Sarah & Tom’s 10 Favorite Disney Attractions
Ranking our favorite Disney attractions around the globe–not just at Walt Disney World and Disneyland, but also Paris, Tokyo, Hong Kong, etc–is no easy task. It’s tough to balance sentimentality and storytelling with wow-factor and modern technology. That’s also a lot of rides and shows to narrow down into a relatively short list.
What feels like a decade ago (it was last year), we ranked all attractions at Walt Disney World and followed that up with a similar list for Disneyland’s rides & shows. Our intent was to make this inherently subjective process as objective as possible, which meant swapping out personal favorites for crowd-pleasers. That task was difficult enough, and we could endlessly tinker with that list, justifying why almost every attraction should be moved up, but rarely down–therein lies the rub.
Shortly before those comprehensive Disneyland and Walt Disney World lists (it was actually 5 years ago), I ranked my nostalgic Florida favorites. We’ve also done standalone posts for a handful of attractions in the international parks and given all of them numerical scores in our Disney Parks Ride Guides. However, we’ve never done a list encompassing both of our top 10 favorites, and thought it would be a fun–and challenging–endeavor.
To “avoid” the post-publishing second-guessing of our rankings for Walt Disney World and Disneyland, we’ve let this list simmer for a while. The process began last April with preliminary lists to stew over, those were “finalized” over a year ago, and revisited several times since. While satisfied with our choices, we’ve never been totally happy with what we’ve been forced to exclude.
The only definitive conclusion we’ve reached during that time is that definitive rankings are a fool’s errand. There are too many attractions we love, and the list could–and does–change by the day, depending upon mood and what we haven’t done lately. Seriously, you try putting together a list that you’re 100% pleased with over a year later! (As a corollary, please don’t take personal offense if your list differs from ours. Everyone has different favorites–we promise our picks weren’t made as an affront to you.)
Moving along, methodology for the rankings is fairly simple. Only one version of each attraction is allowed, and that remains the case irrespective of seasonal overlays and dramatic differences between incarnations (e.g. legacy Pirates of the Caribbeans versus Shanghai’s). We each independently determined our favorites, with the higher ranking controlling for list placement.
Enough with the preface, here’s the list…
Carousel of Progress & TTA PeopleMover (#10 Sarah, N/A Tom) – One entry into the list and we’re already “cheating” by consolidating two attractions. This is the only exception we’re making, and it’s hard to fault viewing Tomorrowland’s one-two “relaxation” punch as a singular package. (One technically travels through the other!)
Both are also very much “warts and all” attractions that are long overdue for updates and don’t live up to their full potential. Nevertheless, they’re nostalgic favorites that have a certain inarticulable appeal. The duo also offers a delightful change of pace from the rest of Magic Kingdom, and a reprieve from crowds on a busy day at Disney’s most popular park. We love these moments slowing down, savoring the experience–and have many fond memories of these two Tomorrowland classics from our trips over the years.
Splash Mountain (N/A Sarah, #10 Tom) – Tokyo Disneyland takes this concept to new heights, with a Critter Country that’s a veritable Splash Mountain Land. Both Grandma Sara’s Restaurant and Rackety’s Raccoon Saloon are outgrowths of Chickapin Hill, inhabited by an array of animals that are totally unique to Tokyo Disneyland.
Then there’s the log flume ride itself. At around 13 minutes, Splash Mountain is long. It also has wonderful sets with elaborate and environments featuring over 100 Audio-Animatronic critter figures that are reinvented as symbols of Japan’s kawaii culture. All of this combines to form a cute, homey, and lived-in land–culminating in an attraction with tons of re-rideability.
Indiana Jones Adventure (N/A Sarah, #9 Tom) – From the incredible queue to the hilariously dry pre-show (my favorite part of the attraction) to the special effects-laden adventure, Indiana Jones Adventure still is one of those attractions that leaves me impressed after each time I ride it. It’s one of those rare attractions where, while you’re on it, even as an adult you suspend disbelief and feel as if you’re participating in an adventure.
As Sallah would say, “it is unlike anything you have ever experienced, I assure you!” Several special effects upgrades to the Disneyland version in the last few years push it slightly ahead of the Tokyo DisneySea version for me, but it’s still a tight race. Each have some impressive effects and are sufficiently unique that diehard fans should experience both.
Tower of Terror (N/A Sarah, #8 Tom) – One of my favorite attractions at Walt Disney World for as long as I can remember. I remember going shortly after it opened, and first entering that ominous, foggy queue. Even then, I loved that it featured one of my favorite television series. Spotting Easter Eggs from the Twilight Zone was my Hidden Mickey hunting. (I was a weird kid.)
Instead of being a glamorized or idealized version of the Hollywood that never was and will always be, Tower of Terror is darker than the rest of Disney’s Hollywood Studios–like Sunset Boulevard rather than Singin’ in the Rain. The attraction delivers on that tone with an encompassing experience that includes an elaborate queue, pre-show, second queue, ride, and post-show. It’s a satisfying 20-minute journey that is so much more than the sum of its parts, with deliberate pacing and tension. One of Imagineering’s best modern works of immersion that wasn’t eclipsed at Walt Disney World for decades.
Journey to the Center of the Earth (#7 Sarah, N/A Tom) – A hybrid dark ride and thrill ride, Journey to the Center of the Earth is Tokyo DisneySea’s flagship attraction. Starting with the approach that goes inside Mount Prometheus, Journey to the Center of the Earth is incredible. It helps that Mysterious Island is a Modern Masterpiece of Imagineering, and that the attraction feels like part of something “bigger.”
By the time you enter through the underground marquee for Journey to the Center of the Earth, you’ve already experienced a lot of stage-setting and mood-making. Then there’s the meticulously detailed queue, taking guests through a makeshift lab in a cavern where Nemo and his crew have been studying their excavations, before taking them on a Terravator deep down beneath the surface of the earth. The attraction takes guests on excavators deeper below the earth, from a forest of mushrooms with cute little creatures, to a sea with a special effect that will make you jump from your seat. The climax is intense and spectacular.
“it’s a small world” holiday (#6 Sarah, N/A Tom) – This is the first of two Christmas overlays on the list, which speaks both to their quality and our bias for the holiday. Both are also iconic and historic Disneyland attractions, that are meritorious of inclusion. In the case of it’s a small world holiday, there’s the underlying Mary Blair art and ear-worm Sherman Brothers music, plus the sights, sounds, and smells of Christmas.
That’s only half of what makes this overlay hum. When you near “it’s a small world” holiday at night, all lit-up in these vibrant lights, you can’t help but stop in your tracks, entranced and in awe. Following the retirement of the Osborne Lights at Walt Disney World, this attraction facade is now the most brilliant and captivating Disney Christmas display.
Radiator Springs Racers (#5 Sarah, N/A Tom) – Some fans thought this might fade once that “new Cars smell” wore off or when its technology was surpassed elsewhere. That has not happened for us in the least–we could do Radiator Springs Racers again and again without ever getting sick of it, noticing new details with each ride-through.
The pleasure of driving through the Cadillac Range mountains is why Radiator Springs Racers keeps us coming back. The way the cars weave around the peaks, starting with a leisurely drive through nature and finishing with a thrilling race through this stunning landscape, bookending a satisfying dark ride segment. The pacing of Radiator Springs Racers is pitch-perfect, and the ride is fun and varied from beginning to end. Radiator Springs Racers helped reinvent the ailing park, positioning Disney California Adventure as a worthy second gate to Disneyland.
Haunted Mansion (#8 Sarah, #6 Tom) – Like many of the attractions on this list, Haunted Mansion excels at establishing a mood. Or in its case, several. Part surreal dream, part beautifully imaginative and impressionist nightmare. Haunted Mansion is so interesting because it can evoke different emotions on different ride-throughs, or even during different scenes of the same experience.
Like an especially vivid dream, there’s a lot to unpack with Haunted Mansion. This is 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. Haunted Mansion is an experience that etches itself in your memory, even if you’re not entirely sure why. It’s a transcendent attraction, and a work of art that will be discussed for generations to come.
Pirates of the Caribbean (#9 Sarah, #5 Tom) – We are torn as to which Pirates of the Caribbean version is our favorite. Sorry Shanghai, but old tech edges out new. And it’s definitely not Magic Kingdom, which would be a great ride if it were the only incarnation in existence, but it’s like reading the Heart of Darkness Cliffs Notes rather than the novella itself. We’ll just say our favorite version is at Disneyland …
The significantly longer versions in Paris, Tokyo, and Anaheim each offer their own strengths. Two use a foreboding framework to present what’s to come as a cautionary tale. One has a variety of added effects and impressive Audio Animatronics. All feature pirates engaging in swashbuckling mayhem in sprawling sets that make you feel in the midst of the action and environments.
Pirates of the Caribbean deftly balances wry humor and lighthearted gags alongside the dastardly deeds of pirates in what should be a jarring juxtaposition, but it just works. This ride is a quintessential slice of mid-century Americana, and with that a sometimes cavalier attitude that has landed the attraction in hot water (so to speak) with modern audiences in the US. Nevertheless, it continues to resonate, immersing guests in a pirate attack while also delivering personality and emotion.
Pooh’s Hunny Hunt (#4 Sarah, #7 Tom) – It’s hard to believe this “next gen” Fantasyland dark ride, which paved the way for other trackless dark rides, is over two decades old. It’s still technically formidable, and the way Hunny Hunt’s ride vehicles dance with one another and engage their environments makes this one of the most immersive attractions Imagineering has ever created.
However, it’s the heart that Pooh’s Hunny Hunt derives from the trackless tech that makes it something special. From the vehicles “gathering” around for story-time to bouncing with Tigger to spinning in Pooh’s dream with Heffalumps, you feel like a part of Pooh’s ragtag band of friends in this highly imaginative ride. It doesn’t hurt that all of the sets and Audio Animatronics are highly detailed and advanced, either. All of that, plus the charm of Winnie the Pooh, makes this a new classic and the gold standard of Tokyo Disneyland’s dark rides.
Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance (N/A Sarah, #3 Tom) – This is the pinnacle of modern Imagineering, and barring a big surprise out of Fantasy Springs at Tokyo DisneySea, will hold that title for the next decade to come. More than that, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance redefines what a theme park attraction can be. It blurs the boundaries of queue, pre-show, attraction, and puts guests in the middle of an intergalactic adventure.
What makes Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance so mind-blowing is massive set pieces, seamless blending of technology and physical sets, and a slew of how did they do that moments. The result with Rise of the Resistance is something epic in scale that feels more like an interactive blockbuster film than it does a traditional theme park ride. As cliche as it might sound, you’re “living your own Star Wars story” in Rise of the Resistance, and in the center of the action from the moment you enter the line until you exit.
Country Bear Christmas (#3 Sarah, #4 Tom) – The rule limiting ourselves to only one version of each attraction might as well be called the “Country Bear Commandment.” Otherwise, there would be three incarnations of that stage show on the list–the original version in Magic Kingdom, plus Vacation Jamboree and Jingle Bell Jamboree at Tokyo Disneyland.
Our love of Country Bears is well documented. In a nutshell, the attraction represents Disney at its best: a mix of quirkiness, sharp humor, charming characters, and memorable music. It also manages tremendous world-building and character development in a short amount of time. (Think about how many attractions actually succeed at this–there’s a reason so many lean on preestablished characters.) It’s an attraction that works on multiple levels and even alternating between English and Japanese.
Country Bear Christmas takes the spirit of the original to the next level with added visual gags, while also softening up some of that sharpness (that can be off-putting to modern audiences) with the warmth, schmaltz, and sentimentality of the holiday season. Like the top 2, Country Bear Christmas eschews impressive technology and wow-worthy effects for heart and personality, which wins every time with us.
Mystic Manor (#2 Sarah, #2 Tom) – This might come as a surprise since we don’t heap as much effusive praise on Mystic Manor as the other top 5 picks, but such is the nature of anything at Hong Kong Disneyland. However, we have in the past said that Mystic Manor is alone worth the trip to Hong Kong. That’s still true.
Mystic Manor immerses guests in the action, making them feel like an active part of the experience. Although it’s constantly and erroneously compared to Haunted Mansion, I’d liken to more to the original Journey into Imagination. For one, various effects actively engage guests and the quality of Danny Elfman’s score mirrors that EPCOT Center classic.
More importantly, it pairs you with Albert, who is a spiritual successor to Figment. Albert’s sense of childlike wonder and curiosity gets the best of him–and by extension, you–on this spellbinding Magneto-Electric Carriage tour of Lord Henry’s manor. You can’t help but fall in love with Albert, in large part because he’s a stand-in for your child (or yourself as a child). In fact, I’d go as far as to say that Albert is “more Figment” than the incarnation of the current character inhabiting Epcot’s Imagination pavilion. Mystic Manor is another modern masterpiece with tons of heart.
Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage (#1 Sarah, #1 Tom) – If we’re concocting constrained hypotheticals, we would fly to Japan just to ride Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage and literally nothing else. If we could only to pick one attraction to ride one Disney attraction again for the rest of our lives (hopefully over and over), we’d choose Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage without hesitation.
Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage is the only attraction on this blog with two dedicated posts (most have 0): one calling it Disney’s best modern dark ride, and another reminding everyone that it’s still awesome. Best described to those who haven’t experienced it as a cross between Pirates of the Caribbean and it’s a small world, that doesn’t even begin to do the boat ride justice. From its duration to the number of Audio Animatronics to the catchy Alan Menken song to Chandu the Tiger to the other adorable critters and so much more, Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage is a pure delight. If you know, you know.
Hope you enjoyed our worldwide Disney attraction rankings. Keep in mind that this list is all in good fun–and forced us to make some incredibly difficult decisions. Most Disney fans have strong allegiances towards their favorites and take offense when they feel they feel slighted. Remember that this is the opinion of two random people on the internet. At the end of the day, it doesn’t impact your enjoyment of your favorite attraction if it doesn’t make our list, nor does our opinion matter (at all) in the grand scheme of things. This list is worth about as much as you paid to read it! 😉
What are your top 10 Disney attractions in the world? It doesn’t matter how many parks you’ve visited, we’re still interested in knowing some other favorites. Who’s list is better–Sarah’s or Tom’s? Do you think we missed any that should have made the list, or made any poor choices? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!
Yay! Sinbad!!! We love Chandu and wish he was stateside both for the kawaii but also the fact a long, indoor, A/C journey would be amazing in Florida.
I love your list and agree with most of it (Pooh’s Hunny Hunt and Mystic Manor are family faves) but my eldest would say the backstory on Tokyo’s Tower of Terror puts it up near the top for us. We also enjoyed TRON in Shanghai but that may be due to the fact we had zero issues getting Fastpasses for it so the wait vs thrill ratio was higher.
Here’s to Disney continuing to innovate and imagine so the lists keep growing and changing.
The great and funny thing about rides is that expectations can really change the experience from trip to trip. After reading all the tepid reviews for Ratatouille and Mickey’s Runway, I ended up having a blast and absolutely loving them, while being slightly disappointed by RotR simply because I was expecting unreachable greatness. I do think that there is a lot of bland empty space in a lot of scenes but there is no denying the ambition behind it all.
I think nostalgia also ends up spicing up all of our personal lists. That being said nostalgia has it’s limits, we just came back from a very crowded February trip and the fact that Peter Pan’s Flight still has a 100 min + wait in 2022 has to be addressed. People… it’s not worth it…. we can let it go and move on ! 😉
Add me to the Flight of Passage > RotR column, so y’all are definitely not alone! I have only been to the U.S. parks, so I don’t want to make a list when there’s so much great stuff I haven’t seen. But when it comes to FoP vs. RotR, it’s an easy decision for me. I think with Rise, it’s amazing the first time but then all the surprises aren’t surprising on repeat rides. There’s nothing new to notice. We go to the parks a lot but only do Rise once a year to keep it feeling fresh and to give us a chance to forget as much as possible. We try to go on FoP every chance we get, and no matter how many times we go on it, we notice something new to look at every time. Plus flying beats rolling around in a space droid any day! FoP is definitely in my top 3, and I think only knocked down because of childhood nostalgia for Pirates (DLR version, do I even have to clarify??) and HM.
You make all make good points about Flight of Passage, and we don’t disagree. It’s in both of our top 10 lists for Walt Disney World, as the ride is majestic, perfectly-paced, and brimming with detail. Definitely one of WDW’s best additions in the last 20 years.
When you’re limiting a list to the top 10 worldwide, a lot of 10/10 attractions get snubbed. In this case, Flight of Passage just missed both of our top 10s! 🙂
Just got back from Disney World for the 20thb time. I agree with Kathleen D on Avatar, it is awesome the way you can hear and feel the Bansgee breathe. And I definitely agree with her on RofR. it is extremely overrated. If I hadn’t had a LL pass and waited 3 hours in line I would have been extremely angry and disappointed. The imagineers could of used some of the millions of dollars spent on concrete to add more excitement to this ride. They knocked it out of the park with Avatar, but whiffed completely on RofR.
Sindbad is an absolute treasure. You truly feel like you’ve gone on an epic adventure. The “return to port” sequence as the everyone celebrates Sindbad’s adventures brings a tear to my eye every time. It’s just all so sincere and heartfelt.
It’s interesting you compare Mystic Manor to Journey Into Imagination since the trackless ride system has long felt like the clear choice for a reimagined version of the Epcot attraction. I’ve convinced myself that the room switcheroo effect at the end of Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway was first conceived for a would-be new version of Journey Into Imagination that never saw the light of day. All “mouse logic” aside such a beat could have been more in line with the anything-is-possible-with-imagination spirit of wonder from the original attraction than the look-at-what-we-can-do vibe it has a Runway Railway.
As much as I enjoy Runaway Railway, I’m not sure I’d feel the same about a similar attraction with Figment. It’s just very chaotic and loud–like a cartoon should be–rather than full of wonder and curiosity.
Still, you raise an interesting point–I really wonder what was planned for the abandoned JII overhaul!
Soarin’ is not on this list. Seems a bit blasphemous!
I’ve been to every Disney park. Surprised to see you place classic Pirates over Shanghai’s. To me, Shanghai’s Pirates is tied with ROTR for best Disney Attraction in the world. Mystic Manor a close runner-up to those two. Sinbad is a Top 5 for sure.
Shanghai Pirates is fantastic, but I just don’t see it standing the test of time in the same way. So if forced to choose one PotC, it’d be one of the classic version. With that said, Shanghai’s would also make a top 20 without that restriction.
What a fun list – thanks for sharing!
This is probably sacrilegious to say, but I actually prefer the GotG: Mission Breakout version to the Tower of Terror. They are both amazing rides, but the ToT always scares me just a little bit, while on GotG, I find myself laughing the entire time. I guess it’s a compliment to Imagineering that they can take two essentially identical rides and have them feel so very different.
Since I’ve not yet been to the overseas parks, my top ten would have to include BTMR, Mr Toad, Expedition Everest and Flight of Passage too. Haunted Mansion will always and forever be my number one.
Mission Breakout has grown on me a lot–and is a TON of fun–but not top 10 material for us. Very good–much better than we ever expected it would be–though!
My Top 10 in no particular order:
-Haunted Mansion (Magic Kingdom or Tokyo Disneyland)
-Pirates (any non-Floridian version)
-Space Mountain (Disneyland)
-Big Thunder Mountain (Paris)
-Mystic Manor (Hong Kong)
-Tower of Terror (Hollywood Studios)
-Pooh’s Hunny Hunt (Tokyo Disneyland)
-Journey to the Center of the Earth (Tokyo DisneySea)
-Indiana Jones (Tokyo DisneySea)
-Matterhorn Bobsleds (Disneyland)
You had me up until Matterhorn Bobsleds. You must really hate your back! 😉
Does Country Bear have a holiday overlay this year?
Avatar Rite of Passage. And the more you ride it, the more transcendental it becomes.
I also might be the only person in the world who thinks Rise of the Resistance is over-rated; the size and the scope are impressive but, beyond that, only so-so.
I have to fully agree on Sinbad in the #1 spot! When at DisneySeas, I have yet to ride it without wanting to get back on again (which I usually do!) I’ve ridden both pre and post versions with Menken music, and the soundtrack took the entire experience over the top. Great sets, awesome animatronics, memorable characters, and one of the best songs of any theme park ride. A really magical ride.
My own list would include Expedition Everest as the gold standard for a highly themed pure roller coaster. Perhaps the lack of a fully functioning Yeti keeps it off the list though:). Indy at Disneyland has always been a top pick for me but on our last trip so many of the effects weren’t working that it was almost a letdown. I wish they would bring the fireball effect from the Tokyo version to give it some life!
Sarah’s #10 Carousel of Progress and TTA People Mover are right on! Carousel of Progress was delightful, but the TTA People Mover has always been one of my favorites at the Magic Kingdom. It looks inviting and does not disappoint. It’s a great way to escape the Florida heat and a relaxing way to get an overview of Tomorrowland. Loved going through a portion of Space Mountain. Great ride for people over 65 and those exhausted from touring!
P.S. My all-time-favorite is Toy Story Mania at Hollywood Studios.
We *did* go to Tokyo Disney just to ride Sinbad (in 2019) and it was closed for 2020 Olympic refurbishments, lol. It was a layover turned stay over but still gotta return for that ride. As for the rest of the lists Radiator Springs racers, Pirates (Disneyland’s of course) and Rise of the Resistance are all our favorites too, but we MUST include Disney Paris Big Thunder Mountain. We love that ride and it’s partnership with Phantom Manor (the Paris Haunted Mansion). We rode both over and over on our first trip to Paris and still compare all others to those.