19 Classic Disney World Attractions

Children at the base of Cinderella's Castle at Walt Disney World Gary Bogdon Photography
By Bob Sehlinger and Len Testa

A dance has a beginning and an end. But when you're dancing, you're not concerned about getting to the end or where on the dance floor you might wind up. In other words, you're totally in the moment. That's the way you should be on your Walt Disney World vacation.

You may feel a bit of pressure concerning your vacation. Vacations, after all, are very special events--and expensive ones to boot. So you work hard to make your vacation the best that it can be. Planning and organizing are essential to a successful Walt Disney World vacation, but if they become your focus, you won't be able to hear the music and enjoy the dance.

So think of us as your dancing coaches. We'll teach you the steps to the dance in advance so that when you're on vacation and the music plays, you'll dance with effortless grace and ease.

Photo Caption: Children at the base of Cinderella's Castle at Walt Disney World
View Next Slide
pirates of the caribbean Darren Wittko
What it is: Indoor pirate-themed boat ride. Scope and scale: headliner. When to go: Before noon or after 5 p.m. Special comments: Frightens some children. Authors' rating: Disney audioanimatronics at their best; not to be missed; 5 stars. Duration of ride: About 7½ minutes. Average wait in line per 100 people ahead of you: 1½ minutes; assumes both waiting lines operating. Loading speed: Fast.

Description and Comments: An indoor cruise through a series of sets that depict a pirate raid on an island settlement, from bombardment of the fortress to debauchery after the victory. Arguably one of the most influential theme park attractions ever created, the Magic Kingdom's version retains the elaborate queuing area, grand scale, and detailed scenes that have awed audiences since its debut in Disneyland in 1967. The wildly successful Pirates of the Caribbean movies have boosted the ride's popularity, and guests' demands led to the addition in 2006 of animatronic figures of the movie's Captain Jack Sparrow and Captain Barbossa in key scenes.

Regarding debauchery, Pirates of the Caribbean has been administered a strong dose of political correctness. Even so, a Rockville, Maryland, mother was not prepared for what she saw:

I had not understood that it would be as visually violent and historically accurate as it was. I really didn't look forward to explaining to my son why those women had ropes around their necks and such. I wish I'd been better warned that this isn't the Captain Hook view of piracy, but a much more realistic one.

Touring Tips: Undoubtedly one of the park's most timeless attractions. Engineered to move large crowds in a hurry, Pirates is a good attraction to see in the late afternoon. It has two covered waiting lines.

Photo Caption: Barbossa at them helm of the "Wicked Wench."
View Next Slide
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. mrchriscornwell photography
Fastpass

What it is: indoor track ride. Scope and scale: Minor attraction. When to go: Before 10 am, in the 2 hours before closing, or use Fastpass. Authors' rating: As cute as the Pooh Bear himself; not to be missed; 3½ stars. Duration of ride: About 4 minutes. Average wait in line per 100 people ahead of you: 4 minutes. Loading speed: Moderate.

Description and Comments: Pooh is sunny, upbeat, and fun -- more in the image of Peter Pan's Flight or Splash Mountain. You ride a Hunny Pot through the pages of a huge picture book into the Hundred Acre Wood, where you encounter Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, Owl, Rabbit, Tigger, Kanga, and Roo as they contend with a blustery day. There's even a dream sequence with Heffalumps and Woozles. A 30-something couple from Lexington, Massachusetts, thinks that Pooh has plenty to offer adults:

The attention to detail and special effects on this ride make it worth seeing even if you don't have children in your party. The Pooh dream sequence was great!

Touring Tips: Because of its relatively small capacity, the daily allocation of Fastpasses for The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is often distributed by early afternoon. For the same reason, your scheduled return time to enjoy the ride might be hours away. It's not unusual to pick up a Fast- pass for Winnie the Pooh at 12:30pm with a scheduled return time of 5pm or later.

Photo Caption: The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. Photo by mrchriscornwell/Matt Shirky/Flickr.com
View Next Slide
Peter Pan's Flight at Walt Disney World Matt Pasant
Fastpass

What it is: indoor track ride. Scope and scale: Minor attraction. When to go: Before 10am, after 6pm, or use Fastpass. Authors' rating: Nostalgic, mellow, and well done; not to be missed; 4 stars. Duration of ride: A little over 3 minutes. Average wait in line per 100 people ahead of you: 5½ minutes. Loading speed: Moderate-slow.

Description and Comments: Though not considered a major attraction, Peter Pan's Flight is superbly designed and absolutely delightful, with a happy theme uniting some favorite Disney characters, beautiful effects, and charming music. An indoor attraction, Peter Pan's Flight offers a relaxing ride in a "flying pirate ship" over old London and thence to Never-Never Land, where Peter saves Wendy from walking the plank and Captain Hook rehearses for Dancing with the Stars on the snout of the ubiquitous crocodile. Unlike Snow White's Scary Adventures, there's nothing here that will jump out at you or frighten young children.

Touring Tips: Because Peter Pan's Flight is very popular, count on long lines all day. Ride before 10am, during a parade, just before the park closes, or use Fastpass.

If you use Fastpass, pick up your pass as early in the day as possible. Sometimes Peter Pan exhausts its whole day's supply of Fastpasses by 2pm.

Photo Caption: Peter Pan's Flight at Walt Disney World
View Next Slide
This slideshow is brought to you by our advertisers:
Click NEXT to continue reading.
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at Walt Disney World. Gary Bogdon Photography
Fastpass

What it is: Tame Western mining-themed roller coaster. Scope and scale: headliner. When to go: Before 10am, in the hour before closing, or use Fastpass. Special comments: 40" minimum height requirement; children younger than age 7 must ride with an adult. Switching-off option provided. Authors' rating: Great effects; relatively tame ride; not to be missed; 4 stars. Duration of ride: About 3½ minutes. Average wait in line per 100 people ahead of you: 2½ minutes; assumes 5 trains operating. Loading speed: Moderate-fast. Description and Comments: Roller coaster through and around a Disney "mountain." The idea is that you're on a runaway mine train during the Gold Rush. This coaster is about a 5 on a "scary scale" of 10. First-rate examples of Disney creativity are showcased: a realistic mining town, falling rocks, and an earthquake, all humorously animated with swinging possums, petulant buzzards, and the like. Ride it after dark if you can.

Touring Tips: A superb Disney experience, but not too wild a roller coaster. Emphasis is much more on the sights than on the thrill of the ride.

The best way to experience the Magic Kingdom's "mountains" is to ride Space Mountain one morning as soon as the park opens, and Splash Mountain and Big Thunder the next morning. If you only have one day, the order should be (1) Space Mountain, (2) Splash Mountain, and (3) Big Thunder Mountain. If the wait exceeds 30 minutes when you arrive, use Fastpass.

A Midwestern mom offers this tip to families with children who are too short to ride:

If you're switching off on Thunder Mountain or Splash Mountain and have young kids to entertain, there's a fantastic little playground nearby where you can pass the time (and it's a great meeting place when the others get off the ride). It's completely covered and near the restrooms too! It's next to Splash Mountain, under the train tracks.

Photo Caption: Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at Walt Disney World.
View Next Slide
Splash Mountain at Walt Disney World Stefan Zwanzger/TheThemeParkGuy.com
Fastpass

What it is: Indoor/outdoor water-flume adventure ride. Scope and scale: Super-headliner. When to go: As soon as the park opens, during afternoon or evening parades, just before closing, or use Fastpass. Special comments: 40" minimum height requirement; children younger than age 7 must ride with an adult. Switching-off option provided. Authors' rating: A soggy delight, and not to be missed; 5 stars. Duration of ride: About 10 minutes. Average wait in line per 100 people ahead of you: 3½ minutes; assumes ride is operating at full capacity. Loading speed: Moderate.

Description and Comments: Splash Mountain combines steep chutes and animatronics with at least one special effect for each of the senses. The ride covers more than half a mile, splashing through swamps, caves, and backwoods bayous before climaxing in a five-story plunge and Br'er Rabbit's triumphant return home. More than 100 audioanimatronic characters, including Br'er Rabbit (aka Br'er Hare), Br'er Bear, and Br'er Fox, regale riders with songs, including "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah."

Touring Tips: This happy, exciting, adventuresome ride vies with Space Mountain in Tomorrowland as the park's most popular attraction. Crowds build fast in the morning, and waits of more than 2 hours can be expected once the park fills. Get in line first thing, certainly no later than 45 minutes after the park opens. Long lines will persist all day.

If you have only one day to see the Magic Kingdom, ride Space Mountain first, then Buzz Lightyear (also in Tomorrowland), then hot-foot it to Splash Mountain. If the wait is less than 30 minutes, go ahead and ride. Otherwise, get a Fastpass and return later to enjoy Splash Mountain. If you have two mornings to devote to the Magic Kingdom, experience Space Mountain and Buzz Lightyear one morning, Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain the next. Spreading your visit over two mornings will eliminate much crisscrossing of the park as well as the backtracking that is inevitable when you use Fastpass.

As with Space Mountain, hundreds are poised to dash to Splash Mountain when the park opens. The best strategy is to go to the end of Main Street and turn left at The Crystal Palace restaurant. In front of the restaurant is a bridge that provides a shortcut to Adventureland. Stake out a position at the barrier rope. When the park opens, move as fast as you comfortably can and cross the bridge to Adventureland.

Another shortcut: just past the first group of buildings on your right, roughly across from the Swiss Family Treehouse, is a small passageway containing restrooms and phones. Easy to overlook, it connects Adventureland to Frontierland. Go through here into Frontierland, and take a hard left. As you emerge along the waterfront, Splash Mountain is straight ahead. If you miss the passageway, don't fool around looking for it. Continue straight through Adventureland to Splash Mountain.

Photo Caption: Splash Mountain at Walt Disney World
View Next Slide
Haunted Mansion at Walt Disney World Stefan Zwanzger/TheThemeParkGuy.com
What it is: Haunted-house dark ride. Scope and scale: Major attraction. When to go: Before 11:30 am or after 8 p.m. Special comments: Frightens some very young children. Authors' rating: Some of Walt Disney World's best special effects; not to be missed; 4 stars. Duration of ride: 7-minute ride plus a 1H-minute preshow. Average wait in line per 100 people ahead of you: 2½ minutes; assumes both "stretch rooms" operating. Loading speed: Fast.

Description and Comments: Only slightly scarier than a whoopee cushion, The Haunted Mansion serves up some of the Magic Kingdom's best visual effects. The attraction is a masterpiece of detail. "Doom Buggies" on a conveyor belt transport you through the house from parlor to attic, then through a graveyard. Two new scenes were added in the substantial 2007 refurbishment: an M. C. Escher-like room full of stairs heading in all directions and a montage explaining the fate of the attic bride's many husbands. However, the story line remains thin and unemphasized.

Some children become overly anxious about what they think they'll see. Almost nobody is scared by the actual sights.

The Haunted Mansion is one of veteran Unofficial Guide writer Eve Zibart's favorite attractions. She says:

This is one of the best attractions in the Magic Kingdom. It's jam-packed with visual puns, special effects, hidden Mickeys, and really lovely Victorian-spooky sets. It's not scary, except in the sweetest of ways, but it will remind you of the days before ghost stories gave way to slasher flicks.

The Fort Sill, South Carolina, parents of two preschoolers aren't convinced:

The Haunted Mansion description and fright-potential advice need to emphasize that this is a true haunted house, not a cute Mickey-in-a-ghost- costume ride.

Touring Tips: Lines here ebb and flow more than those at most other Magic Kingdom hot spots because the Mansion is near The Hall of Presidents and the Liberty Belle Riverboat. These two attractions disgorge 700 and 450 people, respectively, when each show or ride ends, and many of these folks head straight for the Mansion. If you can't go before 11:30am or after 8pm, try to slip in between crowds.

Photo Caption: Haunted Mansion at Walt Disney World
View Next Slide
Exterior of Space Mountain at Walt Disney World. Darren Wittko
Fastpass

What it is: Roller coaster in the dark. Scope and scale: Super-headliner. When to go: When the park opens, between 6 and 7pm, during the hour before closing, or use Fastpass. Special comments: Great fun and action; much wilder than Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. 44" minimum height requirement; children younger than age 7 must be accompanied by an adult. Switching-off option provided. Authors' rating: An unusual roller coaster with excellent special effects; not to be missed; 4 stars. Duration of ride: Almost 3 minutes. Average wait in line per 100 people ahead of you: 3 minutes; assumes 2 tracks, with 1 dedicated to Fastpass riders, dispatching at 21-second intervals. Loading speed: Moderate-fast.

Description and Comments: Totally enclosed in a mammoth futuristic structure, Space Mountain has always been the Magic Kingdom's most popular attraction. The theme is a space flight through dark recesses of the galaxy. Effects are superb, and the ride is the fastest and wildest in the Magic Kingdom. As a roller coaster, Space Mountain is much zippier than Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, but much tamer than the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster at Disney's Hollywood Studios or Expedition Everest at Disney's Animal Kingdom.

Refurbished in 2009, Space Mountain got larger ride vehicles, new lighting and effects, an improved sound system, and a completely redesigned queuing area with interactive games to help pass the time in line. The track was replaced as well but retains the same paths as the old. We think the new ride is quieter and slightly faster than the old. Roller-coaster aficionados will tell you (correctly) that Space Mountain is a designer version of the Wild Mouse, a midway ride that's been around for at least 50 years. There are no long drops or swooping hills as there are on a traditional roller coaster -- only quick, unexpected turns and small drops. Disney's contribution essentially was to add a space theme to the Wild Mouse and put it in the dark. And this does indeed make the Mouse seem wilder.

Touring Tips: People who can handle a fairly wild roller-coaster ride will take Space Mountain in stride. What sets Space Mountain apart is that cars plummet through darkness, with only occasional lighting. Half the fun of Space Mountain is not knowing where the car will go next.

If you don't catch Space Mountain first in the morning, use Fastpass or try again during the hour before closing. Often, would-be riders are held in line outside the entrance until all those previously in line have rid- den, thus emptying the attraction. The appearance from the outside is that the line is enormous when, in fact, the only people waiting are those visible. This crowd-control technique, known as "stacking," discourages visitors from getting in line. Stacking is used at several Disney rides and attractions during the hour before closing to ensure that the ride will be able to close on schedule. It is also used to keep the number of people who are waiting inside from overwhelming the air-conditioning. Despite the apparently long line, the wait is usually no longer than if you had been allowed to queue inside.

Photo Caption: Exterior of Space Mountain at Walt Disney World. Photo by Darren Wittko/Flickr.com
View Next Slide
This slideshow is brought to you by our advertisers:
Click NEXT to continue reading.
Mickey Gary Bogdon Photography
Fastpass (seasonally)

What it is: 3-D movie. Scope and scale: Major attraction. When to go: Before 11am, during parades, or use Fastpass if available. Special comments: Not to be missed. Authors' rating: A zany masterpiece; 4 stars. Duration of presentation: About 12 minutes. Probable waiting time: 12-30 minutes.

Description and Comments: With Mickey's PhilharMagic, each of the four Disney theme parks has a 3-D movie attraction. PhilharMagic features an odd collection of Disney characters, mixing Mickey and Donald with Simba and Ariel as well as Jasmine and Aladdin. Presented in a theater large enough to accommodate a 150-foot-wide screen -- huge by 3-D movie standards, the 3-D movie is augmented by an arsenal of special effects built into the theater. The plot involves Mickey, as the conductor of the PhilharMagic, leaving the theater to solve a mystery. In his absence Donald appears and attempts to take charge, with disastrous results.

The attraction is one of Disney's best 3-D efforts. Brilliantly conceived, furiously paced, and laugh-out-loud funny, PhilharMagic incorporates a hit parade of Disney's most beloved characters in a production that will leave you grinning. A North Carolina mother of a 3-year-old, however, accuses us of pulling our punches regarding the show's appropriateness for young children:

I seem to recall you describing PhilharMagic as funny and cute, and the best of the 3-D movies for kids. Our family, however, found it way too violent (what seemed like minutes on end of Donald getting the crap kicked out of him by various musical instruments). I had to haul my screaming child out of the theater and submit to a therapeutic carousel ride afterwards.

Touring Tips: Though the other 3-D movies are loud, in-your-face productions, Mickey's PhilharMagic is much softer and cuddlier. Things still pop out of the screen, but they're not scary things. Children for once are enthusiastic and astonished instead of quaking in their Nikes. You should still proceed cautiously if you have kids under age 5 in your group, but it's the rare child who is frightened. The show is very popular, but on the other hand, the theater is very large. This is a seasonal Fastpass attraction, but except on the busiest of days you shouldn't wait more than 35 minutes (usually less) without Fastpass.

Photo Caption: Mickey'
View Next Slide
The Emperor Zurg in Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin Joe Penniston
Fastpass

What it is: Whimsical space travel-themed indoor ride. Scope and scale: Minor attraction. When to go: Before 10:30am, after 6pm, or use Fastpass. Authors' rating: Surreal shooting gallery; 4 stars. Duration of ride: About 4½ minutes. Average wait in line per 100 people ahead of you: 3 minutes. Loading speed: Fast.

Description and Comments: This attraction is based on the space-commando character Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story film franchise. The marginal story line has you and Buzz Lightyear trying to save the universe from the evil Emperor Zurg. The indoor ride is interactive to the extent that you can spin your car and shoot simulated laser cannons at Zurg and his minions.

Touring Tips: Each car is equipped with two laser cannons and a score-keeping display. Each scorekeeping display is independent, so you can compete with your riding partner. A joystick allows you to spin the car to line up the various targets. Each time you pull the trigger, you'll release a red laser beam that you can see hitting or missing the target. Most folks' first ride is occupied with learning how to use the equipment (fire off individual shots as opposed to keeping the trigger depressed) and figuring out how the targets work. On the next ride (like certain potato chips, one is not enough), you'll surprise yourself by how much better you do. Unofficial readers are unanimous in their praise of Buzz Lightyear. Some, in fact, spend several hours on it, riding again and again. The following comment is representative.

From a Yorktown, Virginia, mom:

I am a 44-year-old woman who has never been fond of shoot-'em-up arcade games, but I decided I'd better check out Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin after the monorail driver told us that it, along with Space Mountain, were her favorite rides at the Magic Kingdom. What a blast! My husband and I enjoyed it every bit as much as our 10-year-old daughter. After riding it the first time, we couldn't wait to ride it again (and again).

Photo Caption: The Emperor Zurg in Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin
View Next Slide
Epcot's iconic "ball" serves as the exterior to Spaceship Earth. Gary Bogdon Photography
What it is: Educational dark ride through past, present, and future. Scope and scale: headliner. When to go: Before 10am or after 4pm. Special comments: if lines are long when you arrive, try again after 4pm. Authors' rating: One of Epcot's best; not to be missed; 4 stars. Duration of ride: About 16 minutes. Average wait in line per 100 people ahead of you: 3 minutes. Loading speed: Fast.

Description and Comments: This ride spirals through the 18-story interior of Epcot's premier landmark, taking visitors past audioanimatronic scenes depicting mankind's developments in communications, from cave painting to printing to television to space communications and computer networks. The ride shows an amazing use of the geodesic sphere's interior.

In 2007, Spaceship Earth completed its most significant renovation since opening. New scenes have been added, including a 1970s-era computer room and a home garage showing what looks suspiciously like the invention of the Apple personal computer (perhaps a homage to Steve Jobs, Disney's largest individual shareholder). New interactive video screens on the ride vehicles allow you to customize the ride's ending ani-mated video. A new narrator (Dame Judi Dench), a new musical score, and improved lighting were also added. A new postshow area with games and interactive exhibits rounds out the upgrades. We're happy to see this excellent ride get the TLC it deserves.

Touring Tips: Because it's near Epcot's main entrance, Spaceship Earth is inundated with arriving guests throughout the morning. If you're interested in riding Test Track, postpone Spaceship Earth until, say, after 4pm. Spaceship Earth loads continuously and quickly. If the line runs only along the right side of the sphere, you'll board in less than 15 minutes.

Photo Caption: Epcot's iconic "ball" serves as the exterior to Spaceship Earth.
View Next Slide
The Living with the Land boat ride at the Land Pavilion in EPCOT Center Jeff Bergman
Fastpass (seasonally)

What it is: Indoor boat-ride adventure chronicling the past, present, and future of farming and agriculture in the United States. Scope and scale: Major attraction. When to go: Before 10:30am or after 5pm, or use Fastpass if available. Special comments: Go early in the morning and save other Land attractions (except for Soarin') for later in the day. The ride is on the pavilion's lower level. Authors' rating: Informative without being dull; not to be missed; 4 stars. Duration of ride: About 14 minutes. Average wait in line per 100 people ahead of you: 3 minutes; assumes 15 boats operating. Loading speed: Moderate.

Description and Comments: The boat ride takes visitors through swamps, past inhospitable farm environments, and through a futuristic, innovative greenhouse where real crops are grown using the latest agricultural tech-nologies. Stars of the greenhouse include giant pumpkins and a "tomato tree" that has produced a world-record harvest of more than 20,000 tomatoes with a total weight in excess of 850 pounds.

Many Epcot guests who read about Living with the Land in guidebooks decide it sounds too dry and educational for their tastes. A woman from Houston writes:

I had a bad attitude about Living with the Land, as I heard it was an agricultural exhibit. I just didn't think I was up for a movie about wheat farming. Wow, was I surprised.

Touring Tips: See this attraction before the lunch crowd hits The Land's restaurants, or use Fastpass if it's available.

Photo Caption: The Living with the Land boat ride at the Land Pavilion in EPCOT Center
View Next Slide
This slideshow is brought to you by our advertisers:
Click NEXT to continue reading.
Inside a Mission: Space cockpit at Epcot Stefan Zwanzger/TheThemeParkGuy.com
Fastpass

What it is: Space-flight-simulator ride. Scope and scale: Super-headliner. When to go: First hour the park is open, or use Fastpass. Special comments: Not recommended for pregnant women or people prone to motion sickness or claustrophobia; 44" minimum height requirement; a gentler nonspinning version is also available. Authors' rating: Impressive; not to be missed; 4 stars. Duration of ride: About 5 minutes plus preshow. Average wait in line per 100 people ahead of you: 4 minutes.

Description and Comments: Mission: SPACE, among other things, is Disney's reply to all the cutting-edge attractions introduced over the past few years by crosstown rival Universal. The first truly groundbreaking Disney attraction since The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Mission: SPACE was one of the hottest tickets at Walt Disney World until two guests died after riding it in 2005 and 2006. While neither death was linked directly to the attraction, the negative publicity caused many guests to skip it entirely. In response, Disney added a tamer nonspinning version of Mission: SPACE in 2006.

Disney's lawyers probably clocked as much time as the ride engineers in designing the "lite" version. Even before you walk into the building, you're asked whether you want your ride with or without spin. Choose the spinning version and you're on the "orange" team; the "green" team trains on the no-spin side. Either way, you're immediately handed the appropriate "launch ticket" containing the first of myriad warnings about the attraction, as this Unofficial Guide reader discovered:

Since I hadn't done Mission: SPACE before, I chose the more intense version and was handed the orange launch ticket to read. Basically, it explained that if I had ever had a tonsillectomy, or even a mild case of pattern baldness, I should take the less intense ride.

Guests for both versions of the attraction enter the International Space Training Center, where they're introduced to the deep-space exploration program and then divided into groups for flight training. After orientation, they're strapped into space capsules for a simulated flight, where, of course, the unexpected happens. Each capsule accommodates a crew consisting of a group commander, pilot, navigator, and engineer, with a guest functioning in each role. The crew's skill and finesse (or, more often, lack thereof) in handling their respective responsibilities have no effect on the outcome of the flight. The capsules are small, and both ride versions are amazingly realistic. The nonspinning version doesn't subject your body to G-forces, but it does bounce and toss you around in a manner roughly comparable to other Disney motion simulators.

Touring Tips: In minutes, Disney can reconfigure the ride's four centrifuges to either version of the attraction based on guest demand. Reports indicate that crowds are evenly split between ride options and that wait times, having previously fallen off significantly, are slowly inching upward again. In general, the kinder, gentler version has a wait time of about half that of its more harrowing counterpart.

Photo Caption: Inside a Mission: Space cockpit at Epcot
View Next Slide
Kilimanjaro Safaris at Disney's Animal Kingdom Gary Bogdon Photography
Fastpass

What it is: Truck ride through an African wildlife reservation. Scope and scale: Super-headliner. When to go: As soon as the park opens, in the 2 hours before closing, or use Fastpass. Authors' rating: Truly exceptional; not to be missed; 5 stars. Duration of ride: About 20 minutes. Average wait in line per 100 people ahead of you: 4 minutes; assumes full-capacity operation with 18-second dispatch interval. Loading speed: Fast.

Description and Comments: The park's premier zoological attraction, Kilimanjaro Safaris offers an exceptionally realistic, albeit brief, imitation of an actual African photo safari. Thirty-two guests at a time board tall, open safari vehicles and are dispatched into a simulated African veldt habitat. Animals such as zebras, wildebeests, impalas, Thomson's gazelles, giraffes, and even rhinos roam apparently free, while predators such as lions, as well as potentially dangerous large animals like hippos, are separated from both prey and guests by all-but-invisible, natural-appearing barriers. Although the animals have more than 100 acres of savanna, woodland, streams, and rocky hills to call home, careful placement of water holes, forage, and salt licks ensures that the critters are hanging out by the road when safari vehicles roll by.

A scripted narration provides a story line about finding Big Red and Little Red, a mother elephant and her baby, while an onboard guide points out and identifies the various animals encountered. Toward the end of the ride, the safari chases poachers who are after the elephants.

Having traveled in Kenya and Tanzania, I (Bob) will tell you that Disney has done an amazing job of replicating the sub-Saharan east-African landscape. The main difference that an east African would notice is that Disney's version is greener and, generally speaking, less barren. As on a real African safari, what animals you see, and how many, is pretty much a matter of luck.

Touring Tips: With Expedition Everest open, Kilimanjaro Safaris is Animal Kingdom's number-two draw. This is good news: by distributing guests more evenly throughout the park, Expedition Everest makes it unnecessary to run to the Kilimanjaro Safaris first thing in the morning.

Waits for the Kilimanjaro Safaris diminish in late afternoon, sometimes as early as 3:30pm but more commonly somewhat later. As noted previously, Kilimanjaro Safaris is a Fastpass attraction. If the wait exceeds 30 minutes when you arrive, by all means use Fastpass. The downside to Fastpass, and the reason we prefer that you ride around lunchtime, is that there aren't many other attractions in Africa to occupy your attention while you wait for your Fastpass return time. This means you'll probably be touring somewhere far removed when it's time to backtrack to Safaris.

Photo Caption: Kilimanjaro Safaris at Disney's Animal Kingdom
View Next Slide
Expedition Everest at Walt Disney World's Animal Kingdom. Richard Macko
Fastpass

What it is: High-speed outdoor roller coaster through Nepalese mountain village. Scope and scale: Super-headliner. When to go: Before 9:30am or after 3pm, or use Fastpass. Special comments: 44" minimum height requirement. Switching-off option provided (see page 331). Authors' rating: Contains some of the park's most stunning visual elements; not to be missed; 4½ stars. Duration of ride: 3½ minutes. Average wait in line per 100 people ahead of you: Just under 4 min- utes; assumes 2 tracks operating. Loading speed: Moderate-fast.

Description and Comments: The first true roller coaster in Disney's Animal Kingdom, Expedition Everest earned the park's longest waits in line from the moment it opened -- and for good reason. Your journey begins in an elaborate waiting area modeled after a Nepalese village; then you board an old train headed for the top of Mount Everest. Throughout the waiting area are posted notes from previous expeditions, some with cryptic observations regarding a mysterious creature said to guard the mountain. These ominous signs are ignored (as if you have a choice!), resulting in a high-speed encounter with the Abominable Snowman himself.

The ride consists of tight turns (some while traveling backward), hills, and dips, but no loops or inversions. From your departure at the loading station through your first high-speed descent, you'll see some of the most spectacular panoramas available in Walt Disney World. On a clear day, you'll be able to view the arrangement of the buildings at Coronado Springs, Epcot's Spaceship Earth, and possibly downtown Orlando. But look quickly, because you'll immediately be propelled, projectile-like, through the inner and outer reaches of the mountain. The final drop and last few turns are among the best-designed coaster effects Disney has ever made. A few minor criticisms: At a couple of points, your vehicle is stopped while the ride's track is reconfigured, affecting the attraction's continuity. And while the Yeti audioanimatronic is undoubtedly impressive, he's as elusive as his real-life counterpart. But don't let these small shortcomings stop you from riding.

The coaster reaches a top speed of around 50 mph, just about twice that of Space Mountain, so expect to see the usual warnings for health and safety. The first few seats of these vehicles offer the best front-seat experience of any Disney coaster, indoor or out. If at all possible, ask to sit up front. Also, look for the animal poop on display in the Fastpass return line -- a deliberate attempt at verisimilitude, or did Disney run out of money for ride props and use whatever they could find? You decide.

Touring Tips: Get Fastpasses for Everest first thing in the morning. Alternatively, ride immediately after the park opens or during evening Extra Magic Hours. If using Fastpass in the morning, try to tour DinoLand U.S.A. before you return; Kali River Rapids and Flights of Wonder don't usually open with the rest of Asia, so you'll backtrack less if you can get the must-see attractions in DinoLand covered early.

Photo Caption: Expedition Everest at Walt Disney World's Animal Kingdom.
View Next Slide
Dinosaur at Walt Disney World Gail Mooney
Fastpass

What it is: Motion-simulator dark ride. Scope and scale: Super-headliner. When to go: Before 10:30am, in the hour before closing, or use Fastpass. Special comments: 40" minimum height requirement. Switching-off option provided. Authors' rating: Really improved; not to be missed; 4½ stars. Duration of ride: 3½ minutes. Average wait in line per 100 people ahead of you: 3 minutes; assumes full-capacity operation with 18-second dispatch interval. Loading speed: Fast.

Description and Comments: DINOSAUR, formerly known as Countdown to Extinction, is a combination track ride and motion simulator. In addition to moving along a cleverly hidden track, the ride vehicle also bucks and pitches (the simulator part) in sync with the visuals and special effects encountered. The plot has you traveling back in time on a mission of rescue and conservation. Your objective, believe it or not, is to haul back a living dinosaur before the species becomes extinct. Whoever is operating the clock, however, cuts it a little close, and you arrive on the prehistoric scene just as a giant asteroid is hurling toward Earth. General mayhem ensues as you evade carnivorous predators, catch Barney, and make your escape before the asteroid hits.

DINOSAUR is a technological clone of the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland in California. A good effort, although not quite as visually interesting as Indiana Jones, DINOSAUR serves up nonstop action from beginning to end with brilliant visual effects. Elaborate even by Disney standards, the attraction provides a tense, frenetic ride that's embellished by the entire Imagineering arsenal of high-tech gimmickry. Although the ride is jerky, it's not too rough for seniors. The menacing dinosaurs, however, along with the intensity of the experience, make DINOSAUR a no-go for younger children.

DINOSAUR, to our surprise and joy, has been refined and cranked up a couple notches on the intensity scale. The latest version is darker, more interesting, and much zippier. A mother from Kansasville, Wisconsin, liked it a lot, commenting:

DINOSAUR is the best ride at WDW. Our group of 10, ranging in age from 65 (grandma) to 8 (grandson), immediately -- and unanimously! -- got back in line immediately after finishing.

A 20-something guy from Muncie, Indiana, however, wasn't so sure:

The DINOSAUR attraction was the scariest ride I have ever been on. I'm 24 and love thrill rides, but I didn't open my eyes for half of the ride. I can't believe younger children are permitted to ride.

Touring Tips: Disney situated DINOSAUR in such a remote corner of the park that guests have to poke around to find it. This, in conjunction with the overwhelming popularity of Kilimanjaro Safaris and Expedition Ever- est, makes DINOSAUR the easiest super-headliner attraction at Disney World to get on. We recommend, nonetheless, that you ride early after obtaining Fastpasses for Expedition Everest.

Photo Caption: Dinosaur at Walt Disney World
View Next Slide
This slideshow is brought to you by our advertisers:
Click NEXT to continue reading.
"Festival of the Lion King" performance at Walt Disney World Gary Bogdon Photography
What it is: Theater-in-the-round stage show. Scope and scale: Major attraction. When to go: Before 11 am or after 4 p.m. Special comments: Performance times are listed in the handout park map or Times Guide. Authors' rating: Upbeat and spectacular; not to be missed; 4 stars. Duration of presentation: 30 minutes. Preshow entertainment none. when to arrive 20-30 minutes before showtime.

Description and Comments: This energetic production, inspired by Disney's Lion King feature, is part stage show, part parade, part circus. Guests are seated in four sets of bleachers surrounding the stage and organized into separate cheering sections, which are called on to make elephant, warthog, giraffe, and lion noises (you won't be alone if you don't know how to make a giraffe or warthog noise). There's a great deal of parad- ing around, some acrobatics, and a lot of singing and dancing. By our count, every tune from The Lion King is belted out and reprised several times. No joke -- if you don't know the words to all the songs by the end of the show, you must have been asleep.

Unofficial Guide readers have been almost unanimous in their praise of Festival of the Lion King. This letter from a Naples, Florida, mom is typical:

Festival of the Lion King is a spectacular show with singers, dancers, fire twirlers, acrobats, robotics, and great set design. My whole family agreed this was the best thing we experienced at Animal Kingdom.

Touring Tips: This show is both popular and difficult to see. Your best bet is to go to the first show in the morning or to one of the last two performances in the evening. To see the show during the more crowded midday, you'll need to queue up at least 35-45 minutes before showtime. To minimize standing in the hot sun, refrain from hopping in line until the Disney people begin directing guests to the far-right queue. If you have small children or short adults in your party, sit higher up in the bleachers. The first five rows in particular have very little rise, making it difficult for those in rows two through five to see.

Photo Caption: "Festival of the Lion King" performance at Walt Disney World
View Next Slide
Action during Disney's Hollywood Studios Backlot Tour Gail Mooney
What it is: Combination tram and walking tour of modern film and video pro- duction. Scope and scale: headliner. When to go: Anytime. Special comments: Use the restroom before getting in line. Authors' rating: Educational and fun; not to be missed; 4 stars. Duration of presentation: About 30 minutes. Pre-show entertainment: A video before the special-effects segment and another video in the tram boarding area.

Description and Comments: A substantial part of the Studios is a film- and TV-production facility, although very little actual production takes place these days. Nonetheless, visitors to DHS can take a backstage tour to learn about production methods and technologies.

The tour begins on the edge of the back lot with the special-effects walking segment, then continues with the tram segment. To reach the Studio Backlot Tour, turn right off Hollywood Boulevard through the Studio Arch into the Animation Courtyard. Bear left at the corner where Voyage of the Little Mermaid is situated. Follow the street until you see a redbrick warehouse on your right. Go through the door and up the ramp.

The first stop is a special-effects water tank where technicians explain the mechanical and optical tricks that "turn the seemingly impossible into on-screen reality." Included are rain effects and a naval battle.

A prop room separates the special-effects tank and the tram tour. Trams depart about once every 4 minutes on busy days, winding among production and shop buildings before stopping at the wardrobe and crafts shops. Here, costumes, sets, and props are designed, created, and stored. Still seated on the tram, you look through large windows to see craftsmen at work.

The tour continues through the back lot, where western desert can- yons exist side by side with New York City brownstones. The tour's highlight is Catastrophe Canyon, an elaborate special-effects movie set where a thunderstorm, earthquake, oil-field fire, and flash flood are simulated.

Touring Tips: Because the Studio Backlot Tour is one of Disney's most efficient attractions, you'll rarely wait more than 15 minutes (usually less than 10). Take the tour at your convenience, but preferably before 5 p.m., when the various workshops shut down for the day.

Photo Caption: Action during Disney's Hollywood Studios Backlot Tour
View Next Slide
Rock 'n' Roller Coaster at Disney Hollywood Studios Richard Macko
Fastpass

What it is: Rock-music-themed roller coaster. Scope and scale: headliner. When to go: Before 10am, in the hour before closing, or use Fastpass. Special comments: 48" minimum height requirement; children younger than age 7 must ride with an adult. Switching-off option provided. Note that this attraction has a single-rider line. Authors' rating: Disney's wildest American coaster; not to be missed; 4 stars. Duration of ride: Almost 1½ minutes. Average wait in line per 100 people ahead of you 2½ minutes. Assumes all trains operating. Loading speed: Moderate-fast.

Description and Comments: This is Disney's answer to the roller-coaster proliferation at Universal's Islands of Adventure and Busch Gardens theme parks. Exponentially wilder than Space Mountain or Big Thunder Mountain in the Magic Kingdom, Rock 'n' Roller Coaster is an attraction for fans of cutting-edge thrill rides. Although the rock icons and synchronized music add measurably to the experience,

The ride itself, as opposed to sights and sounds along the way, is the focus. Rock 'n' Roller Coaster offers loops, corkscrews, and drops that make Space Mountain seem like the Jungle Cruise. What really makes this metal coaster unusual, however, is that first, it's in the dark (like Space Mountain, only with Southern California nighttime scenes instead of space), and second, you're launched up the first hill like a jet off a carrier deck. By the time you crest the hill, you'll have gone from 0 to 57 mph in less than three seconds. When you enter the first loop, you'll be pulling five g's. By comparison, that's two more g's than astronauts experience at liftoff on a space shuttle.

Touring Tips: This ride is not for everyone. If Space Mountain or Big Thunder pushes your limits, stay away from Rock 'n' Roller Coaster.

It's eye-catching, and it's definitely a zippy, albeit deafening, ride. Expect long lines except in the first 30 minutes after opening and during the late-evening performance of Fantasmic!. Ride as soon as possible in the morning, or use Fastpass.

If you're on hand when the park opens, position yourself on the far left side of Sunset Boulevard as close to the rope barrier as possible. If there's already a crowd at the rope, you can usually work yourself forward by snaking along the wall of the Beverly Sunset Shop. Once in position, wait for the rope drop. When the park opens, cast members will walk the rope up the street toward Rock 'n' Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror. Stay on the far left sidewalk and you'll be among the first to make the left turn to the entrance of the coaster. Usually the Disney people get out of the way and allow you to run the last 100 feet or so.

A good strategy for riding both Tower of Terror and Rock 'n' Roller Coaster with minimum waits is to rush first thing after opening to Rock 'n' Roller Coaster and obtain Fastpasses, then line up for the Tower of Terror. Most days, by the time you finish experiencing the Tower of Terror, it will be time to use your Fastpass for Rock 'n' Roller Coaster.

Photo Caption: Rock 'n' Roller Coaster at Disney Hollywood Studios
View Next Slide
The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disney Hollywood Studios Gary Bogdon Photography
Fastpass

What it is: Sci-fi-themed indoor thrill ride. Scope and scale: Super-headliner. When to go: Before 9:30am, after 6pm, or use Fastpass. Special comments: 40" minimum height requirement; switching-off option offered (see page 331). Authors' rating: Walt Disney World's best attraction; not to be missed; 5 stars. Duration of ride: About 4 minutes plus preshow. Average wait in line per 100 people ahead of you: 4 minutes; assumes all elevators operating. Loading speed: Moderate.

Description and Comments: The Tower of Terror is a different species of Dis-ney thrill ride, though it borrows elements of The Haunted Mansion at the Magic Kingdom. The story is that you're touring a once-famous Hollywood hotel gone to ruin. As at Star Tours, the queuing area immerses guests in the adventure as they pass through the hotel's once-opulent public rooms. From the lobby, guests are escorted into the hotel's library, where Rod Serling, speaking from an old black-and-white television, greets the guests and introduces the plot.

The Tower of Terror is a whopper at 13-plus-stories tall. Breaking tradition in terms of visually isolating themed areas, it lets you see the entire Studios from atop the tower . . . but you have to look quick.

The ride vehicle, one of the hotel's service elevators, takes guests to see the haunted hostelry. The tour begins innocuously, but at about the fifth floor things get pretty weird. Guests are subjected to a full range of eerie effects as they cross into the Twilight Zone. The climax of the adventure occurs when the elevator reaches the top floor (the 13th, of course) and the cable snaps.

The Tower of Terror is an experience to savor. Though the final plunges (yep, make that plural) are calculated to thrill, the meat of the attraction is its extraordinary visual and audio effects. There's richness and subtlety here, enough to keep the ride fresh and stimulating after many repetitions. Disney tinkers with the Tower of Terror incessantly. Recently, random ride and drop sequences were introduced that make the attraction faster and keep you guessing about when, how far, and how many times the elevator will drop. We interviewed a family from Toronto who claimed that as they were preparing to disembark at the unloading area, the doors suddenly closed and the elevator shot back up for yet another drop! In addition to random sequencing, new visual, auditory, and olfactory effects were added.

Touring Tips: If you're on hand when the park opens and want to ride Tower of Terror first, position yourself on the middle right side of Sunset Boulevard as close to the rope barrier as possible. Once in position, wait for the rope drop. When the park opens, cast members will walk the rope up the street toward Rock 'n' Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror. Just stay on the outside of the far-right sidewalk, and you'll be among the first to make the right turn to the entrance of the tower. Usually the Disney people get out of the way and allow you to run the last 100 feet or so. Also, be aware that about 65% of the folks waiting for the rope walk will head for Rock 'n' Roller Coaster. If you're not positioned on the far right, it will be hard to move through the crowd to make a right turn into Tower of Terror.

Photo Caption: The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disney's Hollywood Studios
View Next Slide
This slideshow is brought to you by our advertisers:
Click NEXT to continue reading.
Kali River Rapids at Disney's Animal Kingdom Gary Bogdon Photography
What it is: Whitewater raft ride. Scope and scale:headliner. When to go: Before 10:30am or after 4:30pm, or use Fastpass. Special comments: You're guaranteed to get wet. Opens 30 minutes after the rest of the park. 38" minimum height requirement. Switching-off option available. Authors' rating: Short but scenic; 3½ stars. Duration of ride: About 5 minutes. Average wait in line per 100 people ahead of you 5 minutes. loading speed Moderate.

Description and Comments: Whitewater raft rides have been a hot-weather favorite of theme park patrons for more than 20 years. The ride itself consists of an unguided trip down an artificial river in a circular rubber raft with a top-mounted platform seating 12 people. The raft essentially floats free in the current and is washed downstream through rapids and waves. Because the river is fairly wide, with numerous currents, eddies, and obstacles, there's no telling exactly where the raft will drift. Thus, each trip is different and exciting.

What distinguishes Kali River Rapids from other theme park raft rides is Disney's trademark attention to visual detail. Where many raft rides essentially plunge down a concrete ditch, Kali River Rapids flows through a dense rain forest and past waterfalls, temple ruins, and bam- boo thickets, emerging into a cleared area where greedy loggers have ravaged the forest, and finally drifting back under the tropical canopy as the river cycles back to Anandapur. Along the way, your raft runs a gauntlet of raging cataracts, logjams, and other dangers. Disney has done a great job with the visuals on this attraction. The queuing area, which winds through an ancient Southeast Asian temple, is one of the most striking and visually interesting settings of any Disney attraction. And though the sights on the raft trip itself are also first-class, the attraction is marginal in two important respects. First, it's only about 3&frac12: minutes on the water, and second, well . . . it's a weenie ride. Sure, you get wet, but otherwise the drops and rapids are not all that exciting
Touring Tips: This attraction is hugely popular on hot summer days. Ride Kali River Rapids before 11am, after 4:30pm, or use Fastpass. You can expect to get wet and probably drenched on this ride. Our recommendation is to wear shorts to the park and bring along a jumbo-sized trash bag as well as a smaller plastic bag. Before boarding the raft, take off your socks and punch a hole in your jumbo bag for your head. Though you can also cut holes for your arms, you'll probably stay drier with your arms inside the bag. Use the smaller plastic bag to wrap around your shoes. If you're worried about mussing your hairdo, bring a third bag for your head.

Photo Caption: Kali River Rapids at Disney's Animal Kingdom
View Next Slide
Frommer's EasyGuide to Walt Disney World & Orlando Frommer's
More plainspoken, honest advice in the current Frommer's guide to Walt Disney World and Orlando, available for order now! It's lightweight, complete, and now it's less expensive.
View Next Slide
advertisement
advertisement