The Best Rides at Magic Kingdom You Gotta Experience ASAP

In this article, I’m going to provide you with several of my favorite rides at the great Magic Kingdom. Hopefully it will help you best determine which attraction to prioritize with a FastPass reservation—and which rides you can wait in the normal standby line.

The fact is, you have to have a bit of a plan when you head to the Magic Kingdom.  Why?  Because it’s easily the best Disney park for kids, which means you can expect a decent sized crowd, especially if you go on busy months (see our tips for avoiding Disney crowds here).

So, without any further ado, let’s get to it. 

The Best Magic Kingdom Rides

15) Captain Jack Sparrow’s Pirate Tutorial

Pirates of the Caribbean” by HarshLight licensed under CC BY 2.0

Hands-down, one of the coolest thing I’ve ever seen at Magic Kingdom.  While Depp himself has made several appearances at the Disney parks, the Magic Kingdom has hired a few men who, with the right make-up, are Jack Sparrow. 

And Sparrow teaches your kids how to swordfight.

This interactive show, which takes place right outside the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, lasts about ten minutes, usually involves five or six kids, and features everyone’s favorite swashbuckling pirate giving tutorials on how best to fight by running away from a challenge.

14) The Hall of Presidents

Ever wished you could hear Abe Lincoln speak?  Wonder what Lincoln would say about our current state of the Union?  The Hall of Presidents attempts to do just this:  give us a glimpse into the hearts and minds of presidents of days past. 

Using state-of-the-art animatronics, Disney brings to life 40+ presidents who have, in their own times, led our country.   This one may not be as thrilling for the smaller kids, but it’s an interesting – and insightful – look at our nation’s history.

Well, the Disney-fied version of history, at least.

13) Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover

Yes, this is mostly just a tram that tours Tomorrowland.  No, it doesn’t go fast, it doesn’t go up and down hills, it doesn’t even have flashing lights.  It does, however, do three very important things.  First, it gets you out of the hot Florida sun.  This is especially useful if you’re visiting in the summer/warmer months. 

You know, March 1st to April 29th

The second thing it does is it lets you sit . . . without sitting on a bench in the hot Florida sun.  The third part is what makes it so interesting, and that is you get a really cool tour of Tomorrowland. 

While the tour itself is only ten minutes long, it takes you through a covered track over the rides and attractions of Tomorrowland, allowing you a bird’s-eye view of that section of the park.  And the coolest part?  Part of the track runs through Space Mountain, giving you a different vantage point of one of Disney’s most popular rides.    It may not be the most exhilarating ride, but it is definitely worth a look.

12) Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress

This photo was taken by Michael for Countdown to Magic

“It’s a great big beautiful tomorrow! . . .” 

Yes, that song will get stuck in your head for the rest of the day (possibly a few weeks), and, no, it doesn’t feature any snappy special effects or plummeting, gut-wrenching drops, but it’s a neat look at both the past and the future.  One of the first rides ever designed by Walt Disney himself, the Carousel of Progress is a revolving theater (literally, a carousel) that chronicles the technology of daily life from 1900, on into the speculative fiction of tomorrow’s possibilities. 

Filled with interesting tidbits of history, the Carousel of Progress remains one of Disney World’s most beloved attractions (did you know, for example, that root beer and sarsaparilla are the same thing?).

11) Jungle River Cruise

Magic Kingdom Resort Hotels
This photo was taken by Michael for Countdown to Magic

Yeah, yeah . . . most people hate this, I know.  Or at least, they have grown tired of it because it seems the cast members either really dislike their job, or just do an excellent job at making US believe they hate their job.

But, you know, everyone needs to ride it at least once.  It’s almost a rite of passage, I think, to go to Magic Kingdom and ride the Jungle River Cruise.  Yes, the script is corny, yes the animals are . . . less than realistic, but it’s the Jungle River Cruise!  Rowr!

10) Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

Over hills, through canyons, past an abandoned mining town . . . the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, even if not the most intense of roller coasters, is still a spectacular ride.  You know, one of its most endearing qualities is the fact that it remains a fun ride, even without the loops, corkscrews, and flashing lights of modern coasters. 

9) Peter Pan’s Flight

This ride has been refurbished since I last rode it, with a new, interactive queue and everything.  With that being said, however, the pre-furbished version (see what I did there?) was pretty neat. 

You board flying pirate ships, which take you through the Darling nursery, over the Thames, past Big Ben, and on to Neverland, where you swoop and fly over lagoons, rainbows, mermaids, and every manner of swashbuckling pirate shenanigans and spritely impish, aeronautics.  It’s like flying through a series of Peter Pan-themed dioramas. 

8) Meet Tinker Bell at Town Square

After riding Peter Pan’s Flight, your kids will probably want to meet Tinker Bell.  And, to be honest, she’s pretty awesome.  The cast member who plays her is a spunky, bubbly, chatterbox, who embodies everything tink-ish (and bell-ish) about Tinker Bell. 

In fact, the cast member who attends to the guests as they wait to meet her responded, when asked if the pixie was always this bubbly, answered with an exasperated, “Oh, yes.  It never stops.”  The real treat, though, is the setting. 

Since Tinker Bell is, of course, a fairy, meeting her as a human in a human-sized world would make no sense.  So they surrounded her with large versions of small human things:  a playing card that stands some 5’6”, a chair-sized spool of thread, some alarmingly large acorn caps, etc.  Meanwhile you, as the guest, find yourself winding through the queue in a rather . . . magical fashion. 

Everything starts out normally, but as you progress, the bricks on the wall start getting larger, flashing LED “pixie dust” lights start shimmering around you more often, then the grass, which lines the wall in areas as a hedge (remember, you’re in London), starts getting taller and taller, until you find yourself a pint-sized visitor to the home of Tinker Bell (and sometimes her friend, Vidia). 

The reason this made the list is not that I’m a huge Tinker Bell fan (I’m not), or that meeting characters from the movies is that exciting (‘cause it isn’t), it’s that most places would have simply had you meet a large Tinker Bell, and move on.  But Disney took the time to think through the problem of scale, and so instead of meeting a large Tinker Bell, you shrink to her size.

7) Cinderella’s Castle

This photo was taken by Michael for Countdown to Magic

Okay, so I included this as if it’s possible to avoid Cinderella’s Castle on a trip to the Magic Kingdom; it’s right in the middle of the park, and it’s the main thoroughfare from Main Street U.S.A. (the entrance) to Fantasyland (a large portion of the rides). 

While it’s certainly possible to walk around the castle…ummm…don’t.  Just go through/under it -– it’s pretty cool.  First of all, the architecture is actually pretty amazing.  Modeled after Neuschwanstein Castle, it’s imposing, yet still graceful, edifice towers above you, while gothic arches and elaborate carvings meet your eye at every turn. 

The central walkway – which moves through the castle under vaulted ceilings – is decorated with murals depicting the story of Cinderella.  Each of the murals is made of colored glass, and – so not making this up – 14-karat gold. 

Mind.  Blown.

Oh, and in case you haven’t heard, there’s a special suite at the top of the castle where lucky guests can spend a night.  But it’s, more or less, invitation only, so I wouldn’t get your hopes up. 

6) Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin

I grew up on video games.  And Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin is a gigantic, full-immersion video game.  You sit in a car armed with special “Space Ranger Canons” (literally, laser guns).   As your car moves through the galaxy, it’s your job to shoot as many aliens, evil robots, and, ultimately, Zurg as you can before the ride is finished. 

Laser tag on crack.

It’s reminiscent of Toy Story Mania over at Hollywood Studios and, while I prefer the Toy Story version, this one is still a lot of fun.   

5) Pirates of the Caribbean

A trip to Disney (any of the parks) without a ride on Pirates of the Caribbean is like Christmas without a tree, or lights, or cookies.  It’s like Hannukah without a menorah.   And why not?  It is, after all, the ride that inspired a highly-successful, multi-billion dollar film franchise, starring one of the quirkiest actors of our time. 

The only drawback, in my opinion, is that the Magic Kingdom version has been over-Sparrowed.  It turns out that, since they couldn’t add a bunch of new scenes without a major overhaul of the entire ride, they just sort of snuck Sparrow in wherever they could:  he pops out of a barrel, he’s lurking around a corner, and so one.  Sometimes it works, other times it feels forced.  That said, however, it’s still a great ride (pay careful attention to the sky during the nighttime battle sequence).

4) Haunted Mansion

This makes all other haunted houses look, technologically-speaking, like an elementary school play.  It’s not the scariest of haunted houses, to be sure, but the magic behind it is awesome (although it’s still scary enough that your wee little ones may not want to go on it). 

Even today, with all the computer animation and special effects wizardry we have all around us, a simple thing like dancing animatronics can still amaze.   If you have never seen the ballroom scene, you are in for a real treat.  Oh, and take the time to go through the longer queue, and stop and play with the stuff for a bit.  Trust me.  All of these elements come together to make this ride, still, one of the best Disney World rides.

3) Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor

Over at EPCOT, you and your kids can talk to Crush.  Here, you can judge a stand-up comedy competition between several denizens of Monstropolis.   There are two awesome aspects of this.  The first is that the screen on which the monsters appear looks as if it is a real stage.  This means that when the animated monsters appear, it appears as if they are real monsters, standing on a real stage, in real life. 

The second cool aspect of it is that there is a good deal of audience participation – especially from Roz, who is the M.C. – and audience members are often part of running jokes.  If you want to laugh at people, and perhaps be laughed at yourself, this is a fun time.

2) Space Mountain

This photo was taken by Michael for Countdown to Magic

Forida’s oldest roller coaster, Space Mountain was one of Walt Disney’s last projects.  While his death postponed its development and opening for nearly a decade, Space Mountain now remains one of the focal points of The Magic Kingdom. 

It operates in near-complete darkness, although there have been some very lucky guests over time that have been able to experience Space Mountain with the lights on. 

You won’t deal with any super serious drops on this roller coaster, but because it takes place in darkness, the fear of a massive drop probably makes this one of the most thrilling and seemingly scary coasters around.

1) Splash Mountain/Tiana’s Bayou Adventure

This is a water ride (in case the “Splash” part of the name wasn’t clear), and you will get wet.  Maybe not drenched, but prepare for your clothes to be a little damp once the ride is over. 

Splash Mountain is themed after the often-forgotten Song of the South, a movie that it seems Disney would just as soon pretend didn’t exist (and is why this attraction will soon be transformed into Tiana’s Bayou Adventure). 

With that said, winding your way through the story and adventures of Br’er Rabbit is pretty fun.  It’s an age appropriate attraction for kids of all ages (although there’s a height requirement of at least 38”), but just know that the climax of this ride is when your log flume vehicle goes down a 50 foot drop.

So, if you’re into drops and enjoy getting a little wet on rides, this is the attraction for you.

So there you have it, my top attractions at the Magic Kingdom.  Some of them are a given, I know, but I hope a few of them surprised you.  I know most people don’t willingly ride the PeopleMover, because it sounds boring, but it’s worth the time.   And if you have kids, meeting Tinker Bell is fun, if nothing more than for the clever way they have staged it.

Oh, and, hey, if you have any rides and shows you wish had shown up here, let us know!  We’d be happy to hear what you have to say!  Even though you’re probably wrong.

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