Essential Walt Disney World Attractions for Your Next Trip

Epcot Center

The word “Disney” evokes a hundred different images bound to pop into your head. Whether Cinderella riding in her pumpkin carriage on the way to the ball, Peter Pan soaring through the skies over London, or a small lion cub held over the heads of his kingdom in The Lion King moments after his birth, Disney movies occupy a massive part of the American imagination. The magic of Walt Disney World lets visitors live out these immortal cinematic moments in person, experiencing these fantastic childhood memories firsthand.

Walt Disney World Attractions You Must Visit

Image Credit: Viaval Tours/Shutterstock.

Anyone planning a trip to the “Most Magical Place on Earth,” will want this information in their pocket. Have a look at the Walt Disney World attractions no one will want to skip. These include attractions at Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios, and Disney's Animal Kingdom.

Space Mountain at Magic Kingdom

Space Mountain
Image Credit: Walt Disney World.

Entering the building, visitors walk through a retro 1970s vision of an intergalactic space station. From there, they board a”ship” and blast off through a darkly lit area emulating space, with glistening stars flying overhead and sci-fi sound effects and music playing in the background.

Bookended by a neat queue and exit area (providing travel images for off-world vacation spots) and a fun, unique ride experience, Space Mountain is one of the oldest rides at Magic Kingdom. It continues to delight riders from generation to generation. The ride may not go very fast (it reaches speeds of about 27 mph, but feels much faster). Still, its originality and design make it a one-of-a-kind experience that may be a bit on the intense side for those new to roller coasters.

However, it still offers plenty of thrills and excitement to anyone looking for a fast-paced thrill ride hurtling amongst the stars.

Pirates of the Caribbean at Magic Kingdom

Pirates of the Caribbean
Image Credit: Walt Disney World.

Before Captain Jack Sparrow became synonymous with the word pirate, Pirates of the Caribbean entertained people through its various versions across all of Disney's worldwide parks. One of Disney's most famous attractions, its Pirates of the Caribbean's relative simplicity continues to make it endearing among park visitors.

After entering the queue and traveling through an 18th-century Spanish fortress, you take a low-speed board ride through various scenes inhabited by carefree, chaotic pirates running amuck in a coastal village, launching a naval battle against a fort, or trying (and failing) to escape prison.

With a level of detailed Disney design unheard of for its day, the original Pirates of the Caribbean became one of the defining rides at Disneyland, so much so that when Florida's location first opened, one of the most frequently asked questions staff received was where to find Pirates of the Caribbean. Imagineers planned a Wild West-style ride-through before realizing the significant demand for Pirates at Walt Disney World, which resulted in Florida's location as travelers know it today.

Soarin’ Around the World at Epcot

Image Credit: Walt Disney World.

Soarin' Around the World lets visitors explore the world without leaving Florida. Unlike other simulator-type rides that tend to nauseate or induce vertigo, Soarin' feels calm, an easygoing attraction that sees tourists soar across the world onboard a hang-glider.

The ride utilizes its signature “smellitizer” to pump in various natural scents (salty but pleasant Caribbean air, African dirt, etc.) and a mechanical lift system, suspending travelers in front of a massive IMAX screen displaying various well-known locations across the globe, such as the Eiffel Tower and the Great Wall of China.

For younger guests or those who tend to veer away from intense thrill rides, Soarin' makes a welcome change of pace, allowing them to enjoy a calming flight, atmospheric scents, and an awe-inspiring soundtrack perfect for everyone.

The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Hollywood Studios

Tower of Terror
Image Credit: Walt Disney World.

Taking inspiration from Rod Serling's legendary sci-fi/horror anthology, the Tower of Terror takes guests into the heart of The Twilight Zone, building a singular experience from the moment you lay eyes on the dilapidated hotel settled at the end of Hollywood Studios’ Sunset Boulevard.

From that ominous first sight onward, the Tower of Terror is an attraction like no other, with guests winding their way through a foreboding, once extravagant hotel now abandoned for decades, boarding a service elevator that travels through the hotel, and dropping guests straight into the Fifth Dimension. The impressive queue, the numerous nods to Twilight Zone episodes, and randomized drops in the dark all make this a must-ride, but the atmosphere of this attraction makes it so distinct.

From the moment the hotel comes into view until exiting a drop elevator, it feels like travelers landed in a Twilight Zone episode, right down to the period music, the minimal lighting, and Rod Serling himself (through clever editing) providing introductory narration as riders prepare to hop on an elevator.

The Haunted Mansion at Magic Kingdom

Haunted Mansion scaled
Image Credit: Walt Disney World.

Guests wind through an interactive cemetery, entering the mansion and boarding a “Doom Buggy.” They then spend the next 10 minutes or so receiving a guided tour through the Mansion, narrated by the infamous Ghost Host, witnessing numerous ghouls and happy haunts having a grand old time in the afterlife throughout the attraction's various scenes.

The Haunted Mansion may intimidate younger riders, but it remains an interesting ride that stands apart from any other.

Like the Tower of Terror, visitors know the minute they see that Gothic mansion standing alone in Liberty Square or hear the opening narration by the Ghost Host in the Stretching Room that they're in for a one-of-a-kind ride.

Peter Pan's Flight at Magic Kingdom

Peter Pans Flight
Image Credit: Walt Disney World.

One of the original rides at Magic Kingdom when it opened in 1971, Peter Pan's Flight takes travelers on a magical journey aboard a small pirate ship, sailing out of the Darling children's bedroom and into the night skies of London to Neverland, eventually witnessing Peter Pan's repeated clashes with his mustache-twirling nemesis, Captain Hook.

Anyone who has visited Magic Kingdom knows how long the lines get for this ride. By midday, it has one of the longest waits in all of Walt Disney World.  For anyone serious about setting sail on Peter Pan's Flight, we suggest making it a first stop when the park opens or visiting it when everyone's on Main Street watching the fireworks; otherwise, prepare for a long wait.

Expedition Everest at Animal Kingdom

Expedition Everest
Image Credit: Walt Disney World.

Few rides merge those high-speed thrills with an atmospheric setting as well as Animal Kingdom's Expedition Everest, one of the best roller coasters Disney has ever constructed.

The ride experience first takes explorers through the offices of the “Himalayan Escapes” travel agency, winding through an outdoor temple, a tea garden, and a Yeti museum showcasing artifacts collected from various mountain expeditions. Boarding a train, travelers head up into the mountains, face to face with the Yeti, and traveling both forwards and backward at 50 miles per hour to escape.

One of the top three rides at Animal Kingdom (along with Avatar Flight of Passage and Kilimanjaro Safaris), Expedition Everest might not have the same name recognition at Disney as Space Mountain or Big Thunder, but it has every right to be.

Country Bear Jamboree at Magic Kingdom

Country Bear Jamboree
Image Credit: Walt Disney World.

Walt Disney World offers its fair share of sit-down shows to take in when the Florida heat gets to be a little too overwhelming. However, these shows are anything but mere air conditioning breaks, managing to deliver quality entertainment, making it 5-10 minutes well spent.

A 12-minute stage show, Country Bear Jamboree features audio-animatronic bears and other woodland creatures descending from the ceiling and behind curtains, singing old-fashioned country music and playing various homemade instruments.

It's silly, good old-fashioned fun, with the bears all singing songs that are impossible not to clap or tap a foot along to. Each bear has their own distinct individual design, with each new bear that begins its performance having visitors chuckling from its outward appearance alone, especially the doe-eyed fan-favorite Big Al, picking his guitar and spilling out of his chair.

Avatar Flight of Passage at Animal Kingdom

Flight of the Navi
Image Credit: Walt Disney World.

Since Pandora – The World of Avatar opened in 2017, Disney's Animal Kingdom went from being one of the more mediocre parks in Walt Disney World to one of the best.

Pandora takes visitors into the fictional setting of the award-winning science fiction film, Avatar, a bioluminescent world full of various alien flora and floating rock formations that will take your breath away. It's an even better experience at night. 

Flight of Passage features guests climbing on the back of a bicycle-type seat, simulating a ride atop a banshee (one of the movie's pterodactyl-like aliens the Na'vi use for travel) through the vivid 3D world of Pandora. No singular expression summarizes Flight of Passage; it's just too beautiful for words.

Like most Disney rides, it features a queue that takes visitors through the exterior mountains of Pandora to detailed indoor labs, including seeing a full-sized Na'vi in person.

Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance at Hollywood Studios

Rise of the Resistance

Rise of the Resistance combines motion simulation, a walk-through segment, a drop ride, and a trackless dark ride. 

The adventure begins on board a small Resistance transport shuttle that gets captured and brought into the hangar bay of a First Order Star Destroyer. Prisoners enter an interrogation cell on foot until Resistance fighters can break out and smuggle them onto an eight-person transporter.

Traveling through the Star Destroyer, visitors witness an epic battle between the Resistance and the First Order, encounter Star Wars characters like Finn and Kylo Ren, and board an emergency pod to escape from the sinister clutches of the First Order.

The technology Imagineers used meticulous and thorough technology that every detail, no matter how small, will leave visitors scratching their heads, wondering how Disney managed to pull it off so well.

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at Magic Kingdom

Big Thunder Mountain
Image Credit: Walt Disney World.

Save for Space Mountain, no roller coaster ranks synonymous with the Magic Kingdom as much as Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Whereas Space Mountain takes on a cosmic journey through the stars, Big Thunder takes riders on a rip-roaring journey through a Western boom town, past gaping mines, mischievous desert critters, and the excavated bones of long-extinct dinosaurs.

While Space Mountain’s presentation makes it the superior (and more famous) attraction, Big Thunder has plenty to offer from its meticulous theming and fast-paced thrills to its constantly-moving queue.

It’s a Small World at Magic Kingdom

Its a Small World
Image Credit: Marcus Cheng/Walt Disney World.

Yes, visitors will spend the entire day trying to get the addictive earworm of a theme song out of their head, but a trip to Disney World without visiting It’s a Small World is an incomplete trip. For better or worse, the ride defines Magic Kingdom, existing side by side with other notable classics like Haunted Mansion or Space Mountain as the first attraction people think of when they hear the words “Walt Disney World.”

Taking a journey past idyllic portraits of the world’s various nationalities, It’s a Small World has undergone very little change since its inception in the 1960s. As a result, riding it is akin to traveling back in time to Walt Disney World’s opening date, experiencing the initial incarnation of the ride as the first Imagineers always intended it.

Toy Story Mania! at Hollywood Studios

Toy Story Mania
Image Credit: Walt Disney World.

Out of all the properties at their disposal, Pixar’s main contribution to Walt Disney World’s parks has revolved around their first cinematic series, Toy Story. The basis for several fantastic rides, Toy Story’s presence can be summed up by its themed land near the back of Hollywood Studios.

While each of the attractions based on Toy Story is worth venturing into, the land’s interactive 4-D ride, Toy Story Mania!, deserves standout attention if only for its creative format. Taking inspiration from classic carnival games, the attraction pits players against one another in a constantly moving vehicle, competing to see who can achieve the top score out of their respective parties.

An interactive attraction done right, Toy Story Mania!’s impressive visuals and competitive nature make it a ride you can enjoy again and again, as well as an attraction accessible for riders of every age.