Top 10 New Disney Attractions of the Decade
Best of the decade lists are all the rage right now, but since no one really cares what I think of movies and television, I’ll instead cover new theme park rides and shows. This top 10 list ranks the best attractions that debuted in Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Tokyo, Paris, Hong Kong, and Shanghai in the 2010s.
The recently-ended decade was both a big one and a quiet one. Things slowed down in terms of opening new second-gates. Unlike the aughts, which saw the opening of four new theme parks (Disney’s California Adventure, Tokyo DisneySea, Walt Disney Studios Park, and Hong Kong Disneyland), only Shanghai Disneyland was the only new gate to debut. However, just as many good new theme parks were added to Disney’s lineup this decade as the one before it.
Rather, the story of the recent decade was one of expansion and, if we’re being honest, correcting a decade of stagnation and mistakes. Three of the new parks in the aughts were done on the cheap, and Disney undertook ambitious plans to fix those. (The third will get its fix in the current decade.) Domestically, Disney sought to correct a decade of post-9/11 stagnation. All in all, there was a construction boom in the company’s theme parks, with some great fruits coming from this growth…
Before we dig into the list, let’s cover a few entries that didn’t make the cut. First, a couple of roller coasters: Slinky Dog Dash and TRON Lightcycle Power Run. Both are unquestionably fun, but they are essentially just lightly dressed-up coasters without show scenes. As someone who values theme much more than thrills, I find both lacking. (Sarah vehemently disagrees and thinks TRON Lightcycle Power Run belongs in the top ten, maybe at #7 or #8.)
Over at Hong Kong Disneyland, there are two Marvel additions worthy of consideration: Ant-Man and The Wasp: Nano Battle! (the lone new attraction of the decade that we’ve yet to experience) and Iron Man Experience (which is good but not great). On the topic of Marvel, I’d give an honorable mention to Guardians of the Galaxy — Mission: BREAKOUT! It’s an attraction that doesn’t belong where it is, but is better than it has any right to be. The same could be said for Frozen Ever After, another ‘lemonade out of lemons’ addition that didn’t make the cut.
On the screen-based front, there’s Ratatouille: L’Aventure Totalement Toquée de Rémy (which will be known as Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure when it opens in Epcot). This has flashes of brilliance, but is disappointing as far as big-budget rides go. The integration of screens leaves a lot to be desired, and that prevents true suspension of disbelief.
Next, a couple of shows: Mickey and the Magician at Walt Disney Studios Park and Big Band Beat at Tokyo DisneySea. We’ve decided to consider the latter ineligible since OLC has treated it as a continuation of an existing show (even though it’s totally different) in the same venue. Mickey and the Magician comes close, but its montage formula drags it down a tad as it doesn’t bring much originality to the table. (In general, entertainment is eligible for this list so long as it’s permanent and has a purpose-built venue.)
Finally, there’s Camp Discovery Challenge Trails at Shanghai Disneyland. I think this is incredible, the pinnacle of play areas, and worthy of inclusion on this list. (I’d sooner include it than TRON.) However, with this being only a top 10 list, something had to be snubbed!
10. Song of Mirage, Tokyo DisneySea
Last summer, Soaring Fantastic Flight debuted at Tokyo DisneySea to rave reviews, with guests gushing over its elaborate facade, beautiful queue, and pre-show trickery. Unfortunately, aside from a new ending scene, it was the same Soarin(g) Over the Bendy CGI that exists in Anaheim, Florida, and Shanghai. A lot of build-up for a letdown.
That same day, to absolutely zero fanfare, Song of Mirage opened back in Lost River Delta. While it was produced for a fraction of Soaring Fantastic Flight’s budget, it’s the better attraction of the two. This show is a perfect thematic fit for the port, and combines mystery, humor, and elegance to odd yet fitting effect. In some ways, it’s like a fever dream as the characters search for El Dorado, the lost city of gold, with entrancing music, hypnotic choreography, and a laugh out loud scene that I won’t spoil.
9. The Muppets Present… Great Moments in American History, Magic Kingdom
This show demonstrates how something designed as atmospheric entertainment can go above and beyond, becoming an ‘appointment attraction’ worthy of a place in Magic Kingdom itineraries. It also underscores the notion that not everything needs to be a grandiose ride with high-tech wizardry–variety is key to the Disney theme park experience.
The Muppets Present was an exceptional example of edutainment done right, incorporating actual lessons from American history with the trademark quick wit of the Muppets. When it debuted, we called this the best new addition to Magic Kingdom in a decade, surpassing all of New Fantasyland. That was arguably a bit overzealous considering the comparative ambition and staying power of Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (or maybe not given that this is flawless for what it is and that isn’t). Unfortunately, the Muppets Present… Great Moments in American History has been retired.
8. Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Magic Kingdom
New Fantasyland was the first exciting expansion at Walt Disney World in years. It was thus disappointing when each component opened and felt like it stopped about 25% short of greatness. (Arguably, the one attraction where this is not true is the under-appreciated Enchanted Tales with Belle.)
Even as Seven Dwarfs Mine Train leaves me wanting more–primarily via show scenes and roller coaster track–it also packs a powerful punch. The main show scene is large and impressive, and the lift hill that follows is a simply effect that’s really impactful. The placement and layout of the coaster is also top notch, with mild thrills and great views of Magic Kingdom. Instead of focusing on what’s lacking, it’s worth emphasizing what was done right. Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is a new Magic Kingdom classic, and one that’ll be a rite of passage ride for a new generation of Disney fans.
7. Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, Disneyland
Aside from the snub of TRON Lightcycle Power Run, this ranking so highly will probably be the most controversial choice. I don’t care. I’ve repeatedly emphasized that I’m an attractions person and not a ride junkie, and that the build-up via well-done queues and pre-shows are just as important to me as the ride experience. (Tokyo DisneySea’s Tower of Terror is a good example of this–essentially a walk-through attraction with a mild drop at the end.)
Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run works wonders as a “wish fulfillment” attraction, giving guests the opportunity to step inside the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy and sit inside the cockpit. The queue leading there is brilliant, as is the use of Hondo Ohnaka (a compelling character I had never heard of before, but love now), and the pre-shows are amusing and fun. The ride experience itself can be a mixed bag and the mission can feel like plodding drudgery, but the Millennium Falcon aspect more than compensates for the Smugglers Run component, and elevates the full package.
6. Avatar Flight of Passage, Animal Kingdom
This can aptly be described as Soarin’ on steroids, but that still doesn’t quite do Avatar Flight of Passage justice. Guests climb aboard the back of a banshee and link to an avatar flying through Pandora for a simulator experience that is far more ‘active’ than any past attraction of its nature. You can feel your banshee breathe, the wind and spray of the ocean in your face, and smell delightful scents along the way.
Even though Avatar Flight of Passage is a screen-based attraction, you are fully immersed in the experience, and can fully suspend disbelief and embrace the action. The lengthy queue (and views it offers of Pandora as a whole) is one of Disney’s best-ever, and further elevates the experience. Unfortunately, it gets dragged down a bit by an interminably long (and annoying) series of pre-shows. That minor quibble isn’t enough to prevent this from being one of Walt Disney World’s best attractions.
5. Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars, Hong Kong Disneyland
This is arguably the unsung addition of the decade. While everything else in the top 5 (or top 8, for that matter) has debuted to tremendous hype and excitement, Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars remains a relative unknown. Think of it as Big Thunder Mountain Railroad meets Expedition Everest with a slight dash of Country Bear Jamboree.
That last component sealed its legacy for me as one of Disney’s best coasters in the world, and the result is a great mix of thrill ride and detailed Disney attraction, with some really lovable bears. It’s truly an example of perfecting the little things, from the exterior facade (and surrounding gulch) to the queue to the track layout. Those endearing bears peppered in the ride are the icing on the cake, and what put this in the top 5. Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars is an exemplar of an Imagineered roller coaster, combining thrills with theme.
4. Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure, Shanghai Disneyland
This is the reason to visit Shanghai Disneyland. A boat ride that puts you in the middle of a battle on—and under—the pirate-infested Caribbean waters, Battle for the Sunken Treasure is a new twist on a Disney classic. Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure is a mix of what Disney and Universal each do best, a culmination of what theme park designers have learned in developing screen-heavy attractions.
There are not enough superlatives for Pirates of the Caribbean — Battle for the Sunken Treasure. It delivers on every level and is the kind of blockbuster, epic adventure that any new theme park needs. The only thing that gives me pause is its staying power. The tech-forward nature of the ride and its dependence upon regular maintenance and upgrades could end up being an albatross for this now-great ride. Here’s hoping that Pirates of the Caribbean — Battle for the Sunken Treasure is upgraded over time and ages gracefully, rather than fading into obsolescence.
3. RADIATOR SPRINGS RACERS, DISNEY CALIFORNIA ADVENTURE
A lot was riding on Radiator Springs Racers. Intended to be the marquee attraction of Disney California Adventure’s multi-billion dollar overhaul, it was also the only E-Ticket added to the reinvented theme park. Had it been a disappointment, all of that place-making and the smaller scale additions wouldn’t have been enough to move the needle. DCA still would’ve failed to attract an audience.
Fortunately, Radiator Springs Racers ended up being a smash hit. It makes expert use of the stunning Cadillac Mountain Range as the cars weave around the peaks, with a leisurely drive through nature and a race through this stunning landscape that bookend a satisfying dark ride segment. The pacing here is pitch-perfect, and the ride is a pure delight from beginning to end. Radiator Springs Racers cemented the legacy of DCA 2.0, and helped positioned the park as a worthy second gate to Disneyland.
2. MYSTIC MANOR, HONG KONG DISNEYLAND
Mystic Manor put Hong Kong Disneyland on the map, and on the radar of theme park fans everyone. Its opening was essentially the coming out party for the previously much-maligned park. Mystic Manor combines great special effects with a beautiful score, memorable characters, and great gags. It’s beautiful inside and out, with a tremendous amount of re-rideability. We’d even go as far as to say this alone justifies a trip to Hong Kong Disneyland.
Until late last year, Mystic Manor was also the pinnacle achievement for the current generation of Imagineers. While it has arguably been surpassed by the unequivocal #1 pick, it’s also very different. Mystic Manor uses flashy and impressive tech–but also sleight of hand, parlor tricks, and illusions. Its vibe is totally different, feeling charming and intimate. While different in nature, Mystic Manor is something of a successor to Haunted Mansion, or at least that iconic attraction’s legacy.
1. Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Every generation or so, the Imagineers do something so radically different that it redefines what a theme park attraction can be. Since 1955, I think we’ve had only a few such attractions: Matterhorn Bobsleds, Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, Star Tours, Indiana Jones Adventure, and now, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance.
The way it blurs the lines between queue, pre-show, and the ride experience is the great contribution of Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. The attraction’s sense of tension, use of a variety of technology, and mix of practical plus special effects also help it score high marks.
It remains to be seen whether Rise of the Resistance will go down in the history books alongside Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion–attractions that have both celebrated their 50th Anniversaries–but Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance is Disney’s best since Indiana Jones Adventure. That’s quite impressive given the attractions that have opened during that span, including the entirety of Tokyo DisneySea.
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What do you think of my best of the decade list? Anything I’ve snubbed that you think is deserving? Anything on the list that you think doesn’t belong? What would make the cut–and what would not–on your own list? Any questions? We love hearing from readers, so please share any other thoughts or questions you have in the comments below!
I also found Slinky Dog Dash much more fun than Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. It’s hard to say how much the show scenes increase it when it’s a mediocre coaster compared to the other Disney coasters.
TRON is probably my favourite Disney coaster. It’s both really well themed, and a very fun and thrilling coaster.
Completely agree that the muppets deserve a place on your list. It was an unexpected highlight of our recent Christmas trip
Why did they close the Great Moments in History?? That was a nice little diversion, it offered some light hearted fun in a part of the park that feels a bit stuffy compared to the rest of the park, they could use a little more Muppets at WDW and what else are they going to doing in that space????
Hi Tom! Are the overseas parks (particularly Tokyo Disney Sea) as busy as WDW and Disneyland? Thanks so much!!!
I visited Tokyo in July 2018 and did both parks twice with a week in between. They were incredibly busy despite it being a weekday and during a slower period. I struggled to ride anything without an hour wait and fastpasses also sold out early in the day. The locals are just so dang willing to queue for hours! Some would enter the park and go straight to the parade route to wait 3 hours. It was unreal. I was in WDW for the first time in October and found the crowds more manageable but I had the benefit of the extra morning magic hours and the app meaning I knew I’d definitely get on 3 rides a day. I also did Disneyland in 2016 and the crowds were minimal by comparison to either of my other experiences. Tokyo is amazing, but I don’t rate it as highly as Tom does.
I appreciate your input!
In terms of crowds, Tokyo Disney Resort has higher highs but also lower lows than the US parks. If you go on a weekend, holiday, or peak tourist season, you will experience the worst lines of your life. If you visit during the shoulder or off-season on a weekday, you will experience lower crowds than any time of year at Walt Disney World or Disneyland.
Here are our recommendations: https://www.disneytouristblog.com/tokyo-disneyland-crowds-tips/
Interesting! Thank you so very much!
Personally, I was more impressed by Slinky Dog than Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.
I loved Slinky! I think it was my favourite ride of my whole trip. Seven Dwarfs is pretty cool but much too short and didn’t have the unexpected little thrills that Slinky does.
Agreed. Slinky was probably the most fun attraction we experienced. Better than smugglers run or seven dwarfs but agree slinky isn’t “themed” as smugglers or seven dwarves. I don’t understand why they’d get rid of the muppets. That was great! A reason why Disney is better than a typical amusement park.
Agreed! I’ve been on Seven Dwarfs on two separate trips and I feel like I’m missing something because I don’t get the hype. It is so short and not nearly as fun or charming as the other attractions New Fantasyland. Thankfully I’ve had a FastPass both times I’ve ridden, if I had waited in a 2 hour line for it I would have been really upset.
I got horrible vertigo from Seven Dwarfs Mine Train! It wasn’t the up and down part, I expected that. It was rapid side to side motions which were so jarring. The visuals were excellent but I can’t go on it again. Does Slinky Dog have side to side movement much or mostly just up and down usual roller coaster movement please?
Great list. Loved reading it. I’m surprised by World of Color not even getting an honorable mention. I can see it maybe not making the list, but what it is and what it did for that park was big!
Also Star Tours: The Adventure Continues. That was a fairly big opening at the start of the decade and while it wasn’t a new invention it was a great refresh and it’s awesome they promote rerideability with continuing to add in new scenes! I get it isn’t as big now but I think that deserves an honorable mention. I see that ride being at both parks for a long time as a staple.
I should’ve given World of Color an honorable mention, you’re right. Not just because of its substantive quality, but because it was the other game-changer for DCA.
However, I still wouldn’t include it on the list because, to me, World of Color is entertainment rather than an attraction. I know it’s a nit-picky distinction, but the shows that made this list have actual venues…and are just different.
A “Top Ten Shows” list would be pretty cool…now that you mention it haha
My Top 10 (domestic only and I havent done the new Galaxys Edge attractions)
1. Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
2. Radiator Springs Racers
3. Muppets Great Moments in History
4. Mickeys Most Merriest Celebration
5. Mickey and the Magical Map
6. Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid
7. Na’vi River Journey
8. Slinky Dog Dash
9. Flights of Passage
10. Frozen Ever After
Oh man, Big Grizzly Mountain looks incredible… Of any recent overseas ride it’s the one I most wish they’d bring to the US. Bears plus launch coaster equals pure awesome 😀
Having been to all 12 parks during the past 3 1/2 years, my list would be very similar. I would add Tron and Camp Challenge Discovery Trails, and give the bump to Song of Mirage and Flight of Passage, only because I haven’t experienced either of those yet.
And I agree that Big Grizzly Mountain is criminally underrated. I could spend all day at Hong Kong Disneyland riding just that and Mystic Manor. For all that park lacks, those two attractions are worth the trip from anywhere in the world.
“Sarah vehemently disagrees…”
Are you openly flaunting that you disagree with your wife?!?!?! You are da man!!! I mean, nice knowing you, but, you… da… MAN!
So they dump #9?
I wanted to love smugglers run, but didn’t.
But, I do think a fun forgotten one may be Expedition Everest. I love that the line tells a story like a museum with artifacts. Then you get a very cool thrill ride!
Hi Jill. EE opened in 2006 so not this decade.
It’s interesting what you write about “Pirates” in Shanghai and “its dependence upon regular maintenance”.
When I went to Shanghai I was pretty impressed with the attractions there and the park itself. Had an awesome time! A few more attractions and it’ll be a STUNNING park!
What I noticed though was that it seemed like in every attraction there was one mayor effect/animatronic/set piece that was not working.
It might have been bad luck on my side and this isn’t the case usually, but I really hope they won’t make the same mistakes there as they did in Paris, where they just didn’t give the park enough TLC and basically let it rot for years.
It’d be a shame! :/
I completely agree with your assessment of The Muppets Present. And my fingers are crossed Regal Eagle BBQ will be open the first weekend of March.
Same here! My husband and I made a point to head to MK earlier than planned on New Year’s Eve Eve to catch the last showing of the resurgence of Great Moments this past week. While there were some minor tweaks from the original version, it was still so great to be able to see the show that we loved so much when it was introduced.
Sarah is right about TRON. It deserves to be on the list. While it’s not the best coaster, it’s themed to the hilt, has great music and lighting, and is an incredibly cool, repeatable experience. Not sure how I feel about your #9 and #10 choices since I have not seen either. I do love Muppets though and I’m sure I’d like Great Moments. It’s great that you included some shows on your list but some of the rides not on the list (TRON, Mission: Breakout, Iron Man) would probably be deemed better by most. Regarding Camp Discovery Challenge Trails at Shanghai Disneyland, it was my biggest disappointment at the park. Was sooo looking forward to it, but half was closed when I was there in 2018 and in the half that was operating, many of the “paths of choice” were blocked off. For many of the bridges, crossings and obstacles, there was only one route instead of three or four, which caused long lines (on a slow day). There was no way to go around people who were irrationally scared to cross the next obstacle. Very frustrating. Love your list. Not enough great things can be said about Shanghai’s Pirates and Mystic Manor.
I feel like the one Disney fan on earth who was actually disappointed by TRON Lightcycle Run. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I didn’t find it all that impressive thematically (just cool lights and music from the movies, neither of which are what I’d consider brilliant innovations). To me, the roof is the coolest thing about the ride, followed by the ride vehicles. I also think it’s too short.
I wish I loved it as much as everyone else does, but I don’t.
As for Camp Discovery Challenge Trails, that’s really disappointing. My biggest fears with Shanghai Disneyland are longevity and maintenance–I could see this particular park being plagued by the same issues there as Disneyland Paris.
The best part of Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, in my opinion, is the stop inside the mountain. We went in 2018 and 2019. It was my impression that the stop was for a longer duration in 2018. This year it seemed rushed. I felt like we got cheated in exchange for moving lines quicker. My family disagreed, thinking the stop was the same duration. Am I incorrect? The experience felt rushed and, therefore, affected my rating of this ride. In terms of simply coaster experience, it is fairly lame.
If you mean the show scene, that’s not supposed to be a full stop–you just move slower through it. To my knowledge, the speed has not been adjusted on the ride. At least, if it has, I have not noticed.
We had a rather long stop (3-4 minutes) in the mountain on 7D Mine Train our very first time riding it. Everyone who got stuck ended up being given a free physical Fast Pass good for (7 days? Maybe 30, I don’t recall) for one ride on any ride, excepting Peter Pan….so we ended up having 2 fast passes for 7D Mine Train that trip!
I haven’t experienced the overseas attractions (save Remy), so I can’t agree or disagree on those. Stateside, I might switch Frozen Ever After and Smuggler’s Run. I know being in the Norway pavilion and replacing another ride leaves a bad taste for many people, but I think FEA is the best Fantasyland-style dark ride Disney has done.
I’d also put Happily Ever After on the list (I’d argue that the hub reconfiguation counts as a purposely-built venue!). For me, it would probably be #1 or 2, and would certainyl knock Muppets off the list, as much as I like the Muppets.
I sort of glossed over Frozen Ever After, but I think a strong case could be made for it in isolation. For me, the associated baggage (and I’m hardly a Maelstrom fan) drags it down too much, especially with so many other great additions debuting this decade.
As much as I love Happily Ever After, it follows the exact same formula as the new nighttime spectaculars in Paris and Shanghai (and is similar to what Tokyo has done, too) that came before it. Happily Ever After basically suffers for the same reason Mickey and the Magician does. If either of those were one of a kind, I could see a stronger case being made for them.
Fair enough on both points.
I haven’t seen the new nighttime spectacular in Paris (for me, HEA is much better than Dreams though there are similarities there as well) to the Asian shows. But I can see how the similarities would cancel them all out.
“…ranking so highly will probably be the most controversial choice. I don’t care.”
At least you know your audience :-).
I have not been to the international parks, so I can’t comment on most of the list. That being said, your opinion on all things Disney has helped us plan three amazing trips so I value your opinion greatly.
Smugglers Run is one where I don’t agree with you, and I’m sure you don’t care…
As much as I appreciate theme and attention to detail, there is something to be said for things just being fun. I get that Slinky Dog Dash is just a roller coaster with some fancy shoes, but when my kids get off that they are grinning ear to ear. It’s just way more than fun than it has any business being; especially considering how underwhelming Toy Story land is.
On the other hand, when my 6 year old (big Star Wars fan) had the choice to squeeze in either Smugglers Run or Star Tours before park closing he chose Star Tours because to him (and I kind of agree) it’s just more fun.
Thinking about it, I am allowing the opinions of humans who also chase seagulls for fun influence me, so I clearly should be ignored.
Drew – your points about Slinky Dog Dash are all fair and, I think, valid.
The interesting thing about ‘best of’ lists like this is that this is all subjective and no one list is definitive. Mine is written with my preferences and biases in mind, and so too would anyone else’s. Given that–and since I can recognize SDD is a blast–I can’t really argue with you there!
Don’t knock chasing seagulls. To quote the wise words of Yoda, “Everybody can agree that seagulls are the worst.”
Good call Pete.
Some of my favorite beach memories are of my kids chasing herds of seagulls in the early evening after the beach is cleared out. Those memories help avoid the super FOMO that seems to plague many families planning Disney trips. I know if kids love chasing seagulls, then pretty much everything on a Disney vacation is gravy. There is no reason to stress about missing out on some “hot ADR” or something like that.