There are a surprising number of rides that fly under the radar at Walt Disney World, having short lines while nearby thrill rides have multi-hour wait times and competitive Lightning Lanes. This is our list of the top 10 underrated attractions in Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom, all of which are routinely walk-ons (or close to it) and are great additions to your itinerary.
By its very nature, this list is bound to be controversial. If something is unpopular at Walt Disney World, there is usually a reason for it. In the case of these attractions, guests are voting with their feet and opting to do the high-profile headliners like Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, TRON Lightcycle Run, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, Avatar Flight of Passage–you get the idea.
Point being, it’s no accident that some rides have 60+ minute wait times while others have 5-minute lines. There is no such thing as a “secret” ride at Walt Disney World, so more guests are necessarily choosing to wait in long lines for the popular rides and shunning the unpopular ones. There’s bound to be a lot of disagreement about a list like this as a result, as most guests are skipping these attractions on purpose. Accordingly, we’re starting from a pretty simple but presumptuous premise: what if everyone else is wrong?!
It’s not far-fetched to contend that just because something is popular doesn’t necessarily mean it’s high-quality. It’s fair to say that the Kardashians, Real Housewives of [Insert City], Love Island, The Bachelor, The Voice, etc. are not exactly the pinnacle of programming. Even most viewers of those shows recognize them as guilty pleasures.
The idea is different, but at least somewhat similar, with Walt Disney World attractions. Don’t get us wrong–we love Slinky Dog Dash and think it’s a must-do attraction at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Same goes for Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster or Space Mountain. Roller coasters are crowd pleasers and have a place at Walt Disney World, helping offer much-needed variety.
We wouldn’t want entire parks consisting of nothing but those types of thrill rides, though. They all have a decent amount of ‘thematic packaging,’ but they’re also relatively simple and straightforward roller coasters. If that’s all Walt Disney World offered, frankly, we would not visit in the first place. Other amusement and theme parks do thrill rides better than Disney, so why not opt for a cheaper regional park instead if you’re a thrill junkie?
While we make a point of doing the thrill rides, for us, one of the big reasons to pay the premium pricing of Walt Disney World is for the attractions that only Imagineering can create. Experiences that distinguish Disney from the competition–that are unique and unlike anything you’ll find at Six Flags, Cedar Point, Busch Gardens, etc.
All of those parks can do roller coasters–and honestly, they can do them much better than Disney (and for cheaper). You may not ride around on the back of a dachshund or hurtle through outer space, but the essence of those rides is the thrills–not the theme–and those chains are all doing it as good or better than Disney. And why wouldn’t they? That’s their specialty!
Walt Disney World’s specialty is something else entirely–immersively themed experiences that suspend disbelief and transport you to another time or place. Imagineering’s best attractions are ones you won’t find anywhere else, with a level of worldbuilding or uniqueness that regional amusement parks aren’t even attempting.
If wait times are any indication, most guests disagree with these assessments. But in fairness, a very high percentage of Walt Disney World visitors on any given day are first-time, one-and-done guests. They’d doing Disney as a rite of passage vacation to check a box or to see characters their kids love. Most are not drawn to Walt Disney World for the unique attractions or Imagineering’s attention to detail.
So when you take those guests who are visiting for the highlight reel and add to them the Disney diehards (like us!) who also make a point of doing everything, it’s no surprise the thrill rides and other popular attractions have longer lines and higher wait times than what’s on this list.
But we’d hazard a guess that if you looked at which attractions are the best predictors of being a lifelong Walt Disney World fan (the ones with the highest ratio of repeat visitors vs. one-and-done guests), many of the rides below would be near the top of that list. In that regard, it’s not so much about everyone else being wrong–it’s about the people who see Disney as something special recognizing these as ‘sleeper attractions’ that are worth doing even as the masses pass by…
Carousel of Progress – This is a list of underrated rides rather than attractions, which is a purposeful way of excluding stage shows. Otherwise, the entire list could be populated by those. Since stage shows do not move, they technically are not rides–but they are attractions. (It’s sorta like how every square is a rectangle, but not every rectangle is a square.)
Carousel of Progress–the stage show that moves–is the lone exception to that, and we couldn’t resist including it. Carousel of Progress speaks to the optimists, and gives hope about the promise of a brighter tomorrow. Not because it features anything resembling futurism at this point, but because it highlights the evolution of society and what prior generations have produced–even as they faced their own challenges–and how the lives of ordinary Americans changed for the better.
The two other big selling points are history and humor. A Walt Disney-era original that was first designed decades ago for the 1964 World’s Fair, Carousel of Progress is one of the most important attractions in the history of theme parks. From the music by the Sherman Brothers (Disney Legends who basically wrote the soundtrack for generations of childhoods) to little details, it oozes history. For fans like us, there’s also our personal history–and nostalgia–with Carousel of Progress.
That sentimentality would not exist if Carousel of Progress were a forgettable snooze. It endures because the attraction has so much humor, and because the Carousel of Progress characters have so much character. Probably more than any other attraction at Walt Disney World, the ‘Progress’ family has personality, and it’s enjoyable to grow old with them, so to speak.
Like so many entries on this list, Carousel of Progress is a ‘warts and all’ attraction, and we’re not pretending that it’s perfect or has aged gracefully. Our fondness for Carousel of Progress likely has to do with our focus on its strengths and being okay with datedness. Whereas the first-timers who unwittingly wander into this slow-paced show probably focus on the antiquated references to laser discs and car phones, and wonder why it still exists. Either way, it’s worth not skipping as a spot to get off your feet and recharge during a long day at MK.
Under the Sea ~ Journey of the Little Mermaid — Not everything on this list is going to be a favorite of lifelong Walt Disney World fans, and this is probably the best example of that. Under the Sea ~ Journey of the Little Mermaid is the newest attraction on this list, having opened about a decade ago in New Fantasyland. Upon debuting, it was not particularly well-received by WDW diehards, who were expecting something more out of the first new major ride at Magic Kingdom in ages.
We think it’s time for a critical reappraisal of Under the Sea ~ Journey of the Little Mermaid. Opinions of this dark ride are still tainted by the initial impression, which was understandably harsh given the circumstances at the time. But a lot has changed since then, and countless new attractions have been added at Walt Disney World. Yet judging by wait times, this has never fully recovered from those harsh first reviews.
In our view, Under the Sea ~ Journey of the Little Mermaid is pretty far from perfect. The Audio Animatronics are a bit lifeless, some scenes fail to engage, and the style does it no favors. Every single one of these critiques could also be leveled at Peter Pan’s Flight. Like that dark ride, this also has a transportive factor–taking guests under the sea instead of soaring above London. Unlike that, there are a few wow moments in the Little Mermaid dark ride, including the titular song’s scene and a couple of jaw-dropping Audio Animatronics. (Both have underrated queues, but we’d give the edge to Little Mermaid.)
To wit, if someone asked me whether they should wait 60 minutes for Peter Pan’s Flight or 10 minutes for Under the Sea ~ Journey of the Little Mermaid, I’m recommending the latter in an instant. Honestly, if you remove nostalgia from the mix…I’m probably recommending Journey of the Little Mermaid even if wait times are identical. But they never are! With this frequently being a walk-on, it’s not to be skipped!
Dinosaur – This is such a tricky one, as Dinosaur is both objectively underrated and subjectively overrated. On average, the wait time is low–lower than it should be given the quality of Dinosaur as it exists. And to be sure, this is among the top 33% of attractions at Walt Disney World in terms of quality. There are some great Audio Animatronics, the pre-show is a cult classic, the premise is clever, and the ride is just flat-out fun.
With that said, Dinosaur is subjectively overrated in the sense that a lot of fans really love it and are going to be devastated when Dinosaur closes. We feel for these fans, and wouldn’t dare make light of what they’re going to lose in a year or so. We’ve also mourned the closure of underrated, outdated, or otherwise underperforming attractions.
Dinosaurs deserved better. It’s a travesty this ride and the land it occupies never lived up to their full potential. Worse yet, that Walt Disney World is replacing them rather than improving the land based on the awesomest animal of all-time (edging out hammerhead sharks, which are basically aquatic dinosaur reboots).
However, there’s also the reality that Dinosaur squanders most of its potential. It feels like a knock-off of Indiana Jones Adventure, but with 75% of the ride in darkness. Despite using the same ride system and having a substantially similar track layout, Dinosaur is “only” in the top 33% of Walt Disney World rides, whereas Indiana Jones Adventure is in the top 5% of Disneyland rides. See? Both underrated and overrated–the Dinosaur paradox!
Astro Orbiter — Here’s another one that probably won’t resonate with the lifelong fans. However, in that rambling preface, one of the key points I was trying to make is that it takes a wide variety of rides to round out the Walt Disney World experience. Spinners and flat rides are one such type!
Without question, the most popular of this style of attraction is Dumbo and Mad Tea Party. Those are two iconic Walt Disney World attractions for good reason, and are important for any rite-of-passage trip for the memories and taking fun photos while riding. Alien Swirling Saucers is also popular…but arguably not for good reason.
While we’d never recommend anyone skip Dumbo or Mad Tea Party, we’d argue that the best and most memorable experience–if setting aside nostalgia and sentimentality–is Astro Orbiter at night. There’s nothing like blasting off in a rocket high above Tomorrowland, amidst the glow of neon and sounds of this vibrant land. If anything, the diehards don’t give Astro Orbiter nearly enough credit. Simple, brilliant, and worth not skipping.
But is it, really? We love Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run and think it’s a better overall attraction from start to finish, with tons of Imagineered depth and detail (all of which matters a lot–see above!) plus the wish fulfillment of stepping into the cockpit and flying the Millennium Falcon.
Star Tours is the better ride, though. The settings are superior, is jam-packed with characters, and has a pretty good start-to-finish packaging of its own with a brilliant queue and pre-show. And unlike Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, the ride portion of Star Tours is not the Star Wars equivalent of being an “interactive” for UPS delivery person. Every time I do Star Tours, I’m reminded of how good it is. That isn’t nearly often enough, either, especially given that Star Tours often has a 5-minute wait when Smugglers Run is over an hour!
Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin — It’s hard to argue that this is underrated, as it has the #7 highest wait time at Magic Kingdom. Both fans and first-timers seem to like Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin well enough. But hear me out.
Gamified attractions are incredibly popular, and within that category, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin underperforms. (For this same reason, you could argue that Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is objectively underrated–it lags behind all other major roller coasters at Walt Disney World. We think it that iconic ride is pretty well-loved and it would strain credulity to call it underrated, though.)
In any case, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin is far less popular than Toy Story Mania or the vast majority of other game-based attractions at other Disney parks. Again, it comes down to being a ‘warts and all’ attraction. There is a lot about it that’s antiquated as compared to other shooters, with holdovers from prior incarnations of the attraction.
However, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin also has selling points not found in most other game-based rides. We love how it uses physical show scenes to make it engaging for guests who want to experience the attraction passively. Some of the staging, props, and Audio Animatronics are really cool. The interactivity is fun but enjoyment is not predicated upon it–you could sit back and watch, and still have fun. That’s not the case with Toy Story Mania or other screen-based game rides. Walt Disney World could use more attractions like this–it just needs some TLC.
Regardless, we love this slow-moving dark ride that highlights how human communication has evolved via Audio Animatronics and historical scenes. We think that humanity’s shared story is a compelling one and the ride’s location inside EPCOT’s iconic geodesic sphere is really cool. Not only that, but it’s one of the few remaining Audio Animatronics-heavy attractions in all of Walt Disney World, and there’s something impressive and novel about seeing dozens of robots in fully-realized physical environments.
For us, there’s still a novelty to Disney’s Audio Animatronics, and it’s timeless technology that still wows us. For many first-timers with short attention spans, it’ll miss the mark entirely and be boring–but those who give Spaceship Earth a chance and really pay attention to its details and message, it might be the spark that starts forming your fandom.
Living with the Land – It’s a very similar story here, as Living with the Land is the “Garden Ride” at Walt Disney World. If you explain this attraction to casual guests who dropped thousands of dollars on a Disney trip, they may scoff at the notion of “wasting” valuable vacation time to see plants. Worse yet, don’t tell them what it’s about and let them discover for themselves that a ride is attempting to teach them something rather than amuse and entertain. (The audacity!)
Real ones know, though. Living with the Land has it all–Audio Animatronics animals, the history of horticulture, future of farming, and a behind-the-scenes look at the greenhouses of EPCOT. It’s fun to see firsthand the innovative growing techniques, cross-breeding of high-yield crops, and a cornucopia of vegetables, fruits and fish farmed around the world.
I love Living with the Land, and I hate gardening. The ride is informative, interesting and inspiring–a true testament to human ingenuity. It’s also a great way to get off your feet and relax for a bit, and the way it’s always changing keeps things fresh and adds infinite re-rideability (probably another reason fans love it). Oh, and everyone should not skip Living with the Land when it’s decked out for Christmas!
Gran Fiesta Tour – This is a boat ride featuring two of the Three Caballeros (Jose Carioca and Panchito) with Mexico’s culture as a backdrop as they search for the third caballero (Donald Duck). Gran Fiesta Tour weaves culture together with Disney characters in a fun experience for anyone who likes boats, Mexico, fiestas, or waterfowl. And who doesn’t enjoy at least one thing from that trio?!
Gran Fiesta Tour is tucked away into the Mexico pavilion, and the biggest criticism is that it’s a minor attraction. The wait time reflects that, though, as does just about everything associated with the ride. It features a tie-in to an obscure movie, doesn’t offer Lightning Lane, and has zero hype.
Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover — This is the attraction we do more than any other at Walt Disney World. What we love about the PeopleMover is that it “forces” us to slow down, decompress, and converse. It’s the ultimate change of pace attraction, and for us, it presents the perfect opportunity to embrace why we visit Walt Disney World in the first place: to have fun together. So many other attractions engage you, individually, with the show scenes and ride experience, itself.
Because the show scenes are weak to non-existent, the PeopleMover does this to a far lesser degree than most other attractions. Largely, the TTA is pretty much whatever you want it to be. If you want a place to enjoy the nighttime ambiance of Tomorrowland, it’s that. If you want an attraction for socializing, it can be that. If you want to get off your feet and feel a nice breeze, it’s that. Heck, if you want a leisurely place to catch up on work emails, it can be that.
While we have many fond memories of the PeopleMover itself, what I think is even more significant is that the ride has given us the opportunity to sit back and reflect on experiences elsewhere in Magic Kingdom. In so doing, its significance is probably understated, if anything, as the PeopleMover has been a conduit for forming and strengthening those ‘core memories.’ Think of it as Magic Kingdom’s meditative moments attraction.
BONUS: All Other Transportation Rides — First-timers are dismissive of all transportation rides, whether they be the Main Street Vehicles, Walt Disney World Railroad, Liberty Square Riverboat, Wildlife Express Train, or even the actual novel transportation outside the parks. (Transportation is not just for getting from point A to B. The Skyliner is a top 25 ride at Walt Disney World and no one will convince me otherwise!)
Too many people expect rides to actively entertain or exhilarate. What ever happened to just being there, having a leisurely experience with family and friends, enjoying the sublime scenery? There’s truly no wrong way to enjoy Walt Disney World, a place that offers something for everyone, but if you have never taken the time to slow down and embrace the serenity and scenery, you aren’t doing it 100% right, either. 😉
Which attractions at Walt Disney World do you think are underrated and not to be skipped? Think there are any old school rides that are superior to the shiny new ones? Anything you think our list “snubbed” that belongs among WDW’s ‘sleeper’ rides? Do you agree or disagree with our list? 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!