When I’d made up my mind that I wanted to celebrate my 30th birthday at the Happiest Place on Earth, I was so relieved that Zack was on board. It’s an expensive way to turn the proverbial calendar to a new decade, but Zack respected that this was my wish* — and in the end, I think he had as much of a blast** as I did. We camped out at Coronado Springs from Monday to Saturday, giving us four full days to explore the parks. We did one park per day, and ended up with amazing memories and a solid ranking of our favorite rides and parks.
*Caitlin had been talking about a Disney World trip for years and after we went to Disney Land last year it only fueled the fire more. I had to help make her birthday wish come true.
**I really loved it too. I hadn’t been since I was 16 either so I loved going back and riding some old favorites with Caitlin and making new favorites together.
Disney Parks – Ranked
1. Magic Kingdom
This is the park that started it all. It’s got all of the most classic rides, features the heart and soul of so many Disney movies — and simply lives up to its name. It may have been that it was raining on the day we were in the park, or the fact that we went on a random Wednesday in February, but I think that because of the number of rides around the park waiting to entertain visitors, we see the shortest lines at Magic Kingdom out of any of the parks. There are too many top-five rides, too many classic treats (ice cream Mickey ears, anyone?) to beat the Magic Kingdom. It was our longest day, and we still felt like we left some fun out on the table. Full agreement here on best park. There’s just so much to do. After the storm broke a bunch of families had gone home and we hit up a lot of rides. I think we counted 15 that we hit up this day alone if you count all three trips on Splash Mountain.
2. Animal Kingdom
I’d never been to the Animal Kingdom before this trip, but I was blown away by its variety and thrill rides. My almost-favorite thrill ride lives in this park, plus we saw a freaking baby elephant running after her mom and all of the women on our safari’s ovaries exploded in unison. The Tree of Life is breathtaking, DINOSAUR caused us to go back in time and children to weep, and Tiffin’s is one of the most impressive restaurants in all of Disney World. I loved that it’s basically half Disney park, half world class zoo. We got to ride Expedition Everest and Kali Rapids and also go on a safari and watch a real cool bird tricks show. And the steak I had at Tiffins was the best I’ve had in ages.
This park was such a great way to start our trip. There’s enough to do to stay entertained all day, but not so much as to be overwhelmed from the jump like you might be at Magic Kingdom. You can leisurely explore (and drink around) the “world,” where you’ll find people working in the shops who actually came from the place they’re representing. There are a couple rides to get the adrenaline going, and a gorgeous fireworks display at the end of the day. Not to mention, my personal favorite meal was here, at the Coral Reef Cafe. I’ll dream about that mixed drink for the rest of my life, probably. A half day is enough for Epcot. Get a fast pass for Soarin’ and Test Track for the afternoon and then walk around and drink so the fireworks are extra sparkly. An entire day there means too much shopping for my tastes but still a solid park and worth seeing.
4. Hollywood Studios
Zack and I agreed that we might just never return to Hollywood Studios. It was a bit of a dud, as the parks are concerned. Particularly since they’ve gotten rid of the Backlot Studios tour. That said — I know they’re in the midst of building out a whole Star Wars-themed area, so I may very well have my mind changed by the time we’re ready to return to Florida (with children of our own). Agree on it being our last trip here. It had none of our favorite rides, but we did enjoy the Star Wars live show and seeing some storm troopers walking around. The Indiana Jones live show was solid, but we’re throwing up deuces at this park until they add some more stuff we’re interested in.
Disney Rides – Ranked
1. Splash Mountain (1)
A thrill ride with a story to tell and some amazing songs, Splash Mountain topped our list for all the parks. We rode this baby three times, and discovered something new with each trip around the river and down into the briar patch. I’ve never been more drenched and happy at the same time. The most complete ride that combines story and excitement We were singing “pretty good, sure as you’re born” the rest of the week.
2. Expedition Everest (2)
It was a close call as to whether this would land in my number 1 or number 2 spot, but Expedition Everest was just barely edged out because its story is slightly less compelling. Still, this is a top-notch thrill ride, and the roller coaster that finally made me realize…I love roller coasters! I love roller coasters. We rode this one four times! It’s the most thrilling ride we went on with its big drops and backwards speed. I told Caitlin I’d have dreams/nightmares of the Yeti tearing up the track.
3. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (6)
This was the rollercoaster that really opened to door for future enjoyment – first when I rode it with my dad in Florida for my 16th birthday, and then in California last year during my quick trip with Zack to Disneyland. This was a beast I knew I’d already conquered, so it made it the most approachable for me. The ride is smooth but fast, with lots of quick drops that force you to scream with glee. It’s a good, solid roller coaster. Not too scary, not too much story. I have it down at six and wasn’t nearly as sad as Caitlin when it was shut down and we had to keep riding Splash Mountain instead of taking a second ride on it.
4. Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (3)
This was a ride I’d never done before, but how FUN! It’s like Bug Thunder, but with a bit of extra side-to-side rocking and an adorable storyline through Snow White. A new favorite. This one had me singing “Hi Hooooooo” all day. It just opened in May 2014 and feels new. It’s smooth, well developed and is another one that incorporates story and fun perfectly. I know why our guide Carlye insisted we got a fast pass for it.
5. Soarin’ (4)
This was a breathtaking ride. With the rounded movie screen and the way you fly up into the air, you really feel like you’re zooming over some of the biggest and most gorgeous landmarks across the globe. Add to that the “4D” touch of smell and you have something anyone can sit back and enjoy. Gotta love a ride that pumps in smells. This isn’t really a roller coaster. You just go up in a four person car and hover around as you look at a green screen of memorable skylines and locations around the world. It’s really pretty and comfortable and the smells really add something.
6. DINOSAUR (9)
If my kid tells me they don’t want to ride this ride, I’m not going to make them. I saw too many bleary-eyed children exiting their time machines, frowns on their faces and hyperventilating. That said, I had a blast on this ride! The animatronic dinosaurs are fun, and the ride is more exciting than I thought it would be. There’s some rocking and rolling in the little ship of yours, and enough of a drop at the end to elicit a happy (or terrified) scream. I liked this one, but if the kids are scared I’m not gonna insist we go. It’s mostly scary because of how dark it is and the big animatronic dinosaurs. You have to go back in time and bring back a dinosaur. It’s pretty fun, but not a must do.
7. Test Track (5)
This ride is VERY short, so I’d probably only do it again if I could get a FastPass for it. Waiting 2.5 hours in line is only fun when you get to do things like walk through The Darling’s house for the Peter Pan ride, or through “excavation” findings from Everest. At Test Track, you basically get a 30 second Chevy ad played over and over and over again until you think you’re going to lose your mind. BUT. Despite all of that, we had so much fun on this ride! The fact that you get to build your own car and then test it against other teams’ to see whose is built most efficiently/for speed makes it way more interactive, and all of the vehicle inspection tests they put you through are fun. None moreso than the speed test at the end – when those doors break open and you find yourself zooming around a long, winding track, your hands go up and you scream for joy. Yeah the only real negative was the long wait. It was super cool designing out ridiculous starry race car and the super fast straight shot on the ride was worth the wait. Would definitely make sure we fast passed it next time.
8. Space Mountain (7)
This roller coaster in the dark has its moments. I love space and stars, so getting to ride through them in a way is definitely awesome. Plus, as you wait in line for this ride, you get to play games! The reason it’s not rated up higher with some of the other more thrilling roller coasters is because of its age. Because it’s a magnetic coaster, it’s not a very smooth ride, so I found myself sore afterwards. Plus it really does feel like your head might get lopped off by some of the lights that feel like they’re leaning into you. That said, I’m still glad I gave this classic a chance. I’m glad Caitlin gave it a shot. It was a lot darker and rocky than I remembered, but still a good ride worth doing.
Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster starring Aerosmith – I went on the Aerosmith ride solo on the final night and I’d put it 8th on my list. It was a lamer story than I remembered when I was 16, but still a fun upside down fast roller coaster.
9. Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid (11)
This was one of the biggest surprises of the trip. I’d never been on this ride before — in fact, I thought it was a live show. So when Zack and I walked into it, I was surprised when we were placed in a moving shell and began our journey under the sea. The animatronics are gorgeous and really advanced, and it really feels like you’re journeying through the world of the Little Mermaid. The only complaint I had was that they really kinda gloss over the whole, Eric-murdering-the-sea-witch thing. Still, this was a stunning ride and very worthy of this spot. This and the next few on the list aren’t roller coasters as much as little rides where you sit and slowly move through a story line. This one was quite well done and a pleasant surprise.
10. Haunted Mansion (12)
I was so pleased that Zack enjoyed this ride so much. He had HATED a nostalgic ride I’d made him go on with me the day before (we’ll get to that in a bit), so I was worried that slower animatronic-based rides just weren’t for him. Luckily, he was impressed by all of the variation of effects included in the Haunted Mansion, and we cuddled close as ghosts and ghouls passed by (and through) us. This ride has you buy in from the very beginning when you’re walking up to and through the mansion. It’s very effective. Not scary really, but clever and if you buy in, it’s an enjoyable time.
11. Peter Pan’s Flight (14)
This classic took us a LONG time to get on. We were in line for an hour and a half or more, but on the plus side, it kept us inside and out of the worst of the downpour on our rainy day in the Magic Kingdom, so I’m really not complaining. It’s cool to get a top-down look at an animatronic world, so I enjoyed that aspect of the ride. I wish it was a bit longer, with just a few more scenes from the movie, but otherwise this ride is gorgeous and classic. It’s cute. I wouldn’t quite say it’s worth the wait, but it was sweet and we enjoyed things like getting to interact with a projected Tinkerbell during the wait.
12. The Magic Carpets of Aladdin (18)
This was a surprisingly fun little go-in-a-circle flyover ride! This was the first ride we took in the Magic Kingdom, and it put a giant grin on my face prior to hopping onto some real thrillers. This one’s solid. I was honestly put off by this one and worried that we’d be doing dull ones like this the rest of the trip but was glad we did the scariest rides over and over.
13. Mad Tea Party (17)
I didn’t think we’d ride this ride at all, because I remembered doing a similar ride at Six Flags and feeling a bit sick, but there was no line so we hopped right into a cup and spun around and had a blast! I really loved the mouse popping out of the teacup in the center of the ride. We kept it not too spinny and didn’t get sick and there was no line so it was fun.
14. Kali River Rapids (10)
I had high hopes for this ride, and they ended up being a bit too high. I was expecting a wild ride down some rapids, but got a sort-of-wet ride with only one real drop. Still, we rode it twice and it’s one of only a few thrill rides in the Animal Kingdom, so worth a spin (especially on a warmer day when you don’t mind getting wet!) I enjoyed this one a lot. It would have been better later in the day when it got warmer out. We were pretty wet and a little chilly doing this early in the day. It’s not a great rapid ride or anything, but it’s solid.
15. Prince Charming’s Carousel (19)
I always love a good carousel, and while one horse had to be put out to pasture before we could embark on our trip around the ride (e.g. a blue cape got put on him because he was not safe to ride) it’s a decent carousel with classic Disney tunes playing during your ride, and it gives you a great view of the rest of the Magic Kingdom. The ride broke down right before we got on so we had to wait an extra 15 minutes. It was fine for a carousel. A carousel in a world with no rides can be kinda fun, but compared to everything else in Disney World it was nothing special.
16. Primeval Whirl (15)
This carnival ride gets an extra punch from not only sliding down drops, but also from spinning around at random intervals. Just from looking at it, it looks like a kid ride, but you definitely get your thrills once you’re on it. I liked this one! Kind of a fun roller coaster with some weird twists and turns.
17. Dumbo the Flying Elephant (20)
I would have ranked this ride WAY higher, but we ended up getting stuck on a broken elephant! Normally you can control when you go up and down in your Dumbo-copter, but our controls were broken, so we remained low for the entire ride until the very end when all the Dumbos go to the top and then come back down. BOOOOO. We tried to stick around and tell the workers that ours was broken but they were too busy and we couldn’t get their attention. This ride would have been OK if it was working, but it wasn’t and it wasn’t good enough to get in line for again.
18. The Great Movie Ride (16)
This ride is cool in theory. You get to ride through some movie classics with some neat (although sometimes uncanny valley-esque) animatronics. However, this ride also relies HEAVILY on your “guide” who rides along with you, as well as other actors scattered throughout the ride, and ours were…not great. It felt like an awkward high school play that we were having to participate in. Yeah it’s pretty boring and random. Our guides were not good actors so it was jut a bad play I agree.
19. Spaceship Earth (-1000)
This was the ride Zack absolutely hated, to the point of teasing me about it (which made me cranky). I remembered this ride from when I was in 6th grade, and while I knew it had some goofy animatronics, I had the nostalgia bug bad for it. It smells musty, and it takes you through the history of human communication. I still enjoyed myself, but I will agree with Zack that it’s far from thrilling, and they really have messed up the end of the ride – you just go backwards for a long time while they play you a little video on your car’s screen. Meh. I was misled on this ride. If I knew it was about the history of communication I would have geared up for that. I thought I was on a spaceship in Earth. Hardly. It’s so dull.
20. Star Tours (14)
If a ride makes me physically ill, it goes at the bottom of the list. In theory, this ride would rule. I LOVE Star Wars and the idea of being in the film in some form or fashion, but the 3D mixed with the hurky-jurky flight through space is a recipe for nausea. I’m excited to see what else Disney comes up with in the new Star Wars area of Hollywood Studios – until then, that’s a park (and this is a ride) you can skip. I liked this one more than Caitlin since I didn’t get sick. It has fun navigation by C-3PO. It’s definitely herky jerky but still a good Star Wars time.Let’s not end on a bad note of the last few rides. We had such a great trip and loved getting to celebrate Caitlin’s birthday over and over. She wore her birthday pins every day and had Disney staff and strangers wishing her a happy birthday constantly for four days as she blew out candles on several birthday desserts and had the 30th birthday celebration she dreamed of. I was happy and lucky to be a part of it. Cheers!