10 Essential Walt Disney World Attractions for Your Next Trip

If you plan a trip to the “Most Magical Place on Earth,” you'll want this information in your pocket. Here are the Walt Disney World attractions you don't want to skip.

When you hear the word Disney, a hundred images will likely instantly pop into your head. It might be 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. The magic of Walt Disney World is that you can live out these immortal cinematic moments in person, experiencing these fantastic childhood memories firsthand.

Walt Disney World Attractions Across Four Theme Parks

Here's a list of the essential rides at Walt Disney World. These include attractions at Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios, and Disney's Animal Kingdom.

1. Space Mountain at Magic Kingdom

Space Mountain at Magic Kingdom.
Image credit: Walt Disney World.

Entering the building it's housed in, you walk through a similarly retro 1970s vision of an intergalactic space station. From there, you board your “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 an incredibly 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 itself may not go very fast (it reaches speeds of about 27 mph, but feels a lot faster). Still, its originality and design make it a one-of-a-kind experience that may be slightly intense 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.

2. Pirates of the Caribbean at Magic Kingdom

Pirates ride at Disney World.
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 from 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 they could find Pirates of the Caribbean. Imagineers originally 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 we know it today.

3. Soarin’ Around the World at Epcot

Image Credit: Walt Disney World.

Soarin' Around the World lets you explore the world without leaving Florida. Unlike other simulator-type rides that tend to be nauseating or vertigo-inducing, Soarin' is a more calming, easygoing attraction that sees you soar across the world onboard a hang-glider.

The ride utilizes its signature smellitzer to pump in various natural scents (salty but pleasant Caribbean air, African dirt, etc.) and a mechanical lift system, suspending you 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' is a welcome change of pace, allowing you to enjoy a calming flight, atmospheric scents, and an awe-inspiring soundtrack perfect for just about everyone.

4. The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Hollywood Studios

hollywood tower hotel beacon of magic scaled
Image credit: Walt Disney World.

Taking inspiration from Rod Serling's legendary sci-fi/horror anthology, the Tower of Terror takes guests literally into the Twilight Zone, building a completely 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 all the way until you're exiting your drop elevator, it feels like you're 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 you prepare to hop on your elevator.

5. 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.” Guests 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 be dark or intimidating for younger riders, but it remains a ceaselessly interesting ride that stands apart.

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

6. Peter Pan's Flight at Magic Kingdom

Peter Pan's flight at Disney.
Image credit: Walt Disney World.

One of the original rides at Magic Kingdom when it opened in 1971, Peter Pan's Flight takes you 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.

If you've been to Magic Kingdom before, you likely know how long the lines get for this ride. By midday, it has one of the longest waits in all of Walt Disney World. If you're serious about setting sail on Peter Pan's Flight, we suggest making it your first stop when the park opens or visiting it when everyone's on Main Street watching the fireworks; otherwise, you're in for a long wait.

7. Expedition Everest at Animal Kingdom

Expedition Everest
Image Credit: Walt Disney World.

Few rides merge those high-speed thrills with a beautifully atmospheric setting quite as well as Animal Kingdom's Expedition Everest, easily the best roller coaster Disney has ever constructed.

Your ride experience first takes you through the offices of the “Himalayan Escapes” travel agency, winding you through an outdoor temple, a tea garden, and a Yeti museum showcasing artifacts collected from various mountain expeditions. Boarding your train, you 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 be as closely associated with Disney as Space Mountain or Big Thunder. Still, it certainly has every right to be.

8. 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 and fully holding your attention, 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 your foot along to. Each bear has their own distinct individual design, with each new bear that begins its performance having you chuckling from its outward appearance alone, especially the doe-eyed fan-favorite Big Al, picking his guitar and practically spilling out his chair.

9. Avatar Flight of Passage at Animal Kingdom

pandora the world of avatar at disneys animal kingdom 4 scaled
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 adequately summarizes Flight of Passage; it's just too beautiful for words.

Like most Disney rides, it has you pretty much sold from the get-go, featuring a queue that takes you through the exterior mountains of Pandora to detailed indoor labs, eventually seeing a full-sized Na'vi in person.

10. Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance at Hollywood Studios

Walt Disney World Attractions

Rise of the Resistance is a 15-minute-long attraction combining motion simulation, a walk-through segment, a drop ride, and a trackless dark ride. 

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

Traveling through the Star Destroyer, you witness an epic battle between the Resistance and the First Order, encounter famous 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 the Imagineers used to design this ride is so meticulous and thorough that every detail, no matter how small, will leave you scratching your head, wondering how they managed to pull it off so well.

Final Thoughts and Honorable Mentions

Since its opening in 1971, Walt Disney World has remained one of the world's most famous theme parks. It's where you can board a rocket ship and sail among the stars, tour a haunted, ghost-filled mansion, come face to face with a Yeti, or step into the Twilight Zone.

Whether you're visiting Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, or Magic Kingdom, there is no shortage of attractions to help you live out your greatest childhood fantasies and create unforgettable memories with your loved ones.

We also recommend:

  • The Hall of Presidents at Magic Kingdom
  • Muppet Vision 3D at Hollywood Studios
  • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at Magic Kingdom
  • It’s a Small World at Magic Kingdom
  • Test Track at Epcot
  • Slinky Dog Dash at Hollywood Studios
  • Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway at Hollywood Studios
  • Star Tours – The Adventures Continue at Hollywood Studios
  • Toy Story Mania at Hollywood Studios

This post was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.

Richard Chachowski is a freelance writer based in New Jersey. He loves reading, his dog Tootsie, and pretty much every movie to ever exist (especially Star Wars).