck Lodge,” which is mostly used for dining but is also a great place to escape from the crowds.
We tried desperately to find adult-sized Camp Woodchuck shirts because we enjoyed the space so much, but no luck. The attention to detail and design put into this relatively minor space really speaks to the quality of Tokyo Disneyland overall.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios (1989)
Hollywood Studios is dedicated to “Hollywood…a state of mind that exists wherever people dream and wonder and imagine, a place where illusion and reality are fused by technological magic.” You can read all about the rides and entertainment of Hollywood Studios here.
The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror (Sunset Boulevard, 1994)
Tower of Terror exemplifies a real “be best” attitude in ride design. This isn’t just a drop ride. It isn’t just a drop ride with Twilight Zone theming. It’s a truly immersive experience.
Tower of Terror puts you on edge as soon as you turn down Sunset Boulevard and see and hear the other screaming guests. The queue continues this, keeping you buried in the shadow and sounds of the ride until you enter the delightfully frightening hotel lobby.
And from there, the story continues, through the ride experience itself and all the way until you exit into the hotel gift shop. There aren’t many rides in the world that create the terror this one manages to inspire.
Star Tours – The Adventures Continue (Echo Lake, 1989 / 2011)
Star Tours – The Adventures Continue is a rare example of an adaptable classic. New sequences are a regular occurrence these days, and the ride went through some more significant changes in converting from the original Star Tours into this ride in 2011. Like the Star Wars franchise as a whole, Star Tours aggressively stands the test of time.
Honorable Mention – Toy Story Midway Mania! (Pixar Place, 2008)
Toy Story Midway Mania! is a favorite of ours (and many others), but didn’t make the top two because it doesn’t really stand out conceptually. It’s something of a modern carnival ride, albeit a very enjoyable one.
Disneyland Paris (1992)
Like the Tokyo and Hong Kong castle parks, Disneyland Paris is heavy on duplicated classics. That said, the park boasts some standout interpretations. You can read all about the rides of Disneyland Paris here.
Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant (Fantasyland, 1992)
Our favorite castle is more than just eye candy, it’s a wonderful place to explore. With its very own subterranean dragon, an elegant telling of Sleeping Beauty, great views, and creative ornamentation throughout, the Paris castle is everything we’ve always wanted from a castle.
Pirates of the Caribbean (Adventureland, 1992)
This classic had to find its way onto the list somewhere, and Paris makes the most sense. It has the best queue, and many people consider it the best version of the ride (we don’t really feel strongly one way or the other). Like some other rides in Paris, this version of Pirates of the Caribbean has a little more spook, a little more edge, than its American counterparts.
Honorable Mention - Phantom Manor (Frontierland, 1992)
Phantom Manor is a subtle but ambitious attempt to bring order to Haunted Mansion. While we prefer the more open narrative of the other versions, Phantom Manor is a solid integration of the ride into a larger story. Plus the building looks great!
Disney's Animal Kingdom (1998)
Animal Kingdom is one of our favorite Disney Parks. The park takes “theme” to new depths and backs it up with an impressive (albeit shallow) attraction lineup. You can read all about rides of Animal Kingdom here.
Expedition Everest - Legend of the Forbidden Mountain (Asia, 2006)
Everest is a strong candidate for our favorite Disney ride, period. From the moment you set foot in the queue—really even as soon as you set eyes on the Forbidden Mountain and begin heading toward it—the story envelops you.
No expense was spared in putting together a wonderful narrative, and the ride is much better for it. This is a great thrill ride with a theme that not only is true to its source material, but which actively pays tribute to it.
It's actually something of a shame that the ride experience is as good as it is, because it overshadows the queue, which is probably the best queue Disney has to offer. Next time you're at Animal Kingdom, forego the FastPass and single rider line, and maybe head over there early in the morning to take a walk through the queue.
Be sure to read our list ranking the roller coasters of Walt Disney World to see where Everest falls on that list!
Kilimanjaro Safaris (Africa, 1998)
There aren’t many truly unique experiences in theme parks these days, but Kilimanjaro Safaris is one of them. This is a ride where the experience varies from minute to minute and season to season.
So much more can happen here than on any Disney ride. At first we missed the campy storyline that used to accompany the ride, but now we feel like it was the right decision. This isn’t an attraction that needs to be overdone, just let the animals do their thing.
Honorable Mention - Avatar Flight of Passage (Pandora, 2017)
Flight of Passage has a strong claim to being the best Disney ride anywhere—and even the best theme park ride. It’s a thrilling, beautiful, creative experience. I’ve written elsewhere that Flight of Passage is really the apex of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and not just because it’s a fun ride.
Disney California Adventure (2001)
While it may struggle with identity, Disney California Adventure is at least home to some of Disney’s latest and greatest imagineering. You can read all about the rides of Disney California Adventure here.
Radiator Springs Racers (Cars Land, 2012)
Radiator Springs Racers is a fantastic hybrid ride. It’s part dark ride, part thrill ride. It’s part fantastic adventure, and part technological marvel. Kids will love their favorite characters, adults will be in awe throughout the experience.
Just as Indiana Jones Adventure leaves DINOSAUR in the dust, Radiator Springs Racers shows us the true potential of Test Track. What’s most shocking about this is that the ride debuted thirteen years after Test Track and still managed to find extensive life in the same technology.
Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT! (Hollywood Land, 2017)
While the exterior design and some of the story elements (“these hands don’t scan”) don’t particularly shine, Mission: BREAKOUT! really is a worthy successor to its predecessor, Tower of Terror. Is it as complete an experience? No. But The fundamental elements—from queue to story to thrill—are all there. And c’mon, there’s no way not to have a fun time on this one.
Honorable Mention - Soarin’ (Grizzly Peak Airfield, 2001)
Soarin’—in both its “Around the World” and “Over California” variations—continues to inspire awe in guests. While we still have moments of disbelief on the ride, we’re more continually astounded by how much other guests seem to enjoy it. The technology is far from unique these days, but the ride remains a beautiful exercise in escapism.
Tokyo DisneySea (2001)
Tokyo DisneySea has a strong claim to being the best theme park in the world. It is meticulous in its design and has an attraction lineup filled with heavy hitters. We’re going to highlight two you might not read about on every “best of” list.
Sinbad’s Storybook Voyage (Arabian Coast, 2001)
Sinbad’s Storybook Voyage is an amazing dark boat ride with a tune even catchier than “it’s a small world” (and significantly more tolerable). The ride originally was something of a dud, eventually being retooled in 2007.
We never experienced the original version, but it seems the retooling really worked. Now, Sinbad is a gorgeous ride in one of the most gorgeous lands in Disney’s most gorgeous park.
Fortress Explorations (Mediterranean Harbor, 2001)
Of all the spaces to explore in Disney parks, Fortress Explorations is the one that requires the most attention. Not only is it something of a labyrinth, but you could easily hit the “highlight”—the views from the top—without realizing how much you’ve walked past on the way. With several beautiful, ornate rooms paying tribute to centuries of exploration, Fortress Explorations is more than worthy of an hour or more of your time.
Honorable Mention – Journey to the Center of the Earth (Mysterious Island, 2001)
Journey to the Center of the Earth has much of the beauty that we love in Na’Vi River Journey (Animal Kingdom), but with a much-welcomed injection of thrill.
Walt Disney Studios Park (2002)
Crush's Coaster (Toon Studio, 2007)
Crush's Coaster is the best ride at Walt Disney Studios Park. It's a simple enough concept in which you join Crush (Finding Nemo) on a journey through the sea. The execution is good, with a mix of dark ride elements and coaster elements, all with a "twist" in your spinning coaster car.
RC Racer (Toy Story Playland, 2010)
RC Racer couldn't be simpler, but it somehow manages to be our favorite ride in the old-style Toy Story lands. Not much to say about this one, it's just a quick bit of fun.
Honorable Mention - Ratatouille: L’Aventure Totalement Toquée de Rémy (Toon Studio, 2014)
Ratatouille is a new, hit ride that is apparently doing well enough for Disney to decide to clone it in Epcot. While we understand the appeal, we just don't buy it.
The trackless dark ride uses a series of large screens to transform the rider into rat size and take them on a journey through a restaurant. While the concept is solid, and many seem to enjoy the experience. We, however, flashback to Pooh’s Hunny Hunt and Sinbad’s Storybook Voyage, both of which shows Disney can do better than this screen-reliant effort.
Hong Kong Disneyland (2005)
Hong Kong Disneyland has had a tumultuous history and is still working to find its identity. Along the way, though, it has developed two of the best rides Disney has to offer.
Mystic Manor (Mystic Point, 2013)
We don’t have anywhere near the same passion for Mystic Manor that many commentators have, but it’s a great ride. While it’s often grouped aside the Haunted Mansion rides, it’s really only like them in concept—showcasing some of the greatest “tricks” of Imagineering in a whimsical manner.
Mystic Manor shines in the details. The queue, and the rooms of the ride itself, contain a wealth of fascinating objects. The building is designed around a mix of designs than its owner, Lord Henry Mystic, would have encountered in his travels. Finally, the ride is an S.E.A. tie-in, which instantly earns it some credibility with us.
Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars (Grizzly Gulch, 2012)
Runway Mine Cars isn’t a great ride, but it is a good ride. Its closest thematic counterpart would be Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. While Runaway Mine Cars is different (kudos to Hong Kong Disneyland for being different), it isn’t really better.
Honorable Mention: Jungle Cruise (Adventureland, 2005)
Jungle Cruise needs to be mentioned on this list. The Hong Kong Disneyland version might not be the best, but we wanted to put the ride here so we could mention that in Hong Kong, there are three queues for three languages in which you can enjoy the ride—English, Mandarin, and Cantonese.
Many, if not most, Jungle Cruise riders don’t even understand the ride the first time they’re on it. Maybe they don’t even enjoy it the first time. But once you understand that yes—that’s the ride—and no—the cast member isn’t just having a fun day—it’s easy to sit back, laugh, and see why this simple ride has stood the test of time.
Shanghai Disneyland (2016)
Disney’s newest park has faced its share of (largely unfair) criticisms. All that aside, the newest park is home to some of the newest and best attractions.
Challenge Trails (Adventureland, 2016)
While there’s always something of a tingle of nerves on Tower of Terror, Challenge Trails is probably the only attraction in a Disney park that made me truly nervous as an adult. No, this isn’t the most intense ropes course you’ll find in the world, but it’s no kiddie ride, either. This is where Shanghai's willingness to be different really shines.
TRON Lightcycle Power Run (Tomorrowland, 2016)
There’s good reason TRON is coming to Magic Kingdom. It’s a different sort of coaster experience, and one that remains exciting ride after ride.
While space was and remains the "final frontier," smart tech and virtual reality are a huge component of the modern view of the future. This makes TRON, a movie about the human-computer relationship, a perfect fit to bring to Tomorrowland.
Honorable Mention – Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure (Treasure Cove, 2016)
Emily actually considers Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure to be the second-best ride in Shanghai. I agree that it’s a good ride, but I file this one under Shanghai’s ambition getting the better of it. For all the excitement and modernity of the newer version (it really is a wholly different ride), I prefer the original Pirates of the Caribbean.