The 10 Best Rides at Disneyland
Disneyland is called the Happiest Place on Earth, and it didn’t stumble on that name by accident. The park earned its reputation by placing smiles on the faces of literally millions of customers since 1955. It’s the park that started the themed attraction craze, and it still maintains the lofty status of one of the most visited tourist attractions in North America.
Why is Disneyland still so wildly popular? The short answer is the attractions, but which ones at the Disneyland Resort are the best? Well, let’s take a look at the best of both parks to see how Walt Disney’s dream project has stood the test of time. Here are the best ten rides at the Happiest Place on Earth.
10. Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage
In a way, this list has an even division between the classics from yesteryear and Disneyland’s most impressive recent updates. Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage hopscotches between those extremes.
The original version of this submarine adventure dates back to 1959, when Disney constructed a tie-in to their Academy Award-winning (no, seriously) 1954 movie, 20,000 Leagues under the Sea. In 1998, Disney shut it down only to bring it back a few years later with a Nemo theme.
The thrill is still largely the same. You pretend to submerge under water and believe the illusion thanks to some masterful Imagineering. The new Nemo projections really add something to the theming, modernizing a ride that was just okay in the first place.
9. Space Mountain
Anyone who loves indoor roller coasters has Space Mountain to thank for their passion. It was the original, a ride so far ahead of its time that Imagineers had to wait for technology to catch up with the premise. Its computerized departures weren’t possible with 1960s computers .This explains why the ride didn’t arrive until 1975 at Magic Kingdom and then 1977 at Disneyland. I’m docking Space Mountain a bit as a clone of an existing ride. Also, if I’m being honest, this coaster has lost a step relative to the rides that came later and stood on its broad shoulders. It was once the best of the best, but that time has passed.
8. Indiana Jones Adventure
You Star Wars fanatics will want to see this list rewritten in a couple of years when Star Wars Land arrives. For me, the Indiana Jones franchise is the masterwork of George Lucas (yes, I can hear your boos and hisses), and that’s why this ride gets a vote while Star Tours sits on the sidelines.
Indiana Jones Adventure is a marvelously detailed ride with novel ride carts, ones that Imagineers had to invent. It has the true feel of archaeological exploration in a mystical temple, a place where an angry goddess is such a threat that even Indiana Jones himself is in danger. Rumors persist that Disney will bring this attraction to Walt Disney World in updated fashion, and I’m giddy with anticipation at the thought of it.
7. The Matterhorn
Do you ever watch The Olympics and think that the bobsledders are nuts? The Matterhorn is proof-positive that you’re right. When you board this ride, you’re really just choosing to slide down a mountain. Gravity’s going to take you down to the bottom, whether you have a slalom cart under you or not.
The Matterhorn is in its own way the scariest ride that Disney has ever built. It’s erratic and bumpy in the best possible way. Genuine thrill seekers can have a blast on a ride that debuted all the way back in 1959. How great is that? Despite being almost 20 years older, it also somehow feels a bit fresher than Space Mountain to boot.
6. Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout!
This ranking may seem too low to you. If it does, you’ve probably guessed why by now. I’m on Team Twilight Zone. Don’t get me wrong. I like the Guardians of the Galaxy just fine and gave the second movie a glowingly positive review. I’m just not enthusiastic about the change. Yes, Mission: Breakout! is a lot of fun with a rockin’ soundtrack and lots of humorous moments. It also gets bonus points for telling a different story with each musical accompaniment. It’s just…not the Tower of Terror, and I’m not over it yet.
5. Toy Story: Midway Mania!
Videogames at a Disney theme park? It’s every child’s dream come true! Toy Story: Midway Mania! is an adorable celebration of the silliness of the Pixar franchise with some competitive carnie games thrown in for good measure. You get to whiz around in what is basically an arcade console complete with a joystick. And the joystick works by pulling on a string repeatedly! It’s the height of silliness, and that’s what makes it fun. The play’s the thing with the Toy Story attraction, and that play is pure joy. (And no, I didn’t ding this one as a clone because it arrived within a month of the original at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.)
4. Soarin’ Around the World
Oddly, this one would have ranked higher prior to the reboot. Soarin’ Over California was the only ride at Disney California Adventure that seemed in line with the park’s core concept. It was a majestic tour of California from a bird’s eye perspective. It was also the best that the Golden State had to offer.
Not much has changed with Soarin’ Around the World, at least in terms of mechanics. The clever ride structure lifts people up in the air so that they have a direct view of the massive IMAX screen in front of them, and the rider still mimics the sensation of flying. The difference is that the story is now global in nature, and that’s a wonderful update for Soarin’ as a premise. I especially love the Whale Outta Nowhere and the crisscrossing of the Great Wall of China. It’s just…not California. I probably won’t mind this as much when the inevitable name change of Great California Adventure occurs. Right now, it feels like a step backward, though.
3. Pirates of the Caribbean
While an argument could be made for Space Mountain, a ride that didn’t arrive until almost a decade after his death, Walt Disney’s last true attraction was Pirates of the Caribbean. In his final year, he would famously ride a belt contraption through the waterways so that he could visualize the final outcome of this boat ride. It technically wouldn’t open until a few months after his death, but he knew how guests would feel during this bawdy adventure.
Pirates of the Caribbean has drawn headlines in recent weeks for its controversial but long overdue choice to remove the auction scene. The fact that guests have felt so passionate about a single scene speaks volumes about the popularity of this goofy but endearing celebration of a pirate’s life. And say what you will about the dated nature of the attraction’s concept, the music is still terrific. Plus, Disney does a wonderful job of keeping the ride plussed enough that it always feels fresh.
2. Radiator Springs Racers
Picking the top attraction at Disneyland is a brutal endeavor, one that’s subject to plenty of second guessing. When I narrowed down my list, I wasn’t sure which entries would make the top 10, but I knew which ones would hold the top two positions. The only question was which one was worthy of the top slot.
I eventually chose to slot Radiator Springs Racers, the most popular attraction at Disneyland right now, in second place. Yes, it’s a wonderful combination of dark ride and roller coaster, and I love everything about it. Still, this attraction hasn’t stood the test of time yet. That’s the only reason why I didn’t choose it as the best of the best at the Happiest Place on Earth.
Don’t get me wrong, though. Radiator Springs Racers is everything that’s right about theme park attractions. It recreates the fictional city from Cars as the most colorful city ever built. You’ll feel like Radiator Springs is a real place as you drive through the heart of the city.
You’ll enjoy some exciting moments that are eerily reminiscent of Test Track, but then you’ll burst into the open road outside. Rather than going 65 miles per hour, you’ll ride down the road at a leisurely pace, getting to enjoy the majestic mountains that Imagineers constructed especially for the Cars Land expansion. It’s the pinnacle of current Disney landmarks, at least until Star Wars Land debuts.
1. Haunted Mansion
Disneyland Resort has countless amazing rides. This list doesn’t even include park staples such as Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Goofy’s Sky School, Splash Mountain or Peter Pan’s Flight, all of which are deserving in their own right. Choosing the best of the best is a brutal exercise, but I still feel quite strongly about which one should top the list.
As I mentioned in a previous article, Haunted Mansion was supposed to appear at Disneyland a decade before it actually did. While that must have been incredibly frustrating for guests in the early 1960s, it turned out for the best. At the 1964 New York World’s Fair, Disney came up with a new idea for ride throughput. The first true Omnimover wouldn’t appear for another couple of years, but it was the basis for the Doombuggy that has become integral to the ride. Just as importantly, this technology gave Disney the ability to control the line of sight of the person in the Doombuggy. Simply stated, it enabled Disney’s marvelous storytellers to do what they do best.