If there’s one thing the Disney Parks do better than any other theme park on the planet, it’s that they establish a sense of immersion. Walt Disney wasn’t joking when he said, “Here you enter a world of yesterday, tomorrow, and fantasy,” because Disney goes to exceptional lengths to create almost a private dimension for their guests.
Through the use of color, light, sound, smell, and perspective seen in their dozens of rides and attractions, Disney’s theme parks are full of hidden details and pull guests from their hum-drum reality into a world of beloved cartoon characters, excitement, and enchantment.
10 Space Mountain
Space Mountain is a special case when it comes to theme park rides. Because rather than relying on what is seen by the guest, the space-themed rollercoaster relies on what goes unseen while they rocket and ricochet across the universe. While the queue is a gorgeously designed spaceport, the interior of the Tomorrowland coaster is pitch black and dotted with twinkling stars.
Sometimes what remains unseen can be more exciting than what might be. Because of the way the ride toys with guests’ senses, it manages to create the same sense of unexpected thrill every time someone rides it.
9 Expedition Everest
Expedition Everest is one of Disney’s “Story Coasters,” meaning that there’s an overall narrative presented in visual form saturating the ride experience. From the queue to the ride to the exit, there is a story unfolding about a lost expedition, an ancient village, and a ravenous Yeti, and guests get to be a part of the whole thing.
The ride is truly a feat of Disney Imagineering, and no small detail went overlooked in the ride’s creation. From the moment they step into line, guests are pulled from Disney’s Animal Kingdom and into the village of Zerka-Zong at the base of the Forbidden Mountain. Plus, not many Disney rides can say they feature a literal Yeti Museum.
8 Star Tours
There’s possibly not a Disney fan out there who wouldn’t want to step off this planet and take an adventure, no matter how brief, into a galaxy, far, far away. Fortunately for them, Disney created the legendary Star Tours. This creative collaboration with Lucasfilm takes guests from the parks and into their own space flight right into the battle of the Force and the Star Wars universe, complete with the best droids and everything else a fan would expect.
While it has received more than a few updates in the past thanks to the newer films, the ride still offers a fully immersive experience, as guests are tossed and turned as their shuttle whips around the galaxy, running into several familiar friends and evil enemies along the way.
7 Journey Into Imagination With Figment
Journey Into Imagination is practically a cult favorite amongst Epcot regulars, and its creative and colorful combination of immersion and humor is what keeps guests young and old parking themselves in those big orange seats time and time again. Since one of its central themes is the senses, it’s only logical that immersion plays a very important role.
As guests are given a tour of the Imagination Institute by Dr. Channing, everyone’s favorite purple dragon, Figment, finds new and creative ways to mess with sight, sound, and even smell before the ride’s grand finale.
6 Pirates Of The Caribbean
Many hardcore Disney fans have called this attraction the pinnacle of Imagineering, and it’s easy to see why. From the moment guests sit down in their boats, their adventure on the high seas with Captain Jack Sparrow begins.
Riders will be sprayed by the ocean, targeted by pirate cannons, and smell the burning gunpowder in Port Royal as the swarthy buccaneers descend on the sleeping village in search of Captain Jack and an elusive treasure map. It’s one of those rides that puts guests right in the middle of the action and makes no effort to hide it.
5 The Haunted Mansion
While some might consider the previously mentioned Pirates of the Caribbean to be Disney Imagineering’s most iconic project, many more would say that The Haunted Mansion takes that distinction with flying colors. The attraction has guests walk through a graveyard and into the halls of a creepy old manor before descending into the realm of the supernatural, and that’s just the beginning.
After boarding their Doom-Buggies, guests are given the grand tour of Gracey Manor while they are pelted with cold air, the smells of the tomb, and ominous sights and sounds, as they socialize with the 999 Happy Haunts. From beginning to end, guests are taken from the world of the living to a Swinging Wake beyond the grave, and back in time for a Mickey Bar.
4 Mickey’s Philharmagic
4D films at any park rely on immersion to merely exist, but Mickey’s Philharmagic definitely goes the extra mile in pulling the audience right into their favorite musical moments from a selection of Disney’s classic animated features. Through the use of lights, color, sounds, and animated magic, the attraction takes the audience away with a triumphant fanfare.
Mickey’s Philharmagic does what all rides should strive to do in the Magic Kingdom, take the guests fully into the realm of Disney. Guests will sing, laugh, and linger long before the final curtain falls.
3 Mickey And Minnie’s Runaway Railway
Similar to Mickey’s Philharmagic, Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway attempts to pull the guests from their world and into the zany animated universe of Mickey’s cartoon realm. Billed as a 3.5-D experience, riders are sent on a twisted, toon-filled train ride into an animated adventure.
This ride is perhaps the closest thing Disney has to walking right into one of their cartoons. All of the visuals, sounds, and special effects bring the sketchbook, animated world of Mickey Mouse to life right before the riders’ eyes. And Mickey deserves nothing less.
2 Avatar: Flight Of Passage
James Cameron’s sci-fi epic deserves a ride as breathtaking and eye-opening as the world of Pandora itself. Leave it to Disney Imagineering to create a fully immersive experience that puts guests in the jungles of the Naavi and on the backs of Banshees.
As one of the more popular rides in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Flight of Passage has a bit of a reputation. Although it’s remarkably similar to another flight-simulation attraction, this aerial tour through an alien jungle pushes through the limits of reality and into sci-fi.
If there’s one attraction that stands above them all in Disney Parks’ Epcot, it’s this high-flying adventure around the world. Sight, sound, and smell are the key ingredients the attraction uses to take its guests on a journey across oceans and continents to some of the world’s greatest sights.
Part flight simulator, part 3D hang glider, all Disney magic, Soarin’ has been taking guests on spectacular flights for decades and the overall experience is a Disney favorite for many hardcore fans. From the icy chill of a polar peak to the scent of fresh flowers and perfumes at the Taj Mahal, the ride takes guests around the world without ever leaving park property.