Home » Best Disney Rides of the 1990s

Best Disney Rides of the 1990s

Michael Eisner proudly proclaimed the 1990s as the Disney Decade. His early tenure as CEO and Chairman of The Walt Disney Company had gone so swimmingly that he possessed total confidence in the theme park division.

While the decade started with grand ambitions, it ended with little fanfare as the bloom fell of Eisner’s rose. Still, Disney built some attractions that most would agree are triumphs. Let’s examine the best Disney rides of the 1990s.

9. Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin

At the end of the 1980s, Disney struck gold with a shocking box office blockbuster. Who Framed Roger Rabbit became the second-biggest film of 1988, and Disney wanted to base a ride off the concept. However, the movie had taken seven years to produce, and the attraction worked similarly.

Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin wouldn’t open until 1994, almost six years after the movie. By this point, the Disney Renaissance was in full swing, and the theme had lost some of its mojo. Even so, the ride has proven durable and satisfying for a quarter-century now. It’s one of Disneyland’s most child-friendly attractions. Since I expect Disney to reboot the franchise at some point, I also believe that it’ll get plussed again at some point in the 2020s.

8. Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin

Since this gamified ride debuted in 1998, Disney’s recreated it in every theme park around the world. Hong Kong Disneyland has since reskinned it with an Ant-Man and the Wasp theme, but the ride architecture remains the same under the hood.

On this attraction, guests aim laser pistols at targets. Ostensibly, people want to hit batteries to reclaim them before the evil Emperor Zurg uses them for his intergalactic space fleet. In truth, the specifics don’t matter, though.

All variations of Buzz Lightyear are target shooting games, the same kind that Disneyland operated in the 1950s. Back then, Imagineers themed the concept to Davy Crockett. In the modern era, it’s Mr. To Infinity and Beyond, but the idea remains the same. You try to beat your friend by outscoring them. It’s addictive and thoroughly entertaining. 

7. Kali River Rapids

The construction of Disney’s Animal Kingdom stands out as Eisner’s most significant achievement of the Disney Decade. He built the proverbial fourth gate at Walt Disney World. Simultaneously, he accomplished something that Walt Disney had wanted to do but couldn’t. Eisner’s team created a combination zoo/theme park.

Kali River Rapids wasn’t an opening day attraction at the park. It missed by 11 months, but it still debuted during the 1990s. Barely. Disney introduced it to the public in March of 1999. The ambitious attraction came with an essential environmental message about the dangers of illegal logging.

Unfortunately, to most guests, it’s just a wet ride on a hot day at what feels like the most scorching of all American theme parks. So, Kali River Rapids comes with plenty of positives, but it’s just a wet respite for a lot of uncomfortably warm park visitors.


This attraction somehow includes a theme to a 2000 theatrical release, yet the ride debuted in 1998. Disney executives constructed Countdown to Extinction as a brilliant dark ride wherein guests encounter a Carnotaurus, an Iguanodon, and other long-dead dinosaurs.

The Imagineers knew that Disney would release an expensive CGI-animated motion picture in 2000. Since the movie took years to produce, Imagineers had plenty of time to construct a ride that highlighted the dinosaurs from the movie. Then, when the film finally debuted, park officials changed the name of the ride and connected the dots a bit more between the two entities.

The dutiful theming proved pointless, as Dinosaur the movie became a box office disappointment. The ride works wonderfully as a standalone attraction, though. It provides several up-close interactions with fantastic beasts of yore.

5. Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith

Steven Tyler, the lead singer of Aerosmith, takes tremendous pride in this ride. I’ve actually been at the park a couple of times when he’s shown up to ride it. The musician acts like a conquering hero just returned home after a glorious victory on foreign soil. He plays to the crowds and boyishly rushes to the front of the line, no small feat for a septuagenarian.

The singer’s exuberance is entirely understandable. The ride that bears his band’s name does precisely what Imagineers intended. It proves that Disney can build a thrill ride that rivals anything in the world.

On Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, you board a stretch limousine and explode onto a fictional highway. Your stated goal involves reuniting with Aerosmith at a concert. But that’s a McGuffin. The purpose here is to go very, very fast right from the start.

The ride’s magnetic propulsion propels guests from zero to 57 miles per hour in 2.8 seconds. Today, some street-legal cars can do that. However, back in 1999, no other indoor roller coaster could match those numbers. And none of the competition came with a rockin’ Aerosmith soundtrack, either.

4. Test Track

World of Motion opened day and date with Epcot back in 1982. I absolutely loved the attraction as a kid, but even I must admit that it aged quite poorly. By the mid-90s, park officials knew that they needed to shut it down.

General Motors, the sponsor of the original attraction, grudgingly agreed to do the same for an update. However, the company attached some strings to the sponsorship renewal. The new ride must focus exclusively on GM rather than the history of all automobiles.

Imagineers weighed their options and came up with an inventive solution. They constructed an entirely new kind of theme park attraction. It would operate similarly to Matchbox cars in that ride carts would function as slot cars. Along the way, Disney would simulate aspects of test track dummy simulations.

The victim rider would experience the tests and twists of driving blindly in the dark. Near-collisions and inclement weather would add a splash of terror excitement to the proceedings. Test Track instantly became one of the most exciting attractions in the world and has stood the test of time for more than 20 years now. And I will never get tired of that glorious moment when the doors open, and the dark ride turns into a blazing roller coaster. 

3. Indiana Jones Adventure

Seven out of the nine best rides of the 1990s either started at Walt Disney World or are exclusive to that park. With all due respect to Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin, the best Disneyland attraction at Disneyland isn’t a Disney property. Well, it wasn’t until the company purchased Lucasfilm in 2012.

Almost 20 years before then, park officials coveted an Indiana Jones attraction. Well, another one. The Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular! had anchored a section of Disney’s Hollywood Studios since 1989, opening only four months after the park. Disney knew that audiences wanted more, and so the company licensed the Indiana Jones brand for a ride.

Imagineers relished the ability to play in the Indiana Jones sandbox. They constructed a lavish set that spans a gigantic ride building, and they built a new kind of ride cart for the experience.

Think of it as a portable Star Tours theater, wherein the vehicle shakes with the action. It introduced an unprecedented level of immersion that has allowed guests to feel like they’ve entered a cursed temple alongside Indy. Audiences love it, and they’re not alone. Several Theme Park Tourist contributors have listed it as one of their favorite rides in the world.

2. Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

In ranking these attractions throughout the series, the most significant challenge involves apples-to-oranges comparisons. Out of the nine rides listed here, Twilight Zone Tower of Terror exemplifies the brilliance of Imagineers. It’s also my favorite attraction of the group. By all accounts, it deserves the top spot due to its undeniable quality.

I picked something else.

I’ll explain why in just a moment, but I want to state this unequivocally. Twilight Zone Tower of Terror might be the greatest triumph in the history of Imagineering. Its design challenges longstanding notions about how elevators should work.

In fact, Disney requested that an elevator manufacturer remove the standard safeguards for this mode of transportation. You can imagine what the company thought of Disney’s request, but the finished product speaks for itself. The Tower of Terror bounces guests up and down at breakneck speed. Yet, everyone is safe and sound and totally euphoric throughout the ride. It’s a masterpiece.

1. Kilimanjaro Safaris

I mentioned earlier that Eisner deserves a great deal of credit for Animal Kingdom. I cannot, in good conscience, separate the park and the ride that provides its backbone.

Without Kilimanjaro Safaris, guests couldn’t properly grasp the majesty of Animal Kingdom. Yes, several other attractions include interactions with various breeds of animals. However, they’re generally hosted in show spaces, spots where the creatures obviously don’t live.

With Kilimanjaro Safaris, park visitors travel through countless natural habitats. And when I say natural, I’m being slightly dishonest. Obviously, most of these creatures aren’t indigenous to Central Florida.

Disney hired some of the finest zoologists in the world. In fact, the company poached so many that American zoos faced a temporary staffing crisis during the late-90s. These experts moved to Orlando and developed living quarters that could sustain thousands of animals, some of which are naturally opposed in nature’s food chain.

When you ride through the animal sanctuaries on Kilimanjaro Safaris, you’re bearing witness to the impossible. Disney has taken the Circle of Life premise and flipped it. Cast members provide the food, while the animals provide the entertainment. Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is a better ride, but Kilimanjaro Safaris defies reality. That’s more impressive.

Finally, I offer an honorable mention to an extinct attraction. While Disney got cold feet and ditched ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter, it deserves a ton of credit for its daring and ambition. Imagineers tried to scare the stuffing out of theme park tourists, and they did. In actuality, they were too successful in the endeavor. So Disney had to shut down the ride, replacing it with the vastly inferior Stitch’s Great Escape.