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Disney vs. Universal Ultimate Showdown: Family Rides

Discussing Walt Disney World’s finest

Image: DisneyOkay, here’s the real challenge. My shortlist of child-friendly Disney rides had more than 20 entries. I tried a few arbitrary rules, but I frankly didn’t like them. So, I just went with the five that I feel embody Walt Disney’s mantra about building theme parks for families.

I left out anything that might be scary or boring to kids, which ruled out a bunch of dark rides and longer attractions. The hardest cut was Kilimanjaro Safaris, which most kids adore, but some find overly long and dull. Similarly, I only picked one kiddie coaster, which left Slinky Dog Dash as a near-miss.

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

Image: DisneySome elements of child-friendly attractions are timeless. At Magic Kingdom’s version of Winnie the Pooh, guests board a literal Hunny Pot and drive past oversized pictures of pages from a book. In mere moments, the ride drives through one of them, letting people enter the story in more than a metaphorical way. From there, it’s a realistic recreation of Hundred Acre Wood, an experience that young ones adore.

The Seas with Nemo & Friends

Image: DisneyPixar is everything for the last few generations of kids. Out of the various brands, the memorable characters from Finding Nemo/Finding Dory resonate due to their engaging appearance and ridiculous shenanigans.

While The Seas with Nemo & Friends rarely gets mentioned with the best of Disney, it’s among the best of the company’s family-friendly attractions. This ride takes kids under the sea, where they interact with a scary shark and then surf some tasty waves. And the multi-generational nature of it along with the message is adorable to all.

Seven Dwarfs Mine Train

Image: DisneyI’ve shied away from roller coasters thus far, but Walt Disney World offers two that are fine for children over the age of four. I mentioned that Slinky Dog Dash didn’t quite make the cut, as I picked Seven Dwarfs Mine Train instead.

My thought process is that the tilting element of the mine train thrills children more, although that’s a judgment call. If you love the Slinky-style stretching instead, that’s understandable. For me, the mine train coaster is (slightly) more fun, and the shiny baubles during the dark ride portion mystify children. These set pieces are among the finest in Disney history.

Splash Mountain

Image: DisneyNo matter a kid’s age, the concept of a wet ride appeals to them. You could splash water in their faces for five minutes, and they’ll happily depart the attraction squealing, “BEST RIDE EVER!!!” You’d feel like Parent of the Year as you watched their euphoria, too.

Splash Mountain certainly has that moment, the titular splashdown that’s foreshadowed for the entire ride. However, the other elements leading up to that tsunami are so exceptional that they’d merit a place on this list on their own. Before it drenches you, Splash Mountain tells a charming story while singing several happy songs.

Toy Story Mania!

Image: DisneyNobody can perform repetitive actions like children. Parents are reading this and nodding emphatically but somberly. Unpleasant memories spring to mind, I’m sure. But Imagineers deserve a ton of credit for building a repetitive action into the core of Toy Story Mania!

On this “ride,” you pull a cord to shoot a fictional object to pop a balloon or break a plate or the like. You’ll do this hundreds of times, although you won’t even realize it.

On Toy Story Mania!, you’re participating in a series of challenges that Disney has gamified into 4-D versions of (formerly) popular carnival events. Kids relish in the challenge of beating mom/dad/sibling(s) at a Disney ride. It’s everything that they love about a park visit: familiar Pixar characters, gaming tech that’s not readily available at home, and potential bragging rights.

Final evaluation

Image: DisneyI like Universal a lot. I feel like they’ve made great strides in recent years to cater more to kids. Previously, the family-friendly attractions were kind of insulting in their mediocrity. Three out of the five that I listed here are newer, which demonstrates that they’ve taken steps.

Even so, I left several attractions off of the Disney list that would have easily bested Cat in the Hat or Kang & Kodos' Twirl ‘n' Hurl. Based on depth, Disney undeniably wins. In terms of the best possible ride, I believe Hogwarts Express is worthy of that title. I just can't say that it's unquestionably better than Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Splash Mountain, or Toy Story Mania!, though.

This round simply must go to Disney due to overall depth. Universal has gotten much more competitive in recent years, though.

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