Before Disneyland opened in 1955, theme parks didn’t exist. There were carnivals, circuses, and amusement parks but Walt Disney brought us the first theme park. What’s the difference? A theme park is more than just a collection of rides and shows. A theme park has attractions that tell stories and are designed to fit specific lands. At their best, theme parks are a theater that shows tons of different stories that all somehow meld together. Just like a film, these attractions are made up of different scenes. Today, I’m going to tell you my ten favorite scenes in Disney attractions.
Now that I’m done with my extreme round-about way of explaining attraction scenes, I need to add in some caveats before I get to my list. First, my favorite attraction scenes do not generally reflect what my favorite attraction is. Some attractions are so good as a whole (Pirates of the Caribbean in Disneyland, Tower of Terror in Hollywood Studios, The Matterhorn in Disneyland) that one scene doesn’t stand out to me. Second, I have unofficially named these scenes to describe what’s happening so those are just my names for them.
I also would like to have put more pictures in this post but in the end didn’t have enough on-ride photos. It’s something I’ll have to remedy next time I’m in the parks! I’ve inevitably left something off of my list, so please let me know what your favorite scenes are in the comments. I’m curious to hear what attraction moments stand out to other people. Of course, this is all my opinion so I’m betting most of you will you disagree. Before the list, here’s a few quick honorable mentions:
The Mine scenes in Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (Magic Kingdom) and Thunder Mountain Railroad (Disneyland) – Going inside the Mine with the dwarfs singing is absolutely magical but it misses the list because of its newness and not knowing if it’s a moment that will always stick out to me. Thunder Mountain’s mine scene is fantastic after the refurb about a year ago. This attraction suffers from what I’ll call ‘Pirates of the Caribbean syndrome’ in that the rest of the attraction is so good that the mine scene doesn’t necessarily stand out to me.
The Earth reveal scene on Spaceship Earth (Epcot) – A beautiful ride has a beautiful finish at the end but it misses out on what could really be a beautiful reveal of our planet. This is visually stunning but the narration causes it to narrowly miss the list.
The climb and summit of Expedition Everest (Animal Kingdom) – This is the scene that was the hardest not to put on the list. As you climb up the mountain on your train, the views of Animal Kingdom are incredible. Then, as you summit, you are in for a surprise. Or, if you’re like me, you’re in for complete terror. It’s a great build-up with beautiful shots along the way.
On to the list! I’ll try to avoid some spoilers if you haven’t been to these attractions but some of this will be unavoidable so skip around if you would like. Enjoy!
10. Backside of Water in the Jungle Cruise (Disneyland and Magic Kingdom) – This narrowly made the list because of how iconic the quote is. This is an inside joke for anyone and everyone who’s ever visited a Disney Park (maybe the biggest inside joke ever?) and that in itself is something memorable. The view behind the waterfall is beautiful but it’s the joke and narration that really make this a top scene.
9. Boulder Dropping in the Indiana Jones Adventure (Disneyland) – While this ride suffers from ‘Pirates of the Caribbean syndrome’ (go back to the honorable mentions if you didn’t catch what that means) the final scene is incredible, quick and startling. As Indy has had us narrowly escape some of the other could-be-disasters, the boulder almost falling on the guest is the most dramatic. I’ve never been on Indiana Jones Adventure when the whole car wasn’t leaning their heads forward to narrowly miss being squashed by a boulder.
8. The Countdown Scene in Space Mountain (Magic Kingdom and Disneyland) – Both of these parks have different countdown scenes but both are very effective. As we make the climb up Space Mountain, we may get dizzy or suffer some nervousness because things get pretty loud. Then all of a sudden it feels as if we’re floating in space as a cool air comes over our ship. Still the impending fear of something gone wrong continues as the countdown is going. This one may be more like two scenes but it happens quickly and in my mind goes together. It’s what makes Space Mountain such a classic ride.
7. The Green House in Living With The Land (Epcot) – Other people may think this is boring but this ride is quintessential Epcot to me. Providing a relaxing boat ride with a lot of educational entertainment, entering the green house is where this attraction peaks. Seeing all of the different varieties of plants and food that are being grown all in about a minute is very impressive. I know it’s boring to some, but to me this is a moment I always look forward to.
6. The Waterfall Reveal in Radiator Springs Racers (California Adventure) – One part of why this attraction is so great is that it starts off almost immediately with a ‘wow moment’. A quiet drive around the Cadillac Mountains suddenly gives way to a beautiful waterfall as the music in your car changes to fit the mood. It’s a quick moment but it shows the detail and beauty that the imagineers put into a great land.
5. The Ballroom Scene in Haunted Mansion (Magic Kingdom) – It was terribly hard to pick just one scene from this attraction but this one always gets me. As you move above the ballroom, peering down into it, there is so much to see. Ghosts dancing, the picture frames shooting at each other, and a piano being played are just a few of the more obvious details. It’s a stunning scene that is wonderfully done. I prefer the Magic Kingdom version to Disneyland’s but both have this scene.
4. The Hell Scene in Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride (Disneyland) – If you follow the blog regularly then you know of my affection for Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. No attraction has the ‘wild’ imagination (pun intended) of Toad as things go from bad to worse to eternally awful in this ride. We end up in that hot, burning place after a series of unfortunate events and by the end of the ride it’s hard to not have a shocked look on your face as you try to figure just how you ended up in Hell while in Disneyland.
3. The drop in Splash Mountain (Disneyland) – This is another attraction that’s extremely difficult to just pick one scene from but the iconic drop in Splash Mountain is hard not to pick. No ride tells a story quite like this one. It may be what comes before and after the drop into the briar patch that makes the drop itself so great. Splash Mountain gets points because of not hiding the drop. Everyone sees it while walking up to the ride and it’s always in the back of your mind as you go through. That it’s not the last scene in the attraction is one of my favorite parts about it. I can’t gush quite a enough about this one because it’s so well done. I prefer the Disneyland version to Magic Kingdom’s.
2. The savannah scene in Kilimanjaro Safaris (Animal Kingdom) – The last surprise on my list comes via a two-week long safari through Africa. The opening to the Kilimanjaro Safaris is great as you come across hippos, and forest animals but the ride really makes its mark when you head down a little hill into a big open land that they call the savannah on this ride. Rhinos and giraffes roam free and have the ability to stand in your trucks way to slow down your experience. You go past lions, zebras and warthogs. It’s breathtaking to see all of these animals in the same location. Right when you get down into the savannah your driver will turn on this famous Kilimanjaro Safari song and it’s impossible not to hum along with the tune for the few seconds that it’s on (skip to the 1:45 part in the video for what they play but the whole things is great so give it a listen).
1. Flying over London in Peter Pan’s Flight – It’s hard to go away from the classics and in the end, I couldn’t. The original Soarin’ attraction is here and as you hop in your pirate ship and start flying through the air at Peter Pan’s Flight there is something that will never get old about it. As you pass through the kid’s bedroom and enter London it becomes absolutely magical. As you get higher, you can see Big Ben and cars on the small streets below. Soon you’ll be in Wonderland but it’s hard not to get swept in the joy of flying over London. The rest of the attraction just feels like gravy.
Thank you for reading and let me know your favorite attraction scenes in the comments!