The Walt Disney World theme parks are obviously known for their rides.It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about slow ones, like “It’s a Small World,” or roller coasters, such as “Space Mountain.” They tend to do everything well.
Over the past several years, however, I have noticed a shift in the newer rides. Many of them don’t move you more than a few feet. They give you a pair of special glasses and let all the movement be virtual. Here are some of the best 3D and 4D* rides that I’ve experienced.
Magic Kingdom: Mickey’s Philharmagic
Mickey’s Philharmagic is one of my favorites. It follows Donald Duck, after he steals a baton from Mickey’s orchestra, a play on Fantasia. I’ve never seen a 3D movie that is so realistic, and they incorporate the music from several of Disney’s movies flawlessly. In addition, they incorporate other sensory devices to keep you on your toes. Be prepared to jump when Donald throws the baton, and don’t forget to take a sniff of the cherry pie in the Beast’s castle.
Best Added Feature: There is almost never a line for the ride,” since the theater holds so many people. It’s one of the best “values” in terms of the entertainment to wait time ratio. And if you hate it? Take off your glasses and enjoy eight minutes of air conditioning.
Of the rides that I will discuss, Soarin’ is the only one that doesn’t require special glasses. It is also the only one that moves vertically, although it’s only a few feet.
For Soarin’, you’ll sit in one of the contraptions above and it will lift you off the ground and move you as you fly over sites around the world. It gives you a bird’s eye view of The Great Wall of China, Eiffel Tower and several other famous locations. Although you’re not wearing 3D glasses, the “flight” is realistic. You’ll feel like you’re actually, well, soaring over these sites. You’ll end up landing in a barrage of fireworks at, of course, Epcot.
Soarin’ is the shortest of the four rides I’ll talk about but, because it runs in three theaters simultaneously, the lines move (relatively) quickly, given its popularity. Here’s the smart play:
Disney gives you three “fast passes” per day, per park. A fast pass lets you jump to the front of the line during a designated time slot, and can be a lifesaver at the most popular rides. You can choose them 60 days ahead of time if you are staying in a Disney hotel, and 30 days at other hotels. Each park operates slightly differently, and at Epcot, you can only use one of your passes for the most popular, or “Tier 1,” rides. There are three Tier 1 rides, and only one of them is a slow ride (Frozen). The other two are Soarin’ and Test Track. You’ll have to pick one of the two, so choose Test Track, since it’s slightly more popular and the lines get longer during the day. Then, right at Epcot’s open (“rope drop”), run over to Soarin’. The line will only be about 10-15 minutes. In fact, you may be able to get on it a second time with a short wait.
Best Added Feature: While you’re waiting in line, they play a trivia game on the wall.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom: Two Options
Disney’s Animal Kingdom, the newest of the Big 3 Orlando parks, offers two virtual rides. One is clearly superior to the other, but you’ll pay for it in terms of time. Possibly.
Avatar Flight Of Passage
There’s no way to do this ride justice on paper. It’s hard to describe this attraction well, since the effects are simply breathtaking. Suffice it to say that this one is the best of the virtual reality rides. You’ll take a 3D flight on a banshee over Pandora, the land of the movie Avatar. You won’t actually move much, but it certainly feels like you are flying at a high speed. You’ll be checking out the Pandora landscape, which is stunning. No other ride makes you feel like you are a part of it the way that this one does.
The downside is this: You really, really want to have a fast pass for this ride. At their peak, the lines will be over three hours long. No ride, not even this one, is worth a three hour wait. And to get a fast pass, you are going to need to stay at a Disney resort, which gives you a 60 day window. Here’s a hint: at T-60, log in as soon as the fast passes become available and pick whatever time you can get, preferably earlier in the day. I’m not kidding. By T-59, they could very well be gone. And at T-30, the day when most people can choose, it will be gone.
We didn’t have a fast pass and intended to go straight there at rope drop. The park opened, and by the time we had made it through the turnstiles, the estimated wait time was already 90 minutes.
Best Added Feature: At 3pm (+/- a few minutes), Disney will release more fast passes. Sign on at that time and hit refresh. That’s how we got it. And even with the fast pass, our wait was still 15-20 minutes.
Second Place: It’s Tough to Be A Bug
Based on the movie “It’s a Bugs Life,” It’s Tough to Be A Bug is the Animal Kingdom version of Mickey’s Philharmagic. You’ll enter the world of bugs and learn how they live, as well as how they interact with people. The effects are still excellent, although without the music, it’s not quite as much fun. Still, the ride does a nice job of capturing the “Disney magic,” and I’d recommend it.
Best Added Feature: Like Philharmagic, the lines are almost always short. Oh, watch out for the bugs that climb across your back as it’s ending.
*4D is a marketing term. Providers use it to refer to traditional 3D rides that add effects to the other senses, such as the smell of food when you are in a kitchen. or a splash of water when a wave hits you.
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