Haunted Mansion is as impressive today as when it first opened in Disneyland in 1969, and is one of a handful of attractions (literally, about 5) that stand the test of time to be as relevant and appealing to current audiences as they were when they opened.
Haunted Mansion’s success comes from the fact that it is not driven by any recognizable technology that could date the experience and because its humor and spookiness works on multiple levels. Each of the scenes can be taken at face value for what it offers in terms of the imagery on display, or attempts can be made at deeper analysis.
So many of the vignettes in Haunted Mansion have a memorable, graphic aspect that burn themselves into your memory, and the same can be said of “Grim Grinning Ghosts” and the wonderfully-quotable lines of dialogue from the Ghost Host. If you asked 10 different people what makes Haunted Mansion so memorable and iconic, you’re likely get 10 different answers. This is the great strength of Haunted Mansion.
3. Radiator Springs Racers
Radiator Springs Racers makes the list because of its scale and scope, with both a beautiful outdoor section through the mountains, and well-done indoor dark ride. The overall experience is detailed, incredibly fun, thrilling, and transportive. This transportive quality is especially noteworthy. Even today, as we walk through Cars Land towards Radiator Springs Racers, we feel like we’re in a remote part of the Cadillac Mountains.
In reality, there are hotels and the busy intersection of Harbor Blvd. & Katella immediately behind those mountains. The attraction is a marvel of themed design and uses some impressive technology to create a captivating experience for guests. Even 5 years after its opening, Radiator Springs Racers still draws the longest lines at Disneyland Resort…and likely will be the most popular attraction at Disney California Adventure for years to come. All for good reason.
2. Indiana Jones Adventure
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 it received a few years ago elevated Indiana Jones Adventure even further (not that it needed it!). All things considered, it’s my personal favorite attraction at Disneyland–the ride I’d do if someone told me I could only do one attraction at Disneyland.
1. Pirates of the Caribbean
While Indiana Jones Adventure is my personal favorite, I don’t think it’s the best attraction at Disneyland. That crown goes to Pirates of the Caribbean (because if I didn’t give the crown to them, the bloody pirates would probably just steal it, anyway). Pirates of the Caribbean is basically The Godfather (or Citizen Kane…your pick) of Disneyland.
The Disneyland version benefits significantly from its extended duration, which slowly builds tension. The foreshadowing and general tone of the narrative frameworks is superior here, as it establishes the ‘cautionary tale’ nature of the attraction, and suggests pirate life was grim. From there, the attraction transports guests to an era when pirates pillaged the Caribbean, putting guests in the midst of the action and misadventures.
Along the way, guests encounter gags and now-iconic depictions of caricatured pirates in a way that neither really glorifies or demonizes pirates. This has led to controversy and changes over the years, with even more coming soon. Despite both the controversies and changes, Pirates of the Caribbean remains the quintessential Disneyland attraction. It’s transportive, eerie, beautiful, wacky, and even thought-provoking. The fact that a theme park attraction can accomplish so much and elicit so many differing emotions and reactions is impressive, and probably does a better job speaking to the artistic merit of theme parks than any attraction ever.
What do you think are the top 10 Disneyland attractions? Have any personal favorites that didn’t make the list? Anything here that you think does not belong? 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!