Great Rides with the Shortest Wait Times
You go to Walt Disney World to ride the rides. Sure, you’ll find countless other sources of entertainment while you’re on the campus, but all of those are the side missions, so to speak. The main quest at Walt Disney World is to ride as many rides as possible during your trip. Otherwise, when you’re packing up to board the Tragical Express airport bus, you’ll feel vaguely dissatisfied about how you managed your time.
The good news is that I have a solution. I can list a series of attractions that you can always ride without waiting in line forever, and that’s the key. Huge line queues are the true time burglars at Disney theme parks. You want to avoid them with clever FastPass management, expert usage of Extra Magic Hours, and a bit of knowledge. I’m here to provide that bit of knowledge today with this list. Here are seven Disney attractions that are entertaining but also have short lines.
Carousel of Progress
I’m taking the term ‘ride’ literally today, which is why this list won’t include fantastic options such as Mickey’s PhilHarmagic, Country Bear Jamboree, and Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor. All three of them are wonderful when you’re looking for something to do but don’t want to wait, though. Keep them in mind as viable alternatives as you read the list.
Now, you may wonder how Carousel of Progress earns entry while those attractions don’t. The answer is simple. The Carousel of Progress IS a ride. Yes, you’re sitting in an audience looking up at a stage, but you will shift multiple times throughout the ride to see the shows from other eras.
This clever bit of design is something that Walt Disney and his team at WED Enterprises developed for the 1964 New York World’s Fair, and it has remained in operation to this day. The people in charge of upholding Uncle Walt’s legacy update Carousel of Progress to make the final scene more current. That’s their way of offering a loving tribute to the man who drew the mouse who started it all.
Other than the final scene, the rest of Carousel of Progress is basically the same as it was when the General Electric pavilion opened in 1964. The corporation paid WED Enterprises to construct their World’s Fair attraction, “Progressland,” and then they paid again to ship it to Disneyland. The body of that version is now at Walt Disney World, which means that when you board this attraction, you’re enjoying more than 50 years of Disney theme park history in one show. Best of all, you rarely have to wait more than 10 minutes to board the carousel and hear “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” over and over again.
DinoLand U.S.A. is probably the least popular themed land at Walt Disney World. It has historically gotten a bad rap since Michael Eisner famously cut corners while building Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The DinoLand section was supposed to work as a complement to a 2000 animated movie called Dinosaur. Alas, that film didn’t do well, and it’s left a lingering perception that the associated themed land was a bad idea. In fact, rumors persist that the whole thing might wind up getting replaced by Indiana Jones Land.
One of the explanations for that rumor is that one of the best attractions at Disneyland, Indiana Jones Adventure, has a fraternal twin at Animal Kingdom. Dinosaur uses the same ride carts and set designs to tell the story of a trip through time back to the days of the dinosaurs. Unfortunately, the transport happens minutes before the proverbial comet strikes, leading to a chaotic adventure through the Cretaceous period.
Dinosaur is a thoroughly satisfying ride that I view as one of the best reasons to visit Animal Kingdom. Amazingly, the wait for Dinosaur is almost always 20 minutes or less. It’s a true E Ticket attraction with small lines, which makes it one of the true hidden gems of Walt Disney World.
Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros
Speaking of hidden gems, the World Showcase has one, too. While everyone thinks of Frozen Ever After first when it comes to rides at the back of the park, the Mexico Pavilion has an adorable one that stars Donald Duck. It’s basically It’s a Small World with Donald and two of his friends, José Carioca and Panchito Pistoles. This trio starred in a 1940 movie (seriously), and they’re all about silly shenanigans.
The attraction at the Mexico Pavilion is a little boat ride that journeys through several Mexican set pieces. Many of them have accompanying movie displays that show the caballeros yucking it up on magic carpets, playing musical instruments, and generally making sure that Donald Duck suffers painful pratfalls. The whole thing is guaranteed to lighten your mood during a tense day at a crowded theme park.
The best part is that Gran Fiesta Tour is almost always a walk-up attraction. Last September, I stood in line for about eight minutes. During that time, a couple of disgruntled people standing near me complained that they’d never see such a long line for Gran Fiesta Tour. When people are irritated by a sub-10 minute wait, you know that an attraction has notoriously short lines.
Living with the Land
The Land Pavilion at Epcot is home to a pair of attractions. Soarin’ Around the World receives all of the hype and the accompanying line queues. Living with the Land is on the same floor but doesn’t have the same cachet for some reason. Even though I adore Soarin’, I want to stress that BOTH rides at The Land are worthy of your time.
Living with the Land serves three purposes that Disney experts appreciate. The first is that it’s an indoor ride that gets people out of the heat on scorching Florida days. The second is that the first half of the ride takes place in a dark environment. What I’m really saying with that statement is that Living with the Land is one of the best places to take a nap at Walt Disney World. You ride a slow boat through blackness for about 20 minutes. On a rough day, this ride has what I can only describe as magical restorative properties.
Even when you’re neither hot nor sleepy, Living with the Land is still impressive. The first half of the ride is informational in nature, showing the history of mankind’s quest for sustenance and the difficulties we face from the interference of weather events. It’s a thinker about how much our species has evolved in terms of food gathering and preparation.
The second part is what amazes me every time. The Walt Disney Company is forward-thinking with their food resources. The company hires some of the finest minds in hope of unearthing new, more efficient ways of growing healthy foods. Living with the Land takes riders through the heart of science laboratories, revealing some of the food breakthroughs and experiments that Disney workers have made or are currently attempting.
This portion is especially enlightening during one of Disney’s food festivals, as some of the plants actually show which food booths will include them. You may reconsider your lunch plans because you see something that looks good on the ride. I’m a huge proponent of a ride on Living with the Land basically any day that you spend at Epcot, and that’s easy to do since the lines are rarely significant here. Soarin’ hoards all the traffic.
The Seas with Nemo & Friends
Sea Base Alpha will always be an important part of Epcot history, but I’m a huge fan of theming done well. The Seas with Nemo & Friends is more than just a titular ride at the pavilion. It’s also a marvelous re-telling of the wildly popular movie, using Omnimover Clamobiles to take guests down a guided path of upbeat storytelling.
On the Nemo ride, you’ll see all of the beloved characters from the first movie, even including Bruce the killer shark. You’ll also enjoy an amazing technical achievement as you enter an open sea area that’s basically the longest display panel on a Disney ride. The East Australian Current seems so lifelike due to a triumph of Imagineering.
Here, you’ll run into Nemo’s friend, Crush, and he’ll swim and surf the waves, sometimes right in front of you. At other points, he’s two or three Clamobiles away, but you won’t notice since he’s still directly in your line of sight. I’ve always felt that this current sequence is one of the most underrated technical innovations at any Disney theme park, and I never grow tired of riding to see it again (and again and again).
The beauty of The Seas with Nemo & Friends is that the Clamobile Omnimover is incredibly efficient and long. It is capable of so much throughput that you’ll rarely wait an extended time to board the Clamobile. In fact, the My Disney Experience app usually shows a wait-time of five minutes…and it’s right!
Everyone has a favorite ride at Walt Disney World. Spaceship Earth is mine. I still remember riding it the year that Epcot opened, and a part of me flashes back to that happy time with my parents each time I enter the park. I still feel that childish exuberance in knowing that there’s a giant metal ball that Disney Imagineers somehow built out of thin air, and I love entering that building to ride the attraction that crisscrosses the giant structure.
Spaceship Earth is too informational and slow for some. I understand that criticism, but it doesn’t ever feel that way to me. I love noticing new details of each set, whether it’s the giant display of hunters learning to work together or the 1970s scientist in her funkadelic yellow outfit dutifully taking research notes. I even feel a sense that I lived through part of it when I reach the Apple garage section. Spaceship Earth somehow makes me believe that I’m both insignificant AND a part of the history of humanity.
As a tribute to Walt Disney, it even welcomes guests to the world of tomorrow. The final section of the attraction is a game wherein you select a few likely life choices. Then, Spaceship Earth reveals your future, and it even takes a picture of your face first to connect you to the events on a more personal level. Yes, you’re a cartoon stick figure, but the animation is adorable.
While I don’t expect anyone to love Spaceship Earth as much as I do – that would be unhealthy – it’s still a wonderful, engaging attraction. And the only time of day that it has an extended wait is right after the park’s opening. As the first attraction guests see, Spaceship Earth lines people up during that first hour. After that, 30 minutes of wait time is rare, and a FastPass within the next two hours is almost always available. As such, you can almost always board a time travel ride cart within a matter of minutes.
Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover
Let’s face it. Magic Kingdom is THE crown jewel of Disney’s Parks & Resorts empire. This gate is the most trafficked theme park on the planet, and it asks a lot of visitors. You have to walk a lot, and you’ll face consistent crowds. You won’t think about this often since the visit makes you so happy, of course, and you also know that there’s a way to pass the time whenever times get too rough.
In its earliest iteration, the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover was projected as THE method of transportation that would take citizens of the Experimental Prototype City of Tomorrow from place to place. These worker bees would all have jobs with Walt Disney, and they’d live a short distance away from the job. To streamline the process, Disney and his Imagineers created this new form of travel, but it never came to fruition as viable transportation. Disney’s death prevented the EPCOT of his mind’s eye from becoming a reality.
Still, Uncle Walt’s imagination is still visible for all to see at a certain place in Magic Kingdom. Guests who ride the PeopleMover enter a dark corridor early in the ride. From this vantage point, they can see a scale model of the EPCOT that might have been. It passes by too quickly to fully appreciate, but there’s something marvelously symbolic about the PeopleMover taking park guests through the small scale city that contained grand ambitions for this form of travel.
In the absence of EPCOT, the PeopleMover is something else. It’s a 10-minute journey through Tomorrowland. During the ride, you can see otherwise hidden parts of Space Mountain and Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin plus more than you want to see of Tomorrowland Speedway. Presumably, at some point in a couple of years, you’ll also have a gorgeous view of the exterior of TRON Lightcycle Power Run.
Then again, you may find all the views irrelevant. You may simply think of PeopleMover as a glorified futuristic take on the Walt Disney World Railroad, only without the ability to take people to other themed lands in the park. Instead, it’s a rest and relaxation ride, a place where everyone can catch their breath in the middle of the maelstrom that is Magic Kingdom. You’ll never get more enjoyment out of kicking your feet up and relaxing at any Disney park than when you board the PeopleMover, which is why its lack of significant line queues is such great news. You can board the PeopleMover anytime, just as Walt Disney had wanted, even if it’s not quite the way that he intended.