Ranking The Top 15 Slow Moving Water Dark Rides in the United States

While we are a roller coaster website, sometimes you need a good boat ride at a theme park to take a break. In fact, the slow moving boat ride is one of our favorite attraction types. There’s just something about meandering through a canal, taking in the scenery, smelling the heavily treated water, and not feeling rushed. Some might even call it one of the most peaceful theme park experiences you can have.

During a recent trip to Walt Disney World, we started considering some of the best versions of this type of attraction in the United States. While we all have our favorites, it had been far too long since we created a long list arbitrarily ranking an attraction type, so we’ve taken it upon ourselves to rank the Top 15 Slow Moving Boat Rides/Water Dark Rides in the United States. (Yes, there are enough to rank.)

But first, some arbitrary caveats, because what’s an arbitrary list without arbitrary caveats?

1. The ride must ride atop the water in a chute or canal with a pre-determined path. The boat should not be powered by a pilot. 

We’re considering “dark rides” here – most rides are on some sort of pre-determined pathway or track, so when considering this list, we’re only talking about rides with a pre-determined path where the boat floats atop the water. This eliminates attractions like Pirate River Quest at LEGOLAND Florida and the Jungle Cruise at Disneyland/Walt Disney World, because they’re piloted and have the ability to go forward or reverse.

We’re also not including Disneyland’s Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, because it’s under the water. Is it a boat ride, or is it a regular tracked dark ride where the exterior atmosphere happens to be underwater. Feel free to discuss.

2. No Major Drops or Rapids

We’re focusing on the emphasis of “slow moving” here. If there’s a big ascent to a significant drop, we’re not including it in this list. This means most log flumes, shoot-the-chutes, and even an attraction like Lake Winnie’s infamous “Boat Chute” aren’t on this list. There are rides on this list that have drops. They’re not the focal point of the ride. You’ll see.

We’re also not including River Rapids rides, because they’re their own thing. Too chaotic. Too fast moving. Too much “You may get wet.”

3. The ride must have scenes or a storyline. 

Another key element of a dark ride is a progressive story or scenes throughout the attraction – and this is another qualifying characteristic for our list. Attractions like Gondola Cruise and Dragon’s Lair at Dutch Wonderland are great attractions in their own right, but neither of them have much of a story other than “you’re in a boat.” They are not on this list.

4. The ride must be open at least most of the year. 

While researching this list, we were told that there are three separate Old Mill attractions at state fairs – Iowa, Minnesota, and Kansas – around the country. We’re instead choosing to focus on attractions that are open more than just a few weeks a year (maybe?) for a state’s fair. (h/t to @JoeMelba for this info!)

5. If there are duplicates of the same ride – looking at you, Disney Parks – it’s just on the list once. 

Yes, we know the rides are different. But Top 15 sounds so much better than Top 18, and are there really enough nuances in “it’s a Small World” to rank them that differently?

Above all, this is not a scientific list. Are there biases? Maybe. Maybe not. We’re just having fun. If you’re mad about the rankings of this list, we apologize, but also suggest that this just a simple list on the internet, like most lists on the internet, that’s not worth getting mad over.

Without further delay, here’s our ranking of the country’s 15 best slow moving water dark rides, ranked in reverse order!  

15. Rainforest River Adventure – Galveston, Texas

At it’s peak, Rainforest Cafe had 45 locations around the globe, while that number has been slashed in half in recent years, one thing remains true: there is just one Rainforest Cafe that has its own ride, and it can be found in Galveston, Texas. At a cost of $7, the just-about-seven-minute journey meanders through a winding river in a warehouse in a six-passenger raft past scenes featuring some fairly basic (and jerky) animatronics who are making animal noises. While the rainforest scenery is lush and dramatically lit, there doesn’t seem to be much of a story, which is also the case while dining inside of a Rainforest Cafe. Take a ride below, and let us know what you think!

14. Jurassic Jungle Boat Ride – Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

This is a ride that has a cult following on a section of theme park internet. Nestled snugly on one of Pigeon Forge’s main tourist thoroughfares between a TGI Fridays and Regan’s Pancake House, you will find an attraction that makes you wonder — how does this ride possibly exist? – The Jurassic Jungle Boat Ride. Housing dozens of dinosaur animatronics – including a pterodactyl that has picked up a human! – the Jurassic Jungle Boat Ride is the perfect attraction for Pigeon Forge, in that its kitschy, kinda (very) tourist trap-y, and 100% leaves you really confused when you’re through riding. Listen, where else in Tennessee can you enter an open-air building and pay $20+ to see dinosaurs?…don’t answer that.

13. Na’vi River Journey – Disney’s Animal Kingdom

I’m prepared to take some hate for this one. Maybe I’m just not a fan of the Avatar franchise. Maybe I just don’t get what’s happening on Na’vi River Journey. But what I do know, is that more often than not, maybe because of new-ness, maybe because of Disney’s Animal Kingdom’s relative lack of rides, I’ve had a long wait to ride this attraction. Don’t get me wrong, the ride is visually stunning, and blends screens and practical set pieces quite well. The animatronic at the end of the attraction is one of the best animatronics I’ve ever seen at a theme park. But each time I’ve ridden Na’vi River Journey, my thoughts at the end of the ride were the same: “That’s…it?” Am I just a hater for no reason?

12. it’s a small world! – Disneyland/Walt Disney World

Sixty years ago, it’s a small world! made its debut at the 1964 World’s Fair before moving to Disneyland permanently in 1966. It’s an early iteration of the modern water dark ride, and to be fair, it feels like that on both coasts. If you’re able to get the Sherman Brothers’ ear-worm theme song out of your head, it’s a small world is definitely a classic attraction, and varies slightly on both coasts. The facade and outdoor loading area of the Disneyland version is far more beautiful than its east coast counterpart, but you also have to deal with the fact that the chute isn’t as well integrated into the attraction as the Florida version’s “flooded” scenes, which opened with the Magic Kingdom in 1971. There’s also been 100% fewer naked people on the Florida version in recent years.

11. Old Mill – Kennywood

When Kennywood shuttered Garfield’s Nightmare in favor of a revival of the park’s classic Old Mill in 2020, I know several Coaster101 writers who were against the change. Garfield’s Nightmare was just flat out weird (in the best way possible) and a weird medium for a slow moving dark ride. In talking with ScareHouse Productions in a 2020 interview, it’s clear that the successor to the lasagna-favoring feline pays a wonderful homage to Kennywood’s history – an area where the park always excels. The (new) Old Mill is full of UV-lit scenes and references to former Kennywood attractions throughout its “Silent Film”-style storyline, making the “low impact family ride” a must-ride for many while visiting Kennywood.

10. Ye Olde Mill – Rye Playland

Another Old Mill, this time in New York, the nearly-century old Ye Olde Mill at New York’s Rye Playland received an update to the attraction from famed dark ride pioneers Sally Dark Rides that filled the attraction with animatronics depicting gnomes, trolls, and dragons throughout the queue, station, and flume itself. Each scene is incredibly intricate, well-lit, and well-maintained, giving this classic attraction a modern feel, despite its age. While many of the “Old Mill”-style attractions have shuttered over the years, it’s great knowing that Playland Park takes such pride in keeping their attraction looking so great!

9. Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros- EPCOT

Gran Fiesta Tour replaced El Rio Del Tiempo (The River of Time) inside Epcot’s Mexico pavilion in 2007 – the first World Showcase attraction to integrate Disney IP – breathing a new energy into the attraction, that for its first 25 years, was rather dull. Don’t let it bother you that only one of the three caballeros is portrayed as having Mexican heritage, or that the “bones” of Rio Del Tiempo, including its opening moments sailing by San Angel Inn, is still very much intact with a six-decade old IP shoehorned into much of the back half of the attraction. But somehow, this all makes sense in the ride’s storyline. Leave it to Donald Duck to make this once boring ride at least a little entertaining!

8. Frozen Ever After – EPCOT

Coming in at number 8 was the second World Showcase attraction to utilize Disney IP while keeping its original ride system – Frozen Ever After. The former Maelstrom lost its trolls in favor of Anna, Elsa, Olaf and the rest of the Frozen gang, but did keep its path-reversing reverse drop with a great rendition of Let It Go. (No, at just 28′ tall, we’re not considering the drop to be a main focal point of the attraction, and thus why it makes the list). With the inclusion of Frozen IP, Disney has turned a former walk-on attraction into one that consistently boasts a hour wait. It tells a fun story in the Frozen universe, has a wide variety of unique animatronics with slightly unsettling digital faces, and feels like a solid “middle of the road” addition to this list.

7. Explorer River Quest – LEGOLAND California

Featuring a fresh update as of 2024, the former “Fairy Tale Brook” at LEGOLAND California became part of the new Dino Valley area of the park, and features a new Dinosaur-focused storyline and scenes. Somehow, the animatronic dinosaurs, all constructed of LEGO Bricks, feel more realistic than the extinct reptiles found in the Jurassic Jungle Boat Ride – with way more natural vegetation. When LEGOLAND California opened in 1999, “Fairy Tale Brook” was an original park attraction, and it’s clear that the LEGO Master builders have honed their craft over the past 25 years with the new additions when comparing the original boat ride with the new attraction. Another thing we can appreciate is that this is a longer attraction – with a runtime of just about six minutes – even more time to enjoy a leisurely float along the attraction’s path.

6. Storybook Land Canal Boats – Disneyland

When thinking of the best slow moving boat rides at Disneyland – many people might automatically think of Small World – but what if we told you that “Small World” is not even the best slow moving boat ride in Fantasyland? The Storybook Land Canal Boats might fly under the radar while finding ways to be better than “iasw” in nearly every category. First, it’s outdoors in Southern California, which makes for beautiful scenery. The “storybook” scenes, while taking place outside of the boat, are integrated into the canal, creating a more cohesive attraction, and best of all, the boats are “spieled” by real life cast members who tell the stories of the scenes you’re witnessing, which, in our opinion, makes for a much more enjoyable experience (complete with far less singing!)

5. Monster Mansion – Six Flags Over Georgia

The monsters are having a picnic, and you’re invited! Another cult classic dark ride, Monster Mansion has been entertaining riders at Six Flags Over Georgia in one form or another since 1981. Following a re-theme in 2009, the attraction recently underwent a major refurbishment and renovation in 2023 that included an updated opening scene, new monster costumes, restored animatronics, interactive features, and enhanced lighting, audio, and special effects. In a time where many dark rides need an established IP to thrive, it’s refreshing that Six Flags Over Georgia continues to maintain the Monster Mansion and keep it in its best working order – but hey, stay out of that marsh!

4. Pirates of Speelunker Cave – Six Flags Over Texas

Several years after Six Flags Over Texas opened, the park debuted “The Cave” in 1964, which featured unique characters known as “Speelunkers.” In 1992, the Speelunkers gave way to Yosemite Sam’s Gold River Adventure, which operated in the space until flooding damage caused the ride to close in 2018. While it took several years, Six Flags Over Texas was able to fully restore and renovate the attraction, bringing back the fan favorite “Speelunkers” with “The Pirates of Speelunker Cave,” which opened in 2022. Riders float through 17 scenes that feature state-of-the-art cinematic projection with immersive sets  that showcase pirates alongside the Speelunkers. By bringing back a fan favorite with a modern twist, Pirates of Speelunker Cave is able to crack the Top 4 of our list!

3. Pirates of the Caribbean – Disneyland/Walt Disney World

Another ride where I’m prepared to get hate for ranking it too low, the Pirates of the Caribbean attractions on both coasts are considered to be some of the best water dark rides by many theme park fans, especially at Walt Disney World. Whether it’s the smell of bromine or the combination of classic animatronics and storytelling methods with modern characters from the Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise, Pirates of the Caribbean is definitely one of the most iconic slow moving boat rides. When comparing the two attractions, it’s a common theme to consider the Disneyland version as the superior Pirates of the Caribbean, and I tend to agree. It’s longer, and the story is more cohesive. (Plus you get to float by Blue Bayou!)

2. Flooded Mine – Silver Dollar City

Silver Dollar City’s Flooded Mine has everything you need when considering a classic water dark ride. It’s got a good story, the perfect amount of classic kitsch, well-maintained scenes, and an audience that loves and cherishes the attraction. However, unlike any other ride on this list, it’s got the added value of interactivity with blasters for each rider and targets throughout the attraction. As someone who never needs an excuse to marathon an interactive dark ride, Flooded Mine at Silver Dollar City combines all aspects that make dark rides great into one unique package.

1. Living with the Land – EPCOT

Once again, I’m prepared for the hate, but this is a subjective list, and Living with the Land is truly an attraction that I need to ride every time that I visit Epcot. As slow moving water dark ride/boat rides go, it has a bit of everything. It has animatronics! It has show scenes! It has a working greenhouse! It has hidden Mickeys! It has that weird laboratory where they swear people work, but I’ve never seen anyone in! Best of all, Living with the Land rarely has a line, unless it’s incredibly busy at Walt Disney World, meaning you can take as many laps as you want! The only thing that could make it better would be a live spieler to explain what’s happening in the greenhouse in their own words, which the ride had up until 2006!

What’s your favorite slow moving water dark ride? Let us know in the comments below!