Which Walt Disney World Boat Ride Is the Best?
When Disneyland opened in 1955, Walt Disney populated the park with several boat rides. He loved them for their throughput and sense of adventure.
Since his death, Imagineers have carried on the tradition, updating classics while introducing new versions of the premise.
Not counting The Liberty Belle, you’ll find nine exceptional attractions that would warm Uncle Walt’s heart.
Which Walt Disney World boat ride is the best? I have some thoughts…
9) Kali River Rapids
Fairly or not, Disney’s Animal Kingdom developed an early reputation for lesser Disney rides.
Critics felt that park officials cut corners on some attractions, which was at least partially correct. Disney experienced a budget crunch during the 1990s.
Some rides from the era aren’t as magical as we’ve come to expect from Imagineers.
Kali River Rapids falls under this umbrella. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a good ride, and I do it whenever I visit the park.
However, as far as river rapids rides, it’s relatively generic, especially by Disney standards.
I do love that several different strangers can get stuck on the same boat together and share the dripping wet experience, though.
8) It’s a Small World
Okay, I know that some people won’t appreciate the low ranking. Please remember that it would be weird if you completely agreed with my rankings.
Personally, I love It’s a Small World for what it represents in Disney history, a timeless relic of the 1964 New York World’s Fair.
I also admire the boat ride for its stubbornly optimistic message, one that has stood the test of time. And Mary Blair’s artistry shines through even now.
However, I find the experience monotonous and repetitive. Halfway through the ride, I tend to zone out and start thinking about other things in my head.
This ride isn’t as immersive as the best Disney attractions.
7) Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros
Okay, now I know I have made some people mad. Yes, I prefer the shameless knock-off of It’s a Small World.
The x-factor is Donald and friends. While this attraction focuses on one country, Mexico, I don’t mind the local rather than global approach.
By giving one country the focus, the scenes feel more detailed and engaging.
More importantly, the Three Caballeros elevate the proceedings with their cartoon shenanigans.
As usual, Donald takes a beating, and I crack up at the cartoon violence. One restaurant is even carving a duck! Of course, that’s gonna freak Donald out!
6) Living with the Land
All the attractions from this point forward are ones that I view as masterpieces. So, you can’t go wrong with any of them.
Living with the Land is a bit drier than the rest in that it’s educational by design.
The first half of the boat ride is basically a lecture on the importance of agriculture in society.
If Living with the Land were just that, I wouldn’t love it. I slept through class when teachers got so preachy. Didn’t you?
However, the second half of the ride fascinates me. Disney has built a giant food lab at The Land pavilion, and I get to watch all the scientific breakthroughs!
I love two aspects in particular. Some foods come with signs that show where you can eat the ingredients at EPCOT! I do this a LOT.
Near the end of the ride, we also get to glimpse into the lab where Imagineers are running agricultural tests.
I always wish I were a fly on the wall for these conversations. Living with the Land embodies the best kind of infotainment.
5) Na’Vi River Journey
Here’s a divisive subject. I frequently watch as Disney fanatics argue intensely over the quality of Na’Vi River Journey.
Some fans find the boat ride lacking in story, and they’re entitled to their incredibly wrong opinions!
Na’Vi River Journey carries guests through the heart of Pandora, a place fraught with peril.
Predators lurk around every corner and sometimes above you, too! Of course, the bioluminescent journey will hypnotize you past your fear.
Seriously, this ride is gorgeous, and the Shaman of Songs Audio-Animatronic represents the current pinnacle of Imagineering.
4) Jungle Cruise
Now we’ve reached the heavyweight portion of the rankings. Everything remaining is a titan.
Jungle Cruise has earned headlines in recent days for its changes, as the attraction evolves from the original version into the more modern one.
Some changes have already occurred, including the removal of Trader Sam as a visible character. However, his present remains in spirit at the gift shop.
While the attraction definitely deserves some of its criticism, I still believe it’s a classic that’s worthy of the respect it’s earned for decades now.
Still, the jokes don’t always play, especially when the Skipper is phoning it in. Jungle Cruise is a high-quality ride, but Disney’s made three that are better.
3) Pirates of the Caribbean
I don’t think any ordering of the top three is wrong. In fact, if I wrote this on a different day, I suspect my rankings would change.
I view the top three rides as Perfect 10s, which means that they’re all the same…exceptional.
Pirates of the Caribbean packed a wallop when it debuted in 1967 at Disneyland, so much so that Walt Disney World fans felt jealous.
When the Orlando park debuted, it lacked Pirates of the Caribbean, which was one of the two hottest rides at Disneyland.
The outcry forced Imagineers to prioritize an East Coast version quickly. It arrived in 1973, barely two years after Walt Disney World opened.
Remarkably, Pirates of the Caribbean was never part of the plan for Magic Kingdom. Yet, it’s become part of the fabric of the theme park.
Every few years, Disney updates it with something from the Pirates film franchise or a new special effect.
I’m partial to the ghostly fog projection near the start and the cannon battle, but most people love the treasure room scene.
Everything makes a pirate life seem glorious, though, and nobody ever gets scurvy here.
2) Frozen Ever After
I realize that Frozen Ever After hasn’t existed long enough to gain the stature of the classic Disney boat rides.
Still, I think it embodies the impressive technical leaps that Disney has made over the past decade.
The Audio-Animatronics employ bit mapping to make Arendelle royalty appear realistic, no small feat since the Frozen franchise is animated.
The ride effectively transports guests to the imaginary realm where Anna and Elsa rule. Along the way, we meet their troll friends and snowy pets.
The icy backdrop melds perfectly with the musical accompaniment, the sublime Frozen soundtrack.
Frozen Ever After features two impeccable highlights. Elsa’s rendition of Let It Go dazzles the eyes and ears, and the final drop causes a sense of euphoria.
Judging from my rankings, I guess I prefer my water rides to have a big finish. To wit…
1) Splash Mountain
Yes, Disney will change this ride soon. The elements tying it to Song of the South have grown too problematic to ignore. A new theme is the right call.
Even so, I will always have a soft space in my heart for the splendor of Splash Mountain.
I think this attraction comes with the best soundtrack of any Disney attraction ever made.
Similarly, Splash Mountain covers several ambitious dark ride sets, places where anthropomorphic animals seem vibrant and real.
The unmistakable humor imbued throughout the experience can turn around even the worst day, although I question how anybody could have a bad day at Disney.
Of course, any discussion of Splash Mountain should conclude with the epic moment when the bottom falls out, dropping you to the raging water below.
The titular splash in Splash Mountain delivers the kind of highlight that few rides have ever matched. It’s just the icing on the cake for this boat ride, though.
Everything on this list qualifies as a fabulous boat ride, but come on! We all know that Splash Mountain is the best!
BTW, if you’re ever in the mood, you can take the Magic Kingdom Boat Challenge!