For three years in a row, my girlfriend and I have taken the same vacation together to visit our good friend Mickey Mouse. Sure, he’s a rodent and never says a word when we see him in person, but he’s really good about putting a shirt on when you drop in. We could go somewhere else, but what type of rides will they have there? What if the answer is, “Uhm, the Grand Canyon doesn’t have rides, sir… well, maybe a scenic tour or something. Or I could throw you into the abyss – no line, no waiting!” That sounds a little bit too much like the Great Movie Ride to me… at least the Studio Backlot Tour has water, air canons and fire. Anyway, we keep going back to Disney World, and it’s still awesome.
But how awesome is it, and what is the most awesome? For us, it’s all about the thrill rides. Sure, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin is fun and the Hall of Presidents is a must see (I’m serious – it’s now narrated by Morgan Freeman, for crying out loud!), but I enjoy getting bounced around in confined spaces while contemplating if I’m about to die one of the dumbest deaths of all time. About half way through our trip, I convinced her that we should do this blog together and rank the Thrill Rides at Walt Disney World. Now I know that the roller coasters and what not don’t necessarily match up with a day at Six Flags Great Adventure, but they aren’t supposed to. Besides, Mickey has a ton of tricks up his sleeves… when he’s wearing them, that is.
Our initial discussion centered around what rides we were going to talk about in the first place, as the commencement of the post occurred when she asked me was how I ranked the Disney World Roller Coasters. We immediately realized that we had to widen our discussion to include other experiences that were thrilling, but not necessarily roller coasters. I thought about throwing the Primeval Whirl on here, but decided against it. It’s supposed to thrill, and it sort of does, but I don’t think it fits the spirit of the list we’re working with. Besides, it keeps killing Disney employees, which is a downer.
Jamie’s Rank: 11 of 11/My girlfriend’s Rank: 6 of 11 – If ever there was an attraction at Walk Disney World that wasn’t worth the hassle, it’s Soarin’. I mentioned the hassle because it’s immense and accounts for the only time I’ve ever been frightened of the other patrons at a theme park. I believe it was in January of 2008 when our Disney World Bus Driver advised us that we’d want to get a fastpass for Soarin’ before we did anything else (this is good advice, by the way, as you’ll soon see), which we did. We returned many hours later in the evening and were greeted by a rowdy standby line (that is, folks without a fastpass) who were making their displeasure at the long wait known. The guy who sends you off to the final part of the wait (where fastpass and standby riders are no longer divided) picked up his podium mic several times to ask for calm. I was never so relieved to move on to the next phase of the line, at the end of which, you watch a video staring one of my favorite actors, Patrick Warburton, that explains what’s going to happen once you get to the ‘ride’ itself: sit in a seat that lifts off the ground, which gently sways left, right, up and down as you watch a screen featuring video taken from a helicopter to simulate flying over California.
This year, we found that EPCOT wasn’t fooling around anymore: they added a security guard (elderly folks argued with the security guard as we walked passed) at the entrance to the fastpass line and they also increased the height of the walls separating the fastpass and standby lines. The ride seems to bring out the worst in people; despite multiple pleas from the EPCOT staff not to take photos or film the screen during the ride, people did anyway. The staff then had to ask over the loud speaker for one gentleman to stop filming three times before he consented.
The first time I experienced Soarin’, I thought it was a neat idea. The idea of a flight simulator that wasn’t simply a room that shook around seemed way over due, and this was it. They added some scents for extra effect (my deviated septum seems to repress these for the most part), which seems to be the new direction in this sort of entertainment, and I guess its the right way to go when you’re trying to create a virtual reality sort of experience. The more times I ride Soarin’, the less I enjoy it. Check the YouTube. I know the premise is that we’re flying over California and California is huge, but does the video have to be edited in such a choppy fashion? We’re at the beach, over a river, at a golf course, at Disneyland… sometimes, the Disney Imagineering folks do a great job of making me forget I’m in a room watching a video, but Soarin’ is not one of those times. Maybe if you sit in the center column of seats and you can’t see anything but the screen, the effect is better, but I’ve never had this opportunity, so I feel like I’m just really close to an IMAX screen in a moving seat. If you’ve never done it, you need to hit it up, but Soarin’ just doesn’t do it for me anymore. My girlfriend doesn’t feel that way – while she does concede that the level of enjoyment is conditional with where you sit, she’s a big fan of Soarin – she especially notes how she likes when they pipe in the smells in accordance with what you’re seeing – the ocean, the orange groves and the evergreen trees. This is one of the two rides we’re far apart on.
Jamie’s Rank: 10 of 11/My girlfriend’s Rank: 11 of 11 – We skipped Dinosaur this year, and I’m not sorry. Essentially, you ride around in a over sized jeep (a Time Rover) on a indoor track with this horrible guy’s voice guiding you as he sends you back to the age of the dinosaurs (or as he would probably say, ‘the age of the dinos’) to find a Iguanadon, a ‘dino’ that this guy wants to bring to the present. You ride around in the dark, sometimes over bumpy roads, sometimes going fast, sometimes slow, but most of the time, with that guy yelling, “Not our dino!” whenever you encounter a dinosaur that is not an Iguanadon, which is every single dinosaur (dino) you encounter throughout the entire ride until the end.
Dinosaur, despite good sound effects and decent animatronic dinosaurs, sucks. Like a lot of older Disney World rides (which this is not one of), Dinosaur does a lousy job of convincing me I’m not inside. It bounces around a lot and makes lots of loud noises coupled with flashing lights, but I just don’t care about what’s going on, and the experience necessitates that you do care if the Iguanadon makes it back to the present with you in the Time Rover, and I don’t at all. If TV and movies have taught us anything (and they probably haven’t), it’s that its never a good idea to bring a dinosaur to a city and/or to the present, and I guess I agree with this. Check out the YouTube – try to count the number of uses of the word ‘dino’ – and keep in mind this video doesn’t include the preshow movie.
Shocking – Disney built a ride around flying and another around time travel, and I don’t like either one of them. But buck up, folks – I get nicer from here.
Jamie’s Rank: 9 of 11/My girlfriend’s Rank: 10 of 11 – It made the list – its that much better than the Primeval Whirl (which always has a long line because Animal Kingdom is lame and there are only two other things to do there and one of them sucks – see Dinosaur above) – but then, I’ve never had much use for wild mouse roller coasters. The Barnstormer at Goofy’s Wiseacre Farm isn’t one, it’s what you expect when somebody says roller coaster, it’s just small. The line moves fast, the ride moves even faster, but it’s got some good dips and turns, and you never know which way you’re going or where your are, and I’m always surprised when its over. It’s a fun little ride that works for just about everybody, and given the quick wait time, it’s worth a look.
Jamie’s Rank: 8 of 11/My girlfriend’s Rank: 5 of 11 – Test Track is one of the fastest rides at Disney World, but that doesn’t make it the best. If you get stuck in a long line, you’re really in for a bad day because that first waiting room is full of all kinds of annoying noises – check the YouTube. Once you get through there, you’re in for one of those preshow movie rooms which I’ve come to really dislike over the years, but at least at Test Track, they got the room right – there are 3 different rooms and they’re all decent size. After a boring setup video that explains you’ll be riding in a test vehicle (instead of crash test dummies? that seems like a great idea!) around a course full of crazy calamities designed to test the GM prototype you’re sitting in. Then you get to stand in yet another line and then finally board the ride. The course includes a rough road test (I guess that’s fun), two break/turning tests, a room that’s really hot, a room that’s really cold, and a third room that says ‘Corrosion Chamber’ which features nothing but Hidden Mickeys. You drive around and have a near miss with a truck at a relatively low speed. Then there’s a fake out at the barrier test, and the barrier opens and you head outside and this, my friends, is where Test Track pours on the speed, going as fast as 65 MPH, which might not seem very fast, but when you’re high up in the air and going around a curve, it feels pretty fast. I wouldn’t wait too long for this, but its a fastpass ride, so it’s very doable.
Jamie’s Rank: 7 of 11/My girlfriend’s Rank: 7 of 11 – a must experience. However, I think it’s only fair to mention that this ride has literally killed someone with an undiagnosed heart condition, which prompted EPCOT to create two different Mission: SPACE experiences: Orange (intense) and Green (less intense). Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, Gary Sinise says, “It’s go time.”
Yeah, this ride is guided by Gary Sinise. How cool is that? Well, if you saw Mission to Mars, you might say that doesn’t sound cool at all, but if you only saw Apollo 13, then it’s all good. The YouTube can’t do this ride justice because this ride is all about the G-force the simulator creates combined with the visuals on the monitor. The best way to describe the experience is to say that it’s like being on a Gravitron (or a Starship 2000/3000 if you’re younger than me), but enclosed in a four person capsule with video screens and speakers and Gary Sinise, who is awesome. You lift off from earth, use the moon to sling shot to Mars and then crash land on Mars and you get to push buttons while feeling the Gs, which is, again awesome. For me, this never gets old.
I should point out that I’ve never tried the Green mission, because I’m very intense, so Green could be lame – I assume it generates less or no g-force, but I have no idea what the deal is with that. I don’t know for sure, but I would guess the Orange mission ride generates the most g-force for the longest periods of time than any other ride at Disney World.
Jamie’s Rank: 6 of 11/My girlfriend’s Rank: 2 of 11 – a must experience. Splash Mountain gets points for multiple drops (but mostly the big one at the end), including a story line in a log flume ride and for it’s overall bizarre imagery. Oh, and it’s water canon that randomly fires water at the bridge overlooking the last drop, not to mention that spot before the first incline where you may get drenched if you’re riding the flume at the wrong time.
Unless Captain EO is open (and as of this writing, it is!), Splash Mountain has to be the most bizarre experience at Disney Parks. As a kid, I spent my Magic Kingdom time divided between Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Space Mountain, as Splash Mountain didn’t exist at the time, so on my first trip down the river, I expected a theme, not an entire damn story featuring an animatronic rabbit, fox, bear, bird, turtle, and a bunch of other redneck critters. You actually spend most of your time indoors with these fellers, learning the tale of Briar Rabbit, who wants to leave home to seek adventure. It doesn’t seem like he gets very far before Briar Bear and Briar Fox decide they want to eat him and spring a trap, which Briar Bear springs on himself instead. A few drops later (including a pretty good one in the dark), you end up in the Laughing Place. Now I’ve been on this ride several times and taken many trip down the Laughing Place’s acid filled river, and I still have no idea what’s going on in there, except that everyone is high as hell. The rabbit, the turtle – all of ‘em must of sneaked a shot of Grandpa’s finest medicinal marijuana, because it’s all bonkers in there – even the bees are going crazy. I guess Briar Rabbit wakes up from his drunken haze to find that he’s caught by Briar Fox, and I’m pretty sure the fox says he’s going to cut the rabbit in half. Nice message for the kids! The rest of the ride is falling action – literally. You go over the big drop, it’s totally awesome, and for some reason, you don’t get hardly wet at all. Now folks who are getting on the bridge might think they’re getting wet from you dropping, but it’s actually a water canon that is synced with the log drop – the people who do get wet from the falling log are the folks waiting to go up the first incline at the start of the ride – if you’re in the wrong spot at the wrong time, you get totally drenched and you see it coming and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.
What else I can say about Splash Mountain? There are some fun drops and it’s weird as hell. You have about a 1 and 3 chance of getting totally soaked (in our experience).
Jamie’s Rank: 5 of 11/My girlfriend’s Rank: 4 of 11 – a must experience. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is the little train that can. I spent most of my younger years referring to it as ‘The Runaway Train’ and later, simply, ‘Thunder Mountain,’ never realizing it was so grandly billed. That’s my bad – it deserves it. What Thunder Mountain lacks in size and general roller coaster craziness, it makes up for in size, speed (perhaps perceived speed, but speed, never the less) and a lack of adequate restraints. I don’t think there is any other ride at any of the Disney Parks that bounces you around the way Thunder Mountain does. Maybe this isn’t always great; I’ve rammed many a rib into the side of this cagey beast as it cavorts sideways (or what feels like sideways) along one of its many turns.
Thunder Mountain was my first roller coaster and will always have a special place in my heart. Sure, I’m always half-worried I’m going to come flying out of my seat because of the crappy lap bar (when you sit down, the Park staff may tell you to fasten your seat belts and then sadly lament that there are no seat belts and you should do the best you can) that makes up the minimal restraints, which are responsible for bouncing you all over the place – well, I guess the track helps, too.
I’m a big fan of the tunnel that hides the third incline – as you near the summit, it looks like the track above is broken, but if you’re in the middle of the train, you’re headed down the hill before you can really process what’s happening. I haven’t found an adequate YouTube as a lot of the ride doesn’t have adequate video camera lighting, but this’ll do.
I’ve mentioned that Thunder Mountain rattles you all over the place, but it’s not like one of those wooden roller coasters that sounds, looks and feels like its going to fall apart at any moment, and while some people like that, I’m not a huge fan, and I think this makes it a better coaster. It’s great for kids who are a little nervous about their first roller coaster ride, but its got plenty of pop for adults. Its truly a family roller coaster, and it may be the last one.
Jamie’s Rank: 4 of 11/My girlfriend’s Rank: 8 of 11 – a must experience. Expedition Everest just barely gets ranked in a better position than Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, but it gets extra points for an animatronic monster, going backwards and alliteration. Yeah, again – it goes backwards. I can’t stress that enough; but unlike traditional rides that go backwards (Joker’s Revenge and Batman and Robin: The Chiller – huh neither of these roller coasters exist anymore), and you never see this one coming. It has that same ‘the track is out!’ ploy that’s only used as a visual on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, but this time, it’s the real deal – check the YouTube – there isn’t really a good YouTube for this ride because once you got backwards, you don’t go back the way you came, you go into one of the rides many tunnels and into darkness – I haven’t found a video yet where somebody threw on the night vision. Expedition Everest gets points for having video, or whatever you want to call that projection they throw up on the wall until you finally come face to face with the animatronic yeti or whatever it is – it does look a lot like the monster from the Matterhorn, huh? It’s way more impressive though.
Expedition Everest is unique experience – Disney refers to it as a ‘family thrill ride,’ but I would bet most little ones would be pretty unhappy with all the darkness, monsters and monster roaring. That’s not what makes it so unique: I’ve never been on a roller coaster that stops so many times and has so many track switches… in fact, I believe this is the ONLY roller coaster I’ve ever been on that has track switches. It’s not the fastest ride, and it’s not the tallest ride,but it gets it done while including plenty of imagination. It’s my kind of ride.
Jamie’s Rank: 3 of 11/My girlfriend’s Rank: 1 of 11 – a must experience. I’ve always thought that if a Disney ride was going to kill me, it’d be this one. But I love this ride anyway; it’s hard not to rank it number one, because I can ride it all day long – the sensation of dropping never gets old. I usually can’t get too excited about a free fall ride, but the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is excellent. The combination of weird imagery and music makes for an interesting buildup with a mighty payoff at the end. Tower of Terror provides a feeling I can’t really define, but if you’re ever worried that your ability to feel has gone stale, Tower of Terror will let you know you’re alive. I think they could use this bad boy as an alternative to a defibrillator.
Jamie’s Rank: 2 of 11/My girlfriend’s Rank: 3 of 11 – a must experience. It’s an oldy, but a goody, and it’s been refurbished, so the ride is smoother than ever. I believe I felt that since then, the Alpha track (left hand side) is smoother than the Omega track (right hand side), but maybe my memory is failing me… in any case, one side is definitely smoother than the other, and I feel like it’s picked up a MPH or two, but that could be my imagination. They also added some silly music that is only audible in specific areas of the ride, but that’s cool. It’s hard to beat a roller coaster in the dark, and although it doesn’t go upside down, it has a great 180 degree turn that, like the rest of the ride, you never see coming (because it’s dark), along with the 39 degree drop. I can remember being scared to death as a ten year old on this ride, and now that I’m older, I can appreciate why: Space Mountain is a pretty serious roller coaster.
Jamie’s Rank: 1 of 11/My girlfriend’s Rank: 9 of 11 – a must experience. The Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith has a ton of elements I like: it takes off right out of the gate, it goes upside down, and it rips the tears right out of my ducts. What else could you ask for in a roller coaster? Despite my feelings about Aerosmith, I love this ride, and give it my highest honor by bestowing it the title of my favorite Walt Disney World thrill ride. If ever there was a ride that made you feel like you could fly, it’s this one. It’s fast, it’s smooth and it does everything: aforementioned fast take off, upside down, and the cork screwing craziness. I wish they could find a way to cram another minute into it, but the ride is great… except the line. Waiting to get on The Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith is probably the worst queue experience at Walt Disney World. Whether you go Fast Pass or not, you’ll end up spending at least some amount of time just standing in the same spot, starring at the back of someone’s head. If you take the regular line, you’ll end up in that weird hallway with the guitar neck support columns featuring posters of a bunch of Disney musical acts and Queen – just a little out of place. You’re standing there, and then you stand there some more. This is one the rides my girlfriend and I are the farthest apart on; I leave the ride feeling exhiliarted, but she always ends up witha headache – somewhere between the midpoint and the end, she gets jostled around a lot in her head rest, and between the tedious wait and the loud music, she’s worse for wear when the experience is over.