A visit to the happiest place on earth is often an action-packed day of fun, but some rides at Disneyland can be unexpectedly scary for kids, catching families off guard and taking away from the magic of the experience. Rollercoasters and thrill rides pose the most obvious risks of frightening little ones, but parents planning a family visit will want to also consider the possibility that some of the classic Disneyland dark rides that might seem ripe for family enjoyment contain some scary moments.
The Top Scariest Disneyland Rides
While legend precedes scream-worthy Disneyland thrill rides like The Matterhorn, Space Mountain, Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout!, and The Incredicoaster, others may seem innocent enough until you find yourself exiting the attraction with a crying child in your arms. No parent wants to inflict trauma upon an unsuspecting little one in the name of theme park fun.
Here are some wild card Disneyland rides without height requirements that just may be the scariest rides at Disneyland for kids and a few we recommend riding together as a family instead.
Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride
This bizarre but beloved opening day attraction takes guests on a reckless joyride through the English countryside and along the streets of London as the titular Mr. Toad. A period motorcar serves as your ride vehicle, which darts along from scene to scene in the dark before “crashing” into an oncoming train in a railway tunnel.
Upon his evident demise, Mr. Toad’s fate is imaginatively portrayed with a scary 2-D plywood version of hell featuring fiery backdrops and horned devils brandishing pitchforks. It’s a bit dark, to say the least. In fact, I remember being afraid to look through my parents’ honeymoon photo album as a young child, because it contained snapshots of this very scene. Adding another level of unpleasant sensory input for kids is the steamy temperature change as you enter the room.
Pinocchio’s Daring Journey
A more traditional Disneyland dark ride (in the sense that the scenes all come directly from the Disney animated feature), Pinocchio’s Daring Journey highlights some of the more perilous parts of the story. Designed to look like wooden carts adorned with carvings of Figaro, Cleo, and Jiminy Cricket, the ride vehicles carry guests through Stromboli’s theater and then backstage, where he’s keeping Pinocchio prisoner inside a birdcage. A menacing three-dimensional Stromboli figure leers down at guests from above as the cart enters a giant cage.
Later on Pleasure Island, the vehicle passes under several villainous-looking painted cut-outs before reaching a pool hall where Lampwick can be seen transforming into a donkey. As the cart exits the pool hall, the evil coachman grins maliciously at guests, and a dark scene unfolds outside where the coachmen and his henchmen are loading frightened donkey-boys into wooden crates with prison bars on the sides. Overhead, the coachman opens a large wooden crate intended to trap the cart full of guests, but Jiminy Cricket leads them away toward the docks. Finally, Monstro the whale’s sudden toothy appearance near the end might be the scariest part of this attraction.
One of the most iconic dark rides at Disneyland, The Haunted Mansion balances scary elements with light-hearted song and dance and a punny script. At the end of the infamous stretching room pre-show, a flash of lightning reveals the corpse of the narrating “ghost host” hanging from the rafters, followed by a shriek and a complete blackout. Guests then board doom-buggies to tour a haunted house full of spectral apparitions, some more sinister than others.
When the tour of the mansion’s ghost-populated rooms is complete, the slow-moving ride vehicle turns around and tilts backward as it descends into a swinging graveyard scene. This scene is primarily light and comedic, with occasional pop-up scares by spooks hiding behind tombstones. Overall, the ride ends on a friendly note, but kids who are sensitive to frightening images are still sure to be somewhat affected.
Sleeping Beauty Castle Walk-Through
Featuring three-dimensional dioramas with sound and special effects that portray the Sleeping Beauty story using design inspired by Eyvind Earle’s gorgeous artwork for the 1959 film, this enchanting attraction is unique to Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland California.
While this experience is mostly kid-friendly, it winds through dark castle passageways and contains some scenes that could be scary for kids. One diorama depicts Aurora lying face-down on the stone floor after pricking her finger on the cursed spindle of a spinning wheel, and her sprawling, inert form could be disturbing for some young children.
Arguably one of the scariest villains in a Disney fairy tale, Maleficent is a prominent figure throughout the last half of the castle walk-through. In one display, her glowing green eyes and threatening expression are particularly haunting, and her climactic transformation into a hellfire-breathing dragon could definitely be a scary sight for young guests. Fortunately, the nature of the attraction enables deft parents to turn kids away from the parts of the story that might frighten them.
Pirates of the Caribbean
In addition to two drops in the dark, this classic New Orleans Square ride is rife with skeletons, dark foggy caverns, ghostly foreboding voices, and simulated canon fire, making this one of the scariest Disneyland rides for kids. It helps that kids can snuggle up close to their big people on a bench seat in a boat that—aside from the small, aforementioned drops—generally coasts along through the ride. If fire is something scary for your littles, be aware that there’s a burning town scene near the end, featuring some smoky smell technology.
Snow White’s Enchanted Wish
Once upon a time, this opening day attraction was so chilling, it had the word “scary” in its name. It featured a look into the Evil Queen’s skeleton-laden dungeon and a ride through a creepy forest filled with bats, evil-looking trees, and logs resembling chomping crocodiles. In 2021, Disneyland Imagineers made significant changes to the ride to give Snow White herself more of a presence, tone down its more frightening elements, and make the story more cohesive and conclusive.
Now called Snow White’s Enchanted Wish, the new version trades the crypt-like dungeon for a laboratory with potions and experiments and the haunted forest for a new ending in which the Prince breaks the witch’s spell, and Snow White reunites with her friends.
Although the revamped attraction is sparkly and warm, with enhanced lighting, spruced visuals, and special effects, it retains a few key components that make it one of the scariest Disneyland rides for young kids. Primarily, the Evil Queen still transforms into an old cackling witch by spinning around to surprise unsuspecting guests with her transformation. Suspenseful music and ominous vultures contribute to this effect. The witch also makes an appearance at her cauldron with a poisoned apple for Snow White.
Best Alternatives to the Scariest Disneyland Rides for Kids
If you don’t want to risk a meltdown at the happiest place on earth after reading our list of the scariest Disneyland rides above, we’ve compiled a list of great alternatives to enjoy as a family instead!
Peter Pan’s Flight
If your child is interested in pirates without the skeletons, this charming Fantasyland classic takes you for a magical nighttime ride on a flying ship over the city of London and off to Never Land!
Watch houses shrink in the distance as you approach the shimmering moon, Peter Pan and company casting their shadows across its surface as you float by. Explore the Neverland sights from your vantage point in the sky, and witness a mild sword fight between Captain Hook and Peter Pan before sailing home to London on Tinkerbell’s pixie dust with the Darling children.
Alice in Wonderland
For a not-so-scary storybook dark ride without devils or sea monsters, climb aboard a caterpillar’s back and journey through Wonderland with Alice. This attraction is bright and whimsical, and although the hot-tempered Queen of Hearts is featured, she’s more cartoonish than creepy, even when she’s screaming, “Off with their heads!” There’s also a mid-ride break from the dark when your caterpillar travels outside for a peaceful jaunt among the leaves before re-entering the rabbit hole on your way out of Wonderland.
If you’re looking for a non-scary adventure attraction, the Jungle Cruise is a solid option with exotic locales, audio-animatronic animals in an Imagineered wild, and corny dad jokes for the whole family.
While your canopied tramp steamer provides distant views of some carnivorous jungle inhabitants like tigers and crocodiles, they’re largely benign. This gag-filled river journey is a Disneyland experience that is fun for all ages!
Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway
On this Mickey-themed trackless dark ride, guests gather inside El CapiTOON theater for the premiere of Mickey and Minnie’s new cartoon short, “Perfect Picnic.” Due to a mishap during the pre-show, an explosion blasts a hole through the cinema screen, and Goofy invites guests to board the Runnamuck Railroad for a tour of the park where Mickey and Minnie plan to enjoy a picnic outing. Upon departure, a faulty lever switches the tracks, separating the passenger cars from Goofy’s engine and sending them on a wacky runaway journey through the animated world.
Based on the recent award-winning Mickey Mouse short cartoons, this non-scary ride features “2 1/2 D” technology, which uses a combination of cartoon drawings, video projections, and audio-animatronics to immerse guests in the stylized world of Paul Rudish’s modern throwback to the animated Mickey shorts of old. It’s a chaotic rollick through 10 different scenes that are so packed with detail, you’ll have to experience the ride over and over again to catch everything.
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