Ranking All 50 Rides At Disneyland And Disney California Adventure

With Disneyland finally reopening after a nearly fourteen month closure, we thought it was the perfect time to release the ultimate ranking of all fifty rides at the Disneyland Resort, including both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. The list is based primarily on the votes of over 170,000 Disneyland fans over a two month period earlier this year in a bracket-style tournament. Some editorial decisions were made due to some attractions getting unfair advantages and disadvantages due to bracket bias, but the list overwhelmingly consists of fan votes.

The primary author of this feature is Sean Nyberg, feel free to agree or disagree with him publicly on Twitter @SeanNyberg or privately, in an email, at Sean@TheDisinsider.com. 

Two issues need to be addressed before we dive in. First, how do we define a ride? The primary characteristic was that it must physically move guests. This was chosen to distinguish rides from shows. While the Tiki Room and Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln might move guests emotionally, they don’t physically move, so these are not considered. This can lead to confusion between ride vehicles and transportation vehicles, in these situations we simply made the decisions ourselves. We decided the Main Street Vehicles and the parking tram were transportation, but the Monorail and Disneyland Railroad were rides.

The second issue we need to address is that we left Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance off of this list. The reason we did this was because the ride had only been in operation for less than two months before they closed down the Anaheim parks. While a clone of the ride is churning through guests at a rate of roughly 8,000 a day down at the Walt Disney World resort in Orlando, we wanted to make sure we kept this list strictly to people’s experience at the Disneyland Resort. There is no doubt that when we readdress this list next year, the ride will make the top five and potentially top the list.

The list consists of every ride, as defined above, found at the two Disneyland Resort parks: Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. At the time of creating this list, the new version of Fantasyland’s Snow White ride has not been opened to the public, so its ranking is based on Snow White’s Scary Adventure. While Disney California Adventure has seen both Soarin’ Around the World and Soarin’ Over California, for this list we are using Soarin’ Around the World, as that was the version operating before the parks closed.

Finally, and this is very important, we are huge fans of Disneyland, Disney California Adventure, and every other Disney Park. We appreciate the hard work, talent, and time put into every single one of these attractions. When things are ‘ranked,’ the literal statement being made is “this thing is better than that thing.” While we understand that, we want to make clear that every single ride on this list is a triumph and every ride provides a unique experience that connects with guests in different ways. Each one of these rides is a product of a long creative process that culminates in the actual construction and eventual launch of the attraction. Countless hours of work by endlessly talented individuals are required to bring every one of these rides to life. While there is the occasional snarky comment or little quip, we have respect for each and every ride on this list. And, regardless of anyone’s opinion of these rides as singular experiences, they all are vital parts that add up to make the Disneyland Resort. Kids don’t cry because they are going to Anaheim to ride Splash Mountain, they cry because they are going to Disneyland, all of it, the most magical place on earth.

Now we present to you, all 50 Disneyland Resort rides ranked:

50. Davey Crockett’s Explorer Canoes (1956)

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Davey Crockett’s Explorer Canoes – Disneyland

This free-floating canoe experience can feel like more work than it does a ride. In a world where guests are already complaining that having to push buttons as an engineer on the Millenium Falcon or pull a string to shoot virtual objects in Toy Story’s Midway Mania is too much work, is there really a place for a ride where guests are expected to paddle, in unison, to propel a large canoe across the Rivers of America? That was a rhetorical question. 

49. Sailing Ship Columbia (1958)

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Sailing Ship Columbia – Disneyland

A 12-minute trip around the Rivers of America in a less-fun version of the Mark Twain Riverboat. It’s best feature is when it acts as the pirate ship for the nighttime spectacular Fantasmic!

48. Jessie’s Critter Carousel (2019)

Disneyland Disney California Adventure Rides
Jessie’s Critter Carousel – Disney California Adventure

A small carousel added to make Pixar Pier more Pixar. It’s cute and well-themed, but, it’s a carousel. 

47. Jumpin’ Jellyfish (2001)

Disneyland Disney California Adventure Rides
Jumpin’ Jellyfish Disney California Adventure

A parachute-jump style ride situated in Disney California Adventure in an area of the park that is having an identity crisis as Pixar slowly envelopes this entire area. It is good for young kids, but it feels out of place in the world leader of themed entertainment. It is also a reminder of the hastily thrown together DCA 1.0. It is charming and it provides a bit of thrill for the youngest of riders, but unlike some other family-focused rides further down this list, this one lacks broader appeal. 

46. Golden Zephyr (2001)

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Golden Zephyr – Disney California Adventure

See above. This one gets a few points for providing some kinetic energy and low risk thrills for even the most fragile guests. However, it does seem to stick out more than most rides when it is closed for maintenance, there is something about those large vehicles sitting idle in the afternoon sun that sort of sucks the energy out of the air.

45. Inside Out Emotional Whirlwind (2019)

Disneyland Disney California Adventure Rides
Inside Out Emotional Whirlwind – Disney California Adventure

It may seem like we are hating on this section of Disney California Adventure, but we promise this section gets more love later. The film Inside Out deserves better than this re-themed Flik’s Flyers from the old A Bug’s Land. This is not an insult to the work put into the re-theme, it is the fact that that was the decision in the first place. The ride is colorful, the lighting is beautiful at night, and the music is… well, the music is absolute perfection (it uses the same score for the film from musical genius Michael Giacchino). This just deserves to be so much more.

44. Astro Orbitor (1998)

Disneyland Disney California Adventure Rides
Astro OrbitorDisneyland

This is a frustrating ride over in Disneyland’s most frustrating land. This spinner ride is just that, a spinner ride, one of many in the park. The ride was so much better decades ago and was ruined with its placement on ground level at the very front of Tomorrowland, creating an unnecessary bottleneck with a less than exciting ride experience.

43. Casey Jr Circus Train (1955)

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Casey Jr Circus Train – Disneyland

There is nothing wrong with this train ride around Storybook Land. The song is catchy and the songs are cute. It’s fine, it’s cute, it’s fine. 

42. King Arthur Carrousel (1955)

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King Arthur Carrousel – Disneyland

A carrousel. A beautiful carrousel. A beautiful carrousel that opened with the park in 1955, but, at the end of the day, a carrousel. The history is pretty amazing and the detail on the horses is noteworthy. It looks great holding down the center of Fantasyland.

41. Storybook Land Canal Boats (1955)

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Storybook Land Canal Boats – Disneyland

The boat ride is cute for kids and kids at heart. The detail in the landscaping is very impressive, but that’s about it. You can see a lot of Storybook Land by riding Casey Jr Circus Train if you don’t have the desire (or patience) to do both. The cast members bring a lot of charm to the ride.

40. Pinocchio’s Daring Journey (1983)

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Pinocchio’s Daring Journey – Disneyland

This is a very good dark ride in Fantasyland. It uses blacklight paint to enhance many of the scenes and adds a well-executed pepper’s ghost effect toward the end. It is a solid family ride with hints of some darker elements. Things get a bit weird halfway through, but fully support that. The ride is a good reminder of the entire story of Pinocchio, for those who only know the character for his lie-detecting nose.

39. Mark Twain Riverboat (1955)

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Mark Twain Riverboat – Disneyland

Like the Sailing Ship Columbia, Mark Twain Riverboat acts as part ride, part kinetic energy, part transport, and part actor in Fantasmic! The Mark Twain is beautiful to look at and provides a relaxing view of the rivers. A great place for Grandma and Grandpa to escape for a lap (or two).

38. Gadgets Go Coaster (1993)

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Gadgets Go Coaster – Disneyland

This is a great ride! (Bet that wasn’t what you expected for the first sentence of a 38th ranked ride, but alas, here we are.) This is a great ride, for what it is. It is a very short rollercoaster for young kids or nervous adults who are working their way up to a Big Thunder Mountain, Space Mountain, and (heaven forbid) Incredicoaster. It’s a fabulously themed rollercoaster introducer for those wanting to take the first steps. It is very short, which can be a bit annoying if you’ve spent more than 15 minutes in line, and if you have already moved beyond the first step in rollercoaster growth you will likely find the ride, for lack of a better word, lame. But for those in its target audience, it’s a great ride.

37. Pixar Pal-A-Round (2018)

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Pixar Pal-A-Round – Disney California Adventure

Pixar Pal-A-Round (formerly Mickey Fun Wheel) is considered by many to be the most terrifying ride at Disneyland and DCA (or Walt Disney World for that matter). This ferris wheel is massive, which gives it an imposing height, half of the cabins are ‘swinging’ which means they slide along an oval track as the wheel turns, giving guests in those cars the feeling of sliding off the massive wheel. Even when stationary the swinging cars will rock back and forth. This can be amplified with the energy of rowdy guests trying to freak out the one friend who didn’t know what they were getting on. It gets high ratings for what it does for DCA’s skyline, I would argue that has become the true DCA park icon. So it gets a lot of points for that. Also if you don’t mind heights, then you will probably really enjoy the non-swinging cars. You get great views of the parks from up above and it is a relaxing trip around. But this ride is very scary for those that are scared by elements in this ride, that is an incredibly redundant statement, but the difference with this ride is that once you are on it and heading up, you are there for a long time. It is not like a terrifying rollercoaster that ends in 2 minutes, or a scary drop that is over in 3 seconds. This is a slow moving, long, tall, big, scary ferris wheel. Enjoy!

36. Dumbo Flying Elephant (1955)

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Dumbo Flying Elephant – Disneyland

The original spinner ride at Disneyland. This ride was an opening day attraction and provides a safe and cute ride for all ages. It has a lot of charm and nostalgia attached to it. While Disney may have overdone the spinner rides in recent decades, this ride will always be the original. 

35. Autopia (1955)

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Autopia – Disneyland

This ride spurs a lot of feelings among fans of Disney Parks. To some, it represents their childhood and they remember it as the first time they ever drove a vehicle. To others, it is a ride that is long overdue for a complete overhaul or removal altogether. We are putting this somewhere in the middle to represent both feelings. The ride does create a lot of pollution, both noise and air, it takes up a large space over in Tomorrowland and the concept of highways has long since gone from futuristic city planning to a necessary evil for commuters. Some may find its 35th place ranking too high and others will find it too low, which makes it just right. 

34. Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage (2007)

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Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage – Disneyland

This has the same complaints as Autopia, so it just makes sense to have them side by side. The Nemo Subs also have a claustrophobic issue that Autopia doesn’t have, it is Disneyland’s only underwater ride with some impressive visuals. Something needs to happen to this and Autopia, but it isn’t clear what is the best (and most realistic) option. It has a lot of charm, but it takes a lot of space and effort to get there.

33. Silly Symphony Swings (2010)

Disneyland Disney California Adventure Rides
Silly Symphony Swings – Disney California Adventure

A fun, carefree, and simple ride. The music adds to the lightness and breeziness of this experience. It’s ranking at 33 is perfect because it is a rather simple and short ride, but it is also delightful and refreshing. Those who don’t like spinners should stay clear. Those who like fun, should not miss.

32. Snow White’s Scary Adventure (1955)

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Snow White’s Scary Adventure (Soon to be Snow White’s Enchanted Wish) – Disneyland

This ride has been through a number of name changes since it first appeared on opening day. Animatronics have been added and the queue has been redesigned. All of this was to get the point across that this dark ride was a lot darker than one might expect in Fantasyland. After over sixty years of guest complaints, Disneyland is getting a lighter and more upbeat version once the park opens. While the ride may have scared young children, the darker elements appeal to many of the older (braver?) guests. One of its biggest draws was that the wait time rarely exceeded 15 minutes and was often a walk-on attraction. That will likely change with the new iteration opening on April 30th. Even the slightest changes within a ride can drive up wait times rather quickly. Walt Disney World lost their version of this ride, so it is nice to see Disney putting money into the ride in Disneyland, securing its place in the park for long time. It represents the movie that saved Walt Disney and made everything else possible. 

31. Disneyland Railroad (1955)

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Disneyland Railroad – Disneyland

Part transportation, part ride, part show. The Disneyland Railroad is an iconic part of Disneyland and wears a number of hats (conductor hats?) well. Many point to the railroad as the true birthplace of the Disney Parks, as Walt Disney’s fascination with trains is well-documented. It acts as the first ride you see when you pass through the turnstiles and it is the last ride you see when you say goodnight. It is a wonderful way to get around the park and even if you end up right where you started, the scenery and show buildings provide a truly wholesome and full experience. While the Railroad lands at number 31 for Disneyland’s best rides, it is a clear contender for one of Disneyland’s true icons, second only to Sleeping Beauty’s Castle (not ranked).

30. Roger Rabbit Car Toon Spin (1994)

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Roger Rabbit Car Toon Spin – Disneyland

This Roger Rabbit themed dark ride has been the biggest attraction in Toon Town since the land opened in the early 90s. This dark ride has some fun elements and a number of great visual gags. The ride suffers from the short-lived success of Roger Rabbit, a character that kids these days would not be able to pick out of a line up. Which is a fair critique. Another problem with Car Toon Spin is that it was never strong enough to support an entire land. This ride would have held up a lot better if it was playing a supporting role, rather than the lead. But a life saver is about to be tossed to this ride, as Disney is in the midst of constructing Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway in Toon Town. This is a clone (except for some minor changes) of the ride of the same name in Walt Disney World, that opened weeks before the covid-19 shutdowns. The new ride will bring new life to the area and will help relieve the stress put on Roger Rabbit Car Toon Spin. At the end of the day this ride is a good and fun ride that has been hurt by things outside of its control. 

29. Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (2003)

Disneyland Disney California Adventure Rides
Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh – Disneyland

Another cute, family-friendly dark ride themed to a beloved cast of characters. It is a very good ride tucked away in Critter Country. The biggest complaint you’ll likely hear about this ride from Disneyland fans has nothing to do with the actual ride. Unless you are a state-of-the-art, fully immersive, ground breaking new attraction, you really start at a deficit when your mere existence means the removal of the Country Bear Jamboree. The animatronic filled cult classic will always be ‘the one that got away’ for hardcore Disneyland fanatics. Clearly the show was seeing less and less of an audience in its final years, however, facts like that do not mean anything to Disneyland purists who think nothing should ever be changed, that is, until they learn to love the change and then it can’t be changed again. The Pooh ride is just fine and it gives young children a reason to visit the Splash Mountain area of the park. Nothing is great about the ride, but nothing is terrible, except, of course, the fact that it replaced a scantly-attended slightly-problematic show.

28. Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters (2016)

Disneyland Disney California Adventure Rides
Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters – Disney California Adventure

A strong argument could be made for this ride to be much lower on this list. It is a flat ride that serves as a distant supporting character for Radiator Springs Racers, but the ride has two things going for it: first, it is well themed with great music, this is an easy bar for Disney to clear (most of the time), the second, and what really gives it a push, it is the first ride in the Disneyland Resort to feature the trackless ride technology that is becoming the industry standard for new rides moving forward. Before Rise of the Resistance and before Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, there was Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters. What the ride does with the technology is not earth-shattering, but it was the first in the resort and should be boosted a bit for that. There is nothing inherently wrong with this ride and it serves it’s purpose as a strong replacement for the ill-fated Luigi’s Flying Tires. This ride was revolutionary, with great thematic details, and a fun soundtrack. A solid number 28.

27. Monster’s Inc Mike & Sully to the Rescue (2006)

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Monsters Inc Mike & Sully to the Rescue – Disney California Adventure

This is another complicated one, it has everything a Monsters Inc fan would want in a ride, all of the major characters, many of the minor characters, some classic gags, and a well designed queue. It also has the distinct honor of having replaced the undisputed Worst Ride in Disney Parks History, Superstar Limo. The feeling fans have toward the ride a new ride replaced often has an undue influence over their opinion of the new ride. If they loved the old ride, the new ride starts with two strikes against it, if they hated the old ride, the new ride is seen as a savior. In this case, Monster’s Inc replacement is a very good thing. With all of those ingredients in place, this should be a home run, but, for some reason, it just isn’t. Voters were just warm on this ride, solidly lukewarm. I think there are a few issues here. First of all, this ride replaced Superstar Limo, which is good (great), but if you know the old ride well you can see that much of Monsters Inc is an overlay, rather than a replacement. Old animatronics were just redressed and repainted. Most people who ride Monsters Inc wouldn’t know this, but, even if you don’t know these details, there is a weird feeling throughout the ride that comes from it. It is a ‘feeling’ that is hard to explain.

Also, the ride’s location within Disney California Adventure makes no sense. It is in Hollywood Land, in the Backlot area, which is nonsense, especially because ten years later an entire land was created, Pixar Pier, to showcase Pixar movies (for those not following along, Monsters Inc is a classic Pixar movie). This is why this ride is right near the middle of the pack. Positives are that it stays very true to the movie, has some great visuals, and has some great animatronics. Negatives are that it leaves many with a strange feeling from its relatively quick overlay, its odd location within the park, and the lack of connection, on an emotional level, to those who loved the film. Also, my fiancé and my niece got a burnt tasting churro immediately after getting off the ride back in 2019, so that will always leave a bad taste in our mouths, well, the churro and the ride. 

26. Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree (2012)

Disneyland Disney California Adventure Rides
Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree – Disney California Adventure

This ride was added when Cars Land opened in Disney California Adventure. The land has since become known as one of the Disney Parks most successful and beautiful lands. This land was a major home run for Disney and this ride worked as a successful background ride for the true star, Radiator Springs Racers. Unlike its neighbor, Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters, Mater’s has been Mater’s since it opened. It didn’t need an overhaul like Liugi’s, it was a lot of fun from the beginning, and still is. You can’t help but laugh when the tractors whip you around, a bit faster than you might think, and the Larry the Cable Guy songs are pumping through the speakers. The area around the ride is themed to beautifully, just like all of Cars Land. Plus, this ride has a great Halloween overlay that doesn’t miss a beat. I have experienced my share of the spooky Mater’s Junkyard JamBOOree. It’s a scary good time. 

25. Goofy’s Sky School (2011)

Disneyland Disney California Adventure Rides
Goofy’s Sky School – Disney California Adventure

This ride design is called a steel wild mouse rollercoaster. A type of coaster that you might see at a local state fair. The turns are tight, the track is short, and it feels like your car could just topple over at any minute. Some people point to this as the scariest ride in Disneyland, and while we give that title to number 37’s Pixar Pal-A-Round, we completely understand why some would want to give the dubious honor to this one. Goofy’s Sky School took over for DCA 1.0’s Mulholland Madness. The revamp was part of CEO Bob Iger’s big DCA renovation. The ride layout went unchanged, a new name and a loose theme was added. I guess we are students learning to fly at Goofy’s Sky School. (Why we keep asking Goofy to assist in the operation of motored vehicles is beyond me!) There is a broken billboard and the ride vehicles are planes. Some people love how jerky and sharp the ride experience can be, while others find it terrifying or back breaking. You’ll get a good split on this one, which works perfectly as the ride has settled right at our halfway point. 

24. Mad Tea Party (1955)

Disneyland Disney California Adventure Rides
Mad Tea Party – Disneyland

AKA, the Tea Cups! Another Disneyland classic that many think of immediately when they think of Disneyland. Compared to today’s standards the ride mechanism is basic, but the theming, music, and kinetic energy overcome the simplistic nature of it. Also, the fact that this ride is wide open, with no secrets hidden behind walls or scenery, guests know what they are getting before they get on. This ride is a nightmare for those who are sensitive to spinning, but no one should be surprised once their tea cup starts rotating, you get a long look at the ride before you step into your cup. Another fun part of the ride is picking your cup, once the ride unloads, cast members let the next round of guests on to the ride’s surface and you get to pick your specific cup. We always like to watch a round or two before committing to the one we want, we need to see which ones are spinning good that day. Mad Tea Party is a perfect example of how Disney’s magic can turn a simple ride construct, into a world famous attraction. 

23. Disneyland Monorail (1959)

Disneyland Disney California Adventure Rides
Disneyland Monorail – Disneyland and Disney California Adventure

Some might argue that Disneyland’s monorail is strictly transportation and not a ride, to those people I say, you’re wrong. Like the Railroad, the Monorail acts as both transportation and ride. People often ride the Monorail for the full loop, coming back to where they started, for the views and smooth experience. This gives you a wonderful overview of Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, along with some backstage views that you can only see from the Monorail. 

Read: Sam Wilson’s Captain America Will Be A Meet And Greet Character At The Disneyland Resort

22. Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride (1955)

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Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride – Disneyland

Another Disneyland Fantasyland ride that had a version in Walt Disney World that has since been removed. This dark ride was an opening day attraction and is themed after a character that has not appeared in any major film or television program in over a half of a century. It is one of those rare cases where the Disneyland ride has carried the intellectual property into the zeitgeist, instead of the other way around. This is another example of how creativity and proper storytelling can turn a simple ride into a classic. I don’t know how many people come off of this ride going “wait, did we just end up in Hell?” And then insist on riding it again and again. I normally welcome change within the Disney Parks, but this is one ride I hope sticks around for a very long time. Sure, update some of the visuals and refurbish the track if need be, but I hope this simulated drunk driving experience lives on for generations so kids will continue to learn that driving drunk will land you Hell where you quickly escape and unload from a vehicle to head back into Fantasyland and eat a churro, just like every drunk driving instances. Lesson learned!

21. Alice in Wonderland (1958)

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Alice in Wonderland – Disneyland

It is fitting that this ride ends up next to Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, since the two share a show building. This beautifully crafted dark ride sends guests through the most famous scenes from the animated classic. The ride received some much needed lighting updates and paint touchups, but the core of the ride has stayed the same since 1958. Guests ride a vehicle shaped like a caterpillar that takes them up to a second story, then swings them through an outdoor section, and returns them home safely. This is another example of creative geniuses using limited technology to transport guests through a visual wonderland. An experience that holds up just as good as it did 60+ years ago. 

20. “it’s a small world (1966)

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it’s a small world – Disneyland

The boat ride of dreams or nightmares, depending on who you ask. Hundreds of animatronic dolls, dancing and singing to one of the most catchy songs ever written. The message is beautiful and the details are exquisite. There is no denying that a lot of very talented people contributed to every aspect of this ride. It knows what it is and it is unapologetic. That is wonderful if this is your cup of tea, but, for many, the ride is annoying, creepy, and boring. The facade is breathtaking and the ride has a permanent spot in pop culture. You drift through the show buildings with either a twinkle in your eye and a smile glued to your face, or you’re staring at your phone telling yourself you will never ride this again. Whichever one describes you, you can’t deny that the ride is memorable. A lot of credit should go to the Sherman Brothers for writing the song that you are probably humming to yourself right now.

19. Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters (2005)

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Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters – Disneyland

Laser tag meets slow moving omnimover. There are some great elements within this ride, but it just feels like it needs a technological overhaul. In the polls we conducted this ride consistently scored well. It appears that many are willing to look past the late 1990’s feel for the chance to challenge their friends and see a large Buzz Lightyear animatronic. I think the reason this ride scored so well is that its downfalls are things that the target demographic for this ride does not tend to care about. I think it is clear that the ride is geared for teenage boys and their adult counterparts. What I think the ride is missing is more of a clear and compelling story and more realistic set designs. What the prime audience wants is more targets to shoot. The one area that we all could agree on is that the technology that the guns and the sensors use needs an upgrade. But, the ride provides what the audience for the ride wants. Can’t ask for more than that.

18. Star Tours – The Adventures Continue (1987)

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Star Tours – Disneyland

This Star Wars themed motion simulator was groundbreaking when it debuted in 1987. One of the best parts of the ride is that they decided to update the different adventures as more movies came out. There is a number of different flights that are randomly selected for each ride, this allows for different ride experiences each time (are you listening Smugglers Run?). As the years have gone by the technology has become less novel, which happens with all technology. The ride is still a lot of fun, but we have been hearing more and more people complaining that they are unable to handle the ride due to motion sickness. Not sure if that says more about the ride or the age group of the people we hang out with. The opening of Galaxy’s Edge, on the opposite corner of the park, has made this Star Wars themed ride seem a bit out of place. The ride will forever be the first ride based on the George Lucas classic and the first attraction to utilize the motion simulator technology. It is still a very popular and beloved ride with humor, thrills, and memorable characters.

17. Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure (2011)

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Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure – Disney California Adventure

This is the ultimate book report ride, a type of attraction that tells an abridged version of the IP that it is themed after. Guests get all of their favorite songs and characters from this massively successful animated musical. Many of the scenes are impressive in their size and scope and the ride features a jaw-dropping Ursula the Sea Witch animatronic. Aside from the impressive visual and audio treats, the ride is long, which is satisfying, the ride has great air-conditioning, which is a relief, and the line is typically short and is always moving. The only thing lacking in this ride is any thrills, but that was never intended and there are plenty of other options available if that is what you are looking for. This is a whimsical and uplifting must do for anyone’s trip to DCA.

16. Toy Story Midway Mania! (2008)

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Toy Story Midway Mania – Disney California Adventure

This addition to Disney California Adventure really kicked off the launch of DCA 2.0. Like  Buzz Lightyear Astroblasters, this family-friendly ride has guests shooting virtual objects to collect points, but unlike the laser tag version over in Tomorrowland, the games in this ride are themed to midway carnival games. You toss pies, rings, and plungers, your score is added up and your vehicle moves to the next round. Even if you are not competitive, just observing the show scenes is enough to make this a top tier ride. Pro tip: don’t tire yourself in the opening practice round, save that forearm strength for the rounds that count.

15. Soarin’ Around the World (2001)

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Soarin’ Around the World – Disney California Adventure

Soarin’ was one of the biggest hits when DCA first opened in February of 2001 and still remains a fan favorite. Guests are sent soaring into the air on ride vehicles that simulate gliding through the sky. The ride uses choreographed movement, sound, smells, and visuals (projected onto a massive IMAX screen), to complete the illusion. The experience is so smooth and light that even the most fearful guest will enjoy this sensory euphoria. The original version of this ride was Soarin’ Over California, that one took guests through some of the Golden State’s most iconic landmarks. While many feel this version was superior, the current version has its share of impressive locales too, including the beaches of Hawaii, a fully-CGI created India, the Great Wall of China, and, of course, Main Street USA in Disneyland. 

14. Millennium Falcon Smugglers Run (2019)

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Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run – Disneyland

The first ride to open within Star Wars Galaxy Edge had so much hype leading up to the opening, it would have been impossible to match fan expectations. It failed to meet these impossible standards, which lead to a rocky relationship between fans and one of Disneyland’s newest rides. The problem is that Millenium Falcon Smugglers Run was never meant to be the star attraction within Galaxy’s Edge, that honor was meant for Rise of the Resistance (note: see introduction regarding this ride not being included in this list). When SW:GE first opened in May of 2019, ROTR was not ready to open, so the supporting actor had a lot of pressure put on it initially. This was another massive hurdle placed in front of this ride. But, setting all of that aside, let’s look at the ride itself. MF:SR is a motion based simulator (like Star Tours, but on a smaller scale), where guests act as a team within the Millennium Falcon to run an errand for the obscure Star Wars character, Hondo Ohnaka. The premise is pretty bland, but the ride technology is state of the art, lightyears ahead of Star Tours. 

Guests act as either a pilot, gunner, or engineer, which adds another element that can provide guests with a lot of joy (if they’re the pilot), a lot of disappointment (if they’re an engineer), and a lot of anxiety (if you don’t like being put on the spot in front of strangers). Like most elements in Disney rides, things that might be a negative to one guest, might be the reason another guest loves it. Being able to team up with your friends to fly the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy could be a dream come true for six lifelong friends, it could also be a nightmare for someone added to a group or family that they’ve never met. Acting as the pilot is a truly amazing experience, especially when you’re tasked to take it to warp speed.

Smugglers Run caught a huge break when Rise of the Resistance finally opened and took a lot of pressure off of this ride. Fans seemed to enjoy it more when they saw it for what it was, a supporting role to one of the greatest rides in theme park history. In our polls this ride consistently performed well, even with the cards stacked against it. It has been reported that future missions are being designed for the ride, but they are not expected to be introduced until 2023 or later. While the ride experience can vary depending on the guest and the group, the ride queue, the Honda animatronic, the chess room, and the massive Millennium Falcon at the entrance, all add up to a life changing experience for Star Wars fans and a fully immersive fun adventure for everyone else.

13. Grizzly River Run (2001)

Disneyland Disney California Adventure Rides
Grizzly River Run – Disney California Adventure

Another original Disney California Adventure attraction that opened in DCA 1.0, in fact, Grizzly River Run is the only large attraction to have remained unchanged since it opened to this day. The only other two rides that opened with DCA and remain unchanged are Jumpin’ Jellyfish and Golden Zephyr, two B-ticket attractions that most forget are there. This says a lot about Grizzly River Run, a water ride that sends guests on a round raft through drops, rapids, and geysers. In the hot Southern California sun, this ride can provide a much needed splash of water, in the cooler months, this ride can ruin your day if you are not prepared. The queue warns that you WILL get wet and you MIGHT get soaked, take our advice, prepare as if you’re going to get soaked. 

If you’ve only visited Walt Disney World and you’ve ridden Kali River Rapids in Animal Kingdom, this ride is similar to that one, but it blows it out of the water (pun intended) in nearly all aspects. Grizzly is a long ride, with multiple drops and a number of corners full of bumps and spins. The caves are full of growling bears and the scenery is lush and green, it is easy to forget you’re in the middle of theme park. One of the best parts of the attraction is in the final moments when the ride seems to be over, you might have gotten a good splash or you might have avoided it altogether, as the raft heads back to the loading area a number of hidden geysers randomly explode with a surprising amount of water. For those unfamiliar, this last shot of water can really catch you off guard. If the timing is right (or wrong, depending on your perspective), it can provide the heaviest soaking of the entire ride. Many novices come gliding into this area, cheering and high-fiving to celebrate making it through unscathed, only to get doused from head to toe with buckets of water.

Just outside of the ride’s queue there is a bridge that you can stand on to observe this exact moment in the ride. It has provided many laughs over the years. One final tip, try to ride this ride at least once in the dark. It stays open in the late Fall and the sun goes down fairly early, the line clears out and it is almost always a walk-on. Flying down a bumpy river in near pitch dark is one of the best experiences I have had at Disneyland. Just make sure you’re prepared for that sneaky geyser. 

12. Peter Pan’s Flight (1955)

Disneyland Disney California Adventure Rides
Peter Pan’s Flight – Disneyland

The most popular Fantasyland ride, the most popular opening day ride, and the most popular flying pirate ship ride in all of Disneyland. It is hard to describe what makes this ride so special, but no one can deny that it strikes a special note with the vast majority of Disneyland guests. The ride takes you on a magical flight through the skies of London and off to Neverland, where you see Peter Pan, Wendy, John, Michael, Captain Hook, Smee, the lost boys, and the rest of the characters from the beloved animated film. The music soars throughout, leaving the most jaded guest singing “you can fly, you can fly, you can flyyyy,” as they exit their flying boat. The ride vehicles are connected overhead, so guests are hanging from the guide rail, helping to give the feeling of flight. The biggest complaint of the entire experience is the queue, besides a few details as you reach the loading station, the line is basically made up of switchbacks. The other two cons with the ride can be seen as a sign of its popularity, the first is the wait times, this ride can hit a 40 minute wait time at peak hours, a far cry from the 15 minutes at the neighboring Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and the 5 minute waits over at Snow White and Pinocchio. The other complaint is that the ride is too short, but this is only a complaint on the most loved attractions, no one complains when a terrible ride is over quickly. Guests don’t want to wait to ride this amazing ride and they don’t want it to be over, two valid complaints that describe an amazing ride. The ride has seen a few changes here and there, but the core of the ride remains the same and its popularity speaks to the genius of Walt Disney and the original Imagineers who built Disneyland from scratch, with a little pixie dust and a lot of imagination. 

11. Incredicoaster (2018)

Guests enjoying themselves while riding on the Incredicoaster in Disney California Adventure.
Incredicoaster – Disney California Adventure

The Disneyland Resort’s only rollercoaster that features an inversion runs through the brightly colored walkways of DCA’s Pixar Pier. The Incredicoaster (formerly known as California Screamin’) is a steel rollercoaster made to look like a wooden rollercoaster. The Incredibles themed ride sends guests on a wild chase after the family’s youngest (and fastest) member, Jack Jack. The ride kicks off with an impressive launch, features a number of lift hills, plays perfectly timed music composed by Michael Giacchino, and even pumps in the smell of fresh baked cookies. The ride will satisfy most rollercoaster enthusiasts and will win over most rollercoaster skeptics. One of the biggest plusses is that the length of the ride is long, making up for any extended wait times. Not only does it provide guests a wonderful ride experience, it also provides an incredible amount of kinetic energy for the park. The ride’s cars zip through Pixar Pier one after the other, making the entire place feel alive. The biggest complaint about the ride is the lack of strong storyline throughout. It is well documented that the budget the Imagineers were given to change the ride from Screamin’ to Incredicoaster was very small, they did their best with what they had available. This is one of those critiques that is unique to Disneyland enthusiasts. The average guest doesn’t notice these things, it is only a Disney fanatic who is looking close enough to find something to complain about. Most guests come off of the ride full of adrenaline, with large smiles, wind swept hair, and a sudden craving for a fresh baked cookie. Pro tip: ride in the front row right around dusk, one of the most beautiful rides in all of the Disneyland Resort. 

10. Jungle Cruise (1955)

The entrance sign of the Jungle Cruise in Disneyland.
Jungle Cruise, Disneyland

The highest rated opening day attraction is the World Famous Jungle Cruise, coming in at number ten. The ride is currently undergoing a refurbishment, removing a number of problematic show scenes and adding entirely new sets to coincide with a brand new storyline. While Jungle Cruise fans will spot the changes, the ride will remain essentially the same. Boats will continue to be guided by cast members acting as skippers, telling pun-filled ‘Dad jokes,’ while navigating waters filled with animatronic hippos and elephants. One of the Jungle Cruise’s most impressive features, is how fully it immerses guests into the faux jungle. Halfway through the trek, riders are a stones throw away from a bustling Main Street, full of popcorn venders and bubble makers masked as wands, but the design of the park is so ingenious, those riding the Jungle Cruise never realize how close they are to the rest of the park.

One’s experience on Jungle Cruise is fully dependent on their skipper, the good thing for guests is that most of the cast members assigned to this attraction are brilliant. They know how to deliver a joke confidently, all while knowing the joke is intended to be corny. When done right a skipper is fully invested in their role, but provides a sly wink and nod so that guests don’t feel too uncomfortable when the jokes fall flat. I have had the pleasure of experiencing these performance artists at their finest and the experiences are ones I will never forget. Unfortunately, there have been some not-so-impressive skippers, and those experiences have not been enjoyable. A great skipper can elevate this attraction to new heights, a bad skipper can be just as effective at ruining the experience. Fortunately, the vast majority of skippers are phenomenal and their dedication and talent will all but ensure a fabulous time. 

9. Radiator Springs Racers (2012)

Image of the racing section in Radiator Springs Racers in Disney California Adventure
Radiator Springs Racers – Disney California Adventure

After a lackluster opening in 2001, Disney California Adventure needed some love (and some cash). Once Bob Iger stepped in as CEO of Disney he made a commitment to give DCA the money, the attention, and the creative space for Imagineers to work their magic. These changes are collectively referred to as DCA 2.0. This era brought a number of big changes, but the biggest of all was the addition of Cars Land. The move was controversial at first, while the Pixar film was a huge hit, the sequels were critical and commercial failures. It also marked the first land at the Disneyland Resort to be themed around a single IP. All eyes were on two things, first, the design of the land itself, and second, the big E-Ticket attraction that would open with the land. Both the land and the opening day ride, Radiator Springs Racers, were massive successes.  Lines for RSR stretched for hours, with guests waiting all day to ride this dark ride/thrill ride hybrid. The ride feels like three rides in one, with the opening outdoor scene taking guests on a casual drive alongside a waterfall with uplifting music accompanying the views, the vehicles then entire a show building where impressive audio animatronic cars interact with the guests, and, finally, the thrilling conclusion where two cars full of guests race on an outdoor race track at high speeds. There is no major complaint about this ride. Sure, the queue isn’t anything special, but it is still fully themed. Yes, the wait times can get extremely high, but that is just a sign of the ride’s popularity. But aside from nitpicking for the sake of finding something to critique, the ride is quality through and through. 

8. Matterhorn Bobsleds (1959)

A view of the entire Matterhorn mountain in Disneyland in Anaheim California.
Matterhorn Bobsleds – Disneyland

Disneyland’s first thrill ride is built into a scale model of the actual Matterhorn mountain. The number 8 ride on the top 50 Disneyland rides is a tubular steel rollercoaster with two tracks that criss cross one another through a meticulously detailed fake snow covered mountain. The ride includes a number of run ins with an audio animatronic Yeti. While the mythical snow beast has no official name, cast members have nicknamed him Harold, and until the powers that be tell us otherwise, he shall be known as Harold. The ride was the first of its kind at Disneyland, becoming a draw for the more thrill-seeking teens, expanding Disneyland’s appeal. For today’s guests, the ride’s strengths includes the nostalgia factor, the rollercoaster track that still provides thrills, the increased presence of Harold, and the amazing art direction. Recently, the ride experienced a small refurbishment that smoothed out the notoriously rough ride track. The experience is still rough, but significantly less painful. Another plus for this attraction is that it can only be found in Disneyland. There is no Matterhorn in Walt Disney World, Disneyland Paris, Tokyo Disneyland, Hong Kong Disneyland, or Shanghai Disneyland. A huge feat, considering most of Disneyland’s biggest attractions end up being cloned at these other parks. Matterhorn is a true Disneyland classic that holds up today, just as well as it did when it first opened. 

7. Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout (2017)

Image of the show building for Guardians of the Galaxy Mission Breakout in Disney California Adventure
Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout – Disney California Adventure

GOTG:MB is an elevator drop ride set to pop music from the 70s and 80s featuring characters from the Guardians of the Galaxy films. The current version of the ride replaced a fan favorite, never an easy task for a new ride. Twilight Zone Tower of Terror was constructed at the beginning of DCA 2.0. Fans loved it, critics loved it, and it helped to increase park attendance. However, something was happening behind the scenes that fans were not fully aware was going on. Seemingly out of nowhere they announced Tower of Terror was being replaced with a Guardians of the Galaxy theme. Famed Imagineer Joe Rohde served as lead for this project. As the change slowly took place behind scrims and walls, fans struggled to keep up the energy needed to be outraged. Once the remodel was completed and GOTG:MB opened to the public, fans spent the rest of that year eating crow. 

The ride blew away everyone’s expectations. Rohde managed to take a beloved classic, keep the same ride experience, and the same show building, yet completely reinvent the space and birth an entirely new ride, one that feels like it has always been there. Riders sit in an elevator as it races up and down an elevator shaft. For guests who love that dropping feeling when a plane descends too quickly, this ride is for you. Many Walt Disney World aficionados will read this after only experiencing their Hollywood Studios version of Tower of Terror. I’ve ridden them both and I can tell you, besides the obvious Guardians of the Galaxy/Twilight Zone difference, when it comes to the motion of the ride vehicle, Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout, at the Disneyland Resort, is much more intense. There are more drops, faster drops, and faster lifts. For thrill seeking fans, that is music to your ears. For guests with weak stomachs, you might want to sit this one out. 

We are finally starting to see the full reason for the Guardians of the Galaxy re-theme, in fact, GOTG:MB is the first attraction set in the brand new Marvel themed land, Avengers Campus. Disney is always looking much farther down the road than even the most observant fan, and they showed once again that their decisions are made with bigger and more elaborate plans in mind. Guardians of the Galaxy is definitely a top ten ride and it is the most recently opened ride in the top ten, a title it will likely lose next year when we add Rise of the Resistance to the mix. One last positive note, the ride has an awesome overlay for Halloween called “Monsters After Dark.” This is a crowning achievement for Joe Rohde and his team. 

6. Space Mountain (1977)

The loading area for Space Mountain in Disneyland
Space Mountain – Disneyland

One of the rare Disneyland ride that first appeared at Walt Disney World, typically the Orlando parks get Anaheim’s clones, but that is not the case with Space Mountain. Disney’s rollercoaster in the dark. The ride has an enormous fanbase from coast to coast. Disneyland’s version opened in 1977 and helped to revitalize Tomorrowland. The ride consists of a rocket style ride vehicle that sit guests side by side. The rockets are lifted up an anxiety producing lift hill as the music swells. Once the ride truly begins, guests find themselves in near complete darkness, except for some strobe lights and pin lights that represent the stars. The ride is exhilarating and classic Disney. The trip through space ends, in true Disney form, with a photograph. 

One of the ride’s best features, and it is something that does not exist in the Walt Disney World version, is a musical score that is timed perfectly with different elements in the track design. The music is not blaring in the show building, that would create a cacophony of noise when multiple vehicles are on the track at the same time, in Disneyland, the cars have individual speakers and the music cues are triggered when the ride vehicles pass different switches. It is just one of the brilliant decisions made by the industries most creative and talented leaders. Space Mountain has been causing millions of people to duck their head in complete darkness at a steel beam they were certain was headed straight for their face, but alas, four decades later, not a single decapitation. The rush of the coaster, with the space theme, along with the thrill of the unknown darkness, all adds up to one amazing ride experience. 

5. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (1979)

A picture of one of the train cars in Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in Frontier Land at Disneyland
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad – Disneyland

The wildest ride in the wilderness has been an enormous fan favorite ever since it opened in 1979. The heavily themed outdoor rollercoaster speeds guests through cursed caverns, over haunted hills on rickety tracks, and around waterfalls and dinosaur bones. The ride is primarily outside, but there are a few moments of darkness in the tunnels. Disneyland’s version includes a final lift hill filled with explosion effects. The ride is solid from start to finish. The rock work is some of Disney’s best, the colors are rich and vibrant, and the iconic touches, like the goat holding the dynamite, give this ride a number of distinct visual elements. The ride experience is a good mix of all ages fun with some medium-level thrills, a good next step from Gadgets Go Coaster for kids experimenting with rollercoasters. This iconic ride has more than earned its top 5 position.

4. Splash Mountain (1989)

A picture of the final drop on splash mountain in Critter Country in Disneyland.
Splash Mountain – Disneyland

While Disneyland did not invent the log flume ride, it absolutely perfected it. Let’s get this out of the way up front, this ride is themed after a horribly racist film that Disney is, rightfully, trying to erase from existence. Song of the South is not an offensive film because of increased sensitivity to issues of race, the film is and always was nauseatingly offensive. Disney is in the process of a long overdue re-theme and we fully support this decision. While the ride does not include any of the racist content from the film, theming a ride after a film elevates the movie, and this is one movie that should be buried, not elevated.

With that said, the ride is a triumph in design and engineering. Guests float along this ride in a log shaped boat. The show elements include outside scenes that establish time and place, with green landscaping and signage to set the scene. The real action takes place when the logs travel through the show buildings and we see various antics play out with detailed animatronics. The thrills come from a number of drops that occur throughout the ride, with the final 40 foot drop acting as the ride’s climax. The final drop is the most thrilling, but be aware that the smaller drops in the show buildings often provide for the largest splashes. If you want the best chance of staying dry, put the heaviest guests toward the back of the log and sit in the very last seat. Let the rest of your group act as blockers, while you crouch down and avoid the soaking. Another tip that I find to be extremely helpful is to coordinate where everyone’s head is going to be for the final drop, since there is a picture taken halfway down the mountain. I am not talking about the elaborate stunt poses that people do with props and a lot of preplanning. What I always do is quickly establish which way everyone is going to lean, if I am going to tilt my head to the right, then the person in front and behind me should tilt their head to the left, so everyone can be seen in the picture. It takes two seconds, just say “I’ll go left, you guys go right,” and you will be rewarded with a much better picture at the end. For the love of God, do NOT put your hands up if there are guests behind you. That is extremely selfish, since you will undoubtably block their face for the picture. Be aware of your surroundings people. 

Aside from the visual design and the drops, the final key element that Splash Mountain is known for is the music. Unfortunately ‘Zipadeedoodah’ will forever be associated with Song of the South and will continue to be phased out of the Disney Parks over the next few years. If one can remove the song from the original film, it is undoubtably one of the most joyful and catchy songs in a Disneyland attraction. While ‘its a small world’ might be harder to shake from your head, it sparks as much anger as it does joy, ‘Zipadeedoodah’ gets stuck in your head and it brings happiness to nearly everyone who hears it. The timing of this toe tapper works perfectly as it comes just after the big drop, celebrating everyone’s bravery. I remember when I was a scared young child and I forced myself to go on this ride, I was extremely terrified, but after surviving the drop, hearing the playfulness of the song with the large boat full of singing animals was the icing on the cake. Original ride designer Tony Baxter will be overseeing the re-theme to Princess and the Frog and the bones of the ride will remain the same. This is a huge relief to Splash Mountain fans as the updated version will still have the same charm, thrills, and joy, without the racist origins. The ride deserves better than Song of the South, as do Disneyland fans. 

3. Indiana Jones Adventure (1995)

Sign outside of Indiana Jones Adventure in Disneyland's Adventureland
Indiana Jones Aventure – Disneyland

Only six years after the massive success of Splash Mountain, Disneyland opened the Adventureland masterpiece, Indiana Jones Adventure. This is one of Disneyland’s most complete ride, from the queue (which is one of the best queues in any Disney park), to the humorous pre-ride video, to the hidden easter eggs, to the massive show building, to the expertly-designed practical visual effects (no screens or 3D glasses on this ride), to the ride vehicle (developed specifically for this ride), to the music of John Williams, and even the costumes designed for the ride operators. This ride has it all and it broke the mold when it first came out. Now, for this list to be fair and accurate, there are some downsides to this ride, the three most notable are: 1) It has a history of breaking down, which can be infuriating, especially if you’ve spent a long time waiting in line. This issue is less of an issue today than it was when it first opened, but it is still considered one of the more finicky rides. 2) The ride experience can be a bit jarring for some. Each car is programmed with its own personality, so some jump and buck more than others. Guests with back and neck problems are warned against riding any ride at Disneyland, but that warning is more applicable to this ride than any other. Even someone with the slightest ache could come off of this thing hurting. 3) Some of the practical effects have either been shut off or are in need of some serious TLC. While the pandemic shutdown allowed for Disneyland to make a number of repairs within the ride, there are some original scenes and tricks that remain shut off. On the plus side, this has made the ride more reliable, as a number of these elements were the cause of the numerous shutdowns.

It is a testament to how amazing this entire experience is, when there are a number of cons that one can point to and the ride still ends up in the top 3 greatest Disneyland rides. There is one final aspect of this ride that most hardcore Disneyland fans know, that many regular guests don’t (and that’s the way it should be). The way that designers wedged the show building into Adventureland is an absolute engineering marvel. Disneyland’s Adventureland was designed to be small, with everything growing on top of itself. Big trees hang over walkways and overgrown bushes line the Jungle Cruise. It truly transports guests to a place that feels different than the rest of the park. This was the genius of Walt Disney, he knew how to transport people into a story. The problem with this, is that it did not leave any room for new attractions or shows. When Disney announced they were adding a new E-Ticket ride that would sit between Jungle Cruise/Swiss Family Robinson Tree House and Pirates of the Caribbean, fans thought they were nuts. There was no room for any type of ride, let alone an ambitious new Indiana Jones themed ride. What Imagineers did was they constructed an entrance in Adventureland and placed the show building outside the berm that surrounds Disneyland. They had to reroute the monorail to construct the show building. Guests walk nearly a half of a mile from the ride’s entrance, down under the Disneyland Railroad tracks, and back up to the show building. The queue is filled with beautiful details and elaborate sets that distract guests from the fact that they are putting in some serious steps. There are gags throughout and easter eggs around every corner. This is just another reason why this ride is so beloved. 

This unassuming entrance, surrounded by trees and bushes, sends guests on an unforgettable adventure to the actual ride. Once loaded into the vehicles, guests embark on a bumpy and dangerous (fake danger, of course) journey through the Temple of the Forbidden Eye, where they dodge a large snake, a swarm of insects, and a falling boulder (an illusion that entire articles have been written to explain the mechanics of it). This is Disney Imagineering at its finest, another Tony Baxter home run, and a true iconic moment in the annals of theme park history. 

2. Haunted Mansion (1969)

Shows an image of Disneyland's Haunted Mansion
Haunted Mansion – Disneyland

You will not find one other Disneyland ride that has a more devoted fan following than the Haunted Mansion. This attraction sits on the outskirts of New Orleans Square and is hidden in a show building behind the beautiful facade of Gracey Manor. The ride opened three years after the death of Walt Disney, but it was a project he and his Imagineers had been working on for years before he passed. There are dozens upon dozens of books about everything from the design of the wallpaper to the peppers ghost effect used in the ballroom. If there is anything about this ride you want to know more about, rest assured there is an article, book, or YouTube video covering the subject. 

The experience starts outside the manor, where guests are lead into a large room that suddenly appears to be stretching, revealing humorous hidden features of seemingly serious paintings. In actuality, this room acts as an elevator, lowering guests down to a basement level so that they can walk through a hallway, under the Disneyland Railroad,  and load into their doom buggies, a variation of an omnimover that continuously carries guests into, through, and out-of the show scenes. The entire experience is narrated by a Ghost Host voiced by Corey Burton. 

While the ride’s name implies a scary experience, the ride is famous for its blend of humor and haunts. During the ride’s development there was a disagreement between two camps, one who wanted it to be all humor and another who wanted it to be dark and scary, like all good artistic disagreements the final product was a blend of the two. If you were to ask guests which of the two (scary or humorous) is more represented in the ride, the overwhelming majority would say humor. 

The ride’s special effects remain relatively unchanged, even with the massive leap in available technology. This is a true testament to the talents of the original designers. Every year, between Halloween and Christmas, the Haunted Mansion gets a re-theme to the movie A Nightmare Before Christmas. Unsurprisingly, the first time this happened, the move was met with enormous fan pushback, but the final product won over most guests and fans look forward to it every year. There is a class of Disneyland fans that monetize their faux-outrage through YouTube, essentially getting paid to be upset. When anger is paying the internet bill, it is no surprise they are never happy. 

The Haunted Mansion in Disneyland provides a gorgeous exterior that fits into New Orleans Square perfectly, it is an incredibly layered experience with an elaborate pre-show and backstory, it provides low level scares with a thick layer of humor, there is a catchy song in the graveyard scene, and old-school theatrical special effects that hold up 50 years later, these all combine to create one of the greatest attractions at Disneyland.

1. Pirates of the Caribbean (1967)

Pirate from Pirates of the Caribbean sitting on a bridge with his leg hanging down
Pirates of the Caribbean – Disneyland

Pirates of the Caribbean was the last ride that Walt Disney truly had his hands on before he passed a few months before the ride opened. Every element of the legendary ride was oversaw by Walt himself and the magic can still be felt today. The ride features no big final drop like Splash Mountain, no visual trickery like Haunted Mansion, no familiar IP like Indiana Jones, and no massive mountain attached like Big Thunder Mountain and Matterhorn Bobsleds. Pirates of the Caribbean is a slow moving boat ride through a number of show scenes depicting a fictionalized version of the life and death of a Pirate. There are scenes with skeletal remains surrounded by riches the pirates obviously stole, there is a sea battle with cannons and water splashes, there are scenes of a town ravaged by drunk and disorderly pirates, and a number of scenes that tie these all together. 

The ride tells a story, but it is not a singular linear story. Guests are presented with a series of vignettes that depict a whole host of activity, this allows guests to see new things on each ride and for different people in the same boat to notice different things. The world this ride creates is detailed, rich, and full of life, even though the scenes are fully automated with no live actors. 

This would not be a complete overview if we did not mention that a number of the scenes have been slightly altered as societal norms have evolved since the late 1960s. These changes were small and had no effect on the overall magic of the ride. Disney developed a film, starring Johnny Depp, based solely on this ride. The film was such a huge hit it became a franchise and has brought in billions of dollars around the world. A number of animatronics portraying Depp’s character, Jack Sparrow, were added to the ride to help promote the films and to tie the ride closer to the moves, for fans who were coming because of the films. 

(Side note: I was recently at Walt Disney World in Orlando and was in line for Pirates of the Caribbean in Magic Kingdom, these younger girls behind me were probably in their mid-20s and I overheard one girl ask ‘Is this ride based on the first Pirates Movie or on the sequels?’ My eyes almost popped out of my head and I listened closely for someone to correct her. One of her friends laughed and I was relieved, expecting that she was going to correct her, she didn’t, she responded ‘No no no, the sequels came out after this ride opened (correct), it is based on the original film (incorrect).” It was hot, covid-19 precautions kept us six feet apart, and I wasn’t in the mood to correct a group of girls who didn’t look like they wanted to be corrected. The point of this story is to emphasize that the ride had been around for nearly three decades before the first film was released, I hate that I have to point that out, but apparently I do.)

I can highlight a long list of elements that make this ride Disneyland’s best ride, a few of my personal favorites are the first scene right after loading, before the first drop, where the sound seems to get sucked out of the air and the boat passes an impossibly calm scene with a man asleep outside his house, the large sea battle scene is endlessly entertaining, and the number of little stories happening in the town scenes. While there are a number of small drops, the ride is free of any thrill element, it relies solely on its ability to tell a large story and it does so with the kind of finesse and talent that comes once in a century. 

Pirates of the Caribbean was Walt Disney’s final masterpiece and no amount of technology, special effects, or innovative interactivity can replace the magic of Walt Disney. No person could tell a story the way that that man could and the popularity of this ride, over fifty years later, proves it.

00. The Final Ingredient

While making this list, I realized something very important. There is nothing a billion dollar Star Wars land expansion could do, or a classic Walt Disney story telling dark ride could do, or a thrilling rollercoaster cued to fun music could do, to make you have a good time, if you don’t want to have fun.

When you walk up to the gates to start your day in the parks, you need to ask yourself one question, “do I want to have a good time today?” The answer should be “yes!” If this is the case, then you need to tell yourself that you are not going to let yourself get upset about things that do not matter, you are going to be able to laugh at ride elements that you once found annoying, you’re going to provide that extra layer of magic that can only come from the guests. If you are coming into a ride with a terrible attitude, you are going to have a bad experience, no matter how amazing the ride is. If you come in with an attitude that says “I am here to live my life and have a blast,” even the lowest ranked rides will be memorable experiences. 

Tell yourself that you know the day is not going to go as planned, there will be problems, rides will breakdown, lines will form, someone’s kid will be loud and crying, you’ll be hot at some point, and you might get soaked on a number of rides just when the sun is going down. And when these things happen, you are going to laugh it off and make a fun memory out of it.

The most important thing one brings with them, to have a great day in Disneyland, is a good attitude, patience, compassion (we have no idea what others around us are going through), and awareness of others. When we go to Disneyland, we are not going to see The Most Magical Place on Earth, we are going to be in (and apart of) The Most Magical Place on Earth. That requires us to show up with enthusiasm, kindness, laughter, and heart. Disney has wrapped the gift of magic with beautiful wrapping paper, they are adding a beautiful ribbon to complete the package, all they need from you is your finger on the knot for five seconds so they can finish tying the ribbon and complete the package.

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