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The 12 Scariest Attractions in Walt Disney World History

Ripley in The Great Movie Ride

What is it about a good scare that captivates us as theme park guests? While gentle souls and families with small children might carefully avoid intense attractions, for many Walt Disney World visitors, it’s thrills or bust.

Scary attractions are a surprisingly controversial issue. Some visitors scoff in protest every time a new coaster is added, while others have criticized Disney for failing to keep up with Universal Studios in terms of properly jarring attractions. Still, Disney has been no stranger to scary rides—some of which might surprise you.

You might have never found any of these scary (for you are a mighty OAK in the face of fanciful peril). On the other hand, just the mention of them might send you into shudders. No matter who you are, these are some of the attractions in Disney history which struck the deepest chords with visceral fears in audiences.

It is worth noting that a few runners up didn’t quite make our top twelve. The Magic Kingdom mountains narrowly missed our list because the main scare factor in all three is specifically that they are roller coasters (other than Space Mountain which has the dark element). Rock N’ Roller Coaster is intense but is so upbeat that it keeps it from being too scary. This is, of course, purely a matter of opinion. Part of the fun of this is hearing your responses, so let us know what your top 12 would look like!

12. Snow White’s Scary Adventure

Fear isn’t just about coaster loops and drooling aliens. While a Fantasyland dark ride might seem like an odd choice, there’s no denying that Snow White’s Scary Adventure was one freaky attraction.

Unlike the Disneyland version which took a slightly gentler approach into poor Snow White’s worst day ever, the Walt Disney World version lured you in with sweet birdsong to thrust audiences headfirst into all the spookiest nightmare-scapes of the classic story. Even for adults, it was properly unnerving. From the sudden reveal of the Evil Queen’s haggard form to the tortured skeletons ornamenting her castle to the grasping fingers of the cursed forest, the whole ride screamed childhood terrors. The only two respites from the creep-factor were a brief jaunt through the dwarves’ cabin and a blink-and-you-miss-it fairytale kiss at the end.

While the scare factor remained firmly in the PG-friendly realm of Fantasyland, we would be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge that Snow White’s Scary Adventure definitely lived up to its name.

11. The Great Movie Ride

Ripley in The Great Movie Ride

Image: Sam Howzit, Flickr (license)

Everyone’s favorite tour through cinema history almost didn’t make our list. After all, The Great Movie Ride was an upbeat, slow moving attraction full of quirky humor. Sure, Munchkins are creepy and there was the whole cackling witch popping out of a tower of smoke thing, but unless you were seriously scared of synchronized swimming or 1920’s mob movies, The Great Movie Ride offered a fairly tame ride experience.

Oh, except for that one scene.

Blaring sirens. A terrified and sweaty Sigourney Weaver. Shrieking, oily xenomorphs tearing out of the ceiling and walls. Mysterious slime drips.

The Alien section of The Great Movie Ride remained controversial throughout the entirety of its run. The internet frequently hosted rumors that Disney had removed it from the ride to make it more kid friendly, which of course was untrue. While very brief, the short segment where audiences entered the the self-destructing Nostromo was, for a time, one of the scariest things in Walt Disney World. For some kids, keeping your eyes open during this section became a rite of passage. In a way, the Alien scene ended up proving a tiny preview for what ultimately became our #1 pick (keep reading if it isn’t obvious).

10. Maelstrom

Moss covered troll in Maelstrom

Image: Sam Howzit, Flickr (license)

We can’t go on enough about how much we miss Maelstrom. It easily landed on our list of Disney’s strangest attractions ever, and World Showcase just isn’t the same without it (dancing snowmen… BAH!). It is possible that this kooky hodge-podge of a gentle tour of Norwegian culture and bonkers thrill ride probably didn’t strike any fear chords in you.

If you didn’t like trolls, however, Maelstrom had them in spades…

As a kid, I was admittedly terrified of Maelstrom because of the trolls. The ride’s wacky set-up didn’t help. It only made the experience more disturbing, like some sort of heavy metal video gone mad. While this made me love the attraction as an adult, it scared the heebie-jeebies out of me as a kid. Every way you looked, the thing-under-the-bed was watching with glowing yellow eyes. Oh, and the gift shop at the end filled with gnarled micro-trolls definitely drove it home. While it was a fan favorite, there’s no doubt that Maelstrom definitely at least landed on many guests lists for scary attractions.

9. The Haunted Mansion

Ghost bride in The Haunted Mansion

This one is a surprisingly controversial pick. “The Haunted Mansion isn’t scary at all!”. Still, with its gravestones, ghosts, and ghouls, there’s no denying that Disney’s Haunted Mansion still maintains its own flavor of scary.

Scared of closed spaces? The pre-show presses you into the stretching, contorting horror room of your nightmares. Scared of death? Before you even get on the cart, audiences are startled by the lightning illuminated sight of a swinging corpse. Don’t like things jumping out at you in the dark? Haunted Mansion is full of freaky ghouls popping out from behind gravestones, hellish ghosts, and let’s not forget the soulless gaze of those freaky busts whose eyes follow you wherever you go… Disney’s Haunted Mansion may be whimsical, but it is still a haunted house and carries plenty of scares to hold to its namesake.

8. It’s Tough to Be a Bug

Entrance for It's Tough to Be a Bug

For the most part, It’s Tough to Be a Bug is an adorable and humorous jaunt into the world of Disney’s insect stars. They sing, they dance, they fart, they spray acid in your face… It’s cute.

Let’s just say it though. This is one SCARY attraction if you don’t do well with bugs.

It’s that attack scene that really sets some guests teeth on edge. If you fear bees, wasps, and hornets, that little “sting” in the back can be the most unnerving moment you can imagine on a Disney attraction. The creeping bugs around the ankles bit is a proper shriek-eliciter too. The Mirkwood-sized spiders that descend from the ceiling are just icing on the fright cake. If you’re scared of bugs, this is definitely a surprising contender on the scariest attractions list.

7. Countdown to Extinction (aka Dinosaur)

Carnotaur Bones at Dinosaur

Image: Harshlight, Flickr (license)

Particularly when it opened, this was one INTENSE ride. Years before Expedition Everest opened, Countdown to Extinction offered Disney’s Animal Kingdom’s most intense thrill. Every element of the ride left you white knuckling your seat. The car movements, like those used in Disneyland’s Indiana Jones Adventure, were purposefully jostling and even to this day, the it’s-right-behind-us audio effects are some of the loudest of any Walt Disney World attraction. Combine that with the ticking-clock element of the time travel story and pitch-black darkness and you had one heck of an attraction.

Unfortunately, when Disney’s Dinosaur came out, several changes were made to make the ride more accessible to families—the scariest elements of the audio were dialed back, the car movements were subdued, and the film’s signature character, Aladar, was added to make it more kid-friendly. This is understandable, but there’s a part of us that laments losing the original Countdown to Extinction.

6. Expedition: Everest (at night)

Expedition Everest at night

Image: Disney

No list of scary Disney attractions would be complete without Animal Kingdom’s flagship mountain, Expedition: Everest. While the ride’s drops, twists, and turns are substantially more intense than those on the Magic Kingdom coasters, the real thing that gives Expedition: Everest its scary edge is its star: The Yeti.

We’ve talked before about how Expedition: Everest is a spiritual successor to Disneyland’s Matterhorn. Particularly if you decide to ride at night, when thick fog surrounds the mountain and ambient light can’t slip into its forbidding tunnels, there’s almost nothing that can prepare you for startling roar of the Yeti. There’s a true feeling of being chased by a clawing, angry ice-beast with every plunge into darkness. It’s disappointing that the ride’s climactic animatronic has been left inert due to mechanical failures, because the movement really does add an extra scare factor to this already-intense ride.

5. The Hollywood Tower of Terror

Service Elevator Gauge

In all its incarnations, Disney’s Hollywood Studios’ Tower of Terror remains one of the most reliable scares in Walt Disney World. Like its namesake show, The Twilight Zone, The Tower of Terror uses different tactics to scare audiences than other attractions of Disney fame. Most of the lead up to the ride’s famous elevator drop is psychedelic and disturbing but not necessarily outright scary. Guests are ushered from one eerie, mind-bending scenario to another, letting our foreboding build with each scene.

The entire experience works in tandem to leave you sweating nervously by the time you reach that singular first drop. In the original incarnation of the ride, some guests report there was even a sharp sound of a cable snapping in the dark just before the elevator fell. Even with the ride’s more yo-yo like randomized up and down sequence, it is hard not to give a genuine scream every time that elevator makes its faster-than-the-speed-of-gravity fall.

4. Injun Joe’s Cave (Tom Sawyer Island)

Skull cave in Injun Joe's Cave

You: Gee, Injun Joe, why do you live in such a dark, brooding cave?
Injun Joe: Oh, I just really love the quiet and mmmmmMMUUURDERING PEOPLE.

One of the most fun articles I ever wrote for Theme Park Tourist was an only-partially satirical piece about how Tom Sawyer’s Island might be the scariest place in Walt Disney World, particularly if you visit when the island is mostly empty (there’s a few excerpts from it here). There are several ways in which Tom Sawyer’s Island messes with guest’s base fears—the unstable barrel bridge, the claustrophobic mystery mine, the creepy little owl looming over guests in the mill.

However, I was only partially joking when I pointed out that Injun Joe’s Cave might legitimately be the scariest place in Walt Disney World.

The sign at the entrance of the cave warns guests they are about to enter the hideout of the infamous Injun Joe– a grave-robbing sadist with a penchant for carving up widows. Inside, you find a close-quartered labyrinth so dark that you are forced to rely on erratic lanterns for light. The very walls wail as you stumble across a hellish prison cell.

Red door in Injun Joe's Cave

Image: Jett Farrell-Vega

Spotting blue light ahead, you hurry towards the hopeful warmth of the sun only to find yourself in a forbidding chamber. Giant skulls leer down, glowing with unholy light. Rats skitter in the darkness. You imagine footsteps, the breath of a hidden stranger, the possibility that every corner might hold the homicidal Joe. You feel the cold sweat of true fear. If the horrors haven’t been smeared on thick enough, you come to another cavern—a bridge spanning the gaping mouth of a bottomless pit.

As you turn the corner, you freeze… a figure stands in the dark, a looming, broad-shouldered silhouette.

Courage escapes you. Your knees shake. It’s him.

Injun Joe.

A scream hangs on your lips.

“Mikey, will you hurry up! Your Dole Whip is melting!!!” the woman shouts, tromping past you with a quick scowl like she doesn’t approve of your staring.

You take a moment to verify that you haven’t soiled yourself and take your final steps back into the sun, a survivor of Injun Joe’s cave.

3. Summit Plummet

Blizzard Beach

Image: Disney

Care to pepper your Walt Disney World vacation with some literally-skin-searing fear? Look no further than Blizzard Beach’s Summit Plummet, the third tallest and fastest water slide on the planet. You don’t need theming or hype to feel genuine terror on Summit Plummet. It takes some serious guts to brave this beast of a water slide, particularly considering that some guests have described it as the longest five second rug burn ever.

Summit Plummet is a slide so massive that many guest’s bodies literally can’t handle it. Not only do you have to overcoming a genuine fear of the brutal effects of gravity just to step onto the monstrous thing, but guests regularly describe that it seriously hurts. You just can’t blaze down a chute that fast without building up an uncomfortable amount of friction. Want a similarly terrifying but slightly-less-exfoliating experience? Try Typhoon Lagoon’s 50-foot Humunga Kowabunga for a similar thrill.

2. Shark Reef

Shark at Disney World

Image: Josh Hallett, Flickr (license)

There is no way to describe how terrifying Typhoon Lagoon’s Shark Reef was unless you tried it before it closed in 2016. The premise for the experience wasn’t fully intended to be scary—an opportunity for guests to snorkel through a clear lagoon with a broad range of tropical fish.

Oh, and a bunch of sharks.

Now, Disney wasn’t flinging guests into waters infested with great whites or ravenous tiger sharks. The denizens of shark reef included leopard and bonnet sharks, as well as a few sting rays. From the outside, you can tell they are seriously little tiny sharks. However, once your body hit that icy cold water, it was seriously easy for your brain to convince you you’d entered a frigid lair of hungry hammerheads. There is something seriously scary about the unpredictability of sea-life if you aren’t used to regular diving and snorkeling, and Shark Reef evoked this fear in spades. Many guests described it as easily the scariest attraction they ever experienced at Walt Disney World.

1. The ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter

Tomorrowland’s ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter was an attraction terrifying in so many ways that it defied logic. Originally intended to be called “Nostromo” as a tie in to Ridley Scott’s Alien, how it even came into being is a baffling and fascinating story.

Never experienced it yourself? Yes, the rumors are true. Disney actually did have an attraction where guests voluntarily allowed themselves to be lashed into seats in the dark while a murderous alien tromped through the room, breathed on your neck, slobbered on your skin, and—we are not making this up—licked your head.

It was a different time… and fans LOVED it.

Disney did everything they could to warn audiences how scary Alien Encounter was, even including a disturbing pre-show where an adorable alien named Skippy was vaporized by a malevolent Tim Curry-bot. It didn’t matter. Eventually the pressure became too great and Disney opted to rebrand the attraction as the reviled (and shockingly resilient) Stitch’s Great Escape. Still, for those who experienced it, there is no doubt that the ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter definitely won its place as Walt Disney World’s scariest attraction ever.

How would you reorder this list? Are there any attractions Disney past or present that you would add?