I recently completed my first trip to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida as an adult. My last trip to “the happiest place on Earth” was as a fourteen-year-old kid- back when Disney’s Hollywood Studios was called MGM and way before Star Wars or Avatar had anything to do with the parks. This trip allowed me to experience much of what the four themes parks have to offer and most of the rides. We scheduled our time, starting at about 8 a.m. most days, to take advantage of fast passes and fit in as many rides as possible. Here is a list of my favorites- factoring in fun, thrill-level, and nostalgia.
Avatar Flight of Passage
Many of the rides are listed here simply because they are fun, but Flight of Passage is number one because I walked away feeling that I had a special experience. The simulation ride allows you to become an avatar and take flight on the back of a banshee. To be honest, I’m not a big fan of the film, but this ride makes me thankful for James Cameron’s imagination. Find it in Animal Kingdom’s Pandora- The World of Avatar.
Soarin’ Around the World
Another simulation ride- because apparently that’s the new thing- Soarin’ gives you the experience of flying around (and above) the world in a glider, which looks a lot like a ski lift. Like Flight of Passage, this ride uses a massive curved screen and computer animation to create a 3D experience. On this ride you are raised above the ground to fly over mountains, cities, and the Great Wall of China.
Peter Pan’s Flight
This Magic Kingdom ride is high on the list for my personal nostalgia. Peter Pan has always been one of my favorite stories. Full disclosure- I almost cried on this ride the other day. It’s so beautiful and I love how the sets are built to give a birds-eye-view effect. Plus, I got to fly away with Peter and Wendy to Neverland.
Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain
On this Animal Kingdom roller coaster, you take a train up (and up and up) the Himalayan mountains in search of the mythical yeti- although, seems more likely that he’s searching for you. This is the first roller coaster on the list because the ride is unpredictable, even sending you backward.
Rocketing through the stars on this classic ride is an essential Magic Kingdom experience.
Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
The mine train is a fun, old school-style roller coaster that also provides some impressive modern production. You’ll meet the seven dwarfs on the ride, brought to life through a combination of classic animatronics and computer generated animation for their faces. The ride also uses a “tilting vehicle” system to make it feel like riders are in a mine cart. Find it in Fantasyland at Magic Kingdom.
The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
This Hollywood Studios classic is just as thrilling now as it was that last time I rode it many years ago. I still scream with every stomach-flipping drop.
Love that this ride’s title is in all caps. DINOSAUR- enough said. This ride has been at Animal Kingdom since I was a kid, and I must confess- I still had to look through my fingers. Riding through the age of dinosaurs in a jeep shaking every which way, in the dark half-the-time, waiting for those dinos to pop-out, is scary! It’s also a lot of fun, though!
As a writer, journalist, filmmaker and someone who has always worked in the world of media and communications- this ride feels like an ode to my life. Also, the trippy, backwards, time-travel stuff is pretty fun. This ride, inside Epcot’s iconic giant golf ball, gives riders a tour of the history of communications technology- from cave drawings to papyrus to Bill Gates in his garage. The main reason I enjoy this ride is because the sets and animatronics are so engaging and beautifully constructed.
Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster
On this recent trip, I had the pleasure of riding the Aerosmith roller coaster at Hollywood Studios for the first time. Man, does it move fast!
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