Always at the precipice of innovation and magic, Disney has long produced some of the foremost theme park attractions on Earth. From envelope-pushing roller coasters and nostalgia so poignant it makes you weep, to tech-savvy new attractions designed to immerse guests into fantasy worlds, nowhere is this sentiment more apparent than at the Theme Park Capital of the World itself, Walt Disney World.
As a Disney Adult, I’ve been enamored with the Most Magical Place on Earth for as long as I can remember. As a kid, it was the novelty of Jungle Cruise and Haunted Mansion. As a teenager, I moved on to more death-defying fare, like the Tower of Terror. And as an adult, I pair a new appreciation for nostalgia with an awe for Disney’s ingenuity on dazzling new attractions. Disney World is the rare theme park where the vintage rides, even those that have been around since day one in 1971, are still just as much a draw as the hot new indoor roller coaster.
Putting together a bucket list of Disney World rides is no easy feat. For some, a list of requisite rides might include gaudy attractions like It’s a Small World After All, just to say you’ve stared those dead-eyed children in the face at least once. For others, it might skew more heavily towards the newfangled rides that exhibit immersive technology and/or daring thrills. But as someone who has spent my life on these rides (old and new), take it from me: These are the ultimate rides in Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios.
The best rides in Magic Kingdom
Hot take: Disney World’s OG park, Magic Kingdom, may not have the best food, but it does have the best rides. That’s mostly in terms of nostalgia, considering many of these rides have existed before the other parks joined the party-but in recent years, the park has also shown that it’s more than flying elephants and twirling teacups. New rides, paired with the most beloved rides in Disney canon, cement the Magic Kingdom as the epicenter of attractions.
Based on California’s legendary Winchester Mystery House, the Haunted Mansion is a delightful and not-too-spooky romp through the afterlife. Your visit starts in the Stretching Room, which belies the fate of the foolish mortals who’ve crossed the Mansion’s threshold before you. From there, you’ll strap into a doom buggy and explore the creepy rooms and grounds with “999 happy haunts, and room for one more.” One of the original rides from opening day at Disney World, this classic features quinitessential Disney Imagineering in the Great Hall’s waltzing ghosts, Madame Leota’s Seance Room, and the hitchhiking ghost who follows you home.
Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
One of the most enduringly popular newer attractions at Magic Kingdom since it opened in 2014, the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train was a major leap forward for a park that hadn’t produced a roller coaster in decades. Along with the more recently debuted TRON: Lightcycle Run, it’s a feat of innovation and engineering that shows Disney still knows how to shift the paradigm when it comes to thrill rides-even in a stroller-filled setting like Fantasyland. This Snow White-themed coaster, accessed via a jewel-filled cave entrance, takes passengers on a wild mine train ride through makeshift mountains and forests, and past the dwarfs whistling while they work. Each cart sways smoothly sideways, too, so you tilt as you hit turns. It all culminates with Snow White dancing in a cottage, and the witch waiting in the wings.
Space Mountain’s iconic, pointy exterior looms high above Tomorrowland, taunting all those who haven’t yet dared go inside and ride the pitch-black thriller. It’s not the fastest ride in the world (it only reaches 28 miles per hour, though it feels much faster), and the fact that it’s appropriate for all ages makes this one of Disney’s tamer coasters. But the scare factor is heightened by the fact that you’re enveloped in complete darkness and can’t see where you’re going as you zoom around in space capsules. This is also Disney World’s first-ever roller coaster, which makes Space Mountain a requisite for any bucket list.
Pirates of the Caribbean
Swashbuckling sword fights, cannon fire, barrels of rum, and yes, Captain Jack Sparrow all await you on this dinghy-boat dark ride adventure. You’ll float through the underbelly of the pirate world, where animatronic rogues tear up Tortuga, the smell of faux fire wafts through the air, and there’s plenty of treasure to be stolen. Just be sure to remember “dead men tell no tales…”
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
It’s not the biggest or brashest roller coaster at Disney World, but Big Thunder Mountain Railroad packs a punch. The rickety locomotive races through an abandoned (and it turns out, haunted) mine shaft in the nearly 200-foot mountain. With just enough dips and hairpin curves to please riders large and small, this is an essential Frontierland attraction.
This animatronic boat ride through Asia, South America, and Africa is as much about the skipper’s comedic narration as it is about the wild and wonderful scenery. Each tour is led by a different guide, aka a skipper, but no matter who’s at the wheel, expect the best kind of groan-worthy jokes, bad puns, and a generous helping of self-deprecation. Come for the backside of water, stay for the confused looks worn by first-time riders.
The best rides in EPCOT
In the past, EPCOT was known as the edutainment park, for better or worse. This was where adults came to eat and drink, and kids came to learn about hydroponic farming on slow-moving boats. Suffice to say, there wasn’t much here in terms of thrills. But of all the parks in Disney World, EPCOT’s rides have evolved the most, combining those age-old edutainment vessels with some of the most exciting and in-demand new attractions in the entire park.
Build the concept roadster of your dreams, and then take it for a spin on the titular test track. You’ll bump, swerve, and screech your way through the Tron-like obstacle course before heading to the outdoor race track for a face-warping lap at 65 miles per hour, making this the fastest ride in Disney World. After each segment, the car you designed is ranked against the rest, with an overall champion crowned at the end. Pro tip: don’t spend too much time building your vehicle, even though it’s tempting to fine tune it with all the engine, bodywork, and paint-job options available.
This indoor dark ride takes you on a tour of the world, hang-glider style. Prepare to soar above the Earth, feet dangling in the air, and watch the sights unfold on a brain-tricking wraparound IMAX screen. Drop in on the Great Wall of China, take a whiff of the African savanna, get up-close with Iguazu Falls, and stop by Sydney Harbor on this gentle, globe-trotting trip.
Frozen Ever After
When it was initially announced that Maelstrom, the viking-themed indoor boat ride at the Norway Pavilion, would close to make way for a Frozen attraction, the announcement was met with mixed feelings. Some bemoaned the demise of the Norse classic, while others hotly anticipated a full-blown attraction dedicated to one of Disney’s most successful animated films ever. As it turns out, Frozen Ever After is basically the same type of ride at Maelstrom, but instead of burly vikings, gnarly sea storms, and terrifying trolls, it’s Elsa singing “Let it Go,” gentle dips down water slides, and cute trolls. The whole thing is adorable and fun, including the queue that weaves guests through magical Arendelle.
Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure
Mickey Mouse isn’t the only adorable rodent in Disney World nowadays. With the ample expansion of the France Pavilion came a thrillingly immersive attraction dedicated to Ratatouille and its star rat with a talent for haute cuisine. The free-wheeling ride puts guests into giant rat-shaped vehicles that scamper through the kitchen at Gusteau’s. The ride eschews tracks in favor of magnetized cars, which makes passengers feel like they’re on the loose in the restaurant, evading capture, while 4-D technology perfumes the air with the scent of fresh bread.
Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind
The latest and greatest attraction at EPCOT, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind is a real game-changer-not only in the sense that it’s the first ride to feature Marvel characters at Disney World, but also in that it’s the first Disney coaster to employ a reverse-launch. And it’s all set to the retro rock ‘n roll playlists popularized in the movies. Each cart spins around and goes backwards and forwards on enormous looped tracks that are entirely indoors in World Discovery.
Right around the corner from EPCOT’s buzziest new attraction is one of its signature classics. Basically the antithesis of Cosmic Rewind, Spaceship Earth is an educational time warp inside the park’s iconic geodesic sphere. It may not have the speed, the thrills, or the rock ‘n roll, but it does have Dame Judi Dench’s lullaby-like narration as she teaches you about the Renaissance. The slow-moving indoor ride is a blast from the past that takes passengers on a journey through human history, culminating with the onset of the Internet. It may not sound like much, but it’s an EPCOT essential, and a thoroughly enjoyable experience for all ages.
The best rides in Animal Kingdom
Way more than a zoo, Disney World’s youngest park is a place dedicated to conservation and education about wildlife. It just so happens to also offer some thrilling rides and experiences along the way, plus some of the low-key best food in the parks. While guests wait to see what’ll happen to Dinoland USA after that section closes (hint: it may include an Indiana Jones attraction), this animal wonderland has its fair share of totally unique attractions, from Avatar to Everest.
Best enjoyed in warmer weather, this attraction takes you on a tour of a savanna so large that it could contain the entirety of the Magic Kingdom. Modeled after the African plains with long grasses, rock formations, and giant termite heaps, you’ll get up close and personal with lions, crocodiles, elephants, giraffes, and co. The driver of your caravan has got stacks of knowledge about each animal and their behaviors-you know, the ciiiiiircle of liiiiiiiife and all that.
There’s only one roller coaster in Animal Kingdom, but oh boy it’s a good’un. Expedition Everest takes you on an ill-fated expedition to the world’s tallest peak, loosely following the myth of the terrifying yeti. Be prepared for things to go very, very wrong when you hit a broken piece of track, and no matter what, watch out for the abominable snowman!
Avatar Flight of Passage
Pandora – The World of Avatar opened at Animal Kingdom in 2017, and the park has never been the same since. It’s basically an unspoken rite of passage that, every morning upon park opening, guests make a mad dash to Pandora’s marquis attraction, the enthrallingly immersive Avatar Flight of Passage. After an inevitably long line that zigs and zags through otherworldly landscaping and under floating islands, the ride is like EPCOT’s Soarin’-times a thousand. Guests get linked with their own Navi avatars, and embark on a thrilling ride atop a flying banshee, complete with drastic dives and narrow evasions of much-larger predators. Along the way, you feel the breeze on your face, the splashing of ocean waves, and the thrill of knowing this is as close as you’ll ever get to starring in a James Cameron movie.
The best rides in Hollywood Studios
Home to some of Disney World’s most adrenaline-pumping attractions, Hollywood Studios has calcified as Disney’s hub for thrill rides. Iconic attractions, like the Tower of Terror and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, have reigned for years, joined more recently by dazzling new lands like Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and Toy Story Land.
Toy Story Mania
Expanding on the interactive Buzz Lightyear concept in Magic Kingdom, Toy Story Mania is a true carnival-midway gallery with 3-D integration. After donning 3-D glasses, you and your seatmate use cannon blasters to compete against each other in a series of games featuring Toy Story characters. When entering and exiting the ride, keep your eyes peeled for the old-school toys and games from the movies (Barrel of Monkeys, anyone?).
The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
The seminal Twilight Zone-themed haunted elevator ride is a must-do for any Disney devotee. Located in Sunset Boulevard, the Tower is a 1930s hotel run by bellhops mourning the golden days of Hollywood. Boarding the elevator takes you through the Fifth Dimension, as described in the TV show’s opening credits, before dropping you over and over again at stomach-churning speeds. The ride runs on a software randomizer, meaning no two experiences are exactly alike -which is all the reason you need to go more than once. Daredevils should take the center seat in the back row-trust me.
Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance
The main attraction in the Galaxy’s Edge section of the park, which opened to much galactic fanfare in 2019, Rise of the Resistance is the end-all-be-all. Way more than a mere ride, this highly immersive 18-minute attraction features multiple components and interactive elements, designed to transport guests into an action-packed Star Wars movie. Some parts of the attraction involve walking through corridors and interacting with surly agents, while others involve blasting through space on a ship. You even end up climbing into a magnetized cart on a mad dash to escape Kylo Ren. The whole thing is a mesmerizing display of innovation and ingenuity-so impressive that even Star Wars naysayers will leave giddy.
Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway
Diehard fans mourning the closure of The Great Movie Ride may balk, but Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway has proven to be a worthy replacement for one of the park’s central attractions. Located in the front-and-center Chinese Theater, this newfangled ride had the misfortune of opening in March of 2020, which means most folks didn’t get to experience it until months-or years-later. Like Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure and Rise of the Resistance, it employs trackless ride vehicles that use magnets to rove around more freely. As the name implies, it’s a train ride gone awry, sending passengers bouncing around through different landscapes all themed to classic Disney animation, and complete with vintage renderings of characters like Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Goofy, Donald, and Daisy.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and YouTube.
Lisette Voytko is a journalist living in Brooklyn, New York. Her byline has appeared in The Video Game History Foundation, Museum Hack, Task & Purpose, xoJane, and Femsplain, among others. She is currently pursuing her M.S. at Columbia Journalism School. You can find her on Twitter.
Matt Kirouac is a travel writer with a passion for sharing queer stories, exploring national parks, and visiting Disney World. Follow him on IG @mattkirouacyork.
The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’. Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health.
Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid.
Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park. As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor.
To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power.
Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.
You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks.
It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties!
An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:
‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.”