Not every Disney fan loves thrill rides. Personally, I am a thrill ride guy, but I also have a strong love and appreciation for the gentle rides at Walt Disney World. With gentle rides (or slow rides), the fun comes from the story being told. The ride is just a mechanism to take you through the plot of the attraction. The majority of gentle rides at Disney usually involve either boats or omnimovers (vehicles on a track that maintain a constant motion). That being said, there are a few attractions on this list that are outside the norm.
In this particular instance, our list of the Top 10 gentle rides at Disney does not necessarily mean the Top 10 attractions for kids (that’s another list for another day). I’m paying particularly close attention to gentle rides that are the most whimsical, the most engaging and the most well-rounded attractions.
You may not agree with my list…in fact, I would suspect that even Lauren will take issue with some of the attractions that didn’t make the list. Feel free to make your case in the comments. I’ll consider it, but it’s my subjective list and I stand by it. So, without further ado, let the controversial ranking of the Top 10 Gentle Rides at Disney begin!
Honourable Mention – Spaceship Earth
Right off the bat, I have to mention why Spaceship Earth is not on the Top 10 list. It’s because I don’t know what it will look like a year or two from now. Currently, Spaceship Earth is set to undergo a “reimagining” starting in 2020. Who knows whether that will be delayed or not, but it looks like we’ll see a new narration as the story covers the journey of humanity. Without knowing what that experience will be, it’s hard to say where (or if) it will find its way onto this list. I would suspect so, but that’s just because I love the current story. Whenever I revisit this list, we’ll see what the reimagined Spaceship Earth has to offer.
10 – Peter Pan’s Flight
I’m starting the list off with a Fantasyland classic. It was an opening day attraction at Disneyland in California, and an opening day attraction in Orlando as well. It has undergone a few changes over the years, with the most recent being a new interactive queue in Walt Disney World.
If I counted the queue as a part of the ride, it may have made its way up the list, but as it stands, it comes up a little short. Specifically, it’s short in terms of ride time. It may be exacerbated by the fact that the stand-by queue is one of the longer waits in the park, but an attraction that runs less than 3 minutes is both tough to wait for and tough to use a FastPass+ Selection on.
It’s still fun to journey through the story, from London to Neverland. The fact that you’re seated in a flying pirate ship overlooking each scene also adds an element of whimsy. It’s so colourful, thanks in large part to the black lights. It’s particularly nostalgic for me, since Peter Pan was one of my favourite movies as a kid. I’d gladly wait 70+ minutes for a Peter Pan attraction that was closer to 6-10 minutes. As it stands, it makes the list, but not high up.
9 – Na’vi River Journey
Na’vi River Journey is a beautiful attraction. The colourful flora and fauna of Pandora make this a feast for the eyes. It can feel overwhelming at first, but there are so many things to spot along this boat ride. You’ll likely need a couple of ride-throughs in order to see it all. While it helps to be a fan of Avatar, you can still get caught up in the delight of the bioluminescent rainforest.
The biggest draw of this attraction is the Na’vi Shaman, whose song you can hear long before you see her. It is one of the largest and most complicated animatronics that Disney has ever created. The Shaman is so lifelike, it really set the standard for animatronics in future Disney attractions.
The biggest drawback is the length of the attraction. While it runs longer than Peter Pan’s Flight, you do really leave wishing that the experience was a little longer with more creatures to explore.
There’s not really a story or message throughout this attraction either. Rides based on movies tend to be a retelling or at the very least will have a cohesive plot to it. Na’vi River Journey has lots to look at, but there isn’t really a point to it. Even Flight of Passage has a storyline that you’re a part of. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a great and relaxing ride, but it’s missing something.
8 – it’s a Small World
It’s a classic, and while I concede that the song may get stuck in your head, I feel like its history is the reason it’s on the list. ‘it’s a small world’ made its debut at the New York World’s Fair before making the journey to Disneyland in 1964. Hundreds of animatronic figures were styled to resemble children and toys from over 100 different regions, worldwide. Disney legend Mary Blair was instrumental in establishing the character designs that still guide Imagineers today.
The song, ‘it’s a small world’ was written by the Sherman brothers (also Disney legends). It’s sung in a series of languages throughout the attraction. Another boat ride, this attraction is fun and vibrant. It certainly takes a few ride-throughs to spot each character. Sadly, unlike the Disneyland and Hong Kong Disneyland counterparts, there are no stylized Disney characters placed in the attraction at Walt Disney World.
Hopefully the characters will be added to their respective county/regions one day in Florida, because that might put it higher on this list. It’s a gentle ride for anyone who needs to relax during the day. For those who can’t stand the attraction, it’s called “the happiest cruise the ever sailed”, so if you’re grumpy about the ride, maybe you should sail another day.
7 – Under the Sea ~ Journey of the Little Mermaid
Lauren calls this “a beautiful ride”. I can’t really argue that fact, nor would I want to. She may be biased by her love for the Little Mermaid, but I have to hand it to this attraction…it really hits the mark. I actually love the queue line that seems to go on forever. Starting outside of Prince Eric’s castle, I’m assuming Disney Imagineers expected this to be filled to the brim with guests at all hours because it feels like the longest queue in the park. Thankfully, though the distance is great, the wait time is typically short.
Scuttle is a great host for this attraction and the perfect story-teller. The non-stop row of clamshells for you to ride in keeps the line constantly moving. Once on board, you are immediately immersed in a colourful abridged retelling of the Little Mermaid story. Your journey takes you from Ariel’s grotto full of gadgets and gizmos (aplenty) to Sebastian and company’s exciting rendition of Under the Sea. From Ursula’s lair to Prince Eric and Ariel’s near kiss in the “Kiss the Girl” scene. The ride is so well laid out and perfectly timed. Sing along with the songs, or just sit back and take it all in… either way, it’s hard to argue with the Little Mermaids appeal to the masses.
6 – Pirates of the Caribbean
Okay, so before everyone points out that there’s a drop in this ride, don’t worry – I already know. Is it really a thrill if your boat gently slides down what can only be described as a glorified ramp? I don’t think it’s enough to put Pirates of the Caribbean into the thrill ride category. 99% of the attraction is a slow boat ride through some of the most iconic attraction scenes in Walt Disney World. In my mind, that makes it a gentle ride.
While it has undergone a number of changes over the years, it still remains one of the most beloved attractions in the park. Arguably the biggest change came with the addition of Jack Sparrow and Barbosa to the storyline. Most recently, we saw an update to the Redhead, who is now a pirate herself. Regardless of the changes, Pirates still maintains a sense of the original attraction. Walt played a major role in developing the ride and I think that it still pays tribute to his original vision.
Pirates of the Caribbean is one of the few attractions to successfully transition into a movie franchise that then informs the ride. Others have tried (looking at you, Haunted Mansion and Tower of Terror), but failed to achieve the same level of success.
Pirates also has an iconic soundtrack. I challenge anyone to spend the rest of the day in the park and not sing a single moment of Yo Ho, Yo Ho, a pirate’s life for me. Even if it’s in your head, it still counts. That’s just one of the many reasons it’s a great ride. Drink up, me hearties, Yo Ho!
5 – Living with the Land
At this point, I’d say there’s likely a large percentage of people either screaming at their monitors or at least wondering why this has made the list. I get it, not everyone loves Living with the Land. However, I’m firmly in the category of guests who can’t get enough of it. I love Living with the Land. I love what it represents, the innovation it showcases, and the strong case for new and sustainable growing techniques at a time when we need to find better ways to eat healthy, locally grown foods.
I’ll admit that the first part of the ride can be a little hokey. I like the rainforest scene and the waterfall, but I’ll concede that the “mighty buffalo” and the quaint American farm are a little dated (as far as animatronics go). For me, Living with the Land is all about the Epcot greenhouses. Once you get past the brief look at the history of agriculture, the greenhouses offer a glimpse at a sustainable and innovative way to grow plants. It would be enough just to look at and identify the plants. The fact that you get to see how they are engineering new ways to increase crop yields is even better.
I always leave Living with the Land with a plan in my head about something I want to grow at home. Not everyone has space for an aquaponics system (fish and plants growing together in a symbiotic environment). However, the PVC growing systems can be scaled up or down, so you can fill a small garden or backyard greenhouse with efficient ways to grow your own fruits and vegetables.
Living with the Land may not have been a part of Walt Disney’s original vision for an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, but it sure does represent the original vision for Epcot as a park. It showcases modern innovation that continues to evolve today. While you may not have come to the park wanting to learn anything, I think that Living with the Land at the very least gives guests an appreciation for how effective sustainable growing techniques can be. Plus, you can sample the produce at a number of Epcot restaurants!
4 – Peoplemover
The Tomorrowland Transit Authority Peoplemover is one of my favourite rides in all of Walt Disney World. You can read more about it in my Ode to the Peoplemover. Even though it’s technically transportation, it gives you a tour of Tomorrowland and you really haven’t travelled anywhere, since you get off the ride where you get on. It absolutely falls in the category of gentle ride because of how smoothly you traverse the land.
Picture a hot day in the Magic Kingdom. With the sun beating down, it can be stifling to walk the park endlessly. Enter the Peoplemover. This 10+ minute ride gives you a break from the heat, courtesy of a soft breeze as you are whisked around Tomorrowland. The narration points out highlights around the land and there is plenty for you to see over the course of your journey.
For guests who don’t enjoy thrill rides, this is about as close as you can get to one without actually going on it. Of course, I’m referring to one of the best moments along the Peoplemover trek, the tour through Space Mountain. You can hear the coaster whipping around. More often than not, you’ll also hear screaming guests as well. All this and you don’t even have to set foot in a rocket.
The rest of your journey is a delight. If you like people-watching, the Peoplemover gives you the perfect vantage height. The linear-synchronous motors provide a smooth journey that may be so relaxing that you find yourself nodding off…it’s that gentle.
3 – Soarin’ Around the World
Soarin’ has been one of the more consistently popular attractions at Epcot. Years ago, it frequently had the longest stand-by wait time in the park. Thankfully, Imagineers expanded the ride to add a third concourse, and now it moves guests through quite efficiently.
Soarin’ Around the World is the second travel itinerary after its predecessor, Soarin’ Over California came to an end in 2016. It takes you on a gentle hang-glider journey around some of the world’s most beautiful sights. From the Swiss Alps to the Pyramids in Egypt, and the Taj Mahal to the Eiffel Tower, Soarin’ is full of wonderful imagery. It’s only made more magnificent by the soundtrack that underscores the whole attraction. Feeling the wind in your face and pleasant scents from some of these unbelievable locales, it really is a delight for the senses.
I understand there are some people with a fear of heights that would consider this a thrill ride. I would say that as long as you don’t look down, you’ll be just fine. Also, you can request a seat in the 3rd row, which is the lowest of the three rows. For the most part, when you’re looking out at the sights, you don’t feel like you’re high up and you certainly don’t feel as though you’re going to fall. Instead, you gently list as you fly over each iconic natural or man-made treasure. It’s a wonder to behold.
2 – Frozen Ever After
I’m sticking in Epcot, with another attraction that frequently finds itself with one of the longest stand-by wait times in the park. It just happens to be because Frozen is one of the most successful Disney franchises. It’s also because this ride is extremely engaging and visually delightful.
Frozen Ever After took the place of Maelstrom in the Norway pavilion. I still have a spot in my heart for Maelstrom (You are not the first to pass this way…nor shall you be the last). That being said, Frozen Ever After is still an upgrade and now showcases some of the most popular Disney characters. The animatronics are incredible. Seeing Olaf greet you, play with Sven and dance on the ice makes him so lifelike. Anna, Else and Kristoff are all animatronics with projection mapped faces, giving them even more lifelike qualities.
Frozen Ever After also features one of the best Disney moments (in my opinion). There was something so special about the first time Lauren and I sat in the boat, sailing to see Elsa. I know “Let it Go” may be a little over-utilized, and parents may have heard it 10,000 times, but it provides the backdrop to what I argue as the climax of the attraction. I know there’s a short drop at the end, but for me, Elsa singing “Let it Go” as your boat sails backwards is one of those magical Disney moments that stays with you. It’s so well done, and perfectly timed, that you have to give kudos to the Imagineers for not only developing a wonderful ride visually, but one that tells a story so well and so thoughtfully.
1 – Haunted Mansion
There are some people who could make the argument that Frozen Ever After is the best gentle ride at Disney, but they would be wrong. It has to be the Haunted Mansion. Again, I’ll reiterate that this isn’t the Top 10 rides for kids…that will be a list for another day. As a gentle omnimover ride, the Haunted Mansion has it all. It’s a series of rooms upon rooms, each with another major part of the story to tell. Each room is also truly unique. Everyone has a favourite room, but we can all appreciate the subtleties and details that each room provides.
Starting off in the hallway of paintings, the first spirits you encounter are revealed by the lightning outside. Through the library and the staircase room into the corridor of spooky eyes and creepy doors, there’s plenty to draw your attention. Madame Leota, the Ballroom scene and the Bride in the attic are all significant elements towards an unforgettable story.
It’s the narration throughout your journey that ties everything together. Even before you board your Doom Buggy, the parlor and the stretching room are all extremely effective ways to set the mood. This is all courtesy of the late, great Paul Frees, who manages to capture the perfect tone for a Ghost Host. Follow it all with a swinging wake with one of the catchiest songs from any Disney attraction and you have the recipe for a perfect ride. Grim Grinning Ghosts as a song comes from the minds of Buddy Baker (with the music) and Xavier Attencio (writing the lyrics). It also features another Disney legend, Thurl Ravenscroft, along with a chorus of male voices (and Madame Leota herself).
I love the Haunted Mansion, from the queue straight through to the end. It’s such a complete attraction that not only has so much to look for, but also features a great story, memorable characters and a soundtrack that can’t be beat. However, there’s a little matter I forgot to mention…beware of hitchhiking ghosts!
Do you agree with my list? If not, what would be your #1 gentle ride at Disney? Did your favourite not make the list? Make your case for it in the comments below!