My Disney Top 5 - Walt Disney World Attraction 'Wow Factor' Moments

by Chris Barry, staff writer
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Welcome back to another My Disney Top 5. Please keep your comments and emails coming. I feel like I’m still winding down from our most recent Walt Disney World trip this past August and I’ve already started wondering when we’ll be back. Much sooner than later I hope. When you begin to put a trip behind you and anticipate the next, you start to run through the magical moments that you just experienced in order to keep them alive. It’s these moments that keep us coming back. It’s these moments that set Disney apart from pretty much everything else. They can happen anywhere on Walt Disney World property; in the parks, at the resorts, in the restaurants, and even riding on a Disney bus. Sometimes the moments are purely spontaneous. I love those moments and our trips are full of them. Other times, these moments are reactions to carefully thought out and planned moments experiencing Disney’s attractions. These moments are dreamed up by Disney’s Imagineers. These special, magical moments are what give a Disney attraction that certain “wow factor.”

When Walt started designing attractions for his dream of Disneyland, he enlisted the studio’s moviemakers to make his dreams and the magic come alive. They were filmmakers by trade and dreamers and thinkers at heart. They knew how to create that special “wow” moment when all the storytelling magic would come together in one unforgettable classic moment on film. It’s those moments that are transformative. They take you out of your world and deposit you somewhere else. That’s the goal of a great film and the Imagineers have always strived for that goal when designing an attraction. Just like in the movie business, some moments succeed more than others.

So, as I’m remembering this past trip and longing for our next, what are those moments in the Walt Disney World attractions that stop me in my tracks and give me that “wow” moment that I’m after? It's definitely not the drops, or the speed, or the thrills. It's usually something else. Let’s take a look with my Top 5 Walt Disney World Attraction “Wow Factor” Moments.

5 – The Lightning Strike in The Tower of Terror


The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

Sure, the queue for this Hollywood Studios attraction is completely amazing and full of detail. Sure, the Rod Serling video in the library is very cool. And yeah, the drop sequences are a total blast. But that completely different Disney moment occurs when lightning zaps the ghostly images of those 5 hotel guests and the room transforms into a star filled Twilight Zone wonder. It’s a fantastic moment featuring some wonderful effects and a total atmosphere change. Wow indeed.

4 - Soarin’ Over a California River


A sign from the Soarin' queue. Photo by Brian Bennett.

We actually didn’t make it onto Soarin’ on our last trip and that’s a shame. I love the whole ride, especially the surfers, the skiers, and–of course–flying over Disneyland. But the moment where I cease to be on a ride and I’m actually soarin’ over California is when you take that big long swoop down over the kayakers on the river. That’s when you get the collective, “Whoooooaaaa!” from all of the guests. Add in the fresh scent of the pine forest, the breeze on my face and I am completely transported someplace else. I can’t wait to be there again on our next trip.

3 – The Apex of Spaceship Earth


Epcot's Spaceship Earth. Photo by Chris Barry.

As you leave that final animatronic scene in Spaceship Earth, you are treated to a very cinematic moment. After traveling through history, Dame Judy Dench completes her narration, the music builds, your vehicle begins to slowly turn and as you come around the bend, the music crescendos and the wonderful sight of Earth projected on the ceiling of the geodesic sphere surrounded by the stars is revealed to you. I find Epcot to be a very inspiring place, and this is one of its finest inspirational moments.

2 – The “Be Our Guest” Champagne Corks in Mickey’s PhilharMagic.


The PhilharMagic Concert Hall. Photo by Brian Bennett.

This Magic Kingdom favorite has so many “wow” moments. I love when we’re transported to London and Peter, Tink, and then Donald land on the hands of Big Ben. The hectic magic carpet ride through Agrabah is another joy to behold. However, my favorite moment has to be the big ending to "Be Our Guest." When the song builds to its finale, those champagne bottles come marching out and they blast their corks off in synch with the music. Everyone is getting splashed from the water effects and the whole room is thrilled. It’s a multi-sensory explosion and I love and wait for this moment every time we visit Mickey’s PhilharMagic Concert Hall. Whenever I hear this song, no matter where I am, I picture and hear those corks popping.

1 – The Wicked Wench in Pirates of the Caribbean


Pirates of the Caribbean at the Magic Kingdom. Photo by Samantha Barry.

In filmmaking, when you slowly bring a subject into view in an effort to create tension, it’s known as a reveal. The moment that you emerge out of the darkness on this Disney classic–after the drop–and the immense pirate ship is revealed has long been one of my favorite moments from any attraction. The slow ride through the cold dark caverns, the wind, the darkness, the plunge, and then…there it is. Cannons are firing. Barbossa is yelling his pirate jargon. “Cannonballs” are splashing on either side of the boat. It’s a movie playing out right in front of you. It’s a perfect example of why Walt recruited his filmmakers to be his attraction makers and it’s still my favorite “wow” moment in any Walt Disney World attraction.

Granted, I have a “wow” moment as soon as I emerge from under the railroad in The Magic Kingdom. I have one as The Tree of Life is revealed to me. Heck, I have one as I pass under the archway on the Magical Express bus as I realize I’ve just left the real world behind and escaped into Walt Disney World. I have “wow’ moments all over the place when I’m there, but these are my favorites on the attractions. I deeply appreciate the work, artistry and thought that the Imagineers put into these moments. They didn’t happen by accident.

Walt’s moviemakers, or dream-makers, have created so many moments for us like these. They transport us to another place—whether real, like in Soarin’, or imaginary like in PhilharMagic. Either way, it’s an amazing ride that they’ve been taking us on all these years. I keep going back to experience these and so many other “wow” moments at Walt Disney World and I’m counting on them to keep delivering the “wow factor” for many years to come.

I never get tired of being transformed, of being transported, and, certainly, I never get tired of being “wowed.”

That's My Disney Top 5 for today. What's yours? Click on the "Discuss this article on MousePad" link below and share your list!

Comments

  1. By duke68012

    I have to admit, something that always makes me go wow and get a little emotional is in fantasmic at DHS when Steamboat Willie comes round the corner with all the Disney characters on it waving their handkerchiefs and the music swells. It is pure Disney magic. I also feel the same wow and emotion during Wishes at the Magic Kingdom. I do love a good nightime spectacular

  2. By mkelm44

    You hit a lot of my favorites- Spaceship Earth, Soarin, and Philharmagic. I second Duke's wow and emotion for Wishes and add in Illuminations at EPCOT as a wow factor moment. No matter how many times I've seen the shows, I am always amazed and spend the whole time trying to take in every last firework, light effect and ball of flame. The other wow factor I get is the Safari ride at Animal Kingdom. While I know Disney has no control over the attraction (since its alive) every time we get stuck because some creature is walking in front of the ride vehicle, or you look over and there are lions hanging out on a rock, you have to go wow! The plot is a little cheesey (I wish there was a non-plot option, perhaps with an actual guide who could go into detail about what we are seeing) but being that close to that many different types of animals is definitely impressive.

  3. By cbarry

    Absolutely Duke. That's a great moment in Fantasmic.

    When Tink flies overhead in Wishes, it doesn't matter how many times I've seen it...it's an awesome moment as well.

  4. By cbarry

    Quote Originally Posted by mkelm44 View Post
    You hit a lot of my favorites- Spaceship Earth, Soarin, and Philharmagic. I second Duke's wow and emotion for Wishes and add in Illuminations at EPCOT as a wow factor moment. No matter how many times I've seen the shows, I am always amazed and spend the whole time trying to take in every last firework, light effect and ball of flame. The other wow factor I get is the Safari ride at Animal Kingdom. While I know Disney has no control over the attraction (since its alive) every time we get stuck because some creature is walking in front of the ride vehicle, or you look over and there are lions hanging out on a rock, you have to go wow! The plot is a little cheesey (I wish there was a non-plot option, perhaps with an actual guide who could go into detail about what we are seeing) but being that close to that many different types of animals is definitely impressive.

    Can't beat closing out your day with Illuminations. Have to agree about the Safari. It's always changing. We had some awesome giraffe moments this past trip. More so than usual. I don't even notice the plot so much anymore. Too busy looking for the creatures.

  5. By jpg391

    This is a very good article. The scene in Pirates Of The Caribbean where you come out of the caves and see the ship is also one of my "WOW" factors.

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