Loosely on the controversial animated film Song of the South, Splash Mountain excels because of the way it offers a satisfying Audio Animatronics-driven extravaganza, while also providing thrills…and water. There’s really something for everyone in Splash Mountain.
Splash Mountain is one of the top E-Ticket attractions Imagineering has ever created; both a masterpiece and a favorite of pretty much every guest, and rightfully so. At around 13 minutes, the attraction is long; it has faultless sets that are filled with details; Audio-Animatronic critters who actually have character; great and catchy songs in “How Do You Do?, “Ev’rybody’s Got a Laughin’ Place,” “Burrow’s Lament,” and “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah;” even the pacing of Splash Mountain is perfect.
I’ve been on Splash Mountain probably over 100 times at this point, and I still notice new details with each new ride-through. While that’s great, what I really love about Splash Mountain is its incredible, lived-in sense of place. This could be said about a few attractions on this list, but nowhere else do I think it’s truer. From the birdhouses that line the area to the poster for the poster for a Swamp Boys in the outdoor queue, Splash Mountain feels like a real place, with a lot more lore than what’s told on the ride. Even with as much detail and depth as this attraction has, it always leaves me thirsty for more–in a good.
2. Tower of Terror
Although fans might point to more recent additions, the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror was the first Walt Disney World attraction to have a land built around it. The experience begins as soon as guests step foot on Sunset Boulevard, seeing the glamorized old Hollywood contrasting with the foreboding Tower in the distance.
The suspense is heightened as guests enter the hotel grounds, and the amount of detail throughout the queue–both indoor and out–is staggering, and all in service of those foreboding visuals. Tower of Terror uses the term twilight zone more in the colloquial sense to suggest that things are not what they should be.
When guests arrive into the hotel’s library, the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror’s story is framed within the television series by the same name, and guest suspicions that something is amiss are confirmed. Honestly, by the time I’ve arrived at the boiler room, I’ve had a fully-satisfying experience and that could be “it.”
But, it is not. The hotel, now a permanent fixture of the Twilight Zone, reopens for tours, and bellhops invite guests to explore what happened that fateful night by going aboard a still-operational maintenance service elevator for a spooky, thrilling, and referential experience. All of these things combine to make Tower of Terror the most thoughtful and story-driven thrill ride of all time.
1. Haunted Mansion
If the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is foreboding and suspenseful, Haunted Mansion is…I don’t even know. A cheeky, lucid nightmare? It’s part fever dream, part beautifully imaginative. Since the Twin Peaks revival is all the talk these days, I’ll go ahead and toss out the term “Lynchian” to describe Haunted Mansion.
Haunted Mansion is so interesting because it works on multiple levels. Each of the scenes can be taken at face value for what it offers in terms of spooky and/or humorous imagery, or attempts can be made at deeper analysis. What does it all mean? Why does X occur after Y? How does it all tie together?
Like an especially vivid dream, guests want to make sense of Haunted Mansion. This is likely why so much has been written about the attraction, why there are so many fan theories explaining it all, and why visual elements of Haunted Mansion are so meaningful to so many. It’s an experience that etches itself in your memory, even if you’re not entirely sure why.
Artistically, this is the great strength of Haunted Mansion. So many of the vignettes in the attraction have a memorable, graphic aspect that linger and demand to be revisited. If you asked 10 different people what makes the attraction so memorable and special, you’re likely get 10 different answers. It’s this, coupled with technology that has stood the test of time, that really makes Haunted Mansion resonate with guests.
Again, tough choices had to be made when assembling this list. I tormented myself with a number of these decisions (which should be patently obvious by the glaring omission of Country Bear Jamboree). Regardless, it was fun to give thought to what makes the objectively 10 greatest (current) attractions at Walt Disney World, and how those differ from my personal top 10.
Even if it’s impossible to remove all subjectivity from these rankings, I’m pretty satisfied with this list as the best mix of quality, technical impressiveness, and just flat out fun. Now…I’m fully prepared for you all to rip it apart. 😉
What do you think are the top 10 Walt Disney World attractions? Not just your personal favorites (we’ll have that list soon), but the ones you think are the actual best. Do you think I missed any rides that should have made the list, or made any poor choices? Any other thoughts to add or questions? Hearing your perspective is part of the fun, so please share in the comments–even if it’s just a top 10 list with no explanation, it’d be nice to read!