My Disney Top 5 - Walt Disney World E Ticket Attractionsby Chris Barry, contributing writer
Walt Disney World, as per Walt's direction and vision, is constantly evolving and changing. We've seen many new additions over the years that have transformed the Disney World landscape both literally and figuratively. As I write this Disney's Hollywood Studios is undergoing a massive change that will render the place borderline unrecognizable to its former self. I, for one, can't wait to see the results of that particular change. However, some of us out there would rather have things stay the same. We lament the losses of our favorite rides and attractions like they were lost old friends, because to many of us they are.
However, the change that has come to Walt Disney World over the decades has been predominantly good. We can all argue over the merits and demerits of systems like Fastpass+ or the Disney Dining Plan and what it has done to the spontaneity factor, but let's focus on the core of the Walt Disney World experience—the attractions.
When I sat down to tackle this particular Top 5 list, one that would try to list the top super headliner attractions, I referred back to the old Disney ticket system that was in place at Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Most of us know of the old alphabet ticket system but for the uninitiated, suffice it to say that Disney attractions were "graded" on an A through E scale. An A ticket attraction was something simple like the Main Street Vehicles. Dumbo and Peter Pan's Flight were both considered C tickets. The E ticket moniker was saved for the best of the best, the top of the list. They were the grandest attractions that Disney had to offer.
So what was considered an E ticket in the early days of Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom? While most of you could buy Jungle Cruise, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea and The Haunted Mansion as the best the park had to offer, how about "it's a small world" or Tropical Serenade, the precursor to today's Enchanted Tiki Room? I'm a huge fan of "it's a small world" and yes, I actually find the song endearing, but if you consider the fact that a ride like "it's a small world" was considered among the top draws of the whole park, perhaps you can see where I'm going with this story in regards to positive change. The rides and attractions that would be considered E tickets these days have far surpassed that experience that awaited early Walt Disney World visitors.
So, essentially what I'm talking about here today are the best of the best of the best. These are the crème of the Disney crop, the biggest attractions in every sense of the word. The ticket books may have gone away for good, but the top designation still remains. If something is an E ticket, it's the best in its class. Nowadays there are a lot more than five super headliner attractions, but as always, this is a column of lists. Let's take a look at what I think would qualify for my Top 5 Walt Disney World E Ticket Attractions.
5 – The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
I'm pretty sure I've already lost some of you by putting this Hollywood Studios super attraction at the bottom of my list. Trust me, this was a hard list to compose. No doubt, the Tower of Terror is an amazing experience. It encapsulates exactly what it means to be a Disney attraction. It's immersive. It's grand in scale. It's multi-sensory. The queue is a stunning example of Disney's legendary attention to detail.
The opening of the Sunset Showcase at Disney's Hollywood Studios provides a dramatic new angle from which to view the Tower of Terror. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.
At its core, the Tower of Terror took a simple amusement park staple, the "drop ride," and to borrow a This is Spinal Tap reference, turned it up to 11. Disney took a ride that everyone else does and made it something truly amazing. The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror personifies the often-used term, the Disney difference.
4 – Expedition Everest
I'm a coaster fanatic. I'm pretty sure I could ride a roller coaster once a day and call that a happy, normal life. I don't discriminate either. I can ride a classic rickety wood beast from the old days and be just as elated as when I tackle one of the super-slick, steel behemoths that populate America's amusement parks these days. Both are equally as thrilling to me. A Disney coaster typically has that extra special something about it though.
The crown of Disney's Animal Kingdom is Expedition Everest. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
Expedition Everest at Disney's Animal Kingdom is about as perfect a coaster experience as I've ever found. It combines the classic ups and downs of a tried and true roller coaster with the theming and extra special touches that Disney is rightfully heralded for. The area surrounding Everest, the fictional town of Serka Zong, is an attraction unto itself as is the queue, probably the most immersive and well-propped queue on Disney property.
The ride itself is a total blast full of unexpected twists, turns, and drops. The Yeti animatronic hasn't worked exactly right for quite some time now, but to be perfectly honest, that's never really bothered me. To quote my Dad, the one that got me into roller coasters in the first place, as we exited Everest on his first experience, "That was awesome!" When I asked him what he thought of the giant Yeti, his response was, "There was a giant Yeti?" Everest delivers on all counts and is definitely one of Disney's all time top E ticket attractions.
3 – Test Track
The popular Test Track in Epcot's Future World always draws a big crowd. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.
What typically sets Disney apart from the crowd is innovation. Walt Disney Imagineering has been known for stretching the boundaries of theme park and attraction design for more than half a century. Test Track took the basic rush of speed associated with roller coasters and through innovation and technology married it to the American love of the automobile for a new type of thrill ride and the results were pretty amazing.
Test Track is different and uniquely Disney. The recent reimagining of the attraction and its newer interactive developments only made it that much more distinct and different. It's become a highlight of our trips to Walt Disney World and there's really nothing else quite like it anywhere.
2 – Space Mountain
Space Mountain brought out of this world thrills to the Magic Kingdom. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
I think Tomorrowland's Space Mountain is the grandest of all Disney roller coasters. For one, it's an absolutely stunning piece of architecture. How many theme park attractions, even Disney attractions, can you actually say that about? I get so excited just approaching the darn thing. I'm drawn to it as I walk through Tomorrowland. The anticipation builds and I know, as I get closer and closer that I'm in for something special.
The queue only reinforces that feeling. I really feel like I've stepped onto the starship Enterprise or something else from a classic piece of science fiction. It's not the fastest or craziest coaster by a long shot, but it doesn't need to be. The darkness, the sound effects, and the atmosphere really do make me feel like I've blasted off on some sort of otherworldly adventure.
1 – Splash Mountain
It may come as a surprise to many of you that this landed in my number one spot, but hear me out. To me, Splash Mountain is the ultimate Disney attraction. The combination of beloved characters from my childhood, classic Disney music, amazing attention to detail, and outright fun make this the top E ticket attraction in my book. It's a masterpiece of design.
Splash Mountain provides a serious laughing place for thrill seekers. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
What always gets me is the length of the ride. It's long. It really takes a while to unfold, as any good story should. Once again, Disney took something that virtually every amusement park has, a flume ride, and turned it into a whole other fantastic experience; in my opinion, that's what makes it the current and reigning number one E ticket attraction at Walt Disney World. It's Disney at its best.
So, I think it's fair to say that Walt Disney World has come a long way over the years in regards to what are considered their top tier attractions. If you also consider that Big Thunder Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, Mission Space, Spaceship Earth, Soarin' Around the World, Toy Story Mania, and the Rock n Roller Coaster could all also be considered E ticket attractions, it's safe to say that this is one area where change at Disney has reaped extraordinary results. I'm not knocking them, because they have a special place in my Disney heart, but the tiki birds were once an E ticket attraction. They were the best that Disney had to offer and for their time, they were a pretty big sensation. However, as Walt Disney World has grown and the Imagineers have continued to punch further and further through the ceiling of creativity, the very notion of what is and what might not be an E ticket attraction has changed as well.
What do we have to look forward to next? Did a ride as advanced as Test Track push Haunted Mansion off the E ticket list? Hard to say. Will something from the Star Wars Experience or Pandora push the limits even further and make us rethink a list like this one? I hope so because then Walt's words of wisdom that the park "will never be completed as long as there is imagination left in the world" will continue to ring true for all of us and for generations to come.
Wow, Chris, as much as I enjoy your articles, I am amazed that you have gotten it all so wrong in this one. How dare you be so subjective, lol.
In all honesty, I think you nailed most of the rides that deserve to be in a top 5 E Ticket attractions list, but I would argue that Rockin' Rollercoaster and 7 Dwarves Mine Train deserve a mention, as well as Thunder Mountain RR (Toy Story Midway Mania as well, and where is Soarin'?)
My official top 5 E Ticket Rides, based on my level of disappointment if I had to miss riding one during a visit:
4) 7 Dwarves Mine Train;
3) Toy Story Midway Mania;
2) Test Track
1) Tower of Terror
I left out Expedition Everest because of the Yeti and because I'm "old" and have lost the ability to enjoy extreme rides
In the end, thankfully, there are so many great rides at WDW that a top 5 just isn't enough. My list leaves out so many great rides that I would hate to miss: RRRC, the triple-mountain whammy, Star Tours, the Safari, and others that I have probably forgotten.
As always, an excellent article, Chris; keep 'em coming.
For me it would have to be the following
1a. Expedition Everest
1b. Splash Mountain
2. Kilimanjaro Safari
3. Star Tours
4. Rockin Roller coaster
Disney really didn't take a flume ride that everyone else had and turn it into Splash Mountain. The first themed log flume ride was the now-classic Timber Mountain Log Flume at Knott's Berry Farm near Disneyland, which opened in 1969 and had its own audio-animatronic-like characters. The copycat, un-themed log flumes in the United States are based on that ride.
Disney didn't like that a competing park had a ride you'd expect to see at Disneyland, so they eventually decided to top Knott's and Imagineered Splash Mountain at Disneyland. Then they decided to top the Disneyland version, and copied it at Magic Kingdom with better story-telling in the bayou scene and more comfortable logs. (And changed the orchestration from a New Orleans jazz band to a Western string band.)
So really, DL's is a topper of KBF's, MK's is a topper of DL's, and the park that originally decided to put a theme on a log flume in the first place was KBF, not Disney.
My only complaint with this list is Test Track. I found it to be quite underwhelming and was missing the magic. That is what I love about its DCA counterpart, Radiator Springs Racers. It has the speed of Test Track, combined with the magic of Disney.
I would put Star Tours on the list, at number 1.
Everyone's top five will be slightly different, but I also have to admit that Test Track would be far from my top 5. While I understand the lure of "speed", I can't ever shake the knowledge that I drove just as fast or even slightly faster on stretches of highway on the way down to the parks. 65 in a car just isn't an e-ticket attraction to me.
Here's my top 5 "E-ticket" rides:
1) Tower of Terror (just pure fun)
2) Soarin' (amazes me every time, and the new version took it to a new level)
3) Splash Mountain (I love this ride and it would be higher on my list, but it's SO uneven on how wet you get each ride - a single ride can spoil your day, especially on cooler days)
4) Toy Story Mania (so many memories on this one of competing for the "family championship" and rubbing aching shoulders afterwards)
5) Space Mountain (nicely executed thrill ride in the dark)
Jerm, I saw your comment after I made my comments above about Test Track. I couldn't agree more - going 65mph in a "speed test" just isn't "E-Ticket" to me, but going fast while being fully immersed in the world of "Cars" is. The theming makes the ride.
Totally agree with Splash MT being number one. The thrill, the story, the splash....it's a perfect combination! Now if we could get Disney to release Song of the South on bluray, my life would be complete.
I enjoyed the article but for me I'm going to expand to top 5 E ticket attractions coast to coast.
1) HyperSpace Mountain at Disneyland (Fantastic Theming and a Great Sound Track)
2) Tower of Terror at Hollywood Studios (It's again all about the theming)
3) Radiator Springs Racers (Speed, Waterfall, Competition, and theming)
4) Splash Mountain at The Magic Kingdom
5) Indiana Jones Temple of the Forbidden Eye
This was a tough one for sure. I had a tough time narrowing it down and leaving certain ones off was hard, but as I said in the end, it's got to be a Top 5.
I like your methodology though, "level of disappointment," good strategy! I'd rather not miss any of them when I'm down there and I try not to.
Thanks for always reading and for the kind words.
I've often thought of having tie scores Tony, your top two rides are pretty awesome.
Old is a state of mind Pete.
Nice bit of history there Mike. Perhaps i should amend my statement and say that Disney created the "ultimate flume ride?"
I'm quite sure that I would absolutely love Radiator Springs Racers. Can't wait to make it out there and see it. But I still love Test Track!
Great list and great descriptions. Thanks for contributing to the discussion!
I have a Song of the South PAL VHS tape from England, official release, not a bootleg. Back when I purchased it, I actually had access to a universal deck that could convert from PAL. The lengths we go to just to watch this classic film!
Thanks for mixing it up. Great idea.
My glass half empty comments :-)
Test track, I liked the original theme, not sure I care for it today. If they had added theming to the outside loop that would have pushed it up a notch for me.
I really liked Expedition Everest the first time we rode it. Going back and trying it again I decided I could do without going backwards.
Space Mountain WDW one of the worst roller coasters I have ever been on. I have ridden old time beat you up wooden monoliths that are easier on your body than SM is. IF they had rejuvenated it as they did the one at DLR it would be one of my top 5, even my son who is as big a roller coaster fanatic as I am will not ride it anymore either.