Welcome to the wonderful world of Disney Park dark rides! Dark rides are a unique and sometimes thrilling type of a attraction that put riders in the middle of a story! Disney parks were built on the backs of dark rides, and many are still considered to be the most prime examples of Disney classics.
One reason that dark rides are such a popular choice for families is how they can make kids feel like they’re a part of the story as they ride along with their favorite characters, creating unforgettable memories for the whole family. Plus, dark rides are a great way to take a break from the heat and crowds!
So whether you’re a Disney fanatic or just looking for a fun adventure with your family, Disney Park dark rides are sure to deliver. From classic attractions like Peter Pan’s Flight and It’s a Small World to newer attractions like Rise of the Resistance there’s a dark ride for every age and interest. So come along and join the fun!
What are Disney Park Dark Rides?
Dark rides are indoor amusement park rides that take visitors through a dark, or low-light environment. They typically use animatronics, special effects, and music to create an immersive experience. And these rides have been a staple of Disney Parks since the very beginning of Disneyland in California! They’ve become synonymous with the brand’s unique storytelling approach and immersive theming.
History of Dark Rides at Disney
The history of dark rides at Disney Parks dates back to the early 1950s Disneyland park first opened. Walt Disney, wanted to offer visitors a unique and immersive experience that was different from traditional amusement park rides. He envisioned dark rides, as a way to take visitors on a journey through a fantastical world, and immerse them in a story that they could interact with and be a part of.
Over the years, the parks have developed new technologies and storylines to create more engaging and fully immersive experiences. Today, dark rides come in a variety of types and themes, from classic fairy tales and animated movies to space adventures and journeys through time.
Some of the most common types of dark rides at Disney Parks include:
Omnimover Rides – slow-moving rides that use a continuous chain of cars, allowing visitors to get on and off the ride while it’s still in motion. Both The Haunted Mansion and Spaceship Earth are omnimover rides.
Boat Rides – take visitors on a journey through water and often feature animatronic characters and immersive theming, such as with Pirates of the Caribbean and It’s a Small World.
Track Rides – use a track-based system often featuring dips, turns, and special effects. Examples include Peter Pan’s Flight and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.
Shooter Rides – these interactive rides allow visitors to shoot at targets from the ride vehicle, often with the ability to compete against others like with Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters and Toy Story Midway Mania.
The Top Disney Park Dark Rides for Families
Here are our favorite dark rides for families across all Disney Parks in the world:
Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway
Found at: Disneyland, Magic Kingdom
I had real low expectations for this one, but it’s managed to sneak it’s way to the top of our list (and my heart)! Runaway Railway is a brand new ride in the parks on both costs. I don’t want to give too much away, because the surprise is half the fun, but it’s guaranteed to be a good time for everyone in your group!
Peter Pan’s Flight
Found at: Disneyland, Magic Kingdom, Shanghai Disneyland, Tokyo Disneyland
This classic ride takes visitors on a trip over the rooftops of London and into the magical world of Neverland. Fly with Peter Pan and the Darling children as they battle Captain Hook and his crew.
Pirates of the Caribbean
Found at: Disneyland, Magic Kingdom, Disneyland Paris, Tokyo Disneyland, Shanghai Disneyland
POTC is a boat ride that takes you through the high seas, encountering pirates, skeletons, and treasure along the way. See how many Jack Sparrow animatronics you kind find while singing along to “Yo Ho A Pirate’s Life for Me!” And watch out for the surprise drops.
The Haunted Mansion
Found at: Disneyland, Magic Kingdom, Disneyland Paris
A true cult classic, this spooky ride takes visitors on a tour through a haunted mansion, encountering ghosts and ghouls along the way. This one might be a bit too scary for younger children (yup, that was me crying at 6 years old because I just had to get my mom to take me with her).
If you’re a big fan of The Haunted Mansion in it’s classic form, you’ll want to try and make to Disneyland for their Nightmare Before Christmas overlay (Septmeber – January). Or Tokyo Disney, to see an original take on this classic called Mystic Manor.
It’s a Small World
Found at: Disneyland, Magic Kingdom, Disneyland Paris, Tokyo Disneyland, Hong Kong Disneyland
There’s no dark ride quite as iconic as It’s a Small World, it’s one of Disney’s first foreyes into this type of attraction and has been beloved ever since. But, this classic attraction didn’t make it’s debut in a Disney park at all. In fact, it was first presented to the public at the New York World’s Fair in 1964!
Truely, no visit to a Dinsey park is complete with a trip around the (small) world. Even if the song will be stuck in you’re head all day. (You’re singing it now, aren’t you?)
Enchanted Tale of Beauty and the Beast
Found at: Tokyo Disneyland
One of the newest dark rides in Disney’s collection, and arguably the best. Enchanted Tale of Beauty and the Beast is the debut attraction for a new generation of dark rides – trackless. Ride vehicles for this attraction move with complete autonomy and have full flexibility to take you through unexpected twists and turns, making each ride a unique experience. You’ll board a teacup that dances through “Be Our Guest” and spins circles around Belle and her Beast as they meet in the ballroom during “Tale as Old as TIme.”
Toy Story Midway Mania
Found at: Disney California Adventure, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Tokyo DisneySea
One of the few Interactive dark rides, Toy Story Midway Mania is a must-do for all families but especially those with gamers in the group. Up to (4) guests will board a ride vehicle, each with their own toy shooter operated by a pull string. You’ll aim and fire away at a variety of larger than life carnival games as you wind through the 8 minute attraction.
Expect to face long standby lines for this one. Look to Genie+ and rope dropping to combat the wait, or grab a snack and embrace the wait as quality time together. Be sure to check our guide on what to do in long queues!
The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure
Found at: Disney California Adventure, Magic Kingdom, Tokyo DisneySea
Of all the rides on this list, The Littler Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure is my absolute favorite. Maybe it’s the 90’s nostalgia running through my millennial blood. But there is nothing better than turning the corner to see a room opening to a massive “Under the Sea” party. There are some special effects and impressive animatronics on this ride, but the real magic is the chronological story telling and bubbling atmosphere.
Bonus points to this dark ride for families, as there is almost never a line. A great option to duck into between Genie+ reservations, or to escape the crowds on the street for a few minutes.
Frozen Ever After
Found at: Epcot
A family favorite that is bound to be a hit for anyone under the age of 16. Even if it makes those of us over 30 roll our eyes (I’m not the only one right?). Frozen Ever After is a great dark ride for the full family, with characters that younger kids will like and exciting track features (watch out for that backward drop!) for teens and adults. It’s one of the best attractions in Epcot, and has the line to prove it.
You’ll want to rope drop this one, or check out our tips to take advantage of Genie+ here.
Tips for Riding Disney Park Dark Rides with Kids
Traveling with kids requires a lot of planning and preparation, from verify a restaurant has the one dish your toddler find acceptable this week to packing enough swim diapers. And it doesn’t stop at the rides. Follow our tips below to keep the kids (and adults) get to have a great time.
Plan ahead for wait times
Dark rides are popular with families and can often have long wait times, especially during peak season. Use mobile apps to keep track of wait times and plan your schedule accordingly. Consider purchasing Genie+ if your budget will allow or rope dropping if you’re not dealing with too much jetlag.
Prepare children for the ride experience
For some children, the darkness, special effects, and animatronics of dark rides can be overwhelming. Prepare them for the ride experience by watching ride videos, reading descriptions, and discussing what to expect.
Pay attention to ride restrictions and warnings
Most dark rides have height and age restrictions, as well as warnings about loud noises, dark environments, and sudden drops. Be sure to pay attention to these warnings and follow them for the safety and comfort of your family.
Consider rider swap
For families with younger children who do not meet the height requirements, consider rider swap. Which allows one adult to wait with the child while the other rides the attraction. After the first rider is finished, the adults can switch roles. Allowing both to experience the ride without having to wait in line twice.
Dark rides are a great option for families at Disney Parks, providing a thrilling and immersive experience to enjoy together. With the right planning and preparation, families can create lasting memories while exploring the magical worlds of Disney.
We hope this guide has been helpful for you in planning you next family trip to Disney. If you have a favorite dark ride that we didn’t mention or any other tips to share, we would love to hear from you! Please leave a comment below or share this post with your fellow Disney fans.