Space Mountain at The Magic Kingdom is still my favorite Disney World coaster.

There’s so much great material out there about both history and what’s happening today. I love diving into the attractions and trends that shape the industry. On the other hand, it’s also just cool to throw together a fun ranked list. Disney fans love ranking the attractions in various ways, and I’m no different. Even as I write this post on coasters, I’m questioning my picks constantly.

Disney has focused more on thrill rides in recent years, but there are still only eight roller coasters across the four Walt Disney World parks. EPCOT finally has one coaster with Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, and I’ve heard great things. However, it wasn’t open yet during my last visit in March. The majority remain in The Magic Kingdom, which makes sense given its larger collection of rides. The TRON Lightcycle Power Run will add to the excitement right next to Space Mountain in Tomorrowland sometime soon. While it’s hard to say where TRON will rank, I suspect it will be a top contender.

Primeval Whirl is the lowest ranked coaster on this list and now is extinct.

EXTINCT! #8: Primeval Whirl, Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Type: Reverchon Industries Steel Spinning Wild Mouse
Pros: Takes guests away from better attractions, the spinning
Cons: Off-the-shelf spinner coaster that we see everywhere, an unpleasant ride
Best Part: Retro vibe of Dinoland is effective in the queue and lift hill especially.

One of my least favorite aspects of the latter Eisner era was off-the-shelf attractions becoming more common. It’s okay to use a familiar ride system, but the theming should go beyond my local Six Flags. I’ve ridden Pandemonium (formerly Tony Hawk’s Big Spin) at Six Flags St. Louis, and it’s an okay ride. Even so, I wouldn’t make a special trip to experience it. Primeval Whirl was a similar coaster with a modest theme placed on top of it. I liked the kitschy time-travel sets that felt like they’re out of a vintage roadside attraction, but they could only do so much. It’s not a surprise that it’s been removed from the park.

My real issue with Primeval Whirl was the uncomfortable ride. While it’s not too scary for most families, you felt ragged afterwards. Few want to spend the rest of their day hurting. Chester and Hester’s Dino-Rama has also never really clicked with me. The Animal Kingdom needs more rides, and this area helps on that front. Even so, it feels out of place because the rest of the park is so gorgeous. There are clever details and the story makes sense, but the carnival atmosphere doesn’t click. That’s way too much concrete to be part of such a lush theme park.

The Barnstormer ranks #8 out of 9 on my roller coaster rankings.

7. The Barnstormer, The Magic Kingdom

Type: Vekoma Steel Junior Coaster
Pros: Good first coaster for kids, the cut-out Goofy billboard
Cons: Painful and cramped experience for adults, queue is directly in the sun
Best Part: The first drop packs a bigger punch than you might expect.

There’s nothing wrong with having a kids’ coaster at The Magic Kingdom. It helps create multiple levels of thrills (and fear) for kids as they grow up with the parks. The Barnstormer sits comfortably inside Storybook Circus thanks to some light re-theming to include the Great Goofini. It’s an easy sell. Nestled back within the trees, it’s a fun little jaunt that’s over before you know it. That short length makes it impossible to rank the Barnstormer any higher.

The other issue with The Barnstormer is its slow loading time, which can lead to painful waits in the outdoor queue. There’s a stretch with no shade that does guests no favors in the Florida sun. An influx of Lightning Lane guests can also lead to posted wait times that underestimate the actual wait. I’ve vowed to only ride when I have a reservation in the future. My kids like it, and that’s the main reason to experience limited coasters. The cramped vehicles aren’t comfortable for full-size adults, which is a saving grace of the shorter time on this coaster.

6. Slinky Dog Dash, Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Type: Mack Rides Steel Family Launched Coaster
Pros: A smooth ride, two excellent launches, Wheezy singing at the end
Cons: Limited theming, a very warm outdoor queue with minimal shade
Best Part: The second launch is surprisingly thrilling for a family coaster.

Although it opened back in the summer of 2018, I did not experience Slinky Dog Dash until late 2019. I wasn’t that excited to experience an outdoor coaster that fell short of the theming of the best Disney thrill rides. Thankfully, I was surprised to discover that more power existed on this coaster than you might expect. There are no large drops, but several moves provide serious g-forces and speed. It’s definitely a step up from Seven Dwarfs Mine Train in the thrill department.

I appreciate that Disney went beyond just providing better-themed carnival rides in this Toy Story Land. Slinky Dog Dash is a huge step above the Zigzag Spin attraction in Paris. The difference between this coaster and the upcoming coasters is with the setting and smaller touches. Despite its bright colors and energetic atmosphere, Slinky Dog Dash is still a fairly straightforward attraction. It’s definitely worth a visit in a limited park like the Studios, and its ranking is more about the success of the coasters ahead of it.

Coasters like the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at the Magic Kingdom are so much fun and well-themed.

5. Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, The Magic Kingdom

Type: Vekoma Custom Steel Coaster
Pros: Smooth ride, a wonderful indoor section, old-school animatronics in the cottage
Cons: Long wait, short ride time, cars don’t sway very much
Best Part: The mine scenes, with updated animatronics and pitch-perfect music

The most recent addition to the Magic Kingdom’s coasters, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is an enjoyable ride for the whole family. It’s a lot smoother than its brethren in the park, and the outdoor theming is subtle yet still clicks. In particular, the drop when you exit the mine section comes together really well as you pass the waterfall. Despite the claims from Disney’s marketing before the attraction opened, the coaster vehicles don’t sway that much. That’s a minor quibble in a coaster that has enough thrills to please adults without scaring kids.

The highlight is easily the mine section, which includes striking animatronics using Disney’s recent style. I’m still a bit mixed on the screens for the faces, but they work in small doses here. The music in this scene adds a lot, particularly the “Heigh Ho!” portion as you ascend the lift hill. You’re so immersed that it’s easy to miss the fact that you’re moving upwards. The scene goes by quickly, which leads guests to want to get back in line to see it all again. The catch is that the line may stretch beyond two hours.

I could make the case that Seven Dwarfs Mine Train should be higher given its popularity, but the top four are too strong. The ride time is also quite brief at less than three minutes. I love the cottage scene at the end with the old animatronics, but you sometimes only have a few moments to enjoy it. This attraction was a great addition to The Magic Kingdom in 2014, and there are striking views from all over Fantasyland. I also love the excitement of hearing vehicles zooming around the track from different places. Even so, it falls a little short of being the type of iconic attraction that will be at the top of my list.

One of the most thrilling coasters at Walt Disney World is Rock 'n' Roller Coaster.

4. Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith, Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Type: Vekoma Steel Enclosed Launch Coaster
Pros: Incredible launch, on-ride audio, inversions, fun Hollywood sets
Cons: Short ride time, slow-moving queue, loses steam as it goes along
Best Part: The entire launch, from countdown to the takeoff

I still have clear memories of seeing the track for Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster being constructed during our May 1998 trip. Walt Disney World would have a coaster with inversions! Years passed before I finally rode this attraction, and it was worth the wait. The thrilling launch is set up so well in the queue as we see other cars soar into the night. Going 0 to 57 miles per hour in 2.8 seconds packs quite a punch, though it isn’t a rough experience.

Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster is a short ride and doesn’t even last 90 seconds, yet there’s still plenty to like. The on-board audio blasts familiar Aerosmith hits while you speed through Hollywood. It’s a cheesy storyline (stretch limos!) yet fits with the theming during the ride. Having vehicles play different Aerosmith songs adds to repeatability, and it’s loads of fun. The Hollywood Studios version is miles ahead of the now defunct Paris clone, which just used lighting effects instead of sets.

There are a few obstacles that keep this attraction from reaching the top three. The queue moves extremely slowly, and the outdoor part seems to take forever. There’s also limited theming before you enter the launch room. Finally, the inversions and speed restrict the guests that will want to experience Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. Those are all minor quibbles, however. More than 20 years after its opening, this attraction remains one of the most exciting coasters at Walt Disney World.

3. Expedition Everest, Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Type: Vekoma Custom Steel Coaster
Pros: Gorgeous setting with forced perspective, inventive track layout, clever thrills
Cons: Disco Yeti, reverse section can make you feel woozy
Best Part: The large forward hill at the front of the mountain

We’ve reached the point in this countdown where I could make the case for all three remaining options. Each one has excellent theming, creates fun thrills, and provides a unique experience. Expedition Everest is the last classic Disney attraction not connected directly to an IP. The gigantic mountain towers over the Animal Kingdom and feels much larger thanks to forced perspective. It’s interesting to note that Everest isn’t our actual destination for this trip. We’re visiting the “Forbidden Mountain”, which stands under the shadow of Everest.

What makes Expedition Everest much more than a typical coaster is the abundance of details surrounding it. The Yeti Museum in the queue offers a wealth of small touches to explore. I’ve only spent a limited time in that space because of FastPass (previously) and single-rider lines. Those are nice benefits to avoid crowds, but they do take a little away from the experience. In his book The Disney Mountains: Imagineering at its Peak, Jason Surrell describes the extensive research that Joe Rohde and his team conducted to help make this attraction a believable location. They made scouting trips into the Himalayas and even visited Xian, China to learn of the golden monkey.

The elephant in the room when praising Expedition Everest is the “Disco Yeti”, which doesn’t move like the original animatronic. It stands nearly motionless while strobe lights help simulate movement. While it’s still effective, the Yeti pales in comparison to the original version. I’m hopeful that Disney will finally make the necessary changes with Pandora open. However, the recent refurb didn’t address it at all. We don’t need the exact original, which placed too much stress on the gigantic animatronic. Even so, there has to be a middle ground that can present a more convincing Yeti to guests.

Despite the limited Yeti, there’s still plenty to love in this attraction. The backward portion offers quite a surprising effect that can mess with weak stomachs. The early portions set the stage well and give us time to acclimate to surroundings before the thrills. Finally, the big forward drop out of the mountain does not disappoint. Escaping the mountain (for a moment) offers a fun reminder that we’re still in a theme park, though we still must face the Yeti before the end.

2. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, The Magic Kingdom

Type: Walt Disney Imagineering Steel Mine Train Coaster
Pros: Excellent theming, enjoyable for most guests, fits perfectly in Frontierland
Cons: Front cars are pretty slow while back is pretty rough, limited thrills
Best Part: The opening tunnel through the bat-infested darkness

The hardest coaster to rank was Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, which has fewer thrills than Expedition Everest or Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. Even so, it outshines them in terms of pure fun. In a similar way to Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, it’s the type of ride that almost anyone can do. The attention to detail is so sharp throughout the attraction even as you fly past the sets. It says a lot that Disney would include so many touches that guests will barely see. We still sense their presence and feel reassured that everything fits together well.

A young Tony Baxter spearheaded Big Thunder on both coasts, and they remain enjoyable Disney coasters today. The design from Bill Watkins also splits up the thrills well throughout the attraction. The Monument Valley backdrop makes the Walt Disney World version feel grander, especially given its place in the corner of the park. The setting works perfectly with the rest of Frontierland and seems like it’s always been there. While neither U.S. version can compete with the incredible Paris attraction, the Florida version still has plenty of charm.

This “wildest ride in the wilderness” is actually pretty tame if you ride in front, but those cars offer a better view of each scene. The two interior lift hills (especially the last one) have plenty to offer beyond just setting up the next drop. Each small pocket of thrills also builds our anticipation as we ascend each subsequent hill. The entire attraction just works. The stunning 197-foot-high structure looms over Frontierland and is the perfect beacon for that engaging land.

1. Space Mountain, The Magic Kingdom

Type: Walt Disney Imagineering Steel Indoor Coaster
Pros: Indoor setting feels immersive, darkness enhances speed, cool effects
Cons: No on-board audio, seating arrangement can be painful
Best Part: The initial ride through the flashing lights to the lift hill

Riding Space Mountain for the first time was a definite rite of passage for me as an eight-year-old in 1984. I remember visiting with my dad late at night when the lines were gone and conquering fears to do it. Since that point, Space Mountain has always been a key part of each trip. My daughter is now thirteen, and riding it with her is a real treat. She’s a lot less afraid than I was 38 years ago. I suspect that many kids of all ages have similar stories about this attraction.

Calling Space Mountain a “wild mouse in the dark” understates its achievements. It’s one thing to put a coaster in the dark; it’s another to create an immersive experience. The ethereal music and dark setting of the queue just adds to the feeling that you’re traveling to another world. There is no clear storyline, but our mind fills in the blanks and creates a believable environment. Space Mountain opened at Walt Disney World in 1975 and remains the standard by which others are judged. John Hench’s stunning concept art created the mold for the gorgeous exterior. Serious talents like Marty Sklar, Claude Coats, and George McGinnis helped bring that vision to life.

Space Mountain doesn’t look new, but its interior seems apart from the ‘70s. While I miss the outer-space effects of earlier versions, the current ride still works. It’s darker than I remember, and the lack of light creates a greater sense of speed. I miss the on-ride audio of Disneyland’s version, but the dual coasters create a larger scope. Each is a different ride experience, and the ride feels epic inside the massive structure. After you board the coasters, the initial lighted straightaway and long queue hill build the anticipation for thrills to come. Watkins also designed Space Mountain, which was the first all-computer design for a coaster.

Unlike modern coasters like Everest, Space Mountain is still a rough ride. You can make the case that the last big refurb didn’t do enough to fix that issue with the coasters. Even so, the more hectic experience does add thrills. You feel like anything can happen even after countless rides. I still couldn’t describe the vehicles’ path on Space Mountain. Each ride feels new, and that unpredictability adds to its charm. I couldn’t imagine visiting Walt Disney World without riding Space Mountain.

Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind is one of Disney's newest coasters.

Incomplete – Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind

Type: Vekoma Enclosed Spinning Coaster
Possible Pros: Cool preshow, innovative indoor format, reverse launch
Possible Cons: Motion sickness, reliance on screens

I’ve yet to experience the first coaster at EPCOT, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, so we’ll mark this entry as incomplete at this point. Even the pros and cons are just speculation at this point. While I’ve shared concerns about this attraction’s location, I’m still excited to ride it. Even skeptics have mostly admitted that it’s a fun coaster with a lot of cool effects. It’s hard to say how much staying power Cosmic Rewind will have in the long run, but it could near the top of this list. My ranking will focus on the coaster itself, not any thoughts about whether it fits in EPCOT. Stay tuned for a future update to this coasters list!

Source: The Disney Mountains: Imagineering at Its Peak by Jason Surrell

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Big Thunder Mountain Railroad still one of the great coasters at Walt Disney World.

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