Home » The 8 Best Rides at Disney for Sci-Fi Fans

The 8 Best Rides at Disney for Sci-Fi Fans

From its earliest days, Disneyland had ties to the NASA program. Like every other citizen of the 1950s, Walt Disney was captivated by the space race. He dreamt of a time when humankind would set foot on intergalactic soil. Mars and the Moon were areas of particular interest, and Disney went so far as to hire actual astronauts to liaise on some early attractions.

In the decades that have followed, our people have conquered the moon. We’ve also built countless satellites that orbit the planet, including the International Space Station. Astronauts who live here can gaze down in wonder at the majesty of the Earth. Similarly, they have unprecedented views of the rest of our solar system. Even today, after we’ve accomplished so much with space travel, Disney still celebrates those early dreams of pioneering adventures beyond our planet’s atmosphere. Here’s a definitive ranking of the best Disney attractions set in outer space.

Before we get started, I want to add a couple of caveats. The attractions must have an interplanetary travel theme, an outer space setting, or a fictional science-fiction setting. Also, they must be rides. These criteria rule out my favorite Disney attraction, Spaceship Earth, and a couple of other futuristic attractions such as Star Wars Launch Bay. Anything else that’s Star Wars or Avatar-related is eligible, though. With those criteria in mind, here are the rankings!

8. Astro Orbiter

Park planners clearly love this ride. They’ve constructed versions of it at literally every Disney theme park in the world. Presumably, the appeal is that these glorified carnival rides are cheap to build. They can also fit virtually anywhere in a park, although the footprint is larger than you may think. The whole attraction feels like one of the early filler parts of Planet Coaster.

The ride is two-person, which means it’s a miserable experience for tall people like me. I’m sure there was a time when Astro Orbiter seemed like a wonderful space flight experience. That hasn’t been the case for many years, though. Still, many parents have fond memories of spinning with their kids in the Astro carts. If this is the worst space ride, Disney’s doing really well.

7. Mission: Space

When Mission: Space debuted, it was the most controversial ride ever. People suffered physical maladies after riding in this interplanetary flight simulator. Disney eventually split the attraction into two types: the Green and Orange missions. Other than the gravitational pull, the rides were still the same, though.

To their credit, Imagineers have recently redesigned both parts of the Mission: Space ride. The Green Mission is now a rotation around the Earth while the Mars journey is largely the same, just with better graphics.

This form of plus-ing is only moderately successful, though. No matter which format changes are involved, the ride is still repetitive each time. While you may enjoy it the first time on each side, later trips orbiting the Earth or exploring Mars still feel redundant. Mission: Space is fun exactly twice: once on the Green Mission and once on the Orange Mission. Anything after that has a distinct “been there, done that” vibe to it.

6. Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin

Everything from this point forward is a fun attraction, a great attraction, or a combination of the two. The Buzz Lightyear interactive ride is another one that Disney’s duplicated at all of their parks. From a kid’s perspective, it’s a dream come true. You’re at Disney AND you’re playing a videogame! What’s not to love about that?

Unlike the two rides mentioned already, Buzz Lightyear has replay value. Friends can do battle against each other while preventing Zurg from doing…something. It’s probably nefarious. Anyway, you get to point a toy gun at the walls and make stuff light up. The Buzz Lightyear “ride” is basically laser tag while you’re sitting down at Disney. And that is AWESOME!

5. Na’Vi River Journey

Image: DisneyThree of the top five Disney space rides are relatively new, which speaks to the company’s commitment to honoring Walt Disney’s legacy. These three rides are also themed to specific intellectual properties, another of Uncle Walt’s passions. And the list will grow longer when Star Wars Land: Galaxy’s Edge opens.

The “worst” of the three new-ish attractions is Na’Vi River Journey, which is basically It’s a Small World with aliens instead of creepy dolls. This attraction is by far the least exhilarating out of the top five in that it’s a slow “appreciate Pandora” ride rather than one for adrenaline junkies. I happen to like that quality and am in awe of the bioluminescence on display throughout the canoe ride. Still, it falls short of the others on this list in terms of excitement, even if it’s probably the winner in grandeur.

4. Star Tours – The Adventures Continue

Out of the outer space rides, this one is the toughest to rank. In a sense, it’s nothing like Walt Disney’s beloved outer space exploration concepts. You’re in a world that someone else created, one that’s not real. On the other hand, that’s true of most of the top five, and this ride was the first of them.

Star Tours is just plain fun. You enter a cleverly disguised motion simulator and get bumped around in a way that matches the action onscreen. You don’t think of it as a screen, though. It’s a giant projection monitor that looks like a ship’s display or possible even a window. From here, you hear a whiny android say “OH, DEAR!” a lot as you encounter many of the most famous characters from the Star Wars universe.

As much as I love Na’Vi River Journey, Star Tours is a superior entertainment attraction. Its theming feels organic and natural, and it delivers a tremendous amount of excitement. Plus, each ride is at least slightly different, something that should become the standard at all future Disney attractions.

3. Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout!

Image: DisneyIn 2016, Disney took a perfect ride and broke it. They famously ditched The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and repurposed the ride structure into a new IP. This decision caused a schism among Disney fanatics, many of whom were fond of the Rod Serling-based theme. Some observers rightfully noted that the Disney California Adventure (DCA) version was derivative, a copy of the original at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. That’s definitely true, although we’ve already listed a couple of examples of copies that are everywhere at Disney.

Independent of where you stand on the change, it’s the new normal at DCA today. Tower of Tower is gone, and Mission: Breakout! has replaced it. To an extent, it’s an improvement. The joy of the bouncing elevator shaft is now magnified by hilarious interactions with the various Guardians of the Galaxy. Disney took an already-entertaining ride and made it better. And they also added an outer space element, which qualifies it for this list.

2. Avatar Flight of Passage

Image: DisneyChoosing the best space ride at Disney comes down to a simple debate. Do you prefer the shiny new thing or the classic? You can already tell how I vote.

Avatar Flight of Passage is unmistakably brilliant. It’s an augmented reality attraction that recreates the sensation of flying on the back of a mountain Banshee, an indigenous species on Pandora. You soar through the landscape from the movie, Avatar, appreciating all its wonders. And the terminology there isn’t accidental. The ride is a spiritual successor to Soarin’, a proven ride concept that Disney fanatics love.

I basically have no complaints about Avatar Flight of Passage, an E Ticket attraction in every sense of the word. It’s forward-thinking, thrilling, and extremely satisfying. It’s just not…

1. Space Mountain

Come on, when you saw the article topic, you knew what would win. I’ve previously described Space Mountain as the alpha and the omega of steel roller coasters. It’s the ride that triggered the entire coaster craze. When theme park tourists think of Disney thrill rides, Space Mountain should be the first thing that pops in your head. If it’s not, the only explanation is that after more than 40 years of dominance, it’s an attraction that people have started to take for granted a bit.

Space Mountain embodies everything that Disney loves about space exploration. It’s set in a future when intergalactic travel is as ordinary as a subway ride. It uses a technology so far ahead of its time that Disney had to wait almost a decade to implement it. And the thematic setting is the dark void of outer space. All of the other interplanetary and intergalactic rides listed here are imaginative in their own ways, but NOTHING celebrates the space race and space age better than Space Mountain.