Disneyland has been around for over 60 years now. Not every attraction has been open from that time, but there are some that have. Others are new, innovative rides that feature newer characters. Others are original, yet timeless. It might be hard to rank attractions that are such classics and at such an original park. But, I’m going to try….
Before giving the list, let me explain my criteria. I wont’ say that it’s what everyone should go by, but I’d like to think it’s some things Imagineers think of when they build the things they build.
One thing is theme/story. What kind of story is it telling? Is the story very prominent, or too hidden to be realized by guests? Imagineers tell stories through attractions and this is something that should be taken into consideration.
Then there’s detail. How detailed is the theme? Does it immerse the guest into the story? Disney is known for taking time and energy into little details that complete the attractions. It’s something to think about with how good the ride is. And not just in the ride, but the queue as well.
Another criteria is thrill/entertainment. Not every ride is thrilling, but can be entertaining. How thrilling is it? How entertaining is it? I know those can be a mega category for other aspects, but it’s something to consider.
Lastly is popularity. This could be the only category anyone would consider, but I think it’s just a factor. It says something if a ride has been very popular over time. It usually spells that timelessness and immersiveness that makes Disney great.
And, all of these will be on a 5 point scale.
So with that, here we go!
5. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
Big Thunder has a simple story that is carried out in the complex theme. The story is roughly where some mine trains got “spooked” and are running amuck throughout the mines. This is also one of the few attractions that has a theme carried out into the land it’s in…or rather the story starts outside the queue. Frontierland is a “town” that surrounds the mountain. You could imagine the mountain being part of the community. It’s theme is strong.
The simplicity may bring it down. It’s not entirely clear what the story is. Guests are not thinking about it as they are boarding or riding. However, it has more to it than some of the other “mountains.” Space Mountain has no clear story (other than flying through space, but why is it a mountain?). Matterhorn has a bit more of a story regarding the Abominable Snowman, but still not clear, and the theme is not executed well outside of the ride itself. Splash Mountain does have a good, solid story. We’ll get to why it’s not on the list later, but one of the reasons is the theme of the queue doesn’t quite fit the rest of the ride.
So, Big Thunder has the strongest theme out of all the mountains, in my book.
The execution of the theme lies in the detail of this attraction. There are many props, and fun written jokes amidst all of the queue and ride. Some of the props are from real mines. This kind of care and consideration gives a high grade to this category.
This attraction always offers fun thrills to many guests! As the safety spiel says, it’s the wildest ride in the wilderness. Though not the wildest ride in the park. It’s, what I would call, an entry level coaster. It’s family friendly and has some intensity for those wanting that kind of excitement.
Big Thunder is one of the more known and popular attractions of the park. Outside of Disneyland, people know about it. But, it isn’t an immediate go to ride. In the morning and often at night it has low lines. Still, the lines are consistent throughout the year. Many have it on their list to experience. Compared to the other mountains it’s not as popular as others. It gets points, but not high enough.
It makes the list, but has a low score to make it number 5.
4. Star Tours: The Adventure Continues
It’s easy to decipher what this story is about. We’re in settings from the Star Wars movies, aboard a shuttle with C3PO as pilot. Straightforward and explained. The story is great for the most part. It’s shown in scripts for each scene on the ride, especially because it’s random. Having that script and story that fits together is great.
So, why the middle number score? As a Star Wars fan, the timeline is odd. There are scenes from the prequels that can be in the same sequence as Force Awakens. It doesn’t quite fit together seamlessly.
From the queue to the exit there are so many elements that show off it being a spaceport. It’s a great theme that is executed well in the detail. It is the reason why it feels like we’re in the Star Wars universe when we ride. My only beef is with the extended queue. There’s not much detail to make it still feel like a spaceport. It doesn’t add to the story. And I took a point off for that.
Having random sequences makes for both a thrilling and entertaining venture. The simulator performs some wild maneuvers that provides breathtaking thrills too. The story itself provides some automatic entertainment too. It’s not the wildest ride in the park, though. And, for passholders, the scenes can be repetitive. The thing to look forward to in it all is trying to be the Rebel Spy. It’s got some high entertainment, but not the highest.
Star Tours has a fairly consistent lengthy line. Many want to ride it. But, I’d say it’s not always known well outside of the park. It can be on people’s lists of things to do, but not always. It’s mixed as far as priorities for people. So, it gets a middle score.
Good, but still not the top. It has solid value in all of the categories, though.
3. Pirates of the Caribbean
Pirates of the Carribean was one of the last rides worked on by Walt himself. Yes, it has changed with the addition of Jack Sparrow and crew, but the majority of elements are still there. I’d say the addition of the movie characters has helped solidify a story even more. It was a little vague previously as to if we were cursed and sent back, or if just the pirates were cursed. And, are we escaping or not at the end? Having Davey Jones makes it a little more known that he’s cursing us and we do escape.
It’s hard for me to give this score. I want it to be higher. It’s my favorite ride. But, the queue is lacking in quite a bit of ways. Granted, New Orleans Square itself is theme for the attraction, but the details don’t help explain why we’re getting into a boat. The detail really begins as we are at the loading dock. For that, it’s not high.
But, on the attraction there is a high volume of detail! From having the Blue Bayou to the side to having detail go far back into alleys of the town, it feels like we are in the middle of a night battle.
The music might be repetitive, but it’s a classic song that brings smiles to many faces. Besides the music, this ride is one of those classic, solid attractions that Walt Disney built for the enjoyment of guests. I’ll say there’s even thrill with the waterfalls. In all it’s just high seas fun!
Outside of the park it is one of the most well-known attractions (possibly the most known). It’s spawned a movie franchise. The song is easy to remember. It’s on people’s must do lists when visiting the park. But, it doesn’t always have a long line. It’s still a bit looked over. Some of the short lines is the ability to have high capacity go through, but it still isn’t grabbing tons of people at a time. Just a point off for that, though.
It fits right in the middle of top attractions. It’s my favorite, but I’ll admit to it having some faults.
2. Haunted Mansion
There’s been claims of having a deep story lore that explains why the Mansion is the way it is. Sometimes having to do with a pirate mariner. Other times involving a bride. Whatever the case may be there is something about the way the theme is developed that provides a bigger mythology to the attraction than is presented. Having a rich theme gives it a life of its own (I realize the irony of that comment). So, the only reason to not give it a higher score is that the story is not ever clear. Though there’s narration, it’s not known what part we play. Nonetheless, there’s still something there that has created a bigger picture.
There are rich details abound to create a creepy atmosphere and amazing immersiveness. Railings have faces on the ornaments. Gravestones fill the queue. Even the wallpaper has eyes that stare! Everything is selected to give off a ghoulish display. The building even blends in to the New Orleans environment around it. All of it makes this the center of the land, though it’s on the very edge of it. There is so much that was put in to make this a complete attraction.
The ride has a memorable song, great script, and spooky atmosphere. It’s a delightful trip through a haunted house. Thrills come at the scare factor. There are surprises around a few corners. But, much of the entertainment is from effects that wow guests even though they are well over 40 years old.
I’ve talked to people that know very little else of Disneyland except for this attraction. That’s amazing to me that it has the kind of reputation it has beyond the park. People know about it whether they’ve ridden or not. Though it sometimes has no line it is still a must do on guests’ lists. Perhaps the lack of line at times is because of the efficiency of ride vehicles. It still can get a large one depending on the season.
Probably what keeps it back is the lack of solid, known story. But, it comes close to being top score.
1. Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Forbidden Eye
Indiana Jones is rich in its own mythology. Temple of the Forbidden Eye expands the serials of Indy, but also creates a deep lore of its own. It’s also easy to recognize the plot. Even though it’s not originally a Disney property, the story is an Imagineer original with great depth. In all, it’s hard to not say there’s rich history that unfolds around guests.
This is one of the few attractions that starts before entering the queue. The Jungle Cruise makes reference to it. The store across the way does too. Then there’s the queue. There is no other line like it at Disneyland. Guests can interact with it. An alphabet was even created for what is on the walls. All of these show off the amount of detail that was put in the attraction to put guests into the Indiana Jones action. And I haven’t even talked about the ride itself! There is hardly anything that takes people out of the environment. It deserves the high score. It sets the bar.
Indy takes the cake in many ways. It’s got a random factor! It’s got excitement! It’s got thrills in the wild ride it takes guests on! It’s got it all! And, again, it’s not just in the ride but even in the queue. Guests enjoy the surroundings and the little interactive elements as they wait to board the transports. It gets the big score in this category.
Indy consistently has a line. It’s hard to go to it as a “walk on.” And it’s everyone’s must do when they visit. Indiana Jones is many people’s favorite ride at Disneyland. It wins this category hands down. It’s certainly towards the top of popular attractions at the park.
Indy wins with getting top score. Granted, this is all according to me, but keep in mind that Pirates is my favorite attraction. I think Indiana Jones Adventure is top class as far as attractions go in the park.
But, what do you think about this list? Is there one or many that I left off the top 5 that should be here? Let us know in the comments!