The Best Seat in the House

by Steve Russo, staff writer
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"Where do you want to sit?"

It's a question most of us hear at Walt Disney World. Typically, it comes from a traveling companion just after you enter a theater or show and usually gets a response of "I don't care. Anywhere."

So where should you sit? Any recommendation will always be subjective and represent one's opinion—and we all know what opinions are worth. Nevertheless, we'll trudge on here and look at the various attractions in Walt Disney World's four major theme parks with an eye toward uncovering the best place to sit for each attraction.

Before we start, let's quickly dispel a huge misconception that the only place from which to view a film or show is the dead center of the theater. The projectors and screens used today deliver excellent viewing from even the widest of angles. Any loss in viewing quality is mostly in the perception of the viewer.

What that underscores is my plea to you—don't be one of those families that jockeys to be the first into a theater when the doors open and then plops down as soon as you reach the center seats in your aisle. This is done despite the back-up of humanity behind you and the pleadings of the cast members urging you to, "Please move all the way down your row…" When you do that, you incur my wrath and wind up as a feature in the next Park Peeves column. And should you leave your delicate tootsies exposed, I will find them with my shoes as I struggle to climb over you. If it's that important that you sit in the dead center of a row, hang back and let 20 or so people file into a row ahead of you. That's a major peeve of mine—but I'll get down off the soapbox now.

I will offer a few words about dark rides: for the most part, it won't matter where you sit. If the ride vehicles are continuous (think Haunted Mansion, Peter Pan's Flight, Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin, and so on), the views are only marginally different from each side.

That said, let's get started with the park that began it all: the Magic Kingdom.

Main Street USA

Walt Disney World Railroad

Is there a good (or bad) place to sit on the Railroad? Not really. Some of the seats face each other (one side riding backwards) which may be great for families but less so for adults in need of legroom. There's not a lot to see on this trip around Magic Kingdom but most of the views are inward so sitting on the right side may have a slight advantage.

Adventureland

Enchanted Tiki Room

I've thought about this and I don't think there's a huge difference in where you sit. Certainly, as you sit around the circular viewing area, your perspective changes and you might have a better or worse view of a particular bird but… in the overall scheme of this show, I don't think it matters much.

Jungle Cruise

This is an interesting attraction for seating. Let's first agree that, as interesting as the animatronics, backside of water, and Shirley Temple are, the real attraction here is the skipper. This ride is made (or done in) by the skills and attitude of your Jungle Cruise Skipper and being able to see his or her expressions and clearly hear the spiel is necessary for optimum enjoyment of the attraction.

I like to sit as close to the skipper as possible because I want to be able to hear his or her voice directly. Too often, the onboard PA system can sound a little muddied and I might miss a few one-liners.

The unfortunate aspect of this attraction is you normally can't select your seat. Due to the seating configuration, the cast members will board you in the most efficient means possible—essentially telling you where to sit.

Magic Carpets of Aladdin

The only real choice on this Dumbo-like ride is whether to sit inboard or outboard. There's not a significant difference in view. I can make a minor suggestion in that you try to seat smaller children inward, toward the rides center. If anyone does fall victim to centrifugal force, at least the child won't be crushed against the side of the vehicle.

Pirates of the Caribbean

Depending on where you're directed into the boat and the size and number of your crew, you could wind up in a row of two, three, or even four people. Most of the scenery on this ride is left or right, as opposed to straight ahead—so sitting on the outward sides is best. I've not been able to discern any significant advantage to the left or the right here (but the left side does offer a better view of the redhead.)


This scene is better viewed from the left side of the boat on the Pirates of the Caribbean. Photo by Steve Russo.

Frontierland

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

This runaway mining train will seat guests two abreast in a series of connected cars. There's not much difference between being seated on the left or right sides but there's a significant difference in sitting forward or in the rear of the train. As the "engine" travels over a hill, it proceeds downward fairly slowly—still laboring to pull the weight of the trailing cars. As it gets a bit further down the hill, and more of the trailing cars have cleared the crest, gravity takes over and the speed picks up significantly. This effect is felt most in the rear-most cars. If you want a slower ride, sit up front. For a faster trip, request the rear car.


On Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, sit farther back for a wilder ride. Photo by Steve Russo.

Splash Mountain

You're sitting two abreast in a log, and conventional wisdom says the folks behind the first row will catch most of the splash as you hit bottom after the big drop. While there's a bit of truth to that, I've found that you really don't catch much splash on the drop and the first row does seem to endure the most of it. The real risk of getting wet is later as your vehicle is meandering toward the exit and you catch the spray of the other logs hitting bottom (or a few well places sprinklers usually active in warmer weather). In my opinion, the wettest I've gotten on Splash Mountain came from sitting in a pre-existing puddle on the seat.

Liberty Square

Hall of Presidents

This is a theater-like show with audio animatronics positioned on a stage at the front of the theater. I would suggest you stick with your personal theater seating preference here. In the Hall of Presidents my preference is to get a little closer to the front, maybe the third or fourth row, and position myself for as good a view as possible of the speakers (currently George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama). If you're just looking for a little air conditioning and a quick nap, the back row works nicely.


Sit up closer for the best view for the Hall of Presidents. Photo by Steve Russo.

Haunted Mansion

This is a dark ride and your ride vehicle, the Doom Buggy, sits two across (you can probably squeeze in a small child as well). As mentioned previously, there's no significant difference in sitting left or right side here. There's as much to see on either side and the view doesn't really restrict seeing it all from either vantage point.

A word here on the pre-show stretching room… the room has "no windows and no doors" and no visible means of egress. Once the pre-show has ended, a hidden door opens under the painting of the woman with the parasol. You can position yourself there for a quick exit to the ride vehicles or, as an alternative, linger for a while in the stretching room. If you do, you'll be treated to a few more admonitions from your Ghost Host.


The Haunted Mansion. Photo by Steve Russo.

Fantasyland

Dumbo the Flying Elephant

See Magic Carpets of Aladdin, above.

"it's a small world"

It really doesn't matter where you sit here. You'll be able to hear that insidious song quite well from any seat (and it will stick in your head for a minimum of three days).

Mad Tea Party

I've ridden this infrequently but the very nature of this ride in a rapidly spinning teacup says the best place to sit is on a bench outside the attraction.

Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

I've only ridden this twice and I'm not a huge fan. I can't recall any distinct differences from side to side to I'll rely on my faithful readership to let me know if there is.

Mickey's PhilharMagic


Trust me—for Mickey's PhilharMagic, sit up close. Photo by Steve Russo.

This is a 3D film and, as in all theaters, you should heed the cast member's directions to move all the way down your chosen row (sometimes they'll shorten that to two-thirds of the way if the crowd will obviously not fill the theater). Therefore, you really have no control over your viewing angle but you can select which row you'll sit in.

I find that most people in a theater will gravitate to the center rows (equidistant from the screen and the rear wall) and further back. Most tend to shy away from the front rows to avoid having to angle the neck upward to see. That theory may be useful in a typical movie theater for a feature length film but it shouldn't be your criteria for a 10-minute film.

First, I would suggest you not sit too far back. There's an effect at the end of the show that occurs on the rear wall and you'll want a clear view of that.

Now, I have no real evidence to substantiate this next tip. I only know that on the couple of occasions when I sat further toward the front of the theater, as close as the second row, I had the distinct impression that I could "see" the 3D effects better. I did have a friend of mine say the same thing after a show, completely unsolicited, so there are at least two of us that are buying this. Give it a try and let me know what you think.

Peter Pan's Flight

I think the rules for dark rides apply here—there's no significant difference in sitting left or right.

Prince Charming Regal Carrousel

You picks yer horse and you rides him. Keep in mind that the larger animals tend to be on the outermost side so handle your toddlers accordingly remembering that the best photo opportunities are also on the outside horses.


The larger horses tend to be outside. Photo by Steve Russo.

Tomorrowland

AstroOrbiter

See Dumbo the Flying Elephant and Magic Carpets of Aladdin, above, but remember this ride is elevated so the outermost seat might be a tad more adventurous.

Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin

I thought about this one and tried to determine if there were any high-value targets more accessible from the left or right. I don't think there are and, because the ride vehicle spins 360 degrees, any advantage would be negated. I would sit based on who wants to drive the vehicle via the center joystick.

Carousel of Progress

You won't have a difficult time viewing this from any seat in the theater. I have a preference for getting a little closer to the action for this show.

Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor

I've tried to figure out if specific seats are more or less prone to be chosen to be part of the show—either singled out as "that guy" or asked to answer a question. Bottom line? I don't know. I can't pick up any pattern in the folks chosen based upon seats, proximity to lights or direction from the cameras.

Space Mountain

You're seated single file in a six-passenger "rocket." Is this ride made more thrilling by sitting up front? Maybe a little. In my opinion, it's a quick ride with sharp drops, dips and turns regardless of the seating position. These drops, dips and turns might surprise the rider in the first position while those further back have a split second more time to recognize what's about to befall them.

Stitch's Great Escape

My initial reaction is to suggest the best place to view this attraction is from the Tomorrowland Transit Authority—it's not my favorite. But some of you may like it, so...keep in mind you're seated in a circular theater and most of the viewable action occurs in the center. Anywhere around the circle is fine and up close to the center is best if you prefer to be close to the action.

Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover

You sit in a ride vehicle with two bench seats that face each other. The first tip is if you have a problem riding backwards, sit accordingly. The second tip is that if there are more than two adults, take separate vehicles. The legroom is very tight when facing each other. The good news is this ride is rarely very busy so grabbing separate vehicles is not typically an issue.

Celebrate a Dream Come True Parade, Dream Along With Mickey, Main Street Electrical Parade (or Spectromagic) – basically any parade

Everyone has his or her favorite spots and I won't pretend to know better. The parade route is marked on the park maps so positioning yourself anywhere along the route will afford a view. Personally, I've found that Frontierland locations (in front of Pecos Bill's) are typically more available and offer a fine view.

My advice? Get to your spot earlier rather than later. If you do arrive later, don't position yourself in front of those already there. Before you place your child on your shoulders for a better view, check behind you to see whose view you might be obstructing. During the day, try to position yourself appropriate to the sun – you don't want to be staring into it or sweltering in it on a 90-degree day.

Some folks like to find a spot where the floats come at them head-on while others prefer the view from the side. There's viewing locations that support both.

Wishes/The Magic, The Memories and You

Like parades, everyone has his or her favorite spots. I've viewed Wishes from the left (by the Crystal Palace), from the right (on the bridge to Tomorrowland), center and rear (from both Frontierland and Fantasyland), and from the dining room and observation deck of the California Grill. I've even viewed parts from just outside the park by the boat docks.

In my opinion, the best spot to view Wishes is from the dead center of Main Street, up into the hub. Don't move up too close (by the Partners statue) because the viewing angle becomes too steep. You can back up down Main Street but not too far. Once you approach Town Square, you'll find the street and store lights are left on and that detracts from the show.

Wishes was designed to be seen with Cinderella's Castle dead center—the entire show is symmetrical with the castle as its focal point.


Wishes is best seen from the center of Main Street. Photo by Steve Russo.

Wishes is preceded by The Magic, the Memories and You, a show that projects photos and special effects upon Cinderella's Castle. It doesn't sound like much but, trust me on this, it's a must-see. The same viewing tips I listed for Wishes hold true here with one further piece of advice: I enjoyed this show much more from vantage points closer to the Castle. The same advice would hold true for any of the "live" shows in the Castle's forecourt.


Live shows at the castle's forecourt are best viewed from up close. Photo by Steve Russo.


As is The Magic, the Memories and You. Photo by Steve Russo.

So there you are—a look at the Magic Kingdom's attractions with an eye toward what might provide you with the best seat in the house. As always, these are only my opinions and your mileage may vary. I'd love to hear your suggestions whether they agree with mine or not—I'm always learning.

In a future article on this topic, we'll explore seating in the other parks. Until then, thanks for reading.

Comments

  1. By Chewyswimmer

    A couple of quick things about your great article. First, you got the physics mostly correct on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Sitting in the front of the car does not make the train or ride go slower, it moves the fast effect to the bottom of the hill/curve and you accelerate going up hill. Rather than sitting in the back of the train where you get the full drop of the hill. Secondly, isn't Astro Orbiters a single file ride? I mean, do you sit one in front of the other or side by side? Buzzlight I believe, could totally be wrong on this, has two targets on the right side of the attraction worth 100,000 points and only one target on the left worth 100,000 points, but the the whole spinning thing does negate that difference. Other than that, I completely agree with you!

  2. By Drince88

    That's what I was thinking about Astro Orbiter as well, Chewyswimmer - -but my sister doesn't do spinning rides and I don't do long lines, so I haven't done that for quite a few years now (probably 7).

  3. By Goodnplenty

    Actually I have a couple of seat opinions that are a little different.

    Aladdin...I enjoy the outer seats because you can see the details in the bazaar better, especially the Tiki room torches (which are now lit!) and roof details.
    Thunder Mtn...As you said the last seat is faster and the front seats are slower. The very front seat's forward view is blocked (somewhat) by the train. I enjoy the left side seat so that I can get a better look at the town scene.
    Splash Mtn... I always "let " the husband get in last so that I can get the left hand seat. This way he acts as the perfect sponge at the end of the ride (where you can see your pictures) where the water kinda splashes down the right wall and bounces towards the right hand seat. Often times our log gets stopped there and its amazing how much water my husband can soak up. ...Likewise at DL's SplMtn, I always get in last (sitting behind him) so that he can play the sponge as well.
    Haunted Mn...Unless it's changed the last words spoken in the stretching room are from the bride not the ghost host. I now will wait for the crowd to completely exit and be the last one out just so I can hear what she is saying.
    Pooh...I enjoy the left side best as it gives me a view of Mr.Toad giving Owl the deed.
    Astro Orbitor... There is no outer most seat on AO. The seats are "cuddle seats." I enjoy getting a rocket to myself at night and actually laying or leaning back, looking straight up to see the ride's "planets" spinning above me.
    TTA...Sitting on the left side of the car gives you a lovely view of the Epcot model.

    And those are my favorites! Anyone with some other tips?
    GnP

  4. By DisneyGator

    Glad to know I'm not the only one who "accidentally" steps on the toes of those who plop down in the middle of a 3D show.

  5. By srusso100

    Thanks, everyone. A number of you, here and via email, have pointed out my error on Astro Orbiter. I should never rely on my (faulty) memory. It is single file seating so the comparisons to Dumbo and Aladdin's Magic Carpets are invalid. Thanks for keeping me honest.

  6. By danyoung

    It's the theater seating where I feel Disney is being ingenuous when they say that their theaters are specially designed and that there are no bad seats. Unless Disney has found a way to change the laws of space and time, OF COURSE some seats are better than others. But I agree with Steve - don't just plop down when you reach your seats in the middle. Instead, hover a bit as people are scrambling to find their rows, and move into the stream of people after enough folks have passed you to where you'll have a more or less center seat.

  7. By jms1969

    Interesting read...

    We've definitely noticed a difference on Philharmagic when sitting up front, but I think the seating enhances the whole experience, rather than one particular effect. The whole goal of a 3D movie is to make you feel like you are in the movie, and the fact that the screen wraps around and goes back to almost the first row or so helps that illusion. When you are sitting in the first couple rows, there is action happening both in front of you and to your side. As you move backward in the theater you gradually lessen the effect of the curved screen and more action is happening in front of you and less to the side.

    While we love sitting up front, I guess you could make an argument the other way. While sitting up front it's much harder to take in everything that is going on since you can't focus on everything. For people that prefer this, the rear of the theater would be "the best seat in the house".

  8. By danyoung

    Interesting. I've never tried sitting up front for Philharmagic, but your explanation makes sense. With normal, non-powered 3D glasses, when the image is extended into the audience it will come about halfway between the screen and you at most. So when you sit towards the back, which is what I've always done, the 3D effect is greater. But the wrap-a-round factor could indeed make those front seats a very cool experience. I'll be trying it on my next visit - thanks!

  9. By betsyrina

    The good thing about continuing all the way down the isle (even if you have to step on a few toes) is that you usually get to exit first. That is my favorite thing about having to climb over people - I get to leave and get on another ride before them... Thanks for another great article. I'll look forward to hearing about the other parks.

  10. By Avant Gardens

    For the siumlator-based rides, Indiana Jones (DL), Dinosaur (DAK), Star Tours: If you like a dropping sensation sit in the front, if you like a bucking bronco sensation sit in the back, if you like mellow, sit in the middle. I always sit in the Back

  11. By scoobydooby

    I think the best view for the parades are standing head on to the point that the entire parade turns in front of you. I always take the trouble to work out this spot in MK and then I guard it jealously (inevitably only to give it up to a gang of toddlers at the moment itself.....). You get to see the floats head on, from the side and to see the extra dancing and entertainment the characters do as they have to stay still until the vehicle in front had done the turn.

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