Why Are There More Dark Rides Than Roller Coasters at Walt Disney World?

Walt Disney World is known as a place for families, with rides and experiences catering to every type of Park-goer. Despite this reputation, some guests may be surprised to find fewer traditional roller coasters that they may be accustomed to seeing at other theme parks. Even though that tends to be true, make no mistake: Disney knows how to do thrill rides.

And with upcoming attractions such as TRON: Lightcycle Run and Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, it seems like Disney has every intention of not only upping the thrill level but also redefining what a thrill ride can be. With emerging technologies, Disney rides and experiences will soon feel like we’re living in a science fiction book!

Still, it’s true that the Disney Parks have not always been about thrill. Not only that, but Disney probably knows that the thrill factor is not what brings people back year after year to its theme parks.

There’s an argument to be made that Disney’s ‘special sauce’ does not lie in its roller coasters but in its dark rides.

Dark Ride Definition

Dark rides are not just “rides that are in the dark”. Rather, they are specially-designed attractions that take riders through various scenes that employ animatronics, special effects, light, and sound to add to the rider’s overall experience. The “dark” element comes from the concept that the attraction overall is in a dark environment, with specific elements and scenes illuminated to draw the rider’s attention.

©Disney

By that definition, a roller coaster enclosed the dark like Space Mountain or even Rock N Roller Coaster does not necessarily qualify as a dark ride, however, something like Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, that utilizes animatronics and themed lighting and sound effects, would qualify.

Seven Dwarfs Mine Train

Dark Ride History

Some of the earliest examples of dark rides date all the way back to Disneyland’s opening day in 1955. Rides like Snow White’s Scary Adventures and Peter Pan’s Flight are both traditional dark rides, and they still exist to this day.

©Disney

Over the years, dark rides have evolved and have included some of Disney World’s most iconic attractions. Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Spaceship Earth are just some examples of dark rides. While these rides don’t carry a ton of “thrill” in the way a roller coaster can, they offer something that a traditional, high-speed roller coaster cannot.

Photo courtesy of the Disney Parks Blog

Dark Ride Draw

By presenting the features of these rides in specially lit scenes, Disney and the Imagineers are able to tell a complete story in the attraction. Not that Disney’s thrill rides don’t have stories (in fact, some of their biggest thrill rides, like Expedition Everest, have rich, detailed stories), but dark rides by nature have the ability to present a story to you over a longer stretch of time. It’s clear, however, with rides like Expedition Everest, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, and the upcoming Cosmic Rewind, that Disney is striving to achieve the “best of both worlds” scenario with dark rides as well as thrill rides.

Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean

Dark Ride Future

The future of dark rides includes trackless ride vehicles being implemented in the parks. Upcoming rides like Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure in EPCOT and current rides like Rise of the Resistance and Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway in Hollywood Studios could usher in the newest generation of dark rides at Disney World. Trackless rides provide even more opportunity for Imagineers to tell stories in unique ways. We’re already starting to see the next ‘generation’ of dark rides push the boundaries of what’s possible.

© Disney

We can’t wait to ride Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind to see what Imagineers are able to accomplish with the latest technologies at their disposal. Combining the thrill roller coasters and the rich storytelling of dark rides is the ultimate dream team combination. Even as these rides become more technologically impressive, we’ll always have the classic dark rides to remind us why Disney reigns supreme when it comes to storytelling, imagination, and magic.

Do you prefer traditional dark rides or high-thrill roller coasters? Let us know in the comments!

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