You haven't really been to Disneyland unless you've experienced at least a few of the best rides at Disneyland.
All the attractions at Disneyland are great, but there are a few that are so exceptional, they have earned a permanent place in our cultural heritage. Their creativity and attention to detail are unparalleled. Most have been at Disneyland for decades.
Here are the best rides at Disneyland, roughly in the order that I would do them. Get definitions and tips for success at the end of the post.
Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance
Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance is one of Disneyland's newest rides, and it's one of my favorites. It's a thrilling multi-part experience that immerses you in the Star Wars universe. It's unlike anything else at Disneyland Resort.
For now, you need to join a virtual queue through the official Disneyland app to ride Rise of the Resistance. Use my tips for using the virtual queue to improve your chances of getting in. The virtual queue fills fast, but like most things at Disneyland, it pays to plan ahead and show up early with virtual queues.
Millenium Falcon: Smuggler's Run
Millenium Falcon: Smuggler's Run is the other new Star Wars ride in Galaxy's Edge. Everyone in your group will be assigned a seat and a job, and you'll push buttons and pull levers to “fly” the Millenium Falcon to safety. Pilot is the most exciting job.
I wouldn't plan to ride this one first thing in the morning. Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge often opens later than the rest of the park so use the morning for other rides and ride this one just before or after your virtual queue reservation for Rise of the Resistance.
Indiana Jones Adventure
Indiana Jones Adventure in Adventureland is a fast-paced thrill ride through elaborate sets that will remind you of the Indiana Jones movies. You won't find many rides outside Disneyland like this one.
We usually ride Indiana Jones first because it's one of the closest thrill rides to the entrance. From Main Street U.S.A., turn left into Adventureland to find it.
Related: Tips for Using MaxPass at Disneyland
Jungle Cruise is an original Disneyland ride. You ride slowly in a “tour boat” through the wilds of Adventureland. Your guide will keep you entertained with a corny script as you pass by animatronic animals. Late in the year, this ride transforms into “Jingle Cruise.”
Guests of all ages, including infants, can ride Jungle Cruise. Waits are usually not crazy long for this ride, so you can either ride it right after Indiana Jones or save it for later.
Pirates of the Caribbean
Pirates of the Caribbean is a slow boat ride through a series of elaborate pirate scenes. Watch the first Pirates movie to pick up references from the ride.
Guests of all ages, including infants, can ride Pirates of the Caribbean. You can usually get in quickly early in the day or during fireworks.
This log flume ride in Critter Country is arguably the best ride at Disneyland. The animatronic telling of the Brer Rabbit story inside the Mountain is delightful and the drop at the end is thrilling. Disneyland has announced that this ride is changing to a Princess and the Frog theme, so look for updates soon.
You'll probably get a little wet on this ride. You may be completely soaked.
Lines are shorter in the morning and on cool days when people don't want to get wet. We like to ride it in the first hour of the day. I recommend packing a light, reusable rain poncho for this ride. You may also want to wear Tevas or another water-friendly walking sandal instead of shoes and socks.
The Haunted Mansion in New Orleans Square is more fun than scary, so most kids will like this classic and imaginative Disney dark ride. But proceed with caution if your kids are anxious about it. This ride scared my teen daughter when she was six years old and she still doesn't like it. Guests of all ages, including infants, can ride Haunted Mansion.
From September through December, Haunted Mansion gets a Nightmare Before Christmas makeover that is really fun. Expect longer lines during this time.
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is a fun, family-friendly coaster in Frontierland. You ride a speeding train through a mining town, craggy hills, and a treacherous mine. They don't call it the “wildest ride in the wilderness” for nothing.
We typically ride Big Thunder Mountain in the second hour of the day. This one is also fun just before or during the nighttime fireworks. There's a good, uncrowded view of the fireworks near the ride's exit.
Peter Pan's Flight
Peter Pan's Flight is a nostalgic dark ride for many Disneyland fans, including myself. You ride high above London and Neverland in a pirate ship gently suspended from the ceiling. The scenes throughout are magical.
Guests of all ages can enjoy this ride and lines get long quickly. I recommend getting there immediately after the park opens on your second or third day, or just enduring the wait after enjoying your other priority attractions.
“it's a small world”
The song from this classic ride will be stuck in your head for hours, but its message of unity is timeless. “it's a small world” is a whimsical boat ride featuring animatronic children from around the world. Characters from Disney movies like Toy Story and Lilo and Stitch have been inserted in recent years.
Guests of all ages, including infants, can ride “it's a small world.” Lines are usually not long, compared with other rides. We usually ride this one in the afternoon and evening when lines get long for our other priority rides.
Fantasyland's Matterhorn Mountain dominates the Disneyland skyline and it's the home of one of the park's classic coasters. Ride in a bobsled up, down, and through the mountain. Watch out for the abominable snowman!
Now that I've hit middle age, this old-school coaster is too bumpy for me. My kids love it, though. I usually send them through the short Single Rider line after we've enjoyed other rides together.
Related: Our Review of the Disneyland Hotel
Space Mountain is a beloved Tomorrowland coaster. It is all indoors, with very little light so you can't see where you're going. A futuristic soundtrack plays in your headrest. Occasionally, Disneyland rolls out special Star Wars or Halloween lighting and music for this ride. These versions are fun too.
This ride often has one of the longest lines in the park. We usually rely on FASTPASS or MaxPass to help us avoid long lines on this one since we usually start our day on the other side of the park. Or, head for Space Mountain first on your second day in Disneyland.
Star Tours – The Adventures Continue
Star Tours has long been a MUST attraction at Disneyland for Star Wars fans, and now more than ever. The Force Awakens version of the ride was added soon after the movie's release. This thrilling motion-simulation ride through the galaxy has several different versions, so it's worth doing more than once if you're a fan.
Since we usually start our day on the opposite side of the park, we rely on FASTPASS or MaxPass to get us through this line quickly. Or you could start your second day in Tomorrowland and ride this one right after Space Mountain
Tips for Success
- Arrive early – We aim to be at the gate 30-45 minutes before the park opens. We can ride more before 10 AM than the whole rest of the day.
- Consider MaxPass – MaxPass is an optional paid add-on that allows you to reserve FASTPASSes through the Disneyland app. We were amazed by how much more we were able to ride with MaxPass.
- Use Magic Mornings or Extra Magic Hours – If you have a 3-day or longer ticket, or are a guest of a Disneyland Resort hotel, you can get into the park an hour earlier than the general public. This is a great opportunity to enjoy rides without long lines.
- Download the official Disneyland app – This app is an essential Disneyland tool. Get wait times, FASTPASS availability, and much more.
- Download the Disney Play app – Many of these rides have location-specific games and activities to make your time in line more interesting. It's especially sophisticated for new rides like Millenium Falcon: Smuggler's Run.
Special lines that save time
- FASTPASS – FASTPASS allows you to scan your park pass at a kiosk and get a ticket to return to a popular ride within a scheduled one-hour window. FASTPASS waits are around 15 minutes. Disneyland regulars always have a FASTPASS in hand and a plan for the next one.
- Rider Switch – Rider Switch is a great option for families with young children. You stand in line once and request a Rider Switch pass when you get to the front. Adult 1 rides and then gives the pass to Adult 2 who stayed with the non-riders. Adult 2 can then go with two other riders (even if they just finished the ride with Adult 1) without waiting.
- Single Rider – Single rider lines are available on a handful of popular rides. They are a great option for families with older kids who would rather ride fast than ride together. You can usually ride within 15 minutes if you're willing to fill an empty seat and meet up at the exit.
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It was really tough to leave a few great rides off this list. Did I miss your favorite? If so, please share it in the comments, along with your tips for doing it right.