One of the best things about Disney World attractions are the immersive experiences and environments. Depending on the attraction, you can feel exactly as though you have entered a haunted mansion, have stumbled into a Caribbean town ravaged by pirates, or are escaping a Yeti at high speeds through the Himalayan mountains. Lately, Disney has excelled at tying their attractions to movies; now, along with original storylines, you can relive your favorite Disney movies and songs while on the ride. With attractions tied to Ratatouille, Guardians of the Galaxy, Tron, and Star Wars on the horizon, experiencing movie magic at Disney is bound to get more exciting!
8 – Frozen Ever After
When heading on Frozen Ever After, you enter the queue and immediately find yourself in the town of Arendelle. Banners everywhere explain to guests that Queen Elsa has declared today a “Summer Snow Day,” and that everyone is invited to her ice palace. You see a sign advertising the services for the royal ice master and deliverer of Arendelle (also known as Kristoff), and pass through Wandering Oaken’s Trading Post, where you can see Oaken himself calling “Yoo-Hoo!” and clearing steam from his sauna window. There can be no mistake that you’re definitely in Elsa and Anna’s kingdom.
Once you board the attraction, you pass through a sparkling snowy forest, a Troll Valley, up to the North Mountain and to gates of the ice palace, where Elsa gives guests a show-stopping welcome. The songs and sets are enough to make you feel as though you are really gliding through scenes from the film, but the Audio-Animatronics really give the experience its authenticity. Olaf approaches your boat with wide-eyed expressions and ice skates around the palace. Elsa belts out “Let It Go” as she gesticulates with her arms. These characters truly come alive, making the whole attraction delightfully immersive.
7 – Peter Pan’s Flight
This attraction and film are classics for a reason. Who wouldn’t want to pass up a chance to escape to Neverland and never grow up? For a brief three minutes, you can visit that second star to the right as you board a flying pirate ship and sail past classic scenes from the film. Guests can wave goodbye to Nana as they leave the Darling nursery, gaze over the top of the London skyline, and then fly across Neverland itself, encountering Captain Hook, Peter Pan, Wendy, and the Lost Boys. No matter how old you are, or whether or not you travel with kids, this attraction will never fail to fill you with pixie dust and happy thoughts.
6 – Enchanted Tales With Belle
Enchanted Tales with Belle is a fun storytelling experience that really makes you feel as though you’ve stepped into the world of Beauty and the Beast. It’s a show that’s part interactive, part character meet and greet, and it begins with guests entering Maurice’s workshop. You can see some of his past inventions, paintings of Belle as a child with her mother, and markings on the walls that used to track Belle’s height. I love this queue; not only do guests get to relive the film, but you also get to see a bit of Belle’s backstory.
The coolest thing in Maurice’s cottage is a mirror, which magically transforms into a doorway leading to the Beast’s castle (this is still one of the best effects I’ve ever seen). Once in the castle, guests get to meet Belle and help retell the story of the night her and the Beast fell in love. You’ll encounter the talking wardrobe, and then step into the castle library. It is here where you’ll see Lumiere, the enchanted candelabra who sits atop the fireplace, talk and move. Once Belle arrives, it’s hard to imagine that you’re not really in an enchanted castle. Though this experience is geared more toward younger guests, the special effects and Audio-Animatronics definitely make this a great attraction for all fans of Beauty and the Beast.
5 – Star Tours: The Adventures Continue
If you really want to feel transported to a galaxy far, far away, Star Tours is an amazing adventure that can provide that exact feeling. As with all immersive attractions based on films, the magic begins in the queue. I enjoy the Star Tours queue more than any other, as there is so much to look at- robots who crack jokes in front of guests, parts and models of Starspeeders on display, and screens that show all the destinations offered at this departure bay for intergalactic travel.
Once you board your own Starspeeder and don your 3D glasses, you’re joined by C3PO as your reluctant pilot, and you’re off on an unpredictable journey. There are over fifty different combinations of destinations (from all the Star Wars films) and transition scenes, so it’s almost impossible to get the same ride twice. No matter your flight path, however, rebel spies will always be discovered lurking amongst the passengers, and you’ll travel to distant planets in order to avoid certain catastrophe. Riding Star Tours is a great way to experience different corners and characters from the Star Wars universe!
4 – The Seas With Nemo and Friends
There’s no better place to hang out with the characters from Finding Nemo than at The Seas pavilion in Epcot, which contains a 5.7-million-gallon saltwater tank full of real-life sea creatures. The tone of the attraction is playful and colorful; guests set out on a clamshell to once again help find Nemo, who has wandered off from his school group. As the ride progresses, you can spot the giggling clownfish hiding out from Bruce the shark and swimming with Crush down the East Australian Current. Of course, Dory and Marlin help the search as well! The best part of this attraction is the finale, where the animated characters are projected onto the glass of the aquarium. During these scenes, Nemo and his friends look like they are actually swimming next to the tank’s genuine fish, dolphins, sea turtles, and manta rays. It’s an amazing combination of virtual reality and, well, actual reality! It makes the world of Finding Nemo truly come alive.
3 – Toy Story Mania
Toy Story Land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is a wonderful, immersive new land that really makes you feel as though you’ve shrunk down to the size of a toy. To heighten the experience, Toy Story Mania, one of the main attractions inside the land, lets you interact with these toys through virtual, classic midway games. With all the Toy Story characters guiding you, guests whirl through the attraction and use spring-action shooters to tackle 3D targets and earn points.
Aside from the actual attraction, just walking into the building is enough to make you feel as though you’ve entered Andy’s bedroom from the film. There are super-sized board games, crayons, Lincoln Logs, Viewmaster reels, and Little Golden Books, among other retro decorations. A highlight of the queue is the Audio-Animatronic Mr. Potato Head, who sings and tells jokes for the guests. Once on the ride and playing the games, you can feel additional effects, like puffs of air when objects spin past, or a spray of water after popping a water balloon. I always leave this attraction smiling from ear to ear, and it’s perfect for any guest who loves the Toy Story films.
2 – Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid
Every time I walk by Prince Eric’s castle in Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom, I know I’m about to lose myself in the world of The Little Mermaid. The outdoor queue and the surrounding area is simply beautiful. Before guests reach the castle and loading area of the ride, you get to walk through rock-lined passages, wooden bridges, and paths that wind through coral-filled crevices, waterfalls, and pools. Scuttle is there to introduce Ariel’s story as you board your clamshell, but the real fun begins when it rotates backward- you begin a gentle journey under the sea, watching bubbles float to the surface and feel the sudden rush of cold air as you approach Ariel’s undersea cavern. Next, you’re thrown right into the big “Under the Sea” number, and the urge to sing along is tremendous as Sebastian and his orchestra fill the ride with sounds and colors. This attraction is enjoyable and immersive while still being family-friendly, and it’s a true Disney dark ride that really lets you experience the magic of the movie.
1 – Flight of Passage
I can’t think of any experience more immersive than Flight of Passage at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, which was inspired by the movie Avatar. Not only does this attraction make you feel like you’re inside the film- it really feels like you’re on the back of a banshee and in the world of Pandora! Mixing motion-simulator technology with 3D video and special effects, guests can link with avatars and fly banshees through the Valley of Mo’ara, past floating mountains, through rainforests, and above an animal stampede.
Not only can you see the lush landscapes as you fly through Pandora, but you can smell the earthy environment, feel the spray of water as you glide through a wave, and feel the wind on your face as the banshee picks up speed and goes into dives. The best part is when your banshee comes to rest in the bioluminescent cave, and you can hear and feel the creature’s ragged breathing. The whole experience is framed by the surrounding area and queue, as guests walk through a waterfall-lined hiking trail up a mountain, through caves covered with Na’vi paintings, and into a research lab where an actual avatar is floating in a tank. As Joe Rohde, the Imagineer behind the attraction stated, “It becomes easy to forget that it is not real.”
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