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The Best Spooks and Scares in Walt Disney World

Boo to you and you and you and you! It’s the time of year when creepy creeps with eerie eyes start to shriek and harmonize. Even though Halloween may look a little different throughout Walt Disney World this year (and the rest of the country for that matter), that doesn’t mean that the spookiest of spooks, the weirdest of the weird, and the most terrifying of terrors from throughout the Most Magical Place on Earth can’t be celebrated. So, don’t close your eyes and don’t try to hide as we take a look at the best of the best in scares both fun and horrifying throughout Walt Disney World.

Eeriest Place on Property

Twilight Zone Tower of Terror Queue — At Night

In the shadow of the imposing Hollywood Tower Hotel sit the garden grounds, shrouded in mist and permeated only by the echoing tones of a muted trumpet. The light from the lampposts diffuses against a haze which only lifts as the path approaches the deserted edifice. The empty fountain, dilapidated entry, and abandoned lobby all silently scream a warning. Guests have not only left Walt Disney World, they have entered another place, another time, another dimension. Their senses have been betrayed, giving way to a complete suspension of disbelief unlike anywhere else on property.

Best Tongue-in-Cheek Scare

Sci-Fi Dine-in Theater Restaurant

Evoking the retro-classic drive-in theaters frequented by couples looking to cuddle up close, the Sci-Fi Dine-in Theater Restaurant takes a trip back in time to when a best beau’s shoulder was a great place for a sweetheart to shield her face from the freakish sights of the 1950s B-sci-fi flicks. What may have seemed scary during the mid-century now is almost comical as the Sci-Fi Dine-In serves up trailers from films such as Attack of the 50-Foot Woman, Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster, The Blob, Cat-Women of the Moon, and more.

Biggest “Jump Scare”

It’s Tough to Be a Bug

Creepy crawlies, insects, bugs. For many individuals, those words alone trigger a spine-shivering revulsion. In fact, Disney knows that insect phobias are so prevalent that a warning is posted outside It’s Tough to Be a Bug stating that it “features images of insects.”  While the depictions on screen may be enough to send guests both young and old screaming for the exits, it is the numerous jump scares throughout that cause an adrenaline rush akin to a mild heart attack. Flying acorns, shots of acid, bug spray, hornet stings, dropping spiders, and the feeling of bugs crawling under your rear all come as a surprise and, at times, in the absence of any light in the theater.

Freakiest Audio-Animatronic

All of Them

One of the greatest achievements in the history of Walt Disney Imagineering is irrefutably the advancement of audio-animatronics, but equally unquestionable is the sci-fi thriller / horror trope that involves a sentient robot uprising. In fact, this correlation was recently made across the internet when Imagineering showed off its newest robot capable of completing astounding aerial acrobatics. With that somewhat eerie connection in mind, there is not just ONE “freakiest” audio-animatronic. That title could be bestowed on any of them, particularly in those instances when the sound has been disabled in an attraction. Oftentimes, if a ride experiences a stoppage, the sound effects and music will be turned down or shut off entirely in order to allow for necessary announcements. Any guest who has experienced a shutdown where an evacuation was required can attest to the fact that silent audio-animatronics can start to feel a little freaky.  Imagine for a moment a totally silent “it’s a small world”, or the a Shaman of Songs completing hand motions devoid of accompaniment, or riding in the midst of a silent town full of marauding pirates – freaky is putting it mildly.

Best “Did I just see that?” Spine-Tingler

A Living Tombstone

Sometimes the best spine-tingling moments occur when people doubt their senses, attempting to convince themselves that what they just experienced cannot possibly have happened. Disney Imagineers played right into the idea of “Did I really just see that?” with Madame Leota’s tombstone outside of The Haunted Mansion. Situated to the left of the double doors leading into the mansion, this particular headstone features a shrouded face and the words, “Dear sweet Leota, beloved by all in regions beyond now, but having a ball.” Occasionally, the eyes of the face will open, peer left and right, and quickly blink shut. Unless guests are intentionally staring at the headstone waiting for it to come to life, this phenomena is witnessed in an “out of the corner of the eye” sort of manner, and it is not uncommon to hear some proclaim, “Did you just see that?”

Best Portrayal of a Film Villain in an Attraction

Kylo Ren

While most attractions in Walt Disney World involve some sort of conflict, the list of villains portrayed physically is not as lengthy as one might expect. However, there is one attraction where the villain’s presence and authority looms over the entire experience, building until guests come face-to-face with him in a thrilling climax. Almost all of the Cast Members present in Rise of the Resistance are acting in service to Star Wars’ baddie Kylo Ren. No other villain in Disney history can claim to have such a chokehold (pun intended) on an attraction. Kylo Ren’s ominously masked visage is rendered in both film and audio-animatronic form throughout the attraction and is able to strike fear into riders with his lightsaber alone. Furthermore, Rise of the Resistance does not just depict a shot for shot reproduction of Star Wars footage, it places its villain in a whole new side story that offers up a true-to-form portrayal of the leader of the First Order.

Scariest Entrée Item

Whole-fried Sustainable Fish

What constitutes a scary food? While young children are often intimidated to try new tastes or even foods that are a color shade off of normal, adults are typically more adventurous. Walt Disney World certainly has a plethora of unique culinary opportunities that allow guests to dive into the likes of foods both foreign and inventively prepared. However, there is one entrée item found in Disney’s Animal Kingdom that is just downright horrifying as it stares back at the guest consuming it.  The Whole-fried Sustainable Fish at Tiffins Restaurant is an entire fish, eyeballs and all, arranged mouth-open on a bed of Thai Green Papaya Slaw and Black Bean Sauce…definitely not a dish for the faint-of-heart.

Top Heart-Pounding Moment

The Backwards Portion of Expedition Everest

The controlled danger of twists, turns, inversions, and drops are what make roller coasters thrilling. Heart-pounding tension is a guarantee, but there is one moment in a Walt Disney World coaster that combines the element of surprise with actual physical g-forces to create an experience that is beyond intense for first-time riders. While the expedition begins as a relatively gentle train ride through the foothills of the Himalayas, anyone who paid attention during the queue knows that they are likely to encounter the famed Yeti. Nothing builds tension and adrenaline quite like seeing the very roller coaster tracks on which the train sits abruptly end. For a split second, first-time riders’ bodies experience the stress of contemplating how the train will make its return trip to the base. No sooner does the reality of the situation hit when the train shudders slightly and hurls backward into darkness. The whole experience is so disorienting and the g-forces press on guests’ chests to such an extent that some riders are convinced (inaccurately) that the train completes an inversion. Undoubtedly, the backwards portion of Expedition Everest is heart-pounding, perhaps even to the point of split-second heart-stopping.

Most Impressive Spook

The Haunted Mansion Ballroom Scene

Almost five decades later, The Haunted Mansion ballroom scene is still as impressive as it was the day Master Gracey began welcoming foolish mortals to the swinging wake. The ballroom dancers, dueling gentlemen, organ player, and others are accomplished via an optical illusion known as Pepper’s Ghost which utilizes well-placed animatronics, glass panes, and strategic lighting. Used by magicians and special effects artists for centuries, it is the simplicity that perhaps makes it all the more impressive. The lack of digital screens or CGI wizardry make the deception seem all the more grounded in reality. To this day, you will hear guests question, “How did they do that?”

  • Photo Credits:
    • Lead image, Leota tombstone, Expedition Everest, The Haunted Mansion ballroom copyright Disney
    • Tower of Terror queue and Abraham Lincoln AA from the author’s personal collection
    • Sci-Fi Dine-In photos: UL and UR from the personal collection of Maureen Petrone, LL from the personal collection of James Dezern, LL from the personal collection of Shannon King
    • It’s Tough to Be a Bug Sign from the Wikimedia Commons, author Michael Gray, license
    • Kylo Ren from the personal collection of Vanessa Prince
    • Whole-fried fish from the personal collection of Kristin Fuhrmann Simmons