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Haunted Mansion in Liberty Square at Magic Kingdom Park

Disney World Dark Rides – The Best and the Rest

Do you want to soar with Peter Pan to Neverland or maybe float through an otherworldly forest of bioluminescent plants and animals? Perhaps you’d rather voyage deep into pirate territory with Captain Jack Sparrow or join the Resistance in an epic battle against an army of stormtroopers on a First Order Star Destroyer. Well, you can do it all at Walt Disney World, thanks to the immersive magic of Disney dark rides.

Whether you’re looking for a thrilling adventure or a more relaxing journey, there’s a dark ride at Disney World that’s perfect for you and your crew. But which of these quintessential attractions should you enjoy on your next Disney vacation? Hold on tight (and please keep your hands, arms, feet and legs inside the ride vehicle at all times) as we explore the best dark rides Disney World has to offer.

Peter Pan's Flight at night in Fantasyland at Magic Kingdom Park

What Is a Dark Ride?

Ok, first things first. What exactly is a dark ride? For one thing, it isn’t just a ride that takes place in the dark. So, while Space Mountain takes guests through almost complete darkness, it isn’t actually a dark ride. Rather, a dark ride is a type of indoor attraction that uses a set track or otherwise guided vehicle to take passengers through a narrative. As you move through each part of the attraction, you progress to the next part of the story, like turning the page of a book.

Along the way, riders encounter various scenes that utilize elements—including elaborate sets, visual illusions like forced perspective and Pepper’s ghost, narration, music, sound effects and even smells—to build the narrative. While these vignettes may flow organically from one to another, many dark rides also incorporate doors between scenes to control what passengers can (and can’t) see. Alternatively, this directing of riders’ attention can also be accomplished with the use of other barriers, the route of the ride vehicles and lighting design.

For example, black lights are used prominently throughout many classic dark rides at Disney World, including Peter Pan’s Flight and the Haunted Mansion. In fact, Peter Pan’s Flight at Magic Kingdom Park relies almost entirely on ultraviolet radiation. Since the only things you can see are objects that fluoresce under a black light, you focus your attention on Wendy and the Lost Boys rather than what is likely a very ordinary-looking ceiling.

To put it another way, think of dark rides as the attraction version of that scene from The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy and the gang finally get to meet the wizard. Beneath all the flashing lights, fog, fire and a hologram of an intimidating floating head was just a conman pulling some levers behind a curtain. In other words, each piece of the carefully constructed dark-ride puzzle works together to say, “Hey, over here! Don’t pay any attention to all that other stuff. Look at me!”

"it's a small world" sign at night in Fantasyland at Magic Kingdom Park

Disney Dark Rides, a Lifelong Love Affair

Disney Parks have long used dark rides as the cornerstone of their theme park experience. In fact, although places like Walt Disney World and the Disneyland Resort boast some pretty incredible thrill rides, we’d argue that the heart and soul of a Disney park is its dark rides. Why? Because at its core, Disney has always been about telling stories and entertaining families, and that’s exactly what dark rides do.

After all, the reason many folks go to Disney World and Disneyland in the first place is to immerse themselves in the world of their favorite Disney characters. They want to experience their stories for themselves, not just watch them unfold onscreen. But, that’s not all. While many park attractions are based on the company’s popular movies and animated characters, some of Disney’s dark rides are so beloved that they’ve even inspired their own film adaptations, like Haunted Mansion and, most notably, Pirates of the Caribbean.

Seven Dwarfs Mine Train attraction sign

The Evolution of Dark Rides at Disney World

Disney dark rides have gone through quite a few changes over the years. Now, with the help of technological advancements and a bit of pixie dust, guests can hop in a trackless ride vehicle with a pre-programmed route to experience their adventure or watch a scene play out in front of them on a massive screen. Other dark rides, meanwhile, take the immersive experience to a whole new level by turning them into a ride-along game.

Some even combine the best of both dark rides and thrill rides, blurring the lines between the two by mixing the excitement of roller coasters and other thrilling attractions with Disney storytelling. Some great examples of this magical merger include Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Magic Kingdom Park, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind at Epcot, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and, to a lesser extent, Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park.

Although we don’t consider these dark rides per se (at least not for our ranking), each of them does include elements of the genre, namely a story told through things like set pieces, Audio-Animatronics or projection screens. That said, with the notable exception of Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, it’s clear that the focus is more on the thrill factor than the narrative, as the plotline varies from weak to spotty at best. However, they’re still well worth a ride if you’re looking to immerse yourself in the world of Disney.

Haunted Mansion in Liberty Square at Magic Kingdom Park

The Best (and the Rest) Disney World Dark Rides

So, what are the best dark rides at Disney World? Whether you’re looking for iconic classics or impressive, technologically advanced attractions, these Disney dark rides shouldn’t be missed.

The Classics

From opening-day attractions to longtime favorites, if it’s nostalgia you’re after, then these dark rides are for you.

Haunted Mansion

Welcome, foolish mortals, to the Haunted Mansion. For this classic dark ride in Liberty Square, you’ll hop in a Doom Buggy with your Ghost Host for a guide. During the eerie open house, you’ll join in a séance with Madame Leota, wind through a room filled with staircases à la M.C. Escher, and encounter all sorts of spooky things, including ballroom-dancing specters, a murderous widow and a graveyard filled with happy haunts. More dark and dreary than all-out scary, this is a fun attraction for guests of all ages.

Location: Liberty Square in Magic Kingdom

Lightning Lane Availability: Disney Genie+

Height Requirement: Any Height

peter-pans-flight

Peter Pan’s Flight

Set sail over the twinkling streets of London in a pixie-dusted pirate ship bound for Neverland on Peter Pan’s Flight in Fantasyland. This enchanting dark ride made its debut in Magic Kingdom just a couple of days after the park opened and has been charming guests ever since. Throughout your journey, you’ll meet mermaids, the Lost Boys and the fearsome Captain Hook. And be sure to keep an eye out for the alligator! Just as delightful as the ride itself is the attraction’s queue. So, don’t be dissuaded by the long wait time, as you’re sure to enjoy your time spent in line.

Location: Fantasyland in Magic Kingdom

Lightning Lane Availability: Disney Genie+

Height Requirement: Any Height

Pirates of the Caribbean sign in Adventureland at Magic Kingdom Park

Pirates of the Caribbean

Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me! Appropriately located in Adventureland, Pirates of the Caribbean is a Magic Kingdom mainstay. Don’t worry—you won’t have to walk the plank. Instead, you’ll climb aboard a weathered barge for a leisurely voyage past Dead Man’s Cove and through a buccaneer-ridden town, navigating cannon fire along the way. During your journey, be on the lookout for Captain Jack Sparrow, who has been known to frequent these treacherous waters.

Location: Adventureland in Magic Kingdom

Lightning Lane Availability: Disney Genie+

Height Requirement: Any Height

Spaceship Earth at Epcot

Spaceship Earth

If you can read this, thank the Phoenicians! Hidden away in the gigantic geodesic sphere at the entrance to Epcot, Spaceship Earth takes guests on a whirlwind trip through time to trace the history of communication. See the making of papyrus (the very first paper), the creation of the printing press, the dawn of the telephone and the invention of the computer, all without leaving your ride vehicle. It’s an edu-taining classic that’s sure to please.

Location: World Celebration at Epcot

Lightning Lane Availability: Disney Genie+

Height Requirement: Any Height

The Water Rides

The slow-moving boat ride is one popular subcategory of dark rides, and you’ll find a boatload of them at the Walt Disney World Resort. These are the best ones.

Olaf, Elsa and Anna dressed up

Frozen Ever After

Float through the snow-covered world of Arendelle and into the unknown on an ancient Norwegian vessel on Frozen Ever After in Epcot’s World Showcase. With glittering projections, stunning Audio-Animatronics and a cast of lovable characters, this frosty river cruise is a must for Disney Princess lovers and Frozen fans of all ages. Once you’re back on shore, be sure to stop by Royal Sommerhus nearby to say “hello” to Anna and Elsa.

Location: Norway Pavilion in World Showcase at Epcot

Lightning Lane Availability: Disney Genie+

Height Requirement: Any Height

small world doll

“it’s a small world”

Created for the 1964 and 1965 New York World’s Fair, “it’s a small world” is a Disney institution and a little piece of history in The Most Magical Place on Earth. “The Happiest Cruise That Ever Sailed” is home to a slew of singing, dancing, world peace-loving kids from across the globe, all in Audio-Animatronic form. One thing is for certain. We bet you can’t go on this dark ride and not get the titular tune stuck in your head.

Location: Fantasyland in Magic Kingdom

Lightning Lane Availability: Disney Genie+

Height Requirement: Any Height

Bioluminescent plants at night in Pandora -- World of Avatar at Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park

Na’vi River Journey

Voyage deep in the bioluminescent rainforest of Pandora on Na’vi River Journey in Pandora – The World of Avatar. Packed with a menagerie of glowing creatures and plant life, this stunning attraction is like no other dark ride at Walt Disney World and one out-of-this-world adventure you won’t soon forget. Almost as awe-inspiring as the luminous flora and fauna is an encounter with the Na’vi Shaman of Songs, the most advanced and realistic Audio-Animatronic ever made by Walt Disney Imagineering.

Location: Pandora – The World of Avatar in Animal Kingdom

Lightning Lane Availability: Disney Genie+

Height Requirement: Any Height

Splash Mountain in Frontierland at Magic Kingdom Park

Tiana’s Bayou Adventure (Opening Late 2024!)

Ok, we’ll admit that this next dark ride isn’t actually set to make its debut until the end of 2024. However, we’re confident that once Tiana’s Bayou Adventure opens in Frontierland, it will definitely be worthy of this list. Housed in what used to be Splash Mountain, this reimagined log ride will transport guests through the bayous of the Big Easy, just in time for a Mardi Gras celebration starring Tiana, Naveen and Louis the trumpet-playing gator.

Location: Frontierland in Magic Kingdom

Lightning Lane Availability: Individual Lightning Lane Entry

Height Requirement: At least 40 inches (102 cm) or taller

The Family-Friendly Favorites

From interactive attractions with a splash of friendly competition to kid-friendly subjects like dinosaurs and Winnie the Pooh, these next Disney dark rides are great for families.

Space Ranger Spin attraction entrance

Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin

Sharpen your shooting skills and defeat the evil Emperor Zurg in Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin in Tomorrowland. This shooting gallery-style dark ride feels like a ride-through video arcade and is filled with enough targets to keep you racking up points all ride long. Even if you aren’t a gamer or don’t have especially good aim, the attraction is still a ton of fun, and chances are you’re going to want to ride again and again.

Location: Tomorrowland in Magic Kingdom

Lightning Lane Availability: Disney Genie+

Height Requirement: Any Height

Walkway to DINOSAUR attraction

DINOSAUR

Board a Time Rover and blast into the past to save a wayward Iguanodon on DINOSAUR at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park. With a cataclysmic meteor on a crash course with Earth, the stakes are high on this thrilling dark ride that sees you race back to the late Cretaceous to a dinosaur’s rescue. Along with hairpin turns and near escapes, there are also many bumps in the road—all created by the attraction’s technologically advanced ride vehicles—making for an exciting ride for kids and adults alike.

Location: DinoLand USA in Animal Kingdom

Lightning Lane Availability: Disney Genie+

Height Requirement: At least 40 inches (102 cm) or taller

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

Join everyone’s favorite honey-loving bear and travel deep into the Hundred Acre Wood on The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. Inspired by the works of A.A. Milne, this adorable dark ride sees riders get lost in a good book, literally, as they frolic from scene to scene and page to page in a giant honey pot. You’ll be swept away with Piglet, bounce around with Tigger and even come face to face with Heffalumps and Woozles. In short, it’s a delightful ride for both the young and the young at heart.

Location: Fantasyland in Magic Kingdom

Lightning Lane Availability: Disney Genie+

Height Requirement: Any Height

Toy Story Midway Mania sign in Disney's Hollywood Studios

Toy Story Mania!

Hoping for a rematch after Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin? Then make your way over to Toy Story Land to put your skills (and arm strength) to the test on Toy Story Mania. Made to feel like a parade of carnival games along the midway, with characters like Woody, Rex and Mr. Potato Head as your cheerleaders, this playful dark ride is full of non-stop fun. Don’t be surprised if your arm gets tired before the end of the attraction—it’s quite a workout!

Location: Toy Story Land in Hollywood Studios

Lightning Lane Availability: Disney Genie+

Height Requirement: Any Height

The Next Generation

With trackless ride vehicles, next-gen Audio-Animatronics and eye-popping graphics, consider these new and improved attractions dark rides on steroids.

Mickey & Minnie's Runaway Railway at Disney's Hollywood Studios

Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway

All aboard a runaway train for a wacky animated adventure on Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway. Set in the former home of another beloved dark ride, The Great Movie Ride (gone too soon), this zany journey through the cartoon world of Mickey Mouse had big shoes to fill. However, thanks to the attraction’s trackless ride vehicles and plentiful antics, as well as a mix of vibrant projections and traditional black light effects, the laugh-out-loud ride is sure to leave you smiling.

Location: Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood Studios

Lightning Lane Availability: Disney Genie+

Height Requirement: Any Height

Remy's Ratatouille Adventure in France Pavilion in World Showcase at Epcot

Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure

Shrink to the size of a mouse and scamper through Gusteau’s restaurant on Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure. Like Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure uses trackless ride vehicles, this time shaped like scurrying mice, and projection mapping to great effect. The rodents race to and fro, darting beneath kitchen appliances and through the walls for a culinary caper that will surely leave you breathless—or, at the very least, craving a piece of cheese.

Location: France Pavilion in World Showcase at Epcot

Lightning Lane Availability: Disney Genie+

Height Requirement: Any Height

Storm troopers inside a cargo bay

Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance

Without a doubt, the most impressive dark ride on our list is Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. Located in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, the ride is an attraction of truly epic proportions, taking guests from the forests of Black Spire Outpost to a First Order Star Destroyer and back again. Throughout this incredibly immersive adventure, you’ll face stormtroopers, AT-AT walkers and Kylo Ren. Luckily, Resistance fighters like Rey, BB-8 and Poe Dameron are there to help save the day—and you!

Location: Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in Hollywood Studios

Lightning Lane Availability: Individual Lightning Lane Entry

Height Requirement: At least 40 inches (102 cm) or taller

The Honorable Mentions

Have time for even more dark rides during your Walt Disney World vacation? While not at the very top of our list, these final attractions are still well worth a ride.

Journey of The Little Mermaid in Fantasyland at Magic Kingdom Park

Magic Kingdom

  • Under the Sea – Journey of The Little Mermaid in Fantasyland – Dive below the waves and relive the story of Ariel
  • Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress in Tomorrowland – See how technology has progressed through the decades on this dark ride-meets-stage show

Epcot

  • Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros at the Mexico Pavilion in World Showcase – Follow the antics of Donald Duck as he soars across Mexico on a flying serape
  • Journey Into Imagination With Figment at the Imagination Pavilion in World Celebration – Experience the five senses in a whimsical way with everyone’s favorite purple dragon
  • The Seas with Nemo & Friends at The Seas Pavilion in World Nature – Climb in a clamobile and set out in search of Nemo and his underwater pals in this animated look at the pavilion’s aquarium
  • Living with the Land at The Land Pavilion in World Nature – Take a guided boat tour of the pavilion’s lush greenhouses for an up-close look at plants and produce from around the world

The Seas with Nemo and Friends at Epcot

Well, that brings our list of the best Disney World dark rides to an end. Which of these quintessential Disney attractions is your favorite? Let us know in the comments! Then, learn how you can save on your next Disney vacation with our discount Disney World tickets.