Original Disney Park attractions have been a staple since the day Disneyland opened its gates to guests in 1955. Some of those attractions have become so iconic that they have their own movies made after them now. In this post, we’re going to countdown the top ten current day attractions that don’t have an entertainment franchise connected to them.
For those unaware, IP stands for intellectual property in this post. In other words, we’re ranking Disney attractions that aren’t attached to movies or TV shows. I’m going to stretch it a little farther and say that these rides can’t have anything attached to them, Disney owned or not. I love Jules Verne as much as the rest of the world but Mysterious Island attractions in DisneySea are out because they’re based on novels.
This isn’t to say that great theme park attractions should always be original stories. The majority of rides are based on something and many of them are better for it. Without IP-based attractions, Fantasyland wouldn’t really exist in most parks and ‘Studio’ themes would go out the window. A nice balance of original and IP-based attractions is my ideal for a theme park. I do find the storytelling in original rides to be fascinating, as getting a story across in less than 10 minutes while the guest is in motion is unlike any other medium.
Back to the rules of the post, we’re sticking with current day here. Yes, Pirates of the Caribbean, Jungle Cruise and Haunted Mansion were built before movies were attached to them. They are marvels and would be in the conversation for first place on the list but there are IP’s attached to them now, even if one of those definitely (and I mean definitely, Haunted Mansion) shouldn’t exist. Same goes for The Country Bears, even if that movie has next to nothing to do with the attraction. I’ll also stick to the parks I’ve been to – Disneyland Resort, Walt Disney World and Tokyo Disney Resort. Paris, Hong Kong and Shanghai do have some worthy additions though. I may accidentally bend the rules at some point and if I do then let me know in the comments!
These rankings aren’t as straight forward as me just putting my favorites at the top, although there’s some of that. I’m also factoring just how well these attractions tell an original story and how iconic they are for doing so. Having some history will help in the rankings, as well. Obviously these are all my opinion so let us know what your favorite non-IP Disney attractions are in the comments. Let’s get to it!
11. In Park Transportation!
Okay, we’re already cheating and adding an 11th because this is too notable to leave off the list and the entry does encompass at least 10 attractions. I love monorails, riverboats, trains, gondolas, omnibuses and pretty much any other mode of transportation in the parks. None of them really tell a story, although there’s a case to be made for the river boats and Tokyo DisneySea’s Venetian Gondolas, but they are original and unique to the rest of the world. For that reason alone, they get a shoutout. Even if all of the other original theme park attractions disappear over the years, we’ll still have the railroads and such. Disney will have to get really low on ideas before making a movie about them.
10. Soarin’ Over California/Grizzly River Run – California Adventure
Yeah, I’m cheating again. Here’s a two for one, with both attractions residing in California Adventure’s Grizzly Peak. Grizzly River Run, a raft ride, keeps the story fairly simple as guests careen down rapids while skirting by wildlife. They should keep stories like this simple and they do here. The other entry, Soarin’ Over California, is back on a limited time basis but I’m not above continuing the campaign to make it permanent. The OG Soarin’ is a spectacular ode to California as guests fly by different icons.
9. it’s a small world – Castle Parks
This one’s a little controversial, as there are a few Disney characters tossed in depending on what version you’re on. They aren’t integral to the story and some would argue that they shouldn’t be there at all. With or without them (U2 shoutout!), Small World is a celebration and prayer for peace and harmony across the globe. There’s no magnificent plot, unless you subscribe to some of the more morbid theories which we won’t cover in this post, but there’s a cohesive idea told with precision. That big idea of us all being connected is showcased in the art of the attraction, both on the outside and in.
8. Spaceship Earth – Epcot
Epcot’s thesis attraction takes guests through the history of the world where we learn that the Phoenicians created the alphabet! While there are some umm… questions to the last part of that sentence, the rest of the attraction remains a beautiful idea acting as a timeline through the world’s greatest innovations. In some way, you could argue that that’s not an entirely original idea but it is in the world of theme parks. The sets are still incredible, the climactic moment is one of the best in a ride and fitting the system inside of the iconic ball is a true feat.
7. Kilimanjaro Safaris – Animal Kingdom
Like Spaceship Earth to Epcot, Kilimanjaro Safaris is the main idea behind Animal Kingdom. The ride showcases animal after animal roaming in different areas, before culminating in the wide open savannah. Kilimanjaro Safaris used to have more of a story behind it that included poachers but has dropped that. I’d love to see a little bit of story thrown back into the ride. Even without that, the marvel of landscaping and forming of the habitats is worth celebrating. Oh, and there’s animals. So many animals!
6. Fortress Explorations – Tokyo DisneySea
An unheralded attraction across the world, Fortress Exploration is unlike anything I’ve ever seen inside of a theme park. Laying at the base of Mount Prometheus, this walk through attraction is a hybrid between a science center, playground, castle and planetarium. It’s absolutely beautiful and bridges the story between Mediterranean Harbor and Mysterious Island seamlessly.
5. Expedition Everest – Animal Kingdom
Unless I’m missing something obvious, which is entirely possible, there was a clear top 5 to me. Somewhat surprisingly, those top 5 are all thrill rides. Everest is 5th on the list although I considered moving it up a spot or two. The attraction takes guests on a train ride up the mountain before encountering a fearsome yeti who has a real knack for ripping out the track. Everest’s story starts all the way in the queue with some wonderful detailing. For now, it’s fifth on the list but it could easily move up, especially if they ever get the massive yeti moving again.
4. Space Mountain – Castle Parks
Space Mountain is an interesting one to consider, as there’s not a ton of story here. You’re riding through space with a blast off followed by a wild ride. It all sounds a little simple but consider how easy it is to buy into. Specifically on Disneyland’s version, the countdown followed by the incredible soundtrack make for an out-of-this-world experience. Staring up at the stars overhead as you’re zipping through the rides dark curves is a transportive story, easily told.
3. Tower of Terror – Tokyo DisneySea
I’m on record as saying that this is my favorite storytelling in any Disney Park. I know that Tower of Terror stateside is inspired by The Twilight Zone but in DisneySea it’s a standalone story that continues the story through the rest of the park. There’s a collector, Harrison Hightower, who collects something that he shouldn’t have. That turns out to be a bad move as is played out through the attraction. I don’t want to give too much away but the storytelling done here in the matter of about 10 minutes is something Disney hasn’t done in many years.
2. Matterhorn Bobsleds – Disneyland
While there are differences, it’s hard not to think of the Matterhorn as the elder statesman to Everest. Guests go up a mountain and then are chased around by a yeti, named Harold in this case. The soundscape around this attraction is still wonderful with howling and haunting winds mixed in with yodelers. There’s a perfect amount of whimsy to match the trepidation of guest’s traveling up the mountain. It’s one of the first cases of the classic thrill ride trope of ‘this is awesome, oh wait something has gone terribly wrong.’ Harold is what has gone terribly wrong.
1. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad – Castle Parks
We have an entire post dedicated to Big Thunder’s story and it goes far deeper than I could have ever imagined. Even just walking by and around the attraction, I find new details every time. What seems like a charming little town is mostly abandoned and spirits pull the trains along the tracks. It’s an incredibly story that both leaves room for you to imagine while offering more details if you want to investigate.
What are your favorite non-IP Disney Park attractions? Let us know, along with any questions you might have, in the comments below! Thank you for reading Wandering in Disney. Planning a trip to the Disney Parks? Check out our planning guides to get you started! If you enjoy what you’re reading please subscribe to the blog via WordPress or email and like our social media pages. You can do both of those things on the right side of this page. Have a great day!
Categories: Top 10 Lists