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REVEALED: Is Your Favorite Ride the Same as Some of Disney’s Most Beloved Stars?

With hundreds of shows and attractions to choose from, it can be hard to answer the question: “What’s your favorite Disney ride?”

From classics like Dumbo, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Splash Mountain, to new additions like Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, and Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, there are so many rides to suit any age and any preference.

It’s not often, though, that you get to ask some Disney Legends what their opinion is of Disney Park rides and attractions, but we had the chance to do just that at the recent D23 event in Anaheim, California. Do your favorite rides at Disneyland or Walt Disney World match those of these Disney icons?

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Credit: Disney

Tony Baxter

If you know the Walt Disney World Resort, Disneyland Resort, or Disneyland Paris well, then you probably know Disney Legend, Tony Baxter.

Baxter is credited for many Disney theme park attractions, and is the former senior vice president of creative development in Walt Disney Imagineering. During his 47-year tenure with the Walt Disney Company, he oversaw the design of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Splash Mountain, The Indiana Jones Adventure, Star Tours, and Journey Into Imagination at EPCOT. He also was the executive producer of Disneyland Paris, which is now celebrating its 30th anniversary.

Interestingly, Baxter was first hired at Disneyland Park in 1965 as an ice cream scooper on Main Street, U.S.A. at the age of 17! He worked his way up within the company until heading up creative development at Walt Disney Imagineering. We at Disney Tips were lucky enough to meet this Disney icon at the recent D23 event in Anahim, California and got to ask him about his favorite rides in the Parks.

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Credit: Disney Tips

When we asked this Disney Legend about his top Disney Park attractions, he immediately exclaimed “Walt’s Pirates of the Caribbean.” The original version of the Pirates ride opened at Disneyland back in 1967, and was the last ride whose construction was designed and personally overseen by Walt Disney, who died three months before it opened.

The Pirates of the Caribbean ride gave rise to the song “Yo Ho (A Pirate’s Life for Me)” and was the influence for the Pirates of the Caribbean film series starring Johnny Depp. Of course, the ride has been replicated in Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, Tokyo Disneyland, Disneyland Paris, and Shanghai Disneyland Park – but it seems Baxter’s favorite is the original in California.

He also stated that Indiana Jones Adventure was up there in his top rides list, which was in fact one he worked on! Indiana Jones Adventure opened in 1995 and was worked on by over 400 Imagineers. Baxter was one of the main supervisors of the project and led his own team of 100. Because of the success of Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular! at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Walt Disney Imagineering and George Lucas collaborated on the new Indiana Jones-themed attraction for Disneyland Park, which uses a similar track system to Dinosaur in Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

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Credit: Disney

He revealed his final favorite ride was Big Thunder Mountain Railroad – but in Disneyland Paris! Baxter worked on the original Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, which opened in Disneyland in 1979. It was, in fact, the first ride built in Disneyland without any input from Walt Disney. And now, he has got to do it four times on three different continents!

While primarily based on the Florida version, Paris’s version is unique as it is situated on an island in the middle of the Rivers of the Far West, where Tom Sawyer’s Island would normally sit. No wonder it’s his favorite version – he got to build it on an island!

Tony Baxter, though now only a part-time advisor for Disney Imagineering is now providing creative advice for the Princess and the Frog (2009) makeover of the popular Splash Mountain attraction, coming 2024.

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Credit: Disney

Joe Rohde

Joe Rohde, the former Executive Designer and Vice President of Walt Disney Imagineering famous for his intricate ear design, was a treat to hear from at D23. The lead designer of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Rohde was also one of the lead designers behind the Disney Vacation Club Resort Aulani in Oʻahu, Hawaii. Back in November 2020, Rohde retired from the Disney Company and is now the Experience Architect for Virgin Galactic.

Rohde provided us with some great insight into his creative influences, his process, and also his favorite rides at Disney Parks. He discussed researching for Animal Kingdom, and how he always tells his teams to “take notes, draw, and use your body.” He explained how taking photos and using a camera to capture places is “too quick,” and that sketching enables people to really remember the moment – and feel it. When researchers would say they couldn’t do art, he’d say “if you can sign signatures, you can draw.” He will actually be running sketching classes on his Adventures by Disney Arctic trip next July!

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Credit: Disney

Though he was the primary designer of the Expedition Everest attraction and “loves the area”, Rohde revealed that he does not tend to ride a roller coaster at a theme park as he would “feel queasy” for the remainder of the day. He also told us how he “loves walking around Maharajah Jungle Trek” as he “feels like [he’s] in India somewhere, in a little garden with delicate feelings.”

His favorite three attractions, however, have a little in common with Tony Baxter! Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California is one of his favorites, as when he first rode it at a younger age, he “didn’t know [he] was inside a building.” He also explained how he loves the Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge areas of Walt Disney World and Disneyland, calling Batuu “very clever. The space is designed well for Guests to get lost and wonder – and that’s not easy to do.”

Rohde ended by saying that the original Tower of Terror in Disney’s Hollywood Studios is his absolute favorite attraction, praising its element of “surprise” as a gold-standard moment: “The design is telling Guests it’s an elevator, but when it moves forward, you exclaim: “What just happened? It’s not an elevator anymore. That moment is like a gold standard moment for me.”

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Credit: Disney

Donny Osmond

Famous for being the singing voice of Li-Shang in the hit song from Disney’s Mulan (1998) “I’ll Make a Man Out of You,” Disney and teen icon Donny Osmond surprised Guests at D23 with a performance of the Disney song, and revealed some fun stories behind one of Disneyland Park’s popular attractions.

Osmond explained to D23 Guests that “We didn’t have social media then, so to launch an attraction, Walt made a television special. Kurt Russell was the star of it with the Osmond Brothers. The attraction was the Haunted Mansion.”

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Credit: Disney

Osmond continued “I’m 11 years old – I’m still in school, obviously – so they needed to find a place for me to have school. There was a room – I think it was on the second floor of the Haunted Mansion – that wasn’t being used. They turned that into a school room. I think I’m the only person who can say the Haunted Mansion was my schoolhouse.” Guess we know what attraction will always hold a special place in Donny Osmond’s heart!

The Haunted Mansion at Disneyland Park is currently in its popular holiday overlay, featuring favorite characters from Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas – Jack Skellington, Oogie Boogie, and Sally. At D23, Chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences, and Products, Josh D’Amaro, revealed that the famous Hatbox Ghost will be appearing in the Walt Disney World Resort Haunted Mansion at the Magic Kingdom in 2023.

Do you agree with Tony Baxter, Joe Rohde, and Donny Osmond? Do Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, Tower of Terror, or Big Thunder Mountain feature in your top favorite Disney ride list?

About Melissa Cannioto

Melissa is an author, adventurer, and chatterbox, who has worked at Walt Disney World, Disneyland Paris, and Adventures by Disney! A British native, she has traveled the world seeking new experiences, and now resides in Florida with her husband, an Air Force pilot. Find her children's book at @bear.hug.book