Totally Biased Ride Reviews

Adventures and Advice from a Former Walt Disney World Cast Member

by Arielle Tuan | Release Date: January 15, 2017 | Availability: Print, Kindle

Riding It Like It Is

Everybody's got an opinion. When it comes to Walt Disney World attractions, those opinions approach dogma. But what do the cast members think? Surely they have some special insight? Former cast member Arielle Tuan has ridden the rides and now she lays it on the line.

Arielle's Adventures! Many guidebooks tell you about the ride —the height requirement, how long it lasts, and other facts you can find anywhere. Arielle turns each of her ride experiences into an adventure, a mini-story about the queue, other cast members and guests, and of course the ride itself, start to finish.

Arielle's Advice! Drawing on her cast member insight and knowledge, Arielle offers advice for making the most of each ride, and for avoiding the pitfalls and misconceptions that plague both newcomers and seasoned theme park visitors alike.

You and Arielle will pull down the safety harness on such E-ticket rides as Pirates of the Caribbean, DINOSAUR, the Haunted Mansion, Jungle Cruise, and Tower of Terror, as well as a sampling of Walt Disney World parades and shows.

Plus, a special chapter on Disneyland!

Table of Contents

Author's Note


Chapter 1: Disney's Hollywood Studios

Chapter 2: Magic Kingdom

Chapter 3: Disney's Animal Kingdom

Chapter 4: Epcot

Chapter 5: Disneyland (Magic Kingdom)


Crazy things happen on Disney attractions.

First, there are the attractions themselves. You don’t have to be a Disney fanatic to appreciate the incredible detail that goes into each and every ride experience. Whether you’re rocketing through space, gliding over the global landscape, bouncing along with Tigger, floating through fiery towns filled with pillagers and pirates, or journeying through some of the cinematic world’s greatest movies, every ride provides a blissful escape from reality, into worlds both real and imagined.

Whether you’ve ridden a Disney ride once, twice, or a hundred times, you never forget the experience—from entering the winding queue, to stepping on a number, to pulling down on the lap bar, to smiling (or screaming) for the camera, and finally, to exiting the vehicle. Each attraction gives you a memory…and maybe, if you’re lucky, a story to tell.

Second, there are the less-than-magical experiences that can occur. The wait time turns out longer than expected, and you anxiously await your chance to ride while being constantly bumped in the behind by an annoying kid; a kid who finds joy in climbing over unsafe ropes, while their unknowing parents stare blindly at their phones trying to figure out how to work the My Disney Experience app. Sweat drips down your face, you think bleakly of your diminishing bank account, and you wonder why you decided to come to the most expensive place on earth anyway. Also, why did everyone else decide to come on the same day as you?

Or, there is a mechanical failure—the speakers in PhilharMagic just blew and you can barely hear the music; one of your favorite dolls from “it’s a small world” is gone for refurbishment; your log on Splash Mountain refuses to move and you end up listening to the same piece of safety audio over and over again. No matter how much Disney tries to stay on top of keeping these rides pristine, mishaps still happen.

However, sometimes a mechanical mistake can work in your favor—you get to see Space Mountain with the lights on, get a free FastPass to ride again, or (and this has never happened to me, but I’ve always dreamed of it) you get evacuated and the only way out is to be escorted by cast members through backstage ride areas.

If it’s not a mechanical issue making your ride experience unpleasant, it’s most likely the people—either your family is being incredibly annoying, the friend that you were hoping would love your favorite attraction won’t stop texting, their phone screens lighting up the dark, or, worst of all, someone will not stop taking those tacky flash pictures.

Lastly, and luckily, there are the good moments that make the wait times, the body odor from close-knit strangers, and whiny children all worth it.

A little girl who was so timid throughout the whole Haunted Mansion queue exits the ride, a huge smile on her face, begging to ride it again. You hear your sibling, who so far has been unimpressed with everything because Disney just isn’t “cool” anymore, gasp in amazement at a special effect. Your family rides a well-known favorite attraction and keeps quoting it for the rest of the day. A cast member keeps you busy in line by engaging you in conversation, or you strike up a discussion with the person next to you. You buy the ride photo and smile at it for years to come, remembering just how much fun that moment was. You hum the audio hours after you’ve already gotten off the attraction.

Or, if you’re like me, you board a ride with a boyfriend, and exit the ride with a fiancé.

Like I said, crazy things happen. Each attraction, good or bad, thrilling or calm, new or old, has a story to tell. I don’t claim to know the ins and outs of every Disney attraction, but I’ve ridden my fair share—and I have many stories. These stories have been accumulated through lots of trips growing up with my family (we’re lucky to live only three hours away), Grad Nite (an event Disney used to throw for graduating seniors, where we could roam the Magic Kingdom until four in the morning), working as a cast member during my Disney professional internship in the spring of 2012; and lastly, many trips taken as an adult armed with an annual pass.

So sit back, keep all hands and arms inside, stay seated, and enjoy my experience—a memoir told through Disney World attractions, with incredibly biased ride reviews.

Arielle Tuan

Growing up only three hours away in Coconut Creek, Florida, Arielle was practically raised on Disney and its theme parks. Her dream of working for Walt Disney World came true when she became a cast member and spent a semester at the most magical place on earth.

After returning home, and realizing that growing up was inevitable, she graduated from Florida Atlantic University with a bachelor’s in anthropology and went on to earn a master’s degree in museum studies from Johns Hopkins University. Her new dream is to one day work for the Disney Archives in Burbank, California…or at the very least, get to tour the building.

Arielle currently works and lives in sunny south Florida with her dog and husband, who has learned to only mildly complain when another trip to Disney World is planned.

She is also the author of Arielle in the Animal Kingdom (Theme Park Press, 2016), a memoir of her work at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

For children of a certain generation, riding Space Mountain at Walt Disney World was a rite (or maybe ride) of passage.

Riding this attraction was a very big step for me. The majestic spirals of Space Mountain taunted me on every trip to Disney World growing up as a child. Before every trip, I promised myself I would go on, but I always ended up psyching myself up and then chickening out at the last minute. The day I finally gathered my nerve and rode it for the first time at fifteen was a momentous occasion.

Surprisingly, I was not nervous as I stood in line with my dad and a few other family members (it would take my sister a few more years to ride). I am slightly claustrophobic, so the tight queue corridors with the trippy space windows rattled me, but I made it on through to the loading area. I sat awkwardly in the car and held on for dear life.

Finally, we were off, and I was soaring through space, dodging asteroids that looked like chocolate chip cookies and flying amongst the stars. After one more burst through a laser-light tunnel, the cars slowed down and I emerged, slightly sweaty, but overall thrilled. I was immensely proud of myself for conquering my fears.

I think riding Space Mountain is a rite of passage for every kid going to Disney World. As an adult, and after numerous rides, the attraction starts to lose its luster and intrigue, and sadly, the thrills die down. You start to notice the “bumpiness” of the coaster compared to the smoothness of newer coasters. The rockets either start to shrink, or you come to terms with the fact that you’re growing older and have trouble fitting. This became especially apparent after I rode the ride with my roommate Heather, and she actually experienced quite a painful, turbulent ride due to the limited seating and the jerky movements.

Space Mountain is unarguably a classic, and a fun one at that. I don’t go on as much as I used to, but I don’t pass up the chance when the wait time is short and others in my party want to ride. Seeing the spires of the mountain in the distance is more than a sign that a fun, space adventure is waiting—it has become a symbol of the Magic Kingdom itself.

Blast off with us again soon!

Arielle’s Advice

    This queue, like so many others, has added interactive games to make the wait times less excruciating.
  • There are two ride tracks; some say one track is faster than the other, some say one track has more drops. In my opinion, both tracks offer the same experience.
  • There is an on-ride photo that gets snapped at the beginning. Goofy faces are optional.
  • As I said, the seats in the ride vehicles are very awkward. You are actually required to spread your legs. Don’t ride this wearing a short dress.
  • I always feel a bit beat up after riding, especially since the coaster has begun to show its age. Don’t be afraid to take a little breather afterward.
  • If you have young children that aren’t sure if they are ready for Space Mountain quite yet, take them on the Tomorrowland Transit Authority (the People Mover, or whatever they’re calling it these days). That ride takes you through Space Mountain, giving you a short preview of what to expect.
  • I always get awesome cell reception in the queue line. Good to know that space travel is mobile friendly.
  • They really need to update the video in the queue showing 80s kids enjoying the ride. The hairstyles and clothing on these “actors” is more disturbing than the upside-down spacemen you glimpse during the lift. There is an updated video you see as you get closer to boarding, which shows how the ride vehicle is constructed—maybe they just keep the old video for nostalgia purposes.
  • Despite the stairs in the queue, wheelchair-users get to use the FastPass ramp. Once my sister hurt her leg and was wheelchair-bound for the day. As I pushed her down the ramp, the steep slope leading to the loading dock almost made me lose my grip. She was two seconds away from zooming uncontrollably through the queue.
  • You get to exit the ride via a moving walkway, and you pass through some pretty neat space-age scenes. Just don’t hold up the people behind you by snapping pictures.

Continued in "Totally Biased Ride Reviews"!

That sign you see in a blur as you're racing for Expedition Everest? It's probably Maharajah Jungle Trek. No Yetis. No thrills. But the heart of Animal Kingdom isn't thrills, it's animals, and there are few better places in the park to see them than right here.

I associate this trail with depression (well, maybe melancholy—I’m trying not to be too dramatic here). I realize this is an odd thing to say, seeing as, one, it’s located in Disney World, and two, it’s a really cool trail filled with tigers and bats and Komodo dragons. But of the handful of times I’ve walked through, I’ve never been in the best of moods.

Even though I had been to Animal Kingdom many times, I had never really walked this trail until I started my professional internship. I was just starting out on my own, three hours away from my boyfriend and family. My head was currently stuffed with information I was being forced to memorize. I was in the middle of adjusting to living with girls I had only just met, which as an introvert, was harder for me than most. And worst of all, a boy I had fully counted on being good friends with had just ditched me to walk the trail with some cooler cast members.

I was thoroughly miserable as my leaders led my group and I through the trail, pointing out different birds and fish that guests might question us about. Though we did not have a set location inside the trail itself, some of our positions were stationed in Asia, and it was inevitable that we would get asked about bats and tigers. However, I couldn’t seem to remember anything at that point. My head was pounding with what felt like every animal fact in the world, I was lonely, and I felt like I had made a big mistake by coming to Disney World.

Luckily, that feeling soon passed, and I started my first days out of training in high (though nervous) spirits. As fate would have it, I didn’t step through the Maharajah Jungle Trek again until my last day as an official cast member.

It was my day off, so I decided to visit Animal Kingdom as a guest. I had some time to kill before my friend and co-worker got off work, so after visiting her at her location in Asia and snapping a few pictures of her in her work costume, I decided to kill time by walking the trail.

I had my camera with me, but pictures don’t do justice of a tiger’s majesty—even if they are just lying on the ground, asleep in the shade. Prayer flags and the sounds of enchanting flutes lingered in the distance as I took my time, strolling and appreciating the beauty of the animals and Asian-inspired architecture. This time, I didn’t have a coordinator stuffing my head with knowledge, and at this point in the game, it didn’t matter that I still had a lot to learn about tigers and bats—I had many memories of telling kids all about their wonder and mystery, and got them excited to help save these precious creatures. I was finally getting to appreciate my own special magic I brought to my job, although as fate would have it, it was my last day.

I left the trail and went to wait for my friend, yet again feeling the strange pangs of misery. I wasn’t sad, exactly, but it was strange knowing I would soon be going home, and wouldn’t get to walk this trail whenever I wanted (not that I had anyway, but at least it was there). It was strangely poignant, in a way—when I first walked the trail, all I wanted was to go home, where I was safe and knew I wouldn’t embarrass myself in front of guests. Now, I didn’t want to leave.

I can’t wait to go back one day and take my future family; next time, I want to be the one filling their heads with knowledge—and, of course, magic and happiness.

Arielle’s Advice

  • The trail is off the beaten path, toward the back of Asia. It’s right behind a roasted cinnamon nut cart, so follow the delightful scent of sugar.
  • There are guides placed along the trail to answer any questions you have (however, many cast members placed elsewhere in Asia, like myself, might have the answers as well—it could be you won’t have a question until after you exit).
  • In the bat exhibition, there is a way to bypass the windows, so that those with a bat phobia don’t have to see the winged creatures.
  • It’s really annoying when guests tap on the glass to wake the tigers, and shout, “Here, kitty, kitty!” Please don’t do this.
  • During the bird section, there are helpful guides you can borrow that will assist you in identifying each bird. There are many different species in here, and a sheer net over your heads keeps the birds inside the trail.
  • Don’t speed through—take your time. Even on hot days, the atmosphere is beautiful and calming. Well, maybe not if you have a screaming child with you, but try to appreciate it all the same. There is no certain length of time for this “attraction”—you go at your own pace.

Continued in "Totally Biased Ride Reviews"!

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