Welcome to The Pulse, your lifeline on media and pop culture. After my recent review of the newest ride on the block at the Disneyland resort in Anaheim, California I got to thinking. Just what are my favorite rides at the historic and iconic amusement park? So this week we’re taking a trip to the happiest place on Earth and counting down my top 10 Disneyland rides! A quick note, as there always is, this list is based on the park as it currently is. So attractions sitting in Yesterland and no longer with us are not included in the running, otherwise you would be seeing Rocket Rods (RIP) and the original Submarine Voyage on here.
10. Disneyland Railroad
“Your attention please! The Disneyland Limited, now leaving for a grand circle tour of the Magic Kingdom, with stops at New Orleans Square, Mickey’s Toontown, and Tomorrowland. All passengers, board!” One of the first sights and sounds you’ll be greeted to when arriving at the park is Walt’s beloved Disneyland Railroad. These steam engines have been an icon of the park, shuttling guests around Walt’s kingdom since opening day. From the wonderful, scenic view around the entirety of the park to a look inside of rides such as Splash Mountain and even a trip back in time to the primeval world, there’s always something interesting to see as you move from stop to stop. Sometimes it’s just nice to get off your feet and not have to walk from land to land, other trips I hop on at Main Street station and make the full grand circle tour, it’s a great way to end the day.
9. Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run
So, prior to the opening of Galaxy’s Edge this would have been Star Tours. Smuggler’s Run is basically Star Tours but better so it sorta just inherited the spot instead. Not to take away from the ride itself, the queue is well done, the Hondo animatronic during the preshow is absolutely incredible and there really is something special about living out a childhood fantasy and flying the Millennium Falcon. Your ride experience really is going to vary based not only on what role you are assigned (honestly, anything but pilot kinda sucks) but also how much your fellow crew members suck (or don’t) at the ride. It’s definitely a bit of a shame to end up stuck in the gunner or (even worse) engineer seat while a kid takes to the controls and proceeds to spend the entire time crashing into things and it can be hard to remember that they’re just a kid at a theme park, but I honestly think that’s an element that should have been better considered when designing the ride. If you’re going to be scoring based on group performance and the results, at least originally, were meant to have a bigger impact on your time in Galaxy’s Edge, maybe it being solely based on individual performance or better structuring of groups or something could have sufficed or possibly forcing a sort of “autopilot” for youngsters not quite capable of doing the job themselves, I dunno, just musing. It is a fun experience, even if it lacks the randomizer of the current Star Tours (not that that is all that random with it mostly being set paths to promote the newer movies anyways, but I digress). It’s a fun ride, not always one I’m bummed out about skipping out on most trips, but when I can get a flight in I’m pretty happy. Plus I can grab a Ronto Wrap after, which is a big win.
8. The Jungle Cruise
Puns are the highest form of humor. Also makes me realize I really should incorporate more puns into these lists, but let’s not alienate what little audience I have eh? I love animals, I love puns, so truly awful puns and dad humor mixed in with props and animatronics that range from pretty good to incredibly dated and an extra dose of the backside of water and, yeah I kinda love the Jungle Cruise. It’s cheesy but it is such a Disneyland classic that is steeped in tradition and the sort of *wink wink, nudge nudge* humor from the skippers about it all, unless the line is queuing all the way up top, I’ll usually try and convince my better half to let us go for a tour of the treacherous jungles of southern California.
7. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
First of all, bring back the old audio for the station platform, the new guy just isn’t as fun as the old. That said, this runaway train that..apparently has some sort of ghost story attached to it I was never aware of (I do believe it was the narration from the railroad, though it may have been the Mark Twain, that clued me in on this) was one of my all time favorite coasters as a kid and it still holds up today. I love the little wildlife animatronics you see around the desert landscape, the finale sequence with the exploding dynamite is great, splashing the t-rex skeleton as you make your way back to the station. It’s certainly not the most thrilling ride in the park, but it’s a great starter coaster for kids and provides just enough excitement to keep it fun for us big kids too.
6. Pirates of the Caribbean
Disneyland truly is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, when it comes to immersing you in the worlds and stories their imagineers have created. While we’ll get to some even better examples shortly, Pirates is one of the first to come to mind when the subject comes up. Granted, you do have to ignore the bustling restaurant built into the opening segment of the attraction to really get into the mood (but even then I see the Blue Bayou as every much a part of Pirates as anything else), but from the moment you set sail into that calm and quiet Louisiana bayou (probably my favorite part of the entire ride, honestly) to the splashdown into skeleton infested caves and finally pushing out into the fog to a city under siege and a massive pirate ship engaged in battle. Pirates tells tale of the life of those that like to raid, pillage and plunder and it does a bang up job of it. The sets are memorable, the characters colorful, the music classic. While I do disagree with many of the changes made to the ride over the years (from shoehorning in elements of the films, which I do enjoy on their own merits, to toning down or changing elements to be more politically correct because God forbid pirates be anything but politically correct), it is still something we try and ride almost every single trip. The line tends to move quickly, even on crowded days, and it’s a good, long and relaxing ride that keeps you out of the sun for a pretty long time (I think only Small World goes longer and, well, no).
5. Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Forbidden Eye
For a long, long time this was the peak of immersive storytelling from Disney. Right at the outset, the queue truly transports you to another place and another time. You really do feel as though you’re walking into an archaeological dig at an ancient temple. The booby traps and writing on the wall you can decode add fun and interactive elements to what can at times get to be a fairly lengthy wait. The ride itself is something special as well. I do have to first make mention that the ride has seen some changes and a lot of elements toned back or removed entirely (or just plain stopped functioning) over the years and you can tell it’s in need of some serious love and care to try and get it back to its glory days, but when it was in its prime, it absolutely blew me away. I remember as a kid how excited I was on the trip that I was FINALLY tall enough to ride and I absolutely loved it. Parts of it scared the crap out of me, but in a fun way. It can be a bumpy ride, but again, in a fun way. While many of the effects are, as I said, either no longer working or quite dated (the dart corridor has NEVER looked good), there’ still some impressive elements. Fun fact, did you know you don’t actually back up during the boulder sequence at the end? It’s actually the room around you that’s moving to create the illusion. How cool is that? The Indiana Jones adventure really does live up to its namesake, it’s thrilling, fast and absolutely captures the spirit of its source material. Here’s hoping some day Disney gives it the attention it needs and really brings up to date for the modern era.
4. Space Mountain
I’m going to get this out of the way first. Space Mountain was at its absolute prime during the 90’s. From the queue line with its television sets showing off various bits of news or music videos and adverts from all around the galaxy and a really awesome view in on the ride ahead of you to the absolute banger of a soundtrack with an incredibly badass opening as you make your way to the top of the lift hill before that guitar rip leads into the rockin’ surf music that always felt much more fitting than it should have. What we have today may feel more thematic and the general look and feel of the ride is more space-y and tonally consistent but come on, it’s nowhere near as good and you all fucking know it. I will give a special shout to the Ghost Galaxy overlay, which I really do hope comes back after taking a hiatus last year, because that was a genuinely creepy and well done setup and it may even surpass the 90’s version of the ride for me. With the computer displays all showing errors to the horrifying show that takes place on the outside of the building you can see from Tomorrowland to the even more badass lift hill sequence that kicks off this version of the classic coaster. So, the ride itself. Space Mountain is something I remember almost as much for waiting in line for it as I do the ride itself. This thing almost consistently has a lengthy queue line no matter what time of day or year, rarely dipping below the half hour mark and often pushing an hour or even two hours plus on busier days. Is it worth the wait? Maybe not as much as I’ve gotten older, but I adored this ride as a kid, it was probably my favorite in the park outside of the (original) subs. A high speed coaster in almost complete darkness (complete with fans to make you feel like you’re going much faster than you actually are, mind) is as awesome as it sounds, even if the ride itself is mostly variations of just turning the same direction over and over until the very end.
3. Splash Mountain
How do you do? Fine how are you? Blah blah, pretty good show us your bum.
I love Splash Mountain. Here’s another ride I remember almost as much for the long line as I do the ride itself. Except unlike Space Mountain, Splash Mountain is a long enough ride that it actually feels like it was worth the wait for. With multiple drops, great music and colorful characters, Splash stands tall and proud as the best “Mountain” at the park. This trip to the laughing place is just fun, energetic, you never know how wet you’re gonna get (unless you’re me and the answer is always inevitably, very). Even after all these years and going on much bigger rides, that last drop still gets me. Not much I can really say, this ride promises to take you to your laughing place and I always get off with a big ol’ smile on my face so promise kept.
2. The Haunted Mansion
It’s funny seeing this so high on this list. At the risk of losing my horror fanatic card, there were a great many years growing up that not only would I refuse to go on this ride..I wouldn’t even look at it, I didn’t like being near it or walking by it. It just did not gel with me at all, it scared the crap out of me and other than the fact that “hey, I was a kid” I really couldn’t tell you why it had such a strong effect on me like that. Eventually though I did brave my way through it and over the years it grew more and more on me, I got super into all of the lore and the detail and everything about it and found just how much some people are into this ride and it was just fascinating seeing this sorta culture built around it. It crossing over with my, then, favorite movie The Nightmare Before Christmas certainly didn’t hurt matters either. This is another great example of immersive story telling, you really do feel like you’re walking into this absolutely gorgeous, yet incredibly creepy mansion in the swamps of New Orleans. The stretching room remains a brilliantly executed transition from one part of the ride to another. The effects, for as old as they are and at times as simple as they are, remain impressive and functional. I think part of why I’ve come to love this ride so much now is because of how much it scared me as a kid, it drove my obsession to learn as much as I could about it and I fell head over heels for it. I thought it would remain my all time favorite Disneyland ride, that is until….
1. Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance
Look, I just spent the better part of a review absolutely gushing about this ride so if you want my full, unabbreviated thoughts on Rise of the Resistance, you can check that out right here. The long and short of it is, Rise of the Resistance combines elements of everything I love about (most) of the other rides on this list. It takes my love of the Star Wars franchise and lets me live out that fantasy (even if it is based on the, well, not so good sequel trilogy), it is the pinnacle of immersive story telling, the effects are amazing, the queue is almost as good as the ride itself, there are truly breathtaking moments, it is genuinely thrilling, it is the culmination of everything Disney Imagineering has learned over the last 60+ years in the industry and it more than exceeded my expectations. This ride is an absolute masterpiece, it may even be my favorite ride of all time, period (save for maybe some roller coasters, but that may be a list I get to another day, we’ll see). I just, I don’t have words for it. The only negative I can even come up with is that I hate the boarding pass system that makes it virtually impossible to get on unless you get up at the butt crack of dawn to get to the park before rope drop so you can play the boarding pass lottery, and while a true feat of technical engineering it’s also quite prone to breaking down and I worry this may end up being the next Rocket Rods (may you RIP my beloved).
Thanks for joining me this week guys, had fun with this list, there were some tough calls on placement but I think I’m pretty happy with how it looks overall. Disneyland is truly a special place and I have so many amazing memories of the park from when I was a kid going with my family all the way to today going with my girlfriend and hopefully some day taking my own children to the park and passing on all the cool things I’ve learned about Walt’s kingdom over the years. If you’ve never been I hope I was able to give you a chance to visit through my eyes, if you have been I’d love to hear your own favorite rides in the comments below. See you all next week with another top 10. Love you guys.