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DARK MAGIC: Disney's 12 Scariest Attractions

People like to be scared.

At least, that's the theory that – since the opening of Disneyland – has kept Disney Imagineers sending us through dark forests, haunted mansions, creepy caverns, villainous lairs, and ancient tombs. Those who associate Disney with tepid family fare fit for toddlers certainly don't know that – when called upon – Imagineers are experts in "chills and thrills." That's why, here, we've collected just twelve of the outright scariest attractions at Disney Parks... rides and experiences that are known to leave kids (and sometimes adults!) quaking in their boots.

Counting back from mild spooks toward outright terror, take a look at the attractions we've chosen in this countdown and see if you agree... what rides at Disney Parks scared you most as a child, or even today? Where are hidden fears brought to life in the happiest place on Earth? 

12. Snow White’s Scary Adventures

Image: Disney

Location: Disneyland Park, Tokyo Disneyland, and Disneyland Paris

Some families mark their child’s growth with a notch in a doorframe. For Disney Parks fans, though, a child’s growth is most clearly measured by how they react to Snow White’s Scary Adventures. Positioned right atop our list, the ride serves as a class in “Disney Scares 101” for most families.

Concealed innocently enough among Fantasyland’s classic, carefree dark rides, something sinister stirs within the Evil Queen’s castle. In fact, the nimble dark ride sends guests darting through the darkness toward non-stop encounters with the Queen (often in her Wicked Witch disguise). Gnarled forests, snapping alligators, grimy dungeons, and one dark and stormy night intentionally highlight the darker elements of the grim European fairytale.

It’s enough to leave even the most stalwart young prince or princess buried in their parent’s shoulder. Though Magic Kingdom’s version of the attraction was closed to make way for the park’s New Fantasyland expansion, we were sure to immortalize in its own Lost Legends: Snow White’s Scary Adventures feature that walks through the ride’s horrifying history and its dark demise.

11. Pirates of the Caribbean

Image: Disney

Location: Disneyland Park, Magic Kingdom, Tokyo Disneyland, Disneyland Paris, and Shanghai Disneyland

As adults, Disney Parks fans know Pirates of the Caribbean as perhaps the greatest classic dark ride on Earth. Clocking it at nearly seventeen minutes, the Californian original is twice as long as its next oldest sister, and fills each minute with enough atmosphere, nostalgia, and wonder to be worth the price of admission alone. Guests drift through a firefly-lit bayou alongside a real plantation party, meander through ancient water-carved caverns stuffed with loot, and sail through an active siege on a Caribbean port town populated by a cast of 120 Audio Animatronics figures.

As kids, most of those same fans were left shaking through the whole experience. Blasting cannons, skeletons, dark tunnels, talking skulls, unexpected drops, burning towns, and general piratical plundering make Pirates a frightening proposition for most kids, and a memorable first ride to fear. 

10. Mission: SPACE

Image: Disney

Location: Epcot

A very different kind of scariness exudes from Mission: SPACE…

It’s not only that Mission: SPACE is daunting, shrouded in mystery exacerbated by a ride system most guests find inexplicable … it’s not just the continual warnings issued again and again in the queue reminding you that you’re headed for an ultra-intense and tryingly physical experience… it’s not only the urban legends (some tragically true) that circulate online about how the ride makes guests lightheaded, queasy, weak, or worse…

Wrapped up in the drama, disorientation, and apparent danger of such a raw, intense experience, nerves and anxiety run high throughout the queue, and you can cut the tension with the a knife. Then, locked into a claustrophobic compartment and strapped in tight, Mission: SPACE simulates a real life rocket launch. And to hear actual astronauts say it, the “artificial” sensation the technological ride produces is pretty darn close to the real thing. In other words, the ride provides a physical sensation that most guests will have never experienced before in any significant capacity, so it’s nearly impossible to prepare for.

Of course, a generation of Imagineering fans finds Mission: SPACE horrific for a very different reason… it was one of the first signals that Epcot was changing forever, as the (admittedly, flashy but brainless) thrill ride replaced what some consider the anchoring “thesis” attraction of EPCOT Center: a Lost Legend: Horizons. Whether it’s Mission: SPACE’s fault or not, the ride certainly did mark a new modus operandi for a park once dedicated to education, optimism, and classic dark rides.

9. Fantasmic!

Image: Disney

Location: Disneyland Park, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Tokyo DisneySea

“Nothing is more wonderful than the imagination, for in a moment, you can experience a beautiful fantasy or an exciting adventure. But beware… nothing is more powerful than the imagination, for it can also expand your greatest fears into an overwhelming nightmare…”

Since 1992, Fantasmic has been giving Disney Parks visitors an inside glimpse at the dreams running wild in Mickey Mouse’s mind in a sincerely show-stopping nighttime spectacular. Powered by perhaps the most infectious, triumphant score ever developed for a theme park, Fantasmic is a psychedelic, musical, magical journey through “tales of enchantment, beauty, and romance.” We’re talking fireworks, dancing fountains, pirate ships, princesses, and more.

Image: Disney

The problems arise once the Disney Villains catch wind of all the excitement and decide they’ll derail Mickey’s dream and turn his visions fantastic into a “nightmare fantasmic.” The entire second act of Fantasmic plays like a horror movie as the Evil Queen, Ursula, and the Chernabog summon Maleficent, who transforms into a towering dragon. As the animatronic – one of the most spectacular on Earth – rises, she cackles and blows fire, setting the Rivers of America aflame.

Of course, by the end, all is set right and “happily ever after” triumphs in what’s almost certainly the most stirring, tear-inducing, epic finale of any theme park show ever, but along the way, Fantasmic is loud, dark, and in-your-face.

Though some Disney Parks fans reject the “Las Vegas” cheesiness of Fantasmic or revolt against its stranglehold on Disneyland’s entire west side every night, most Disney Parks fans will remember it as the spectacle that made them fall in love with Disney while simultaneously scaring them half to death.

8. Journey to the Center of the Earth

Image: Disney

Location: Tokyo DisneySea

Tokyo DisneySea at the Tokyo Disney Resort is commonly agreed upon as the best theme park in the world, and at least some piece of that title is thanks to its headlining attraction. Hidden within the collapsed volcanic caldera of the park’s 189-foot tall icon – Mount Prometheus – is Mysterious Island – the living laboratory of Jules Verne’s Captain Nemo. It’s also the departure point for Journey to the Center of the Earth, considered by many to be Disney’s best attraction ever.

We traced the history of rides inspired by Jules Verne and dug deep into Tokyo’s one-of-a-kind E-Ticket in its own feature, Modern Marvels: Journey to the Center of the Earth, but here’s what you need to know. This wild, off-roading dark ride through the layers of the planet leads through subterranean seas, bioluminescent forests, and stunning crystal caverns.

It’s an inside-this-world fantasy adventure… until an Earthquake blocks the only route forward, diverting riders into an unexplored deep earth cavern filled with slimy, oversized eggs… it’s a molten nest populated by something horrific… the unimaginable encounter must be seen to be believed, but suffice it to say the ride’s climax includes a face-to-maw encounter with a fearsome creature that tops our must-read Countdown of the Best Animatronics on Earth. Altogether, Journey to the Center of the Earth is a spectacular, literary, living legend… and perhaps one of the most intimidating rides in Disney’s entire portfolio.

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