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Laurie Ulster
Contributing Writer

The Best Disney World Rides for Kids Who Scare Easily

If dips, drops and twists aren’t your kids’ idea of fun, you’re in luck. This mom and her daughter came up with a scary rating for the best non-scary rides across the parks.

This summer, my family and I took our first real trip to Disney World. We'd been lucky enough to score a free VIP vacation, and with just three days' notice, we were on our way. The kids, at 14 and 10, were more than ready to experience the parks, but we had one problem: My youngest child, Juliet, really doesn't like scary rides. Our challenge was to discover what her limits were and make sure we still all got to go on rides and leave happy. Challenge accepted!

Juliet's biggest concerns are exactly the same ones little kids would have. Her number one issue: drops. Are they big? Are there a lot of them? Is she going to learn about a drop after she gets on a ride when there's no turning back? She also doesn't want too much spinning or whipping around. She likes running through a good fun house, but doesn't want a ride where something pops out and touches her or tries to scare her.

To help families traveling to Disney with young kids in tow, my daughter came up with a scary rating for each ride, so you can decide what's worth the risk and what isn't. For details on rides we didn’t get to (we only had a few days to explore the parks), we turned to moms Robyn M. and Ashley P., who sit on the Disney Parks Mom Panel and offered up their insights.

Ready? Let's go to the parks.

In this article:
Animal Kingdom rides
Epcot rides
Hollywood Studios rides
Magic Kingdom rides
Tips for navigating Disney World rides

Animal Kingdom Rides

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! Here are the best non-scary Animal Kingdom rides for the less than lionhearted.

Kilimanjaro Safaris

This was Juliet's favorite! The busride through the Harambe Wildlife Reserve was her first pick, and while we all agreed to give it a go to humor her, it turned out to be one of our favorites too. The animals we saw on this ride blew our minds. Giraffes, elephants and lions. Wild dogs. Flamingoes. Zebras. Okapis. Crocodiles. Rhinos. Hippos. And one ostrich, busily investigating a Jeep. The tour guide spoke a lot about conservation and how kids could help just by talking about the animals that interest them, or doing school projects on them, because awareness matters. We loved it.

Scary rating: 0
Age/height limit: All ages

Na'vi River Journey

We'd all seen Avatar except Juliet, but she didn't care about the movie—she just loved the ride. A gliding journey through Pandora, it had enough visuals to keep us all entertained and was a welcome break from the brutal Florida heat. You ride in a reed boat through caves, see glowing plants and crazy-looking creatures and enjoy the songs. Gentle, family-friendly and fun for anyone who's seen the movie as well as little kids who haven't.

Scary rating: 0
Age/height limit: All ages

Avatar Flight of Passage

This was a risky one. My number one priority from the moment we arrived at Disney World was getting on this ride. And thanks to our VIP guide, Roy, we didn't have to stand in line for an hour and a half, or plan out our FastPass entry in advance. (Hooray, Roy!) This is definitely the ride to get a FastPass for, though. In my book, it’s the best ride in the park—but it’s designed to make you feel as if you’re flying, complete with dips and tilts. So how did we get Juliet on it?

I made sure my stationary bike was next to hers and reached across to hold her hand when she needed it. The ride was absolutely glorious, and while it's simulated—a combination of some movement, a lot of virtual 3D imaging and well-timed wind—it still gives you a rush. Whenever Juliet was having a moment of doubt, she'd simply close her eyes, and that would make her realize that the movement itself was minimal. “But the downhill? It really felt like it was downhill,” she reports. For the rest of us, soaring above the trees and dipping down to join the native inhabitants of Pandora was a thrill. For Juliet, it was an accomplishment she's now proud of.

Scary rating: 4
Age/height limit: 44 inches or taller

Kali River Rapids

We watched the ride for a few minutes before Juliet agreed to go on it, and she made me promise to hold her hand the whole time. We got strapped in, the ride got going and things seemed fine, until there was a slight pause and she looked behind her to see—what?—a small drop!

I saw the panic start to set in, so I leaned over to her (so as not to embarrass her in front of the other riders) and said, “When we go over, I want you to scream as loud as you can.” We went over, we screamed together, and when we emerged, she was smiling. “You okay?” I yelled above the sound of the rapids. “Yes!” she shouted back, with a happy smile and a double thumbs up—which meant she'd let go of my hand, and learned something new about how to face her fears.

Bonus: Anyone who doesn't go on the ride can shoot water at whoever does. My husband thought this was excellent, and so will your littlest ones who aren't ready for the rapids themselves.

Scary rating: 2 (for the small drop)
Age/height limit: 38 inches or taller

Epcot Rides

Epcot is epic—and one of the best parks for families with little kids. Here, our favorite not-so-scary rides.

Soarin' Around The World

This is another one of the most beautiful rides in all the parks. Juliet got a bit nervous when they asked us to stow our bags—she really doesn't like flying on airplanes either, and they act like you're boarding one—but thanks to a little hand-holding, she ended up loving the ride. It's a flight simulation that has you hang gliding as you travel the world. It's a slow-moving ride, but there are some dips. She closed her eyes when she got nervous, but overall she enjoyed it.

Scary rating: “You think it's going to be a 3, but it's really a 1 or 2”
Age/height limit: 40 inches or taller

Frozen Ever After

This Frozen ride takes the idea of It's A Small World to a new level, with a huge boost from the music. You'll travel through Arendelle, see the trolls and Olaf and visit Elsa's ice palace. The water ride was mostly uneventful in terms of motion, but the songs made me glad Juliet and I sat together in front of the boys, because when “Let It Go” hit, we were both singing at the tops of our lungs.

Scary rating: 1 (“Remember the small, small, small hill?”)
Age/height limit: All ages

The Seas With Nemo & Friends

This one's just super cute. It's a lot like the Frozen ride, but you get to glide through the water in a “clamobile” and see Nemo's friends (including his teacher Mr. Ray, my personal favorite), the sea turtles (“duuuude”), Bruce the shark and the jellyfish. It’s safe for kids of all ages and still fun for the Nemo-loving adult and big kid crowd. (Really, there's nothing about Finding Nemo that we outgrow.)

Scary rating: 0
Age/height: All ages

Hollywood Studios Rides

The highlight in this park was Toy Story Land. As part of our VIP experience, we got to go behind the scenes, which meant getting there at 6:30 in the morning before the park even opened. And it was so worth it. The idea is that you're in Andy's backyard, so everything is oversized—Tinkertoys, Christmas lights and monkeys from Barrel of Monkeys.

Slinky Dog Dash Coaster

Three of us enjoyed the Slinky Dog Dash coaster (some of us enjoyed it twice!) but Juliet took one look and knew it wasn't going on her to-do list. I'll be honest: I don't like big coasters, so Slinky Dog was just my style. (I love the part where it stops and pulls back, as if Andy were pulling back on the Slinky.)

Scary rating: Juliet says she'd give this one a 5, which is the no-way-am-I-even-considering-it rating, but you some of your more enterprising kiddos might actually enjoy it
Age/height limit: 38 inches or taller

Toy Story Mania

This ride was a highlight for all four of us. It involves two people to a car, 3D glasses and a fun ride that puts you in front of screens where you can shoot at moving 3D objects in five different games. The kids were disappointed their father and I got higher scores than they did, but to be fair, we've been playing video games for years longer than they have.

Scary rating: Juliet gives it a 1 instead of 0 because “it's a lot of turns for very, very, very little kids”
Age/height limit: All ages

Alien Swirling Saucers

This looked right up my alley, but nobody else would go on it. The spinning deterred the faint of stomach, and we'd just had a delicious breakfast at the Brown Derby, but this would be a good one for little kids. Juliet watched it for a bit but passed, as she doesn't like “dizzy stuff.”

Scary rating: 1
Age/height limit: 32 inches or taller

Magic Kingdom Rides

Despite the crowds, the Magic Kingdom is still the heart of the park and always worth a visit. The best of Magic Kingdom for us was the fireworks and light show at Cinderella's castle. They project characters and scenes onto the castle walls and highlight it with music and fireworks, and it really does give you those Disney chills (the good kind). None of the rides below are scary, but when in doubt, there's always the safety of the It's a Small World ride, which will bore your older kids terribly but amuse the smallest ones in the group, and maybe bring back some nostalgia for the adults who remember when it was still a little bit revolutionary.

Dumbo the Flying Elephant

This is a lot like the rides you'd see at local fairs. There's a circus-themed play area to keep the kids amused while they're in line, and the ride itself is gentle, with the kids in control of when they want to go up, down or stay put.

Scary rating: 0 (unless your ride partner is making your elephant move when you'd rather stay put)
Age/height limit: All ages

Under the Sea – Journey of The Little Mermaid

Ride a clamshell and explore the world of The Little Mermaid, to the tune of all your favorite songs. There's even a finale with the all-important fairytale wedding. Very little ones might get scared when Ursula the Sea Witch turns up, but they can cover their eyes until it's over and they'll be just fine.

Scary rating: 0 for the ride, 1 for Ursula
Age/height limit: All ages

Peter Pan's Flight

If Soarin' Around The World or Avatar Flight of Passage is too much for the small kids in your family, they'll still be up for Peter Pan's Flight, which is one of the park's original rides. They get to fly over London and Neverland, but they're in a boat and the ride is slow, with only a few, very small drops.

Scary rating: 1 (because it's in the dark)
Age/height limit: All ages

Tips for Navigating Disney World Rides

Gearing up for your family trip to Disney? Drawing from our own lessons learned, here are a few helpful hints to keep in mind.

Encourage Your Kids to Try Something New

We all want our children to step outside their comfort zones and be brave, but we also don't want to push them into trying things they'll remember with dread and terror, so a lot of what has to happen at Disney starts well before you get there. With Juliet, we managed to get her onto some rides she ended up loving, stretching her own view of her limitations. We listened to her when she looked at a ride and just knew it was too much—but I'm still thrilled we got her onto the Kali River Rapids ride and taught her the value of a good scream.

Test Track Presented by Chevrolet is a perfect example. The set-up is a lot of fun: Instead of just standing in line, bored, you and your riding partner get to design your own car, from the exterior look to everything inside that affects speed, agility and safety. When you're done with the ride, you get to see how your car performed. Three of us had a blast whipping around the outdoor track—so much so, it was the one ride my son asked to go on again. If you have adventurous kids (the minimum height is 40 inches), this one is definitely worth a try. But once my daughter learned it’s the fastest ride in the park, she opted out. I'm glad we listened to her on that one, because that high-speed, wind-whipping-through-your-hair experience is not on her to-do list. If you have other family members who don't want to miss out on any of the thrills, though, I highly recommend.

Use Disney's Rider Switch Service

Disney has something called a Rider Switch Service, which is a lifesaver when you're with a baby or small child but you still want the rest of the family to get on some of the bigger, scarier rides.

If you plan to take turns watching the baby while your spouse and bigger kids go on a ride, you might think you'll have to wait in line twice, or forego the ride altogether. But if you use Rider Switch, you can skip the second wait. Find the Disney World Cast Member at the ride entrance and they'll issue you an “entitlement” on your card or MagicBand. Once your group is done, the adults switch places and the one who missed out can hit the FastPass+ line with up to two more people. Pretty cool.

Do some research before you arrive

There is a wealth of information about Disney rides out there. If your kids are nervous about the attractions, you can read all about them, see photos and even watch videos of every ride in the park. Of course, staff can answer any questions too, and even advise on what to expect in terms of drops, motion, darkness and surprises.

Now get out, explore and have fun!

Published November 2018

Plus, more from The Bump:

Tips for Navigating Disney World with a Toddler in Tow

Comedian’s Hilarious Video Nails Every Dad’s Disney World Frustrations

Tips for Traveling with a Baby