What makes Disney Parks different? While our list of answers may go on for days, one of the key elements we always return to is that unlike carnivals, boardwalks, and amusement parks that predated Disneyland (and unlike the Six Flags and Cedar Fair parks of today), Disneyland and its successors were built by filmmakers and artists.
And like any good film, almost every successful Disney ride has at least one moment where sets, sounds, lighting, and music crescendo to create an epic, emotional reveal that leaves audiences breathless. Here, we've collected 10 of the most awe-inspiring, breath-taking, gasp-worthy, jaw-dropping, tear-jerking, goosebumps-inducing scenic reveals in Disney Parks; moments that are so cinematic in their reveal, it could only be filmmakers that imagined, storyboarded, and constructed them.
These are the moments you never forget; the big scenes that leave a lasting impression; the moments that make Disney Parks and their cinematic origins clear. And for those of us who've visited more times than we can count, these are the moments we can't wait to see a first-timers reaction to.
Which of these big reveals do you remember most? Which others deserve a spot on this list?
1. Soaring over London
Attraction: Peter Pan's Flight
Peter Pan's Flight – an opening day original at Disneyland – remains one of the most cherished classic dark rides Imagineers have ever designed. Why does its queue stretch each day while other Fantasyland favorites don't? One reason has to be its unique, suspended ride system that seats guests aboard pirate galleons that sail through the clouds over sets below. And that sets us up for one of the most charmingly simple scenic reveals in all of Disney Parks...
"C'mon everybody...! Here we gooo!" And with that, the galleon swings out of the Darling children's nursury and soars onward through the neighborhood, which gradually shrinks away as guests "rise" until the glowing city of London is ahead. To the instrumental tune of "You Can Fly! You Can Fly! You Can Fly!", the pirate ships glide above a miniature set of London below, watching traffic in the streets, the River Thames lapping at its banks, and the iconic Big Ben poking up through the clouds.
It's a sentimental, nostalgic, and surprisingly simple effect that still gives guests that moment of shock and awe that Disney can do so well.
2. Being airborne
"Soarin' to tower... We are ready for takeoff." In that fleeting moment before you're swept away, first-time riders may wonder what exactly Soarin' has in store. But as a subtle score begins to play and your feet are swept away from terra firma, it all comes together. Even frequent riders may feel a sense of weightless wonder when clouds appear, pulling back around you, so close you feel you could kick them.
With all due respect to the natural and manmade wonders that follow and the legendary musical score (which we explored in our in-depth Lost Legends: Soarin' feature), the biggest reveal on Soarin' might just be the very idea that you're soaring at all; proving once more than simple may be best when it comes to inspiring gasps of surprise at Disney Parks.
3. Overlooking the ballroom
Attraction: Haunted Mansion
The Haunted Mansion is an absolute classic that has no right to be that way. The first attraction designed without any explicit direction from Walt, the ride somehow expertly fused the styles of two Imagineers: background painter and scenic designer Claude Coats, and comical character-whiz Marc Davis, who more or less own the first and second half of the attraction, respectively. That's why the Mansion begins with spooky, inexplicable, eerie sights and sounds before transforming into a sing-a-long of memorable "ghost" characters by the finale.
And right in between them stands a pivotal scene: the Ballroom. After Madame Leota's seance conjures the manor's spirits, they finally "materialize" in a form you and I can see in a "swinging wake" in the mansion's elegant, opulent ballroom.
The surprising simplicity of the ballroom's most memorable effect is well-known among fans by now, but this scene still remains one of the ride's most glorious. It's the first time the Mansion "opens up" both by taking us out of the claustrophobic, dark wood hallways and our first view of ghosts – a sort of emotional high point for the ride.