From our first drop on Tower of Terror to a life-sized Carnosaurus trying to eat us on Dinosaur, Disney has found more ways to freak us out than we would’ve originally expected.
For parents with younger children, traumatizing little ones through the power of Disney magic during a family vacation might not be part of the game plan. They may try to avoid scary-ish rides altogether, sticking with tamer rides that provide “a world of laughter” or “happy little thoughts.” But however hard you might try to protect your child from the darker side of Disney, there are some ride scares you might not be able to avoid — and some you may not have expected to scare younger ones, at all.
Scary For Pre-K and Younger Riders
Figment’s “Grand Finale”
Journey Into Imagination With Figment in EPCOT is one of those rides we feel like we have to go on because…well…it’s Figment. He’s adorable and magical and featured on a good chunk of our EPCOT merch. Plus, there’s no height requirement for this ride — so even the tiny-tykes are allowed to join our purple dragon friend (and Nigel Channing, love him or leave him) into an imaginative journey through the senses lab.
The majority of the ride isn’t scary. Sometimes, it plays tricks on your eyes and ears with fun mirror and sound illusions; sometimes it plays tricks on your nose with bad smells (REALLY bad smells!). But the “freaky” part doesn’t happen until the end.
After you ride through Figment’s upside-down blacklit funhouse, your vehicle will pull up to a screen. There, Nigel Channing will say something witty about the power of imagination, leading into Figment’s full-on jump-scare sentence — “Imagination is a BLAST!” What follows is a “blast” of air against your face as your thrown into darkness. It’s jarring for those who aren’t expecting it, and might be terrifying for those little ones who *really* aren’t expecting it. (not us. Totes not saying we ever…still…get scared at this part! 😉)
Immediately after, you’re treated to a happy and colorful finale. If the burst of air didn’t scare you, your ride vehicle is then led to Nigel Channing’s face plastered onto the moon. (The HORROR! 😂)
If the little ones aren’t freaked out by this point, we’ll be freaked out for them. *Shudders*
That Dreaded Anglerfish
The Seas With Nemo And Friends is another EPCOT ride meant for guests of all ages. Your journey starts in a shell vehicle (a very similar design to the one you’ll see used over in Magic Kingdom for Under the Sea: Journey of The Little Mermaid), which leads you into “the big blue world.” (seriously…good luck getting that earworm of a song out of your head the rest of the day!)
And you’ll have to find Nemo. Again.
Show scenes include a realm of jellyfish, the totally rad EAC, and — our personal favorite — Peach the starfish breaking the fourth wall by complaining about having to listen to “The Big Blue World” song on repeat. (Honestly, we can’t blame her.)
Toward the beginning of the ride, it’ll get real dark and spooky and you’ll come across an anglerfish animatronic chasing poor Marlin around. The anglerfish’s black light design causes his terrifying form to pop out against the dark, making his quick movements feel as if he could jump right out of the scene and into your shell vehicle.
It’s a cool effect, but for younger riders, this fish battle can be pretty freaky. A word of warning or an arm around your kiddo before the scene happens might be necessary.
And maybe a warning about Bruce and the gang wouldn’t hurt, either? (They’re not so much scary as a little bit creepy!)
Wait, there’s more?! What else can you do after riding The Seas with Nemo and Friends? Click to find out!
Marshmallow Sends You Plummeting
To be fair, EPCOT’s predecessor of Frozen Ever After — Maelstrom — was much more terrifying for many guests. (Three-headed trolls? Nightmares, man.)
Frozen Ever After is actually pretty chill. (Heh, see what we did there?) The ride focuses on the anniversary of the day Princess Anna saved Queen Elsa (although you don’t need to know the premise to enjoy the show scenes).
Our favorite show scene is straight-up from the first Frozen movie — Elsa’s iconic “Let It Go” song. After your boat docks in front of her ice palace, Elsa “does the magic” and sends your boat shooting backward into the next show scene. (Which could scare younger kids as is, since Frozen Ever After isn’t classified to be a thrill ride.) Don’t worry — it’s not a real “drop,” more of a glide backward.
When the boat starts moving forward again, you’re greeted by a rather impressive animatronic: Marshmallow the Snow Monster.
Marshmallow means well, but his massive form and monstrous appearance can be rather intimidating — not to mention he also blows a puff of smoke at the guests before sending them down a small drop that kiddos probably aren’t expecting either.
The hill is about as steep as the one from Pirates Of The Caribbean, but the combination of a snow monster and an unexpected drop might be something kids won’t soon “let go.” (Okay, we’ll stop now.)
The First Order And The Resistance Can Be A Bit Much
Rise of the Resistance is one of the most — no, IS the most — immersive ride on Disney property. From the moment you walk into the queue, you become part of the story. The animatronics could very well have beating hearts and functioning brains, as far as we’re concerned.
Just LOOK at them:
The numerous ride techniques that Hollywood Studio’s Rise of the Resistance utilizes to pull of this immersion is nothing short of impressive — almost too impressive.
Before you step into the ride itself, guests waiting in line are captured by the First Order and escorted into the depths of the Star Destroyer — AKA: the first step toward “prepping you for interrogation.”
Not gonna lie, the First Order can be pretty… antagonistic. But that’s their job — they’re not hired to play the good guys this time! This unique “mean” side of Disney cast members is fun and rather humorous, but younger children may feel intimidated and not understand that these “bad guys” aren’t actually bad guys.
The ride itself has moments that can astound and terrify, too — such as the realistic animatronics of Kylo Ren coming to destroy your party of rebels, or the sudden *drop* that happens during your escape. (Seriously, this ride incorporates EVERYTHING.) Again the drop isn’t too bad here — it’s no Tower of Terror — but it does catch you off guard if you’re not expecting it. (HINT: look at the video in front of you. You can see other escape pods dropping free of the ship JUST before you do!)
Want to ride Rise of the Resistance? Click here for our top tips and tricks for grabbing a boarding pass!
Heffalumps And Woozles Are A TRIP
Winnie the Pooh — nothing scary about that silly ol’ bear, right?
But what about his nightmares?
The Heffalumps and Woozles scene of Magic Kingdom’s Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh ride is very in-your-face when it comes to its eccentricity. After Pooh drifts to sleep (using that crazy-cool Pepper’s Ghost effect), he’s transported into a dark realm with eerie blacklight-painted characters — who all seem to be staring into. your. soul.
Granted, these characters could come across as more silly than frightening for younger audiences. They give off that same energy as Figment’s funhouse — unsettling, but still charming?
BUT the freakiest of the Heffalumps and Woozles scene are the GIANT jack-in-the-box creatures hovering over your ride vehicle. The intense colors, the massive sizes, the giant tongues lolling lazily out of their mouths. If a child were to be frightened at some point during the ride, it’s going to be here.
Scary For New Thrill Riders (Elementary Age And Up)
The Stress Of Piloting A Hunk Of Junk
Sometimes, Disney rides can be pretty freaky not just for the pre-k crowd; young guests who are just tall enough to go on the more thrilling attractions can get freaked out over a whole new world of Disney rides. Take Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run over at Hollywood Studios, for instance.
The idea of being part of the Millennium Falcon crew is enticing, yes, but no one talks about the immense *pressure* you experience on this ride.
Upon boarding the Falcon, you are assigned one of three roles: pilot, gunner, or engineer. Out of the three, the engineer is probably the most relaxed role of the bunch; they’re in charge of making sure the ship keeps in tip-top shape. The gunner defends the ship (which is a little more stressful when the bad guys are on your tail).
Piloting the Falcon is an absolute honor. It’s also possibly the most stress you’ll experience on a Disney attraction.
Kids who’ve been put in the position of pilot will hear shouts of commands and terrified screams from their fellow passengers as they try to quickly figure out the controls. Though the plot of the ride is the same each time, the view and the intensity of the crashes all depend on how well the pilots are doing. If the Falcon crashes, it’s on you (and your co-pilot). The pressure from the group and the action-packed energy of the ride itself can be pretty overwhelming.
“There Doesn’t Seem To Be Any Track…”
There’s a yeti on the loose!
Expedition Everest, located in Animal Kingdom, is a high-speed roller coaster based around a Himalayan journey-gone-south. After explorers “trek” their way up Mount Everest (at an incline that’s pretty freaky on its own, considering you can see the ENTIRETY OF DISNEY WORLD from that high up!), everything will be going fine and dandy…
…until the track ends.
Uh oh. Seems like someone (or something) has been angered by trespassers in their territory! Being sent hurdling backward into the depths of the Forbidden Mountain is one thing, but the anticipation — the full-on stop in front of the broken track — is butterflies-in-your-stomach freaky. If you’ve never been on the ride…what will happen?! It gives you just enough time to think about what could happen next.
If the tension becomes too much, try focusing on all the ponytail holders guests have tossed around this ride scene. (Weird, but an effective distraction, nonetheless.) In our experiences, the dark backward rush down the track following this is downright terrifying for kids and some adults alike. It almost FEELS like you’re going upside down, but you’re not.
Ascent/Descent Into “The Epcot Ball”
Ah, Spaceship Earth — how we love thee. We love how picturesque you are. We love your bubblegum wall. And we love your fifteen-minute ride that takes us through the timeline of communication and all its glory.
What some of us don’t love is the dark, steep ascent at the beginning of the ride, and the dark, steep, backward descent at the end.
When the ride starts, you are led into an inclined tunnel with only a few lights and Judy Dench’s melodious narration to lead the way. (Oh, there’s also a blinding camera op, so look out!) Then comes the meat of the ride, which is as charming as it is outdated (but we overlook that because it’s Spaceship Earth and a downright ICON). By the ride’s end, you’re back in a dark tunnel again — but at least there’s a fun (and also outdated) quiz you get to take on the screen installed in front of you.
On the other hand, you’re going backward the entire descent.
This may not be a big deal for everyone, but this could be jarring for kids (and adults) who get freaked out when they can’t see what’s in front of them. It’s REAL dark in there.
That Semi-Truck Came From WHERE?!
What’s freaky about test driving a car you designed yourself?
How about throwing in an 18 WHEELER HURTLING STRAIGHT TOWARD YOU!?
EPCOT’s Test Track is the only high-speed roller coaster in the park (so far). After designing your own vehicle in the queue (when available), you get to put it to the test and compete with the other riders to see whose design comes out on top. The first part of the ride tests your vehicle’s eco-efficiency, then winds down some rather curvy paths (nothing too terrifying).
All of a sudden, BAM! You’ve come face-to-face with a glowing semi-truck — which blasts its horn and blares its high beams right at you and your fellow passengers. Don’t worry — it’s all part of the “responsiveness” portion of the test, and you’re able to get out of the way before you’re crushed. But kids could still be pretty shaken by this random jump scare.
If that doesn’t rattle them, maybe driving 60 mph toward a solid-looking wall will do the trick…
Transitioning From The Green To The Orange Side Of Space Training
If kiddos are used to the “green” side of Mission: Space over at EPCOT (That’s right — we’re talking about ANOTHER EPCOT attractions for this list), then the transition over to the “orange” side could be freaky.
The green side of Mission: Space loads you — the astronaut-in-training — into a motion simulator where you will be assigned one of four positions: navigator, pilot, commander, or engineer. (Sound familiar?) From there, it’s a pretty laid-back experience: You fly around the Earth and experience a couple motion-based sequences, but nothing too intense. If you’re claustrophobic, however, the tight-quarters within the training cabin could be intense on both the green and orange mission.
The orange side of Mission: Space has the same tight-space issues, with added *spice.* Say hello to super-intense G-Forces. We’re talking SPINNING. And a LOT of it! Enough spinning to make it feel like you’re really blasting off into space. The forces you feel on your body can be offputting if you’ve never experienced it (think those super-fast spiny Gravitron type rides at the fair).
Feeling nauseous? No worries — you can always reach for the barf bags stored in the compartment in front of you.
They don’t call it the “intense” side for nothing!
Reminder: These rides are not MEANT to be terrifying! They just have freaky instances you may want to warn nervous children (or even nervous adults!) about ahead of time — just in case!
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What rides freaked you out as a kid? Let us know in the comments below!