As family-friendly destinations, Disney theme parks have a well-deserved reputation for being tame compared to many of their more extreme peers. However, there are still plenty of heart-pounding experiences available at Disney World for thrill-seekers who know where to look.
Scariest Rides at Disney World
Walt Disney was never one to shy away from fearful subject matter in his films. The antagonist in his very first full-length animated feature was an evil queen who orders her huntsman to bring her Snow White’s heart in a box, so it was clear from the start that the man himself appreciated the entertainment value of fright.
Disney’s theme parks also reflect Walt’s interest in the macabre, with attractions that take guests through dark caverns filled with undead pirates or into creepy mansions where they can join an array of ghostly characters for a “swinging wake.” The scariest experiences at Walt Disney World often evoke images of death and the supernatural, but sometimes they provide chills and thrills that are more physical in nature. Foreboding passageways may produce sweaty palms, but rollercoasters and sudden drops can elicit screams.
Whether it’s spooky creeps and menacing ghouls you fear or high-speed launches and stomach-dropping plummets, we’re ranking the most chilling Disney World attractions from least intimidating to most spine-tingling. After all, as the citizens of Halloween Town in The Nightmare Before Christmas remind us, “Life’s no fun without a good scare!”
19) Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
Not nearly as spooky as the legitimately frightening opening day attraction it replaced, this popular Fantasyland attraction is a family-friendly coaster with swinging train cars that winds through a craggy fairy tale forest and a sparkling gem mine. Maxing out at 34 miles per hour, the scariest parts of this adventure are the mildly thrilling 39-foot drop from the top of the mine and the appearance of the evil queen outside the dwarfs’ cottage at the very end of the ride. Retained as a tribute to its predecessor, Snow White’s Scary Adventures, the creepy figure features the cloaked queen as an old hag, proffering a poisoned apple for Snow White.
18) Pirates of the Caribbean
This classic boat ride through dark waters filled with undead pirates, cursed treasure, canon fire, and burning buildings is a gentle family adventure attraction with a few shiver-worthy elements that could be slightly scary for little ones. Haunted “Dead Man’s Cove” features the skeletal remains of buccaneers run through with cutlass sabers strewn across an otherwise deserted beach and a skeleton steering a ship through a raging thunderstorm. A disembodied narrator chants “dead man tell no tales” as guests drift through dark caves, and a skull and crossbones sentry warns of danger ahead as his eyes flash to capture a ride photo. The most thrilling aspect of the ride, however, is the pitch-black 14-foot plunge, splashing down into a lively battle between pirate gally the Wicked Wench and a Spanish fortress.
17) Test Track
EPCOT is home to this exciting attraction where you can design your own virtual concept car and put it through its paces on a simulated test track. The dark, neon-lit circuit takes your test vehicle through sharp curves, environmental extremes, and stunningly sudden stops before culminating in an outdoor speed check, during which the ride vehicle reaches 65 miles an hour. More of an adrenaline rush than a true scare, Test Track earns its spot on our list by being the fastest ride at Disney World.
16) Big Thunder Mountain
Magic Kingdom’s iconic “mountain” trifecta has been delighting thrill-seekers for decades, and despite plenty of changes and closures throughout the park during this time, Big Thunder Mountain is still “the wildest ride in the wilderness!” This haunted runaway mine train barrels through spooky caverns along a rickety track, up clanging lifts and down into cursed canyons.
With a top speed of 36 miles per hour, this coaster is exhilarating for adults and kids alike and just happens to be my six-year-old’s favorite ride on property. Guests looking for a unique vantage point for viewing the Magic Kingdom fireworks will find a nighttime ride on this Frontierland staple to be particularly rewarding.
One of Disney World’s famous nighttime spectaculars, this climactic open-air stage show at Hollywood Studios takes place on an island surrounded by a crescent-shaped lagoon, opposite the Hollywood Hills amphitheater. Fantasmic! is a dramatic multi-media production featuring pyrotechnics, an all-star cast of Disney characters, dancing water and light projections, impressive set pieces, and a rousing musical score.
Mickey Mouse’s magical dreamscape becomes a nightmare when a host of villains invade his sleep, including Aladdin’s Jafar in the form of a giant writhing snake and Maleficent as a terrifying 40-foot-tall fire-breathing dragon. Sinister images and a loud, swelling soundtrack combine for an effect that can be quite scary for young children and properly thrilling for the rest of us.
14) Haunted Mansion
An iconic opening day attraction, this Liberty Square dark ride balances spooks with humor and whimsy, making light of some of its grimmer aspects. Board a slow-moving “doom buggy” for a tour of the gothic manor and its haunted chambers, featuring a musical séance led by the floating head of departed medium, Madame Leota, a ballroom full of dancing specters, a murderous ghost bride in the attic, and a spirited graveyard soiree.
Although you’ll undoubtedly encounter some slightly disturbing imagery, like the corpse of the infamous “ghost host” swinging from the rafters in the pre-show, the frolicsome nature of the Haunted Mansion and its theme song keep the ride from being truly frightening.
13) Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance
Over in Galaxy’s Edge at Hollywood Studios, you’ll find an immersive Star Wars experience that employs all of the best components of a well-executed Disney attraction. Between the stunningly realistic army of stormtroopers and the intimidating presence of Kylo Ren, this somewhat intense action-adventure is full of thrills from beginning to end. A trackless ride vehicle acts as your transport ship through a massive First Order star destroyer, from which you must escape, with help from a team of resistance fighters. Be prepared for some genuinely heart-stopping surprises along the way!
12) Kali River Rapids
Unpredictability is the primary fear factor in this breathtaking, environmentally-themed whitewater adventure. Rushing waters sweep rafters along a jungle river set in the heart of Animal Kingdom’s Asia, where logging and habitat destruction threaten the beauty of the surrounding lush rainforest. Sturdy twelve-person boats splash over rapids, ricochet off of bedrock, and graze geysers and waterfalls on a ride guaranteed to get you extremely wet! If walking around theme parks in soggy clothing doesn’t sound appealing, you may want to have some waterproof gear handy for this ride. Other elements that may scare some guests include a brief journey through a dark and dripping cave and a smooth drop down a 20-foot slope.
11) Mission: SPACE
The original Mission Space experience was so intense Disney added a milder version of the NASA-inspired space travel simulator to make it accessible to a wider audience. Now guests can choose between a journey to Mars on the Orange Mission or a much gentler trip around the Earth on the Green Mission. Orange uses a spinning centrifuge to closely imitate the incredible G-forces (2.5, to be exact) astronauts must withstand upon the launch and reentry of a spacecraft, and Green uses a motion simulator that only tilts and does not spin. Both experiences assign you a role as part of a 4-person team—pilot, navigator, commander, or engineer—tasked with initiating “a mission-critical sequence” during the flight.
Given the confines of the space shuttle design, even the Green Mission may still make some guests nervous, particularly if you’re prone to claustrophobia. Additionally, the tiny paper bags available in front of each passenger in case of extreme motion sickness may deter some would-be space travelers who experience queasiness on some attractions. For those who can stomach it, however, Mission Space provides a unique opportunity to fulfill the dream of doing as the astronauts do.
10) It’s Tough To Be a Bug
It may come as a surprise that a seemingly kid-friendly attraction, starring a cast full of bugs from the Pixar film A Bug’s Life, sits relatively high on our list of the scariest experiences at Disney World. After all, insects naturally have a draw for the five and under set, but some of the insects in this show may have their parents squirming in their seats. Nestled indoors, beneath the massive Tree of Life of Animal Kingdom, It’s Tough to Be a Bug! is a 3D movie and live show (think Mickey’s PhilharMagic at Magic Kingdom or MuppetVision 3D at Hollywood Studios) hosted by an audio-animatronic Flik the ant.
Flik begins the production by introducing various bugs performing stage acts, including an acid-spraying soldier termite who feels provoked into misting the audience and a stink bug who also feels a need for his own potent form of self-defense. Furious that Flik has allowed humans into the insect world, Hopper—the grasshopper villain in A Bug’s Life—enters unexpectedly with an explosion and unleashes an onslaught of buggy special effects against the guests in the theater. You’ll feel hornet stingers jabbing into your back and cockroaches crawling beneath your legs across the seats while black widow spiders drop in from the ceiling.
While these moments in the show can be scary for young ones, the bug-averse, and the easily startled, overall It’s Tough to Be a Bug! is a fun and educational attraction punctuated with humor and charm.
9) Space Mountain
As a Tomorrowland icon of legendary proportions, Space Mountain is a Disney World must-do for both first-timers and park veterans, and if you get the elusive opportunity to ride it more than once—even better! Although this dark coaster is surprisingly slower than most, it feels much faster than its maximum speed of 27 miles an hour because it’s impossible to see what’s coming next!
Glittering celestial objects streak by as your rocket zips around sharp turns and plunges down unexpected drops to a futuristic soundtrack that makes the experience all the more thrilling. Parents may want to note that the rockets on the Magic Kingdom version of Space Mountain seat guests as single riders, one behind the other, meaning some kids experience an extra element of fear due to being unable to ride with an adult.
8) Tiana’s Bayou Adventure (Coming in 2024)
Although still a work in progress, it doesn’t seem too presumptuous for us to imagine that the Princess and the Frog re-theming of Splash Mountain will retain the latter’s most thrilling elements. Since the reimagined attraction is using the existing Splash Mountain structure, we expect it to reach speeds of up to 45 miles an hour and feature the same 53-foot drop at the end. Add to its scariest moments several smaller drops and the likelihood of getting very wet, and we’ve got a ringer for number 8 on our list.
Its days may be numbered, but this primeval Animal Kingdom attraction is a wild ride from start to finish. You’ll feel every bump and rut as you hurtle past dense vegetation and carnivorous prehistoric reptiles in an enhanced motion vehicle designed to simulate driving over rough terrain. Dodge falling meteors from an impending shower of life-ending proportions on a mission to rescue a 3.5-ton Iguanodon from certain extinction. Loud noises and sudden drop-ins by menacing predators in the dark make Dinosaur a turbulent science-fiction adventure deserving of a top 10 spot on our list.
6) TRON Lightcycle/Run
Disney World’s newest roller coaster is also one of its fastest, with an electrifying launch and a top speed of just under 60 miles an hour. Climb onto your Lightcycle and zoom under the 50,000-square-foot canopy before entering the dark, neon-lit aesthetic of the digital “grid.”
Here, as a member of Team Blue, you’ll compete against Team Orange in a high-speed race through eight Energy Gates, highlighted with the computerized sounds of Daft Punk’s Grammy-nominated musical score. At night, shimmering panels of light add a new visual dimension to the sweeping Tomorrowland canopy for a completely breathtaking experience.
5) Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind
Beating the previous entry by a hair with a top speed of 60 miles per hour, this incredibly fun indoor coaster is so smooth, it probably won’t feel as if it’s moving that fast. While it lacks the height of TRON’s track, it features the first-ever reverse-launch on a Disney coaster.
The enormous glowing “Celestial” the Guardians must stop from destroying the world can be scary for littles, and the ride vehicle rotates 360 degrees toward show scenes as it flies along the track, upping the thrill factor even more. Music selections vary with each ride, but every song will have you dancing your way through the galaxy on this exciting space adventure.
4) Rock ‘n’ Rollercoaster Starring Aerosmith
Speaking of dancing, this dark coaster will have you rocking out to some of Aerosmith’s greatest hits as you dash along the black-lit streets of Los Angeles in a super stretch limo, courtesy of the band. If shooting from zero to 57 miles an hour in less than 2.8 seconds into a freeway tunnel doesn’t take your breath away, experiencing up to 5 Gs as you travel through three inversions—two rollover loops and one corkscrew—will! Whether you hear “Sweet Emotion” or “Walk This Way” blasting from the 125-speaker, 24-subwoofer, 32,000-watt audio system, every trip is sure to be a fist-pumping rush to make it to the band’s concert on time.
3) Expedition Everest
One part Yeti museum and one part Himalayan base camp, this ride’s elaborately-themed queue and Animal Kingdom’s iconic near-200-foot-tall snow-peaked mountain help to build suspense for this thrilling coaster before guests even reach the train. Once on board, riders pass through a ransacked temple, featuring colorful murals of the yeti, warning trespassers that this mountain is the legendary creature’s territory.
Tension continues to build, with sound and imagery foreshadowing an appearance of the fearsome yeti at various points during the ride experience. Things really begin to escalate when the train emerges from a cave at the mountain’s peak and comes to a complete halt in front of a broken track, presumably torn up by the mythic beast in a state of agitation.
With nowhere left to go, the train dramatically plunges backward into total darkness and spirals down the mountain at wind-whipping speeds. Everest owes its intensity to this moment, along with an 80-foot drop and a climactic encounter with the 25-foot-tall audio-animatronic yeti. Although its top speed technically falls short of the previous three entries, the nature of Expedition Everest is inherently more scary, and trust us, it’s not for the faint of heart.
2) Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
With terror in its name, it’s no surprise this haunted Hollywood Studios attraction should earn a top spot on our list of the scariest rides at Disney World. A dusty, cob-web covered Hollywood-era hotel lobby, seemingly frozen in time, sets the mood for your journey into the fifth dimension on this quintessential DHS ride. Take a lift on a basement-level service elevator that promises to propel you through its abandoned shaft directly into The Twilight Zone.
After a spooky spectral appearance by the hotel patrons who disappeared inside the elevator in 1939 and a horizontal detour through an achromatic realm of creepy curiosities, your elevator will begin a randomized sequence of drops at a top speed of almost 40 miles per hour. At least once during the sequence, the elevator will ascend to reveal a view of the park outside before plummeting straight down toward Sunset Boulevard. This scary experience has the ultimate potential for re-ride-ability, since the computerized drop patterns change every time.
1) Summit Plummet
Perhaps surprisingly, you’ll find our number one scariest ride at Disney World at Blizzard Beach Water Park. Climb to the peak of Mount Gushmore and dangle your legs over the edge of this 120-foot-high freefall body slide…we dare you! Once seated according to Cast Member directions, you’ll launch yourself over the precipice and torpedo down the incredibly steep slope at speeds nearing 60 miles per hour. Only the most hardcore thrill-seekers will want to attempt this insanely scary slide, and once you make it to the top, you’ll see that it’s all the more fearsome because you can’t see where it’s going to take you until you commit to the ride!
That concludes our list! If you have any reservations regarding the intensity of a specific ride, watching ride-through videos on YouTube can help you make an informed decision.
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