Nine Best Disneyland Attractions You Must Do
Executives at The Walt Disney Company know something that you don’t. Thanks to countless algorithms and decades of research, the company’s park planners have determined the expected number of rides during a Disney visit. On a single day, you’ll enjoy nine attractions on average. So, which rides should you pick? Well, everyone’s different, but I have some thoughts. Here are the nine rides you should hit during a Disneyland visit.
Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters
Nine rides may sound like a lot, but it’s really nowhere near enough at Disneyland. I compiled a shortlist of 16 attractions and then had to do a series of absolutely brutal cuts. So, I’ll acknowledge in advance that classics like Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Jungle Cruise, Matterhorn Bobsleds, and Peter Pan’s Flight aren’t listed here. It hurt me more than it hurt you, I promise.
In culling the list, I had to decide on a reasonable itinerary that a park guest could manage during even a crowded day. For this reason, I couldn’t include all of the most crowded lines. And I also left Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run off the list. Realistically, the average first-time visitor couldn’t spend four hours at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and then experience several other attractions.
During a visit, you’ll want to balance fun and line management. You can’t possibly ride all of the attractions with 40+ minute waits unless you visit on a light day and purchase MaxPass. Instead, you must select the best combination of entertaining attractions, some of which have tiny wait-times.
Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters fits both needs, as it’s a 20-minute wait on average and a ton of fun. You get to aim a laser at “batteries” that are really just targets. When you master the game, you can claim the title of Galactic Hero. More importantly, you get to wreck your friends at an interactive game. Who wouldn’t want to do that?
The Disneyland Story Presenting Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln
While I realize that this attraction isn’t for everyone, I highly recommend it anyway. Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln functions as a permanent demonstration of Walt Disney’s genius. The audio-animatronics (AAs) once helped Disney dominate the 1964 New York World’s Fair, which means that this show has entertained audiences for 55 years and counting. It’s equally essential to patriots and fans of American history.
In fact, one of my favorite episodes of Modern Family ends at Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln. Jay Pritchett reveals the reason why the attraction matters so much to him. The head of the family chose to raise his children rather than divorce his first wife and miss their upbringing. It exemplifies the emotional connections that people feel toward Disney.
Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage
How often do you get to pretend to go underwater? Since 1959, this E-ticket attraction has confused guests with its deceitful display. The narration suggests that you’re journeying into the depths of the waters, but the reality is that your vessel’s portholes show scenery from shallow waters. You won’t care, though.
The current version of Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage combines old school visuals of nautical adventures with the theming of Finding Nemo. The updates were done in tandem with The Seas with Nemo & Friends at Epcot, and so alert guests will notice the similarities. Either way, it’s a pretend submarine ride that includes Nemo. What’s not to love?
This attraction was 15 years in the making, and its quality speaks to that fact. After so many years of spit-balling ideas, Imagineers were brimming with stories to tell at the Haunted Mansion.
This classic ride begins its theming long before you get into a Doom Buggy. First, you’re treated to a macabre introduction from a Ghost Host who seems far too happy with his accursed fate. Then, you willingly enter something called a Doom Buggy and enter a proverbial house of horrors.
Between the séance, the ominous Bride, the Hatbox Ghost, and the singing skeletons, you’ll never feel comfortable on this ride. It won’t ever really end, either, as you pick up a few eternal hitchhikers along the way.
Haunted Mansion embodies the ultimate in Disney silliness and spookiness and is an integral part of any Disneyland visit. If you’re lucky, you may even visit during the Haunted Mansion Holiday overlay, which puts an entirely new spin on the premise.
Indiana Jones Adventure
I leave Star Wars for everyone else. My Lucasfilm franchise of choice is Indiana Jones. I’ve loved Raiders of the Lost Ark since I was a kid, and I’m still spellbound by the fact that I can watch Indy perform a daring escape at Disneyland.
Indiana Jones Adventure takes place at the Temple of the Forbidden Eye, where you’re a tourist on an ill-fated journey into an ancient archeological site. The mistress of this temple doesn’t deem you an invited guest and attempts to, well, claim you. Luckily, Indy kind of saves the day, although he goes through some stuff, too. This ride is the ideal theme park interpretation of the world of Indiana Jones, and it’s exclusive to Disneyland.
Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride
What can I say? I love the classics, and I believe that you will, too. Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride has stood the test of time as an opening day attraction at Disneyland that’s still thoroughly enjoyable today.
The title character in the story loves automobiles and collects them at his mansion. You, as a guest, get thrust into an impossible situation. You live out the adventure of Mr. Toad, which frankly doesn’t end well for you. First, you almost crash in your own library, and then you get sent to jail.
The good news is that you break out of prison, but the bad news is that you suffer through a fatal car wreck afterward. That’s not even the worst part, which I won’t spoil for you. But it’s a memorable ride that you won’t soon forget.
Pirates of the Caribbean
Walt Disney’s last ride is perhaps his most iconic one. I’m convinced that you could visit the most obscure parts of the world, ones where the locals haven’t spoken to outsiders in generations. And even those people, completely isolated from society, would know what Pirates of the Caribbean is.
The appeal of the attraction is its elegant simplicity. Guests board a boat and head into pirate territory. While there, they’ll witness the oddities of pirate life. The ride demonstrates the best kind of silly, with cartoonish antics on display in every scene. It’s a happiness delivery vehicle, but the ride rarely has a wait of more than 25 minutes.
Out of all nine attractions listed here, only two didn’t debut at Disneyland. Well, it’s three if you count the World’s Fair for Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, but you get the point. Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters and Space Mountain started elsewhere before transferring to the Happiest Place on Earth.
For this reason, I toyed with selecting Big Thunder Mountain Railroad instead of Space Mountain. Then, common sense kicked in. Nothing is more synonymous with Disney roller coasters than Space Mountain, and the Disneyland version is unique anyway. Unlike the solo experience at Magic Kingdom, this one features double-sized coaster carts, making it more of a group ride. Plus, it’s Space Mountain. Enough said.
While all of the attractions on this list will entertain you, none of them can match the overall euphoria of Splash Mountain. The first part of the ride involves a series of fake descents. You sail right by the epic plunge section, but you won’t experience it for several minutes. Instead, the ride teases you while introducing the animals that live here.
The colorful dark ride section is exceptional to the point that it would work well as a standalone attraction. As such, the final plunge into the waters below works as a kind of bonus, the dessert at the end of a terrific meal. No Disney theme park visit is complete without a splash down the mountain.