Scared at Disney?

While planning our first vacation to Walt Disney World, I spent several months reading The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, which I still believe to be the best book available for planning a trip to the World.  One of the aspects I love most about the book is that it tells you in the ride description if a ride is likely to scare your child.  Want to know if a ride is going to make your three year old cry for the rest of the day?  Then take a look at the ride description and search for special comments such as, “Terrifying to many young children.”

To prepare our kids for some of the rides that we considered borderline, we also checked out videos on YouTube made by other Disney guests.   A quick search will take you to a decent quality upload of nearly every ride in Walt Disney World.  I also use these videos to prepare myself for riding a frightening ride with my children.  For example, I knew when to anticipate the final drop on Splash Mountain and hold on tight to my six year old.  I knew when the darkness would both begin and end on Maelstrom and was able to talk my children through it.

Even with all of this preparation, there have still been a couple of occasions where one or both of my children have been frightened by a ride or attraction.  In general, it helps to keep in mind that some rides are frightening because they are dark and/or incredibly loud. These are often not the rides you would anticipate to be frightening for any other reason.  Also, the occasional restaurant may be upsetting to small children for the same reason.  There’s nothing like a three year old screaming in a dimly lit restaurant full of tired park-goers!  You may wish to also watch out for the following…

Magic Kingdom

  • Jungle Cruise – While this ride at first appears to be a benign classic, the jungle tour guides are a little overzealous yelling into their mics and kicking the side of the boat. My kids were not fans.
  • Splash Mountain – Everyone knows to watch for the drop at the end, but my daughter was a bit worried for poor B’rer Rabbit.  Let your kids know that it will all Zippity Do-Dah be alright at the end!
  • The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh – What could be scary about Winnie the Pooh?  How about Winnie the Pooh’s bad dream?  My son was terrified of what is best described as the “trippy” part of this ride for a long time.  Distract your kids during the somewhat frightening black light section by pointing out their glowing laces or the white fuzz you didn’t realize covered your shirt.
  • Mickey’s PhilharMagic – While this is one of my favorites, if your kids are frightened by 3-D, simply have them watch without the 3-D glasses.  Be prepared also for loud noises and water squirting at you from the seat in front of you.
  • Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor – My kids were just a bit afraid of Roz the first time we enjoyed this attraction, so be prepared that not every little one is okay with this grumbly, growly monster.
  • Tomorrowland Transit Authority – Probably the most easy going attraction in all of Walt Disney World, Tomorrowland Transit Authority also contains a section of total darkness – seriously complete darkness – so if your children are afraid of the dark you’ll want to skip this ride.


  • The Seas with Nemo and Friends – Children who are fine watching Finding Nemo might not enjoy seeing Bruce the shark and his buddies close up.  The part that gets my daughter every time?  That frightening fish from the dark drop-off.  We just close our eyes until he passes.
  • Living with the Land – Once you get through the thunderstorm section, the rest of this ride is fun and fascinating, especially for budding scientists.  Just prepare your kids that it ends quickly and the rest of the ride is storm-free.
  • Journey Into Imagination with Figment – While this ride is one of our absolute favorites, there is a moment where a loud noise blares and a serious blast of air hits you from behind.  It comes at the end of the tour after the “open house” through Figment’s place.  To avoid the full force, sit in the front of the car.
  • Maelstrom – My children made it through the entire ride, waterfalls, trolls and all without being scared, only to be mortified by the movie about Norway.  The film is large, it is loud, and it opens with vikings running and yelling.  Simply take your children straight out the exit doors following the ride rather than taking a seat.

Animal Kingdom

  • Festival of the Lion King – There is a portion of this otherwise jolly show that, like the movie, becomes a little dark and foreboding.  If you sit in one of the higher bleachers your child is less likely to be frightened.
  • Kilimanjaro Safaris – The safari is meant to mimic a real safari complete with poachers to chase.  If your kids are frightened by the road that has “washed away” and the poachers who “have been spotted,” be sure to remind them that it is all just good old Disney magic.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios

  • Fantasmic! – Watching some of Disney’s most notorious villains come alive on a wall of water in the dark of night can be terrifying for some kids.  If your child is afraid of Disney villains or the dark, consider skipping this show.
  • Jim Henson’s Muppet-Vision 3-D – This really fun movie comes with the same warnings as Mickey’s PhilharMagic.  If your kids don’t like 3-D, you may want to pass.
  • Playhouse Disney Live on Stage – While it seems as though nothing about Playhouse Disney Live on Stage could be frightening, my daughter was frightened by the number of kids they packed around us on the floor of the theater.  If your little one doesn’t like crowds, try to get in line at the last minute so you can sit near the back where you’ll, quite frankly, have a better view of the characters anyway.
  • Voyage of the Little Mermaid – Just like Nemo, not every little Disney fan is ready for Ursula live in front of them and larger than life.  In general, this show is quick and painless with fun effects (bubbles!) and great music, but if Ursula is on the “must avoid” list, then stay out of the water!

Is there a ride at any of the Disney parks that frightened your child unexpectedly?

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  • I helped prepare my little ones for Disneyland (haven’t been to World yet) by playing the music from the rides, such as Yo Ho Yo Ho, and Grim Grinning Ghosts, for them in the month before we went. This way, when they were in the ride, they hear music that was familiar, that they had been singing along with mom and it helped to calm them 🙂

  • When I was little I was terrified…TERRIFIED!!! of the Pirates of the Carribean and the Haunted Mansion. TERRIFIED! But I guess most people anticipate those being scary. We haven’t taken our littles to Disney yet, but I don’t think my son would do so well there. He’s a bit…uhm…sensitive 😉

  • my 2 year old was terrified of Roz at the monsters inc, I felt so bad for him!

    and then I traumatized my 4 year old by taking him on space mountain. I swear I did NOT remember it being that scary. He was tall enough and wanted to do it so I said “sure!”.
    Yea, never again. 🙁

    great tips!

  • Wow, you touched pretty much all the rides that lil man was scared of at 2 1/2.

    I did something similar to Beckie, I bought the Disneyland Fun Sing-along DVD. An oldie but goodie. We sang Grim Grinning Ghosts so many times, that when we got to the Haunted Mansion, he was even a bit excited about it! Sure, he got a bit scared once inside, but like Beckie, once we started singing along with the music, he got excited again.

  • There were a few rides where Disney employees overheard my small daughter talking about her apprehension over the ride being “too dark” and many of them were quick to offer her the loan of a flashlight. This helped my daughter tremendously. I would bet that if asked, they would loan any child a flashlight.

  • You bring up some great points, and I agree that helping your child be prepared in advance is so important. Many years ago before our daughter’s first visit (at age 7…before YouTube) we also did the Sing a Long tape, got book, and I had her read Birnbaum’s book for kids until she had it memorized. Still there were uncertainties, even at her age, the two biggies being Space Mt. and Tower of Terror. Space Mt. we decidd by riding Tomorrowland Transit Authority to “see” the inside of Space Mt. first: it was a “no go” after she saw it. ToT ended up being a “no” also…but she then talked about it for the next 2 years until we went back again, lol.

  • Yup, A Bug’s Life (at Animal Kingdom) scared my kids crazy when they were little. I think it was more the loud noise than anything else. We ended up having to leave!

  • Great post and so appreciated.

    I absolutely love Disney and am dieing to take my now 3 1/2 year old. However, after I had to leave a child’s birthday party 10 minutes after arriving because my daughter was terrified of the Barney impersonator, I thought perhaps she’s not quite ready for the bright lights of Disney. She loves Mickey Mouse but not sure she’d love him life size, in her face, and out of the television.

    Great tips though!

  • I had done some reading before our trip last February, during the conference, but I still was really surprised by how scared my daughter was by the finding nemo ride at epcot. She loves that movie so her piercing shrieks of terror, probably freaked out everyone near us. The winnie the pooh dream kinda got to her too. I told her they were pooh’s friends and they just playing joke on him, which actually made her laugh and we made it through, whew close one.

  • Great tips, Amy! I’ll definitely keep that in mind when going with young baby! I also found Dinosaur in Animal Kindgom a little startling. While thrilling, it’s dark and loud and a lot of the big scary guys come close and make you jump! Definitely hold on to your little ones and be prepared for the large carnivores to jump out so you can cover eyes!! And smile for the camera, if you can!

  • Lacey

    Please mention IT’S TOUGH TO BE A BUG. There were so many children crying and leaving this show early, along with my own. This is very dark and the 3-d is very scary for almost all small children. They have a guy waiting outside the door with stickers to comfort small ones, because it is so scary!