The Best Dark Rides at Disney World

Walt Disney World is home to a large variety of attractions, from water rides, roller coasters, meet & greets to 3D & 4D videos, audio-animatronic experiences and everything in between.

One of my favorite category of ride is the classic Dark Ride, which made its first appearance in the late 19th century and has been showing up in World Expos and theme parks ever since.

Before we get into the actual list, it’s important to mention that a “Dark Ride” can actually have multiple incarnations and elements that may or may not be involved in every part of the attraction.

  • Interactive – which brings together a story with an activity, such as shooting targets for score
  • Trackless – which utilizes vehicles that don’t require guide rails
  • Enclosed Coasters – which mixes the thrills with indoor themed features

I’ll be separating the list into two categories, for a little more fun!

This means that everything on this list are attractions that you get into a ride vehicle and travel from scene to scene through a series of cleaver transitions.


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Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance

Star Wars Rise of the Resistance
Star Wars Rise of the Resistance (Image: Dustin Fuhs / StepstoMagic)

Rise of the Resistance is a mix of dark ride, walkthrough experience, motion simulator and all out immersive classic “Disney” ride. It’s a must-see, must-do and definitely worth the wait and/or expense.

PETER PAN’S FLIGHT

I’m a huge fan of this ride, but it’s mostly because it’s an opening day attraction that I’ve prioritized as an Early Entry experience or a Genie+ choice. The ability to get into a pirate ship and fly through the scenes of a classic story like Peter Pan, filled with pixie dust, is just so much fun!

THE HAUNTED MANSION

The Doom-Buggy is one of my favorite ride vehicles, so when you put that together with scenes like the Graveyard, The Attic and everything in between…you’ve got an instant Disney Classic Dark Ride.

THE MANY ADVENTURES OF WINNIE THE POOH

Theming is what brings most Dark Rides into the conversation, so when you board the ride vehicle (your personal honey pot) and travel through a well-themed story with a beginning, middle and end….it’s pure Disney storytelling!

Most guests overlook this attraction, but it’s one of the easiest last-minute Genie+ attractions to get when you’re in the Magic Kingdom, so why not?

IT’S A SMALL WORLD

Although the Disneyland version is the one that Walt Disney personally had his hands on, the Walt Disney World attraction is still a classic Disney dark ride in every sense of the description.

If only they would switch out the original version of the song with the Baha Men remix;)

THE SEAS WITH NEMO AND FRIENDS

I have a personal connection with this attraction, and it’s not because the seagulls are some of my favorite characters in the Disney lineup! It’s actually due to the fact that, as a cast member, I had the opportunity to do an early morning behind-the-scenes tour of the attraction.

Not to spoil anything at all, but the story elements and technologies that bring this Dark Ride to life would blow your mind! It’s actually home to a Kuka Arm, which is the same robotic arm that allows you to experience Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey…but in the Seas with Nemo…it powers the Angler Fish!

Serious power behind that scene and one of the reasons why I’ll always walk my 10,000 steps to get from the front door through the queue to the clamshells lol!


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NOW HERE’S A LIST OF THE BEST DARK RIDES AT WALT DISNEY WORLD

The attractions on this list either are fully enclosed experiences that bring story-telling to the forefront OR they are just plain old fashioned Disney fun that deserve to be here! (Alphabetical)

BUZZ LIGHTYEAR’S SPACE RANGER SPIN

Sure, the technology isn’t as current as we’d like, but the fact that you have the chance to become a Galactic Hero by shooting targets and capturing Emperor Zurg is something that guests can re-ride over and over without getting bored.

DINOSAUR

Remember, we’re talking about an experience that takes you on a unique ride vehicle through scenes in order to tell a story. This is by far one of my favorite attractions because of the quotable lines and the audio-animatronics that bring a simple trans-dimentional joy-ride to life!

FROZEN EVER AFTER

Missing Maelstrom almost left this attraction off the list, until I re-watched my video of the ride and realized that after we left the load area…it was awesome! The story, the music and the fact that the boat goes backwards all come together to make this a great overlay to a World Showcase attraction that needed some good ol’ fashioned Disney TLC.

GRAN FIESTA TOUR

We go from one overlay to another, and this one hasn’t aged as well. I see this as the beginning of the transition between live-sets to a focus on screen-technology, which unfortunately has a very short shelf life, especially when HD and 4K resolutions became the norm. The scene with Donald Duck as a piñata redeems it though!

GREAT MOVIE RIDE (GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN)

I’ll always love this attraction! When you have the chance to see Disney Cast Members perform live spiels, bringing their acting chops to the roles of Mugsy/Mugsi, was awesome! Unfortunately, the inability for the company to find a long-term sponsorship partnership and the dated properties really hurt the concept. We’ll see what the next stage for this plot of land will bring!

THE HAUNTED MANSION

As I stated earlier, this is the ultimate mash-up within the Dark Ride category. The funny and eerie, working together in perfect harmony! With the updated interactive queue elements bringing the story to a whole new level, this is by far one of the best versions of this attraction in the world!


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IT’S A SMALL WORLD

When I ride this attraction, I like to transport my mind back to the times of the 1964 Worlds Fair in NYC and think about how revolutionary something like Small World was when the masses viewed the Mary Blair designs and Disney technology. We tend to put the Magic Kingdom version on a ‘do not touch’ list, but I’d love to see updates to the ride, including the addition of Disney characters (like they have in Disneyland).

LIVING WITH THE LAND

The term “Dark Ride” doesn’t mean that you constantly have to be in the dark. This is evident with Living with the Land, as the highlight of the attraction is actually the greenhouse! I love the idea of bringing a real-life story of feeding the world through advancements in technologies. Plus, you get the chance to see Mickey-Shaped tomatoes!

THE MANY ADVENTURES OF WINNIE THE POOH

You may feel like you’re travelling into a familiar ride…especially if you’ve been to Disneyland! The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh went into a space that was previously the home of Mr Toad’s Wild Ride.

There are a ton of hidden gems within this story, but the one that I find interesting is that Christopher Robin is no-where to be found (or heard) on the attraction due to licensing issues.

PETER PAN’S FLIGHT

Any attraction that can house a 48-foot pirate ship AND is continuously being improved through technology (Lightning Lane & Interactive Queue) is a win in my book. There needs to be more classic Disney in the parks, especially with the pressure of including newer properties and added acquisitions (Marvel, Star Wars, etc).

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN

Pirates is an attraction that I experience every time that I’m in the Magic Kingdom! The sense overload, the boats, the classic soundtrack…they all make this experience one of the best examples of true Disney magic!

With the incorporation of storylines from the movies, it’s my opinion that the attraction which inspired the movies and now takes over the focal point is a little too much. Too much Jack Sparrow isn’t necessarily the answer to an experience that’s already a classic.


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SEAS WITH NEMO AND FRIENDS

Even if you’ve only been on the attraction once, you can still name the iconic scenes! The angler fish, Bruce the Shark, The EAC (East Austrialian Current), and the finale of a Peach the Starfish sharing her ideas about life!

SPACESHIP EARTH

If you can read this, thank the Phoenicians! Enough said right?

TOY STORY MANIA

My contract at Walt Disney World overlapped with the opening of Toy Story Midway Mania back in 2008, so this attraction will always be a treasured memory with the company. That being said, the part of the ride that makes this so iconic is the queue line and the continuation of the storyline from the beginning to the very end!

UNDER THE SEA – JOURNEY OF THE LITTLE MERMAID

Another attraction that has a presence on both coasts (along with Toy Story Mania), Journey of the Little Mermaid was destined to be an epic Dark Ride from the beginning. It’s exciting to see such a classic property have something more than a basic stage show at Disney’s Hollywood Studios!


Those are just a few reasons why I love the Dark Rides at Walt Disney World! Just remember that Disney isn’t just about the Dole Whip;)

Dustin Fuhshttp://www.stepstomagic.com
I’m Dustin Fuhs, a theme park fanatic that has created this platform to showcase my passion, tools and opinions to create a fun and interactive experience for everyone who visits. My goal is to help you and your family have the most magical experience at Walt Disney World. In reading my articles and ideas, I hope that you can find some fantastic ways to bring your dreams into reality!

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