Top 5 Rides Walt Disney World Does Better

Top 5 Rides Walt Disney World Does Better

I have had a great time this month sharing my perspective since returning from my first visit to Disneyland.  Last week we counted down the Top 5 Rides Disneyland Does Better!  This week we are turning the tables and looking at the rides Walt Disney World does better.

One thing I have found very interesting in comparing the rides within the two destinations, are the timelines.  If you didn’t notice last week, I hope you will pay attention today to when each ride was built in each park.  You might quickly jump to the assumption that the second ride in the sequence would be the better ride.  However, that is not always the case.  Yes, sometimes Disney takes the opportunity to improve upon the original, but on other occasions budget and time require the follow-up version of a ride be scaled down.

I feel it’s important to give each ride a chance at each of the parks.  As our lists last week and this week will show, your favorite ride in California may be even better in Florida, or vice versa.  Or better yet, there may be a ride you haven’t cared for in your home park, but discover is more enjoyable on the other coast.  With that said, let’s jump right into our Top 5 Rides Walt Disney World Does Better!

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5. Dumbo the Flying Elephant

The original classic spinner, Dumbo has been often duplicated.  It proved so popular at Disneyland it has been added to five more Disney parks including the Magic Kingdom. In addition to the actual Dumbo rides you can find other spinners like The Magic Carpets of Aladdin, Astro Orbiter, and Tricera Top Spin all in Walt Disney World.  None of these have overtaken the popularity of the original.  So, it might seem strange to put this one on the list of rides Walt Disney World does better.  Let’s get started with our quick facts and see what makes one better than the other.

Walt Disney World

  • Dumbo opened in the Magic Kingdom on October 1, 1971. It was relocated as part of the new Fantasyland expansion.  The first spinner opened on March 12, 2012, and a second spinner opened on June 22, 2012.
  • A giant indoor, interactive play area was added to the queue when the ride was relocated.
  • There is no height requirement
  • Fastpass+ is available

Disneyland

  • Dumbo the Flying Elephant opened on August 16, 1955
  • There is no height requirement
  • Fastpass is NOT available

I’m sure some Disney purists might argue with me on this one, but there is no denying Walt Disney World wins for doubling the ride capacity and enhancing the experience while waiting to ride.

At Disneyland, Dumbo is nestled into the back of Fantasyland.  The queue is entirely outdoors, and there is only one spinner.  The ride has changed very little since opening back in 1955.  In contrast, the Dumbo in the Magic Kingdom has undergone a complete transformation.  The ride is now located in the Storybook Circus area of Fantasyland.  Dumbo’s big top is at the heart of this area which carries the circus theme to new extremes.  Beyond enhancing the theme of the original Dumbo ride, the circus tent also serves to provide an air conditioned playground for those waiting to ride.  Parents can relax as the sit in the a/c and watch the kids burn some energy while waiting for their turn to ride.  Check out our podcast on this ride for full details of how this interactive queue makes Dumbo a can’t miss ride for little ones.

The other great thing about the indoor queue is the A/C!  Dumbo was once one of the hottest rides at Walt Disney World, making mid-day rides ripe for a meltdown in more ways than one.  Now, you can enjoy a ride in the middle of the day, or opt for an even more colorful experience at night.  The carousel of flying elephants comes to life in different colors during the nightly flights.  This is highlighted by the water fountain at the base of the ride.  Disneyland does not have the colorful play of lights during the night, making the ride rather dark.

I will say I enjoyed see Timothy Q. Mouse at the top of Dumbo on the Disneyland version.  At Walt Disney World, he now resides at the ride’s entrance.  Seeing him on the ride was a nice touch.  Still, this little detail is not enough to make up for the queue, capacity, and enhanced nighttime experience found at Walt Disney World.  For all these reasons Dumbo the Flying Elephant comes in at #5 on my list.

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4. Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith

Roller coasters may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think Disney.  Still, what they lack in quantity they do a pretty good job with in quality.  One of the best examples is Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith.  This Walt Disney World coaster does not have an exact replica in Disneyland, but it does have a very close cousin.  Actually, the title of this other coaster songs a little like an Aerosmith song.  If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m talking about California Screamin’!  Let’s look at how much the two have in common.

Walt Disney World

  • Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster opened in Disney’s Hollywood Studios on June 29, 1999
  • Must be 48” tall to ride
  • Fastpass+ is available
  • Single Rider Line is available
  • Max speed of 57 mph
  • Fright factor is 5 out of 5

Disneyland

  • California Screamin’ opened on February 8, 2001
  • Must be 48” tall to ride
  • Fastpass is available
  • Single Rider Line is available
  • Max speed of 55 mph
  • Fright factor is 5 out of 5

These two fast paced, high thrill, stomach turning rides have more in common than you might think.  They opened within a couple of years of each other, they both begin by launching riders from 0 – 60 mph in a matter of seconds, and both pump music through speakers in each seat.  At first glance California Screamin’ appears to be a classic wooden roller coaster, making it look different from the tubular steel coaster in Orlando.  However, this is just part of the clever boardwalk style theming found in Disney California Adventure.  California Screamin’ is as much a steel coaster as Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster.

California Screamin’ is actually the third longest steel coaster in the United States.  It comes in over 6,000 ft. in track length, making it almost twice as long as Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster.  To top it all off, it is the only ride in Disneyland that includes an inversion, and the ride maxes out at 55 mph.  Sounds like a pretty good time, huh?  Well, it certainly is.  So, how is Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster better?

The difference is in the details.  First of all, Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster puts the pedal to the metal by going from 0 – 57 in 2.8 seconds.  This top speed is achieved more than a second faster than California Screamin’ and is 2 mph faster at that.  That may sound like splitting hairs, but trust me, you can feel the difference!  This instantaneous speed results in a 4.5 G force as you enter the first inversion.  After that, the ride never seems to slow down as you rocket through the dark neon landscape of L.A. on your way to the Aerosmith concert.  The bands’ most famous songs are pumped into your ears through speakers in the headrest.  The darkened surroundings heighten your sense of sound and the music feels like a much more powerful element on this coaster compared to California Screamin’.

In addition to the outdoor vs. indoor experience, the layout of the tracks is very different.

California Screamin’ spreads its drops and turns across the long 6,000 ft. track.  At Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster, the thrills are jam packed together one after another.  Rather than just one inversion, Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster has three in its shorter 3,400 ft. length.  That is a lot of thrill in a small amount of space!

Beyond the mechanics of the two rides, I think Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster has a much stronger theme.  Before you even reach the ride you can see the giant red guitar outside, with metallic strings morphing into a coaster track at the ride’s entrance.  I can’t help but get excited every time I see the crazy sight.  Once inside the air conditioned queue, the framed records and awards lining the walls of G-Force Records really drive home the theme of rock ’n’ roll.  Finally, the dark, grungy back alley that serves as the loading platform sets the stage for the exciting limousine ride that follows.  All these details really draw you into the story.  The same cannot be said of California Screamin’.  As a coaster it is a lot of fun, but it lacks the story and imagination of Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster.

These differences in track layout combined with the stronger theme of an iconic band like Aerosmith make the Orlando coaster my ride of preference, and #4 on our list.

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3. Toy Story Mania!

You’ve got a friend in me!  Whether it is a friend in California or Orlando, you won’t want to miss out on this family friendly game.  I have yet to meet anyone that doesn’t have fun on Toy Story Mania!  This ride is one of the few experiences developed simultaneously on the two coasts.  As a result, the rides themselves are almost identical. Let’s check out the quick facts.

Walt Disney World

  • Toy Story Mania! opened at Disney’s Hollywood Studios on May 31, 2008
  • There is no height requirement
  • Fastpass+ is available

Disney California Adventure

  • Toy Story Midway Mania! opened on June 17, 2008
  • There is no height requirement
  • Fastpass is available

This one is all about the queue!  I have always said that Toy Story Mania! in Walt Disney World may be the best queue in all the parks.  If you have never been, just imagine being shrunk down to the size of a game board piece.  Once you step inside the building you are transported into childhood classics like Chutes and Ladders, Candy Land, Lincoln Logs, and more.  From the Rainbow Road on the wall, to the barrel of monkeys hanging overhead, there is more to take in than you can see in one trip.

The DCA version does have an AA Mr. Potato Head barker outside, but it lacks the immersive environment of the Hollywood Studios version.  Much of the queue is outside at DCA, making it impossible to surround you from all angles with the clever games of your youth.  It does fit in nicely with the boardwalk theme in this area of the park, but it’s not enough to make up for the childlike wonder found in Orlando.

Finally, the Hollywood Studios version has the advantage of three ride tracks.  The addition of a third track in Orlando has already helped reduce the amount of time spent waiting for this extremely popular ride.  Couple that with the advantage of obtaining a Fastpass+ months in advance and DCA just can’t compete.

The rides may have been announced and developed at the same time.  Still, the overwhelming difference in queues and wait times makes this #3 on our list for Rides Walt Disney World Does Better!

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2. Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain

Welcome to the Himalayas!  I always love that line in Monsters Inc.  I would love to see the lovable snowman from that world over the terrifying Yeti lurking up the forbidden mountain.  Alas, the more abominable version wins out when it comes to Disney rides.  Yes, I did say rides, plural.  You see, there is more than one Disney coaster featuring the legendary creature.  Expedition Everest is the one that probably comes to mind for most these days, but for a very long time it was the Matterhorn Bobsleds.  As the facts will show, this one may not be a fair fight.

Walt Disney World

  • Expedition Everest opened in Disney’s Animal Kingdom on April 7, 2006
  • Top speed of 50 mph
  • Must be 44” tall to ride
  • Fright Factor of 5 out of 5

Disneyland

  • Matterhorn Bobsleds opened on June 14, 1959
  • Top speed of 27 mph
  • Must be 42” tall to ride
  • Fright Factor of 3 out of 5

47 years and 23 mph separate these two Disney coasters.  Even so, I have to admit the Matterhorn Bobsleds was one of the rides I was most looking forward to on my first visit to Disneyland.  Without this ride we wouldn’t have roller coasters as we know them today.  This ride is credited with being the first tubular steel track continuous roller coaster.

Beyond the technical innovation, the Matterhorn Bobsleds is as rich in Disney history as any ride out there.  What started as a pile of dirt taken from the moat of Sleeping Beauty’s castle became the first roller coaster in the world!  We will save the fascinating full story of this ride for its own podcast someday.  What impressed me when I first saw the Matterhorn was the scale.  Being the first coaster I expected it to be smaller.  Now, it’s nowhere near the scale of Expedition Everest, but on the Disneyland scale it really does feel like a mountain in the Alps.

The Matterhorn has also undergone several refurbishments and enhancements, most recently in 2015.  The updated special effects and enhanced AA Abominable Snowman are quite nice.  In fact, I would give an edge to the Matterhorn AA figure over the broken down AA Yeti at Expedition Everest.  Hopefully, someday Disney can figure out a way to afford the massive construction project it will take to access the immobile Yeti at the Animal Kingdom.

For now, Expedition Everest has everything else going for it.  Theme, speed, thrill, surprises, and just plain fun.  I think most would rate Expedition Everest as the best roller coaster in Walt Disney World.  Once you have experienced both the Matterhorn and Everest, it is clear to see how this idea has matured and grown over the years.  The theme has moved from the Swiss Alps to the seven peaks of the Himalayas.

In the modern version, the tall snow covered peaks of the forbidden mountain overlook the abandoned village of Serka Zong.  The story of the Yeti’s destructive force is on display as soon as you enter the queue.  This is another example of how Disney’s storytelling has grown over the years.  At places like the Matterhorn Bobsleds, the story is mostly confined to the experience on the mountain.  At Expedition Everest the story permeates the queue and even the surrounding land of Asia at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.  The result is an immersive experience capped off by a thrilling ride through the mountain at 50 mph.  This culmination of modern Disney Imagineering puts this one over the top of the classic, and makes it #2 on our list.

I would like to point out one more thing before we leave the mysterious mountains in the two parks.  The Matterhorn Bobsleds is much tamer than Expedition Everest, but for those that don’t love coasters it can still be a little too intense.  Oh, and there is water waiting for you at the bottom, an element you don’t have to worry about at Everest.  Be prepared for a quick ride with tight turns and a splash down at the base of the mountain.  All right, we have covered 5 through 2, which only leaves room for one more.  Get ready, because its time for another dimension of ride!

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1. The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

Ah, yes The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror!  If you have been listening to our podcast for long you know this ride sits at the tippy top for most in our family.  To me it is the icon of Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  Yes, I know the Earful Tower was the official landmark, and then it was unofficially supplanted by Sorcerer’s Hat for many years.  Now that both are gone, I would argue that this tower is the real icon of the park.  That is in part due to the size and scale of the ride, but also due to it’s overwhelming popularity.  So, when I first heard the ride wasn’t as big a deal in California I was perplexed.  How could you not love the Tower of Terror?  What could be so different that it wouldn’t be the ride you ran home to tell your friends about?  Let’s see how the two compare.

Walt Disney World

  • The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror opened in Disney’s Hollywood Studios on July 22, 1994
  • You must be 40” tall to ride
  • Fastpass+ is available
  • Fright Factor of 5 out of 5

Disney California Adventure

  • The Tower of Terror opened on May 5, 2004
  • The ride is undergoing a renovation to become Guardians of the Galaxy Mission: Breakout
  • You must be 40” tall to ride
  • Fastpass is available
  • Fright Factor of 5 out of 5

If you were paying attention to the dates you will have noticed the DCA version came along 10 years after the original at Hollywood Studios.  This is one of those cases I mentioned at the top of the podcast, where the second generation doesn’t quite live up to the first.

I believe the Imagineers had good intentions when they designed the California version.  The exterior of the building was made to look like the Golden Age of Hollywood.  The architecture is reminiscent of buildings in Southern California during this era.  Unfortunately, this style is just not as menacing as the Spanish Colonial style found in Florida.  The Orlando version features tall vertical shafts, each capped with sharp spires at the top.  The result is a seemingly taller tower with a more domineering presence.  Along with the architecture, the color of the two towers is different.  The DCA version is a subdued, rather bland cream color.  Meanwhile, the Studios tower was painted a terra cotta hue to blend into the background when seen from the nearby Morocco pavilion in Epcot.  While this paint color serves a practical purpose, it also ended up casting the tower in a more mysterious tone.

Finally, the location of the two rides greatly influences their presence in the parks.  As soon as you turn down Sunset Blvd. in the Studios you are met with the looming hotel in the distance.  It seems to sit there, high above the land, daring would be guests to come explore its dark secrets.  At night, the neon sign lights up and the rest of the hotel blends into the night sky.  Screams can be heard cutting through the black night, further building the anticipation of what lies ahead.  The story is very different at Disney California Adventure.  The tower in this park can be accessed from two different streets, neither of which come into the ride straight on.  One road leads you down Hollywood Land and the other through A Bug’s Land.  Neither path is exactly eerie.  Whichever road you choose, you won’t be able to really see the tower until you are right on top of it.  There is no slow build of terrifying fright as you approach this ride.

The other thing the Imagineers tried to improve upon was the ride system itself.  Without going into the details they changed the way this California version loads and runs.  In order to do this they eliminated the vehicles’ ability to independently move outside of the elevator shaft.  In other words, you simply go up and down.  At the Studios, your elevator car actually leaves the original shaft, proceeds through a Twilight Zone filled show scene, and then locks into a second elevator shaft.  The second shaft then takes you on your randomized plummet up and down the fourth dimension.  Removing this element and changing the ride operating system has allowed a higher hourly capacity at DCA, but it has also greatly diminished the overall ride experience.  Also, the updated randomized drop sequence can’t be found in DCA.  The sequence of drops is the same each time, making repeat visits predictable.

I’m very glad I was able to ride the DCA version before it’s days as the Tower of Terror came to a close.  After having experienced both rides I now understand why it is under going a renovation.  The intentions were good with the second generation ride, but along the way it lost the “it” factor.  I don’t think I have ever described a ride has having an “it” factor, but in this case that is the best way I can describe the difference between the two.  The original Twilight Zone Tower of Terror has a character, a life, dare I say a dimension, all its own.  Perhaps the new Guardians of the Galaxy theme will bring that to the DCA version.  For that park I hope that is the case.  Right now, this is the #1 Ride Walt Disney World Does Better!

Whew, I’ve rattled on a little longer than normal today, so thank you for sticking with me.  Comparing the rides in the different parks has been so much fun for me the past two weeks.  I had planned to give you an honorable mention, but our time is short.  Let me just say two words, Star Tours! O.k. that’s it, I don’t have time to expound.

I do want to point out that 3 out of our 5 rides hailed from Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  So, don’t buy into the idea that this park can be skipped while undergoing the Star Wars and Toy Story additions.  If you love rides and have never experienced the Hollywood Studios version of Toy Story Mania!, Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster, or Tower of Terror don’t miss out!

I really hope you have enjoyed this little list, and I want to thank you for joining me today.  We will be off the air next week so we can spend time with family over Thanksgiving.  Check back in December for new episodes.  In the meantime I love hearing from you.  If you have any questions or feedback be sure and drop us a line or two. E-mail me at feedback@wdwrideguide.com or send me a message on our Facebook page.

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