Though I grew up as a kid going to the Walt Disney World resort every few years, there was on category of Disney Park ride that I always scrupulously avoided – the roller coasters.
One would think that, as I got older, I would want more of a thrill than could be provided by fast-moving attractions like Test Track or motion simulators like Star Tours (and the late, lamented Body Wars), but my journey to tackling the Disney coasters was incredibly slow.
I was in my teens the first time I tried Big Thunder Mountain.
It wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I conquered Space Mountain and Expedition Everest.
I’ve only ridden Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, and Slinky Dog Dash once each so far, a few years ago, in my mid-30s (though, to be fair, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Slinky Dog didn’t exist until my mid-30s, and I haven’t even visited the parks since Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind opened!).
Heck, though it’s not technically a roller coaster, I’ve still never been on the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.
These days, however, the rides I’ve just listed include some of my favorites, the must-dos that I have to check off every time I visit Walt Disney World.
So how did I, the ultimate roller coaster coward, learn to stop worrying and love the Disney roller coasters? Read on to find out.
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What Scares Me About Coasters
What I dislike about roller coasters – the part that fills me with anxiety as I wait in line, causing me to break out in sweaty goose-flesh – can be encapsulated in one word: drops.
I’m a relatively clumsy person, so a significant part of my conscious mind is dedicated at any given moment to not falling down. To willingly choose to let myself fall from a great height? Uh-uh, that’s not for me. Some folks may find it fun, I just find it stomach-churning in a really unpleasant way.
That’s why Tower of Terror – a ride system entirely dedicated to a big, scary drop – is the only attraction at Walt Disney World that I still refuse to ride (Mission: Space ekes its way onto the “okay” list because of the lighter, “green line” option). Because no matter how amazingly themed and immersive it may be, that can’t overcome the fact that I’ll be stuck for a few agonizing minutes (it’s probably only under a minute, but I know it’ll feel longer than that in my head) plummeting to the ground over and over, letting out a scream that I hope sounds fun but is honestly just a plea for help. I even passed on Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT! when I went to the Disneyland Resort on my honeymoon, and I’m a huge comic book/MCU nerd!
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What Attracts Me About Disney Roller Coasters
What I love more than anything else at a theme park is a ride that tells a story. Dark rides are my jam, and the Disney roller coasters often meld dark ride storytelling with the physical sensations and ride mechanics of traditional roller coasters to create unique immersive experiences that I find hard to resist.
That’s why my first Disney roller coaster was Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at the Magic Kingdom. It arguably tells the clearest story of any Disney coaster, as your runaway mine train plummets through show scenes revealing blasted caverns and amusingly flooded ghost towns. But just as importantly, it’s largely a sidewinder coaster – the few drops are pretty small, and most of the physical sensation is based on inertia more than gravity. When I first tried it out as a teenager, I loved it, and the ride became an immediate favorite.
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Splash Mountain at Magic Kingdom – with its big, scary drop at the end – was similarly a draw, but it was one that took me longer to conquer. By the time I rode Splash Mountain, I had already taken on Magic Kingdom’s Space Mountain, which is much less story-based, because I had learned through online research and talking to friends that it featured, like Big Thunder Mountain, more of an experience of inertia than falling.
When Expedition Everest opened at Animal Kingdom in my early 20s, I decided that I really wanted to see that Yeti and so I would give it a shot. It remains, to this day, the ride that scares me the most on a Disney vacation, though I find the design and storytelling to be attractive enough to offset the several massive (to me) drops.
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Approaching New Coasters
For the longest time – the better part of a decade and a half – that was it for me as far as Walt Disney World coasters go. Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster was fenced away in my mind in that scary area of Hollywood Studios that also featured Tower of Terror.
But then I went and married a thrill-ride fan. And I wanted to minimize the number of attractions I left her to ride on her own (and over at Universal Orlando Resort, there are a bunch of rides I won’t go on with her). So I thought that maybe Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster might be within my comfort zone.
Fortunately, by this time, we had reached the era where any Disney attraction was featured in dozens of YouTube ride-through/POV videos, and I was able to watch the ride experience of Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster over and over again — with the lights off, the lights on, night vision cameras, 4k reconstructions, etc. Between that and visiting several message board discussions, I felt confident that the coaster didn’t feature any huge drops (though going briefly upside down would be a new experience for me!), and I was only a little worried about the initial launch feeling.
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As we got on the line for the ride, though, that small worry grew into gnawing anxiety, and ultimately outright terror. Holding on for dear life as Steven Tyler counted down, I closed my eyes, hoped for the best . . . and learned that, at least for me, the feeling of a launch coaster is a different physical sensation than that of dropping. Heck, it was even a feeling that I found thrilling in a good way!
Through doing a bit of research, wanting to seem brave to my partner (who would laugh at how “brave” I was in my pre-ride, shaking terror), and being willing to risk the fear, I discovered a new ride that I can’t wait to try again the next time I visit Hollywood Studios. It’s for those same reasons that I know I want to try out Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind the next time I visit.
And if a scaredy-cat like me can use those tools to conquer all the Walt Disney World roller coasters, I bet you can too!
Though I’m still not going to ride Tower of Tower.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and may not reflect Disney Tips as a whole.