Thrill rides provoke reactions that range from electrifying exhilaration to gutwrenching panic. While those who enjoy the rushing sense of excitement seek out thrill rides just for that reason, on the other end of the spectrum are people of all ages who just don't see the appeal. And while a trip to a theme park may arouse a sense of panic for those in the latter group, Walt Disney World is truly an exception.
The massive park is the size of a small city and visitors can find just about every type of attraction inside with rides designed for every age and thrill level. Whether you're going with kids of different ages or a group of friends with different interests, no one will feel left out during a trip to Disney World.
Visiting Disney World for Non-Thrill Seekers
If you're at Disney World and truly panic at the thought of thrill rides—or you're with someone who's like that—don't force yourself or anyone else to do something they're not comfortable with. There's a big difference between encouraging someone who's nervous but curious and dragging someone on who's kicking and screaming. If your kids aren't ready this year, the roller coasters aren't going anywhere. If you're with someone who's older and doesn't want to get on, there could be an underlying health reason for not wanting to ride, so don't coerce them.
That being said, if the rider is intrigued by thrill rides but apprehensive, Disney World is perhaps the best place to give them a try. Compared to other amusement parks that focus on screams, even the most thrilling rides at Disney World are on the mild side. At all Disney parks, the attractions are more about the magic and creating a fantasy as opposed to twists, loops, and sharp drops.
The Most Thrilling Rides
Before visiting any one of the Disney World parks, make sure you're familiar with the "scariest" rides there so everyone in your group is comfortable. Oftentimes just having an idea of what to expect beforehand helps take away the anxiety (for example, knowing that the super coaster Space Mountain actually moves at the speed of a car in a residential neighborhood).
The most thrilling rides—whether it's because of sharp drops, characters that pop out at you, or nauseating spins—are listed and organized by park.
The Magic Kingdom
Modeled after Disneyland in California, the Magic Kingdom is all about beloved characters, classic fairy tales, and innocent fun. Many of the top attractions are the family-friendly rides that have been around for decades like It's a Small World or the Haunted Mansion (which despite being "haunted" is designed with kids in mind). However, those who aren't into thrills should take a look at some of the "scarier rides" before getting in line.
- Splash Mountain: It is a delightful, character-packed, highly themed ride that includes a 52.5-foot drop at about 40 mph. It might look intimidating as you're peering over the edge, but it's relatively tame compared to drops at other extreme parks. Plus, the scariest part is over faster than you can say "zip-a-dee-doo-dah."
- Space Mountain: One of the most famous Disney World attractions, the enclosed roller coaster is made to seem all the more thrilling because passengers can’t see most of the track and can’t anticipate the drops and other elements. The quadruple whammy of height, speed, darkness, and fear of the unknown makes this ride potentially the scariest, but nervous riders can take solace in the fact that the top speed is just 27 mph. Plus, the design of the ride is so creative that you truly feel like you're in space and not thinking about the turns.
- Big Thunder Mountain Railroad: The classic Disney World ride chugs along at a somewhat perkier top speed of 36 mph, but that is still bush league when it comes to coasters. Because it is outside and you can see what's coming up, Big Thunder Mountain feels slower than Space Mountain. Like its space-themed counterpart, the mine train coaster doesn't include any huge drops or inversions.
- Seven Dwarfs Mine Train: In terms of speed, this coaster falls in between Space Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain. It's definitely faster than a kiddie coaster, but the drops and sharp turns are on the mild side. Plus, there are some charming scenes throughout the ride featuring classic characters from Snow White.
- Tron Lightcycle Power Run: The Tron attraction, opening in 2021 at the Magic Kingdom, is modeled off of the wildly popular version at Disneyland Shanghai. It's the most thrilling ride at the park in terms of height and speed, taking riders through neon lights at top speeds of 60 mph. If you're feeling anxious about thrill rides, this is perhaps the one you should work your way up to.
- Pirates of the Caribbean: It is dark and a bit foreboding, and (spoiler alert!) it does include a fairly mild flume drop, but it's nothing compared to the drop on Splash Mountain. This is another gotta-see Disney classic and the inspiration for the blockbuster movie franchise, and if you're curious about thrill rides this is the easiest one to start out on.
Perhaps the most unusual major theme park anywhere, Epcot more closely resembles a world’s fair than a traditional amusement park. There isn’t a roller coaster to be found—yet—among its vast two lands, World Showcase and Future World. Nevertheless, some of the rides definitely tilt on the more nerve-racking side of the thrill spectrum.
- Mission: SPACE: This wild attraction uses an enclosed capsule in a rapidly revolving centrifuge to simulate space travel which can be unnerving for a whole lot of reasons, not the least of which is that the spinning action can induce motion sickness in some unfortunate riders. You're also inside a pretty small capsule, so even riders who enjoy thrills rides and roller coasters may have an issue with the small space. If you want to try it but are worried about feeling ill, there are separate non-spinning pods that you can request to stabilize the motion.
- Test Track: It’s true that Test Track reaches speeds approaching 65 mph which is fairly fast for a thrill ride, but the track has no roller coaster dips or inversions and, aside from slight banking, it's really focused on acceleration and speed. If you're on the edge, just remember it's really no different from accelerating in your car to get on the freeway—but without other vehicles and on a safety track.
- Frozen Ever After: This boat ride based on the mega-popular animated film sounds benign enough, but there is a small backward drop and in the dark no less. Still, it is very brief and not steep, but it can be a surprise if you don't know it's coming.
- Soarin’ Around the World: This attraction recreates—and very effectively—the sensation of hang gliding above famous sites all around the world, which sounds positively terrifying for those who are afraid of heights. In reality, you're just 40 feet off the ground and essentially watching a movie on a domed screen. It's one of the most breathtaking rides at any Disney park and an Imagineering achievement, so even if you're unsure, it's likely worth a try. After all, it may be the closest you ever get to actually hang gliding.
Disney's Animal Kingdom
As its name implies, Disney's Animal Kingdom is all about wildlife from all over the world. In fact, the park itself is a hybrid between a theme park and a zoo. It may sound innocent enough, but there are definitely some rides that the thrill-averse should be aware of.
- Expedition Everest: This mountain-themed roller coaster is not only the fastest ride in the Animal Kingdom, but it's the tallest roller coaster of any Disney park in the world—and it moves forward and backward. While it would be considered mild compared to coasters at theme parks that focus on thrill rides, it's definitely more action-packed for Disney. Apart from the twists and turns, there's also a giant animatronic Yeti that may frighten younger riders.
- Avatar Flight of Passage: Although it uses a similar ride system as Soarin’ Around the World, this flying theater ride is more aggressive and thrilling. If you think you might be up for it, give Soarin’ at Epcot a try first. If you are okay with that, you’ll probably be fine with Flight of Passage. Although it simulates long, sharp dives on the back of a banshee, passengers never actually move more than a few inches in any direction and the thrills are more psychological.
- Kali River Rapids: This is a fairly standard-issue river rapids ride found at many amusement parks, although Disney puts its own creative touch on it with some elaborate scenery. Most of the ride is pretty slow with some bouncing around, but there is a 30-foot drop at the finale. Most riders who avoid the River Rapids don't do it because it's too thrilling, but because you're likely to be soaked by the time you get off.
- Dinosaur: The Dinosaur attraction puts riders in a jeep that makes sharp turns and jerky movements through a forest overrun with dinosaurs. While it's not thrilling in the same way that a roller coaster is, there are some scares where a dinosaur jumps out in a near-miss encounter that could rattle younger kids or jumpy riders.
Disney's Hollywood Studios
Take an excursion to Tinseltown in California—or at least the Orlando, Florida, version of it. At Hollywood Studios, there's an exhilarating mix of live shows, movie studio sets, and rides that range from docile to quite thrilling.
- Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster: It is a launched coaster that goes from 0 to 57 mph before the Aerosmith soundtrack gets to the second measure of the song booming over the onboard audio speakers. It soars 80 feet tall inside a darkened building, delivers a brief but crushing 5Gs, and includes two inversions.
- Twilight Zone Tower of Terror: It includes some of the coolest effects that Disney’s Imagineers have ever conjured and it ingeniously tells a compelling story. But it also includes some wild thrills with a random-sequence drop tower finale that could leave nervous riders quivering in their seats.
- Slinky Dog Dash: This junior coaster located at Toy Story Land is similar to Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at the Magic Kingdom. It's designed for children and the minimum height requirement is only 38 inches, so it's a perfect gateway attraction for young kids to get accustomed to the bigger rides they'll be riding in a couple of years.
- Star Tours: This is one of the original motion simulator rides and you'll be bounced around as you fly at hyperspeed through space and dodge enemy spaceships—or that's what it will feel like. The car itself barely moves, but the special effects are pretty convincing.
- Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run: Like Star Tours, this attraction is a motion simulator. What makes Smuggler’s Run unique, however, is that it is interactive and all passengers have assigned roles (pilots, gunners, and engineers). The movements are minimal and all simulated, but having tasks to complete can be a nice distraction for those who are sensitive to thrills.
Disney Outside of the Parks
One of the best parts of taking a Disney vacation—especially if you're staying at one of the Disney World Resorts—is that the magic doesn't end once you exit the park gates. Everything from the restaurants, hotel rooms, and even the transport between them all is designed to continue the fantasy. If someone is ride-averse, there's plenty to keep busy without even entering a park.
- Go to the water parks. Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach are lushly landscaped places to relax in the Florida sun, float around low-impact lazy rivers, bob in some fairly tame wave pools, and cool down in some refreshing water. Depending on your distress triggers, you’ll probably want to steer clear of the extreme speed slides and other thrill rides, however. In fact, Summit Plummet at Blizzard Beach could be considered the most thrilling ride at any Disney World park.
- Plan some sumptuous meals. With so many unique choices, dining at Disney World can be one of the most joyful experiences of your trip. Whether you want to dine in the company of beloved Disney characters or enjoy a romantic meal in an elegant sit-down restaurant, there are options for all tastes and budgets.
- Go shopping. Venture to Disney Springs (or to the smaller BoardWalk area near Epcot) and peruse the unique shops to pick up fun souvenirs or gifts for friends back home.
- Go golfing. Disney World has five on-site golf courses as well as two highly original miniature golf courses. Other recreational activities include bike rentals, fishing, tennis, and boat rentals.