Ranking the 5 New Rides at Walt Disney World
A shameful confession I must make is that I’d fallen behind on my new Disney rides. The Walt Disney Company has updated their parks so dramatically in recent years that I’ve struggled to keep up. My family failed to visit Walt Disney World for 18 months. By the time we had returned, two entire themed lands and a complete ride reboot had occurred. Here is how I would rank these five new attractions at Walt Disney World.
5) Mission: SPACE (Green Version)
Last August, Mission: SPACE returned with a significant change. Historically, the only difference between the Orange and Green versions of the attraction involved the centrifuge. This device simulated the g-force pressure of outer space travel, particularly during escape velocity. It certainly wasn’t for everyone.
When Mission: SPACE opened, it famously received a lot of negative headlines. Some guests found the centrifuge sickening in a literal sense, causing Disney to split the ride into two versions. The Orange version maintained the centrifuge while the Green version was much calmer. The ride experience was identical in every other way, though.
In 2017, Disney finally distinguished the two attractions by altering the core mission of the Green version. It’s no longer a mission to Mars. Instead, would-be pilots take an orbital trip around Earth.
The flight path is dramatically different from the Mars journey. Several of the details feel familiar, though. You still experience liftoff, zero-gravity, and a rough landing. Everything is shinier since the updated graphics are 15 years better than the originals. You remember the television you had in 2003 versus today, right?
What I took from the new Mission: SPACE is how different the ride is. I always found the original version off-putting due to the sheer violence of the ride experience. It was TOO accurate in its portrayal of outer space travel. The updated green version isn’t like that at all. If anything, Disney has overcorrected.
Mission: SPACE is now gentle to ride and lovely to watch. Its repeat value is still questionable since it’s the same ride each time, but it’s so shiny that I highly recommend it to everyone as something to ride at least once per trip.
4) Alien Swirling Saucers
This attraction was the true surprise of the trip for me. I’d read lots of negative reviews of the ride, many of them abbreviating it to the first letter of each name in the title. I’ve also never been a huge fan of Mad Tea Party, a ride I outgrew the same day that I learned about cause-and-effect with regards to an upset stomach. Suffice to say that I was dubious about Alien Swirling Saucers before I rode it.
I was way wrong. This attraction is a true delight, Disney artistry at its finest. It’s simple and short and a joy to behold. You and another rider sit down at the start of the ride, having no idea that you’re about to become mortal enemies.
Once the three-eyed alien starts driving you around the building, you’ll engage in full ride immersion. You’ll have to do so because you’ll start getting thrown into the person sitting beside you. The brilliance of the ride design is on display as you struggle to combat the force of gravity. As the ride cart stretches and then springs back together, you can’t help but bump into your neighbor.
The effect of these collisions is hilarious. They’re gentle enough that everyone laughs about them. They’re significant enough that you may discover yourself cheek-to-cheek with your riding partner, whether you want to be or not. I was laughing about my wife’s clumsy inability to stabilize herself right up until I smashed into her hard enough that I remembered I’m literally twice her size.
The hidden test of Alien Swirling Saucers is avoiding huge bumps. The catch is that kids figure out pretty early that they have an excuse to slam into their parents. They do this with relish and with glee. During our rides, it was one of the loudest experiences we’ve ever had at Disney due to the raucous laughter of children. EVERYONE was having a joyful time, the entire point of a Disney vacation.
Alien Swirling Saucers has gotten a bad rap. It’s a terrific ride that entertains thoroughly. The fact that it’s only ranked fourth on this list speaks highly of the new attractions in full. All of them are great.
3) Avatar Flight of Passage
When we visited Pandora – The World of Avatar for the first time, we were a bit nervous. What if it didn’t live up to the hype? Well, I can say with certainty that any such fears were misguided. Pandora isn’t just the best themed land at Walt Disney World right now. It’s also the one where the cast members are having the most fun.
Everyone working in this area took tremendous pride in all of the attractions available to guests. While interacting with them, I was a bit amused by their passion for all things Pandora. To a person, they referred to Avatar Flight of Passage as “Soarin’ on steroids,” a talking point that has become an accepted fact at the park.
For my part, I didn’t find the ride to be vastly superior to Soarin’, just different in an interesting way. There’s no mistaking the similarities between Soarin’ and Avatar Flight of Passage. You get swept into the air on both rides, whether you’re riding in a gigantic erector set or on a stationary motorcycle. The sensations are still similar.
You’ll fly up and down through the various scenes of the attraction. On Soarin’, you’ll mimic the sensation of hand-gliding as you fly past some of the most famous landmarks on the planet. Avatar Flight of Passage employs augmented reality to create the same effect, although you’re still staring at a giant screen throughout both rides.
The difference is that Soarin’s places are real. Everything you see on Avatar Flight of Passage is an artificial construct brought to life by Imagineering. You will totally buy into the illusion as you travel, and Disney deserves a great deal of credit for the story told on the ride. By the end, you will feel as if you’ve completed a flight of passage and joined the Na’vi tribe as a full-fledged Banshee rider.
The entire experience is brilliant, although I still favor Soarin’ a bit more. This isn’t the popular opinion at Walt Disney World right now, and neither is my next one. I view Avatar Flight of Passage as slightly inferior to its less storied sibling. My favorite ride in Pandora is…
2) Na’Vi River Journey
The other people in our traveling party expressed a bit of disappointment with Na’Vi River Journey. A pre-teen girl called it a C+, while her father grudgingly gave it an A-, although his tone suggested he was a tiger mom expressing frustration rather than satisfaction.
A writer from a different theme park site commented to me that she disliked the lack of story on the attraction. She felt that it lacked the total theming of Avatar Flight of Passage.
I’m here to tell you that all three of those people are nuts. I love them, but they’re wackadoodle. Their love of one ride at Pandora blinds them to the greatness of the other. Na’Vi River Journey is the best water ride that Disney has ever built, and they’ve been in the business of water rides ever since Jungle Cruise in 1955.
This boat ride features the most sumptuous visuals to date on a Disney themed attraction. The immersion is total as you ride through the darkness, marveling at the bioluminescence on display in Pandora. At moments, you’ll get shaken out of the hypnotic beauty of the place due to the stark reminders that you’re visiting a land full of predators.
Na’Vi River Journey redefines special effects on Disney theme park attractions. It’s a five-minute escape from reality that satisfies immensely. Had the lines not been in excess of an hour that day, I would have ridden it again and again. In future years when Pandora has slowed down a bit, it will be one of the attractions I ride the most at Walt Disney World.
1) Slinky Dog Dash
Happiness is a slinky. These toys dominated Christmas for generations. Imagineers deserve a ton of credit for taking the concept and expanding it into a roller coaster attraction. While Slinky Dog Dash undeniably skews young, it has that special oomph that elevates it for older riders, too.
My adoration of the ride started in the line queue. Disney has carefully studied toy packaging from bygone eras and turned it into the backdrop for the new ride. You’ll see all sorts of instructions about how to put together a toy. It’s something that will remind parents of their childhoods, back when Christmas toys often included those dreaded words, “some assembly required”. The Slinky Dog Dash line celebrates these memories.
The line queue offers all sorts of clever touches that will remind guests of childhood. My party agreed that the best touch is the notebook sketches on the final wall prior to the ride. Andy has doodled on these pages, drawing three connecting images of his grand scheme for the backyard roller coaster. The best touch is that the pages all have notches, the tell-tale signs that he’s ripped them out of the notebook. It’s this sort of attention to detail that explains everyone’s love of Disney.
The roller coaster is short but sweet. Imagineers carefully studied the physics of the slinky and created a ride that displays all the quirks of the design. The ride carts will stretch over bunny hills and turns, creating the odd slinky effect from the toy. As a special bonus, there’s a stop-and-start element at one point, a first for a Disney roller coaster.
The entire ride experience from the line queue through the end of Slinky Dog Dash is sublime. While all of the new rides at Walt Disney World are terrific in their own ways, the anchor attraction at Toy Story Land towers above the rest. It’s the cleverest design and the most fun thing to ride.