Disney is known for exerting fierce control over its shows, but in 1998, it risked building an entire park around animals, which are notoriously recalcitrant performers. Cleverly, Disney turned a problem into a virtue by inventing a fake African safari plot, ensuring that sneaking glimpses of animals being themselves would be the show. This 32-passenger, 20-minute round-trip Jeep excursion threads through stage-managed veld stocked with lion, cheetah, elephants, and other safari all-stars. There’s a silly plot overlay with poachers, but there are no bars or visible fences. Instead, animals are separated by hidden berms and invisible obstacles—and no two rides are the same.
Splash Mountain (Magic Kingdom and Disneyland)
There’s no question this 11-minute log flume epic is one of Disney’s crowning creations, but observers still ask why it’s based on 1946’s Song of the South, a movie Adam Clayton Powell called “an insult to minorities” and is still so objectionable it isn’t for sale in America. It twists indoors and out, winds past superfluously elaborate singing critters, and climaxes in a soaking drop (one of seven) that, at 40 miles per hour, is faster even than the supposedly scary Space Mountain. The Orlando version is the better one because, unlike Disneyland’s, its logs allow couples to sit beside each other.
Indiana Jones Adventure (Disneyland)
Perhaps the apogee of Disney’s indoor-ride technology, this 1995 snake-tacular sends motion-simulator vehicles down a rumbly track, crisscrossing each other in a misty cavern, between air-cannon darts, over lava, past roiling swarms of beetles, and under that famous 16-foot rolling boulder. The turbulent romp uses the same “enhanced motion vehicles” (EMV) and basic track layout as the maligned Dinosaur in Animal Kingdom, but with better-lit sets and a more familiar theme. No Disney ride is as complicated.
Jungle Cruise (Disneyland, Magic Kingdom)
First opened in 1955, this ride was created to promote Walt Disney’s True Life Adventures nature documentaries. The technical wizardry that enabled robotic elephants to bathe in the water stunned a crowd that had never seen color TV, let alone wild rhino. Its backwoods charm still impresses, even with its corny narration by a live guide. The boats navigate the route using a hidden paddle that’s guided by a below-the-surface channel and hidden with nontoxic water coloring.
It’s a Small World (Disneyland and Magic Kingdom)
Created for the World’s Fair of 1964 to promote UNICEF, this 10-minute float through doll-populated versions of world cultures is now de rigueur for the toddler set. True, the pure-hearted song is much-maligned, but those scoffers may regain respect when they learn the ditty was cleverly composed so its repeating verse and chorus would never clash. And it could have been noisier: originally, Walt wanted all the children to sing their own national anthems. Go to Disneyland’s, which is the World’s Fair original, although some Disney characters were added in 2009.
Pirates of the Caribbean (Disneyland and Magic Kingdom)
It was always an unlikely topic for family-friendly Disney: panoramas of pillaging, inebriation, and the enslavement of voluptuous women. But now the comical “Pirates,” with its life-size sailing ship and rosy-cheeked roguery, has been made fresh again; in 2006 a likeness of Johnny Depp’s mascara-smeared Captain Jack Sparrow was comfortably installed in an experience that had once been quintessentially ‘60s Disney. “The production design, lighting, effects, and costuming are epic Hollywood,” says Kurtti.