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Disney in a Minute: What is a Dark Ride?

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We’re here with a series of quick posts, “Disney in a Minute,” bite-sized nuggets of information that can better help you understand a Disney term or planning topic. Enjoy!

There may be bright moments in a dark ride.

What is a dark ride?

When chatting about theme parks may hear a sentence like, “I think the new Ratatouille dark ride at EPCOT will open next year.” What does the “dark ride” part of that mean?

You’re likely to find several variant definitions depending on who you ask, but the key components of a dark ride are:

  • The attraction is primarily indoors.
  • The attraction is designed to direct where you look and what you see.
  • The attraction typically tells a story.

Classic examples of dark rides are Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Peter Pan’s Flight, and it’s a small world, all located in Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom.

These are all attractions where you board a vehicle that takes you on a pre-determined route. The vehicle points you toward the area of interest. Your physical position, lighting design, and even sound cues, all direct what your eyes will take in.

If, for example, you look upwards while riding it’s a small world, you’ll see ceiling tiles reminiscent of a 1970s office park, revealing that you’re basically floating along in a warehouse. To prevent this, nearly every aspect of the attraction design (colors, movement, lights, music) work to keep your interest at ground level, in the world of lovely singing dolls. You only see what they want you to see.

Unlike large outdoor roller coasters, dark rides are weatherproof, typically easy to control, and can be reconfigured with minimal effort. Changing EPCOT’s Malestrom dark ride into Frozen Ever After, was accomplished relatively quickly because it was done out of sight and primarily involved switching out set decor.

Let us know what Disney topics you think need just a bit more explanation.

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Erin Foster

Erin Foster is an original member of the Walt Disney World Moms Panel (now PlanDisney), a regular contributor to, and co-author of The Unofficial Guide to Disney Cruise Line. She's been to WDW, DL, DL Paris, Hong Kong Disneyland, Aulani, DVC Vero Beach, and DVC Hilton Head. She's a Platinum DCL cruiser and veteran of 10 Adventures by Disney trips. Erin lives near New York City, where she can often be found indulging in her other obsession - Broadway theater.

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