My Disney Top 5 - Walt Disney World Roller Coastersby Chris Barry, contributing writer
Welcome back to another Disney Top 5.
One of my best friends and I have had a pretty unusual, yet beloved tradition. Both of us were born and raised in Queens, a borough of New York City. A short ride away from our home neighborhood of Bayside is our neighboring borough: the world-famous Brooklyn. And nestled on Brooklyn’s coastline just a stone’s throw away from the Atlantic Ocean is a little slice of amusement park history: the famous Coney Island amusement park, Luna Park. Towering over Luna Park is none other than the greatest roller coaster in the world: the Cyclone.
Now, this friend of mine and I always loved riding the Cyclone. As we started to get older and life took us in our different directions, we would frequently call each other up and say, “Let’s go hit the Cyclone up for a ride and catch up!” The strange little tradition that was born from these visits took place when we reached the Cyclones’ peak. Right before we plummeted over that gut-wrenching drop, if one of us had some major news to tell, we would take that opportunity to shout it out to the other. For example, “Guess what? Diane and I are engaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaged!” or how about, “Dear God, we’re having twinnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnns!” It just became something that we did and the anticipation would certainly build up as we clicked and clacked our way up the lift hill. Sometimes it was nothing. Sometimes it was earth-shattering news. The point was, for us, it was never really a moment until it was THAT moment screaming down the big drop in Coney Island.
So, roller coasters and I go way back and are an important part of my memories growing up in New York. From the Cyclone to the Dragon Coaster at Rye Playland—and from the Atom Smasher in Rockaway Beach to Rolling Thunder at Great Adventure—I’ve always loved roller coasters. I may not be a member of ACE, American Coaster Enthusiasts, but that doesn’t mean they’re not important to me. I don’t think I’ve ever passed up an opportunity to scream my brains out on a coaster track. Roller coasters have come a long way since the Cyclone opened in 1927. I don’t love the loops, but I’ll tolerate them when I have to. I much prefer the classic “out and back” type of coasters. Huge drops are great. Big speed is great. Corkscrews are great. It doesn’t really matter to me. In my mind, it's all great.
So as a major coaster fan can I satisfy my coaster sweet tooth when I’m at my beloved Walt Disney World? Most definitely would be my unrequited response. They may not have the biggest, fastest or craziest roller coasters out there, and technically, as I write this, there are really only five coasters on Disney property. Sorry, but I’m not counting Goofy’s Barnstormer in the Magic Kingdom as a full-blown coaster. And until the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is finished and opened, there are just five to speak of. That’s just perfect for a guy that writes a Top 5 column, don’t you think?
Like everything else in Walt Disney World, the Disney roller coasters are truly something special. Each of them is different and each one offers something thrilling for the rabid coaster fan as well as the coaster curious and coaster cautious. It wasn’t easy to rate them. But that’s the whole point of this column, so let’s take a look at my Top 5 Walt Disney World Roller Coasters.
5 – Primeval Whirl – Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Essentially a wild mouse coaster with a twist, Primeval Whirl enters at the bottom of my list. As part of the much maligned Chester and Hester’s Dino-Rama section of Dinoland U.S.A in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Primeval Whirl has certainly given me some laughs and some thrills. It is a short ride, only about 90 seconds once you make it past the lift hill. There’s a lot to look at as you whiz around the tracks. The big difference, of course, is the spinning cars. This does create a constantly changing ride experience since you don’t really know when your car is going to spin around or for that matter when it’s going to stop spinning around. A word to the wise: If you ride this alone, as I have on occasion, the spinning can seriously toss you around in your car. It’s a better bet to have another body next to you to sandwich you in. Primeval Whirl is definitely fun, but it’s not Disney’s best.
4 – Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith – Disney’s Hollywood Studios
You might be surprised to see this coaster favorite so low on my list. After all, it’s got a lot going for it as far as modern coasters go. The initial launch rocketing you from 0-60 miles per hour in a blistering 2.8 seconds is pretty intense. There are three inversions and this all takes place in the dark with cranking Aerosmith tunes in your ear via the ride car’s speaker system. It’s a total blast, for sure. But as I said above, I don’t love the whole looping coaster thing. If you like that more than I do, than I would imagine this impressive thrill coaster would be higher on your list.
The next two spots on the list were the toughest to fill; Choosing between two Disney classics wasn’t so easy, but I had to decide, so here goes:
3 – Big Thunder Mountain Railroad – Magic Kingdom
Towering over Frontierland, Big Thunder Mountain is always one of my favorite sights in the Magic Kingdom. The rockwork, the trains whizzing by, in and out of tunnels, and its place right alongside the Rivers of America all make for fantastic eye candy as you’re enjoying your day in this corner of the park, and especially when you’re spending time on Tom Sawyer’s Island. The ride itself never disappoints. It’s fun, but not too crazy when compared to other coasters. I love the first lift hill through the bat filled cavern culminating under the waterfall. It’s a classic of true Disney creativity. You really feel like you’re whizzing around a western mining town and through beautiful mountainscape as opposed to riding a roller coaster. It’s old school, but to quote “Ollie” from the Disney/Pixar film The Incredibles, there’s, “no school like the old school.”
2 – Space Mountain – Magic Kingdom
Choosing between Big Thunder and Space Mountain for these two spots was incredibly difficult. As much as I adore the Wild West coaster in Frontierland, there’s just something so amazing about Space Mountain that, for me, edges out Big Thunder. Maybe it’s the architecturally striking presence that Space Mountain has in Tomorrowland. It has what’s been called a timeless futuristic look that never seems to grow old and I never tire of gazing at. I was at the prime age of nine when Star Wars was released in 1977, so the whole space theme resonates with me and my childhood. I almost feel like I’m walking through the Death Star halls as I walk through the Space Mountain queue. The lighting creates the perfect atmosphere. It does what a great Disney attraction is supposed to do. It transports you. To paraphrase Star Wars, “That’s not a ride…that’s a space station!”
The ride is amazing. It’s hectic. It’s frantic. It’s pitch black, except of course for the fantastic strobe tunnel you enter as you get “relaunched” back into space and the star field floating above. It’s a Disney masterpiece and I love everything about it.
1 – Expedition Everest – Disney’s Animal Kingdom
We return to Animal Kingdom for my number one spot. Expedition Everest pulls out all the stops for me as far as a roller coaster goes. The view of the “mountain” from across the park sucks you right in. Considering the fact that it’s not really an actual mountain range, it is actually majestic looking. As you approach the mountain the setting begins to unfold and you are clearly, as I mentioned above, transported to another place. The sheer volume of props and items in the ride’s queue just reinforce that notion. You’ve left Florida and you’re in the Himalayas. The ride itself is ingenious. As you begin the classic roller coaster ascent, you’re waiting for the big drop. Instead you reach the dead end and see torn apart tracks and then you begin your surprise plummet backwards. This coaster has everything. It’s got speed. It’s got drops and spiraling turns. It’s got incredible Disney attention to detail all throughout, and of course let’s not forget the tremendous Yeti. I’ve experienced him lunging at me in the early days and I’ve seen him bathed in strobe lights to give him the appearance of movement and either way, it’s an impressive figure. Expedition Everest is the whole package; a thrilling ride wrapped in classic Disney Imagineering creativity and that’s why it’s got the number one spot on my list.
It wasn’t as easy as I thought to construct this list. Granted there were only five coasters to choose from, so I didn’t have to leave any things out like I normally do. Still, choosing between the top three was especially difficult. I’m absolutely crazy about Space Mountain and never thought that I’d have a more favorite Disney roller coaster. Watching Everest get constructed was a tease of what was to come and when it finally opened, I couldn’t wait to check it out. Obviously, I wasn’t disappointed.
If you want more intense straightforward roller coasters then Disney is not your place. Head to someplace like Busch Gardens or Cedar Point or even Universal down the road. But to me, everything that I want in a roller coaster and everything I want in a Disney attraction all come together in my top three here. You can’t beat them and as I write this I’m less than a month away from experiencing them all again and I can’t wait.
Did I get this list right? What would you change? Click on the link below and let me hear your thoughts about your favorite Walt Disney World roller coaster and I’ll see you next time with another Disney Top 5.