As a Disney fan, it’s always a bit disappointing to learn an attraction that has been around long enough to cement itself in our core memories is going to be altered or replaced. Sometimes these replacements bomb in the court of public opinion and become bitter reminders of the magic we’ve lost. Other replacements (however initially unwanted) have their own unique qualities that endear them to us over time, much the way their predecessors did before them. They might not override the nostalgia we feel for those beloved past attractions, but we may come to appreciate them as separate entities.
Here are the best current rides that have updated, rethemed, or completely replaced previous attractions. Some may not have been popular changes at the time of their announcement, but park guests now warmly embrace them all.
California Screamin’ to the Incredicoaster
With a zero to 55 miles per hour launch, 6,072 feet of steel track, and the only inversion at Disneyland, California Screamin’ was already an exciting attraction. As one of the longest rollercoasters in the United States and at 122 feet high, it offered plenty of thrilling descents to keep guests coming back for more. These merits aside, for a Disney attraction, the vague theming, which was supposed to reflect the history and culture of California, was generic and lackluster at best. Designed to look like a vintage seaside pier wooden coaster from the 20s, thematic elements for California Screamin’ were clearly chosen to be cost-effective and consisted mostly of neon signs, the bright Boardwalk-style food vendors and games at its base, and sunshine icons. It felt like a roller coaster guests could have ridden at Cedar Point or any other theme park.
Along with the retheming of the Paradise Pier area at California Adventure in 2018, California Screamin’ received an update to match the new Pixar Pier motif. Renamed the Incredicoaster, it now features scenes and characters from the Disney/Pixar film The Incredibles and even includes a preshow in which Edna Mode gives an interview about the superhero rebranding, and Jack-Jack causes mayhem and destruction with his newly discovered powers. Originally installed to limit noise from the park in a residential area, the sound tunnels on the ride now feature scenes following Jack-Jack’s escape through the coaster. Large scenes in the television station “VIP room” with Edna and Jack-Jack open and close the ride experience. It’s a nice inclusion of these fan-friendly characters and a vast improvement upon the previous half-baked California concept.
Adventure Thru Inner Space to Star Tours
Opening on August 5, 1967, as part of Walt’s visionary New Tomorrowland at Disneyland, California, Adventure Thru Inner Space was the first attraction to feature the WED Enterprises Omnimover ride system. Designed to simulate shrinking beyond the microscopic size of an atom, this educational dark ride took guests on a journey through giant snowflakes slowly magnified to enhance the shrinking effect until they appeared to be the size of ice crystals, then H20 molecules, then atoms, and finally, a nucleus. One of the last remaining attractions to reflect Walt’s original concept for Tomorrowland, which was to showcase scientific developments and speculate about how these could change the world in the future, Adventure Thru Inner Space closed on September 2, 1985 to make way for a new era in the theme parks.
New Disney CEO Michael Eisner wanted guests to ride the movies, but the 80s weren’t exactly Disney’s best decade for feature films, so Eisner took advantage of Disney’s partnership with George Lucas to create a Star Wars based attraction. The result was Star Tours, a motion simulator attraction in which guests became space tourists on a voyage to Endor via a first-person perspective film Lucas and his special effects team created exclusively for the ride. The immersive queue area was a starport terminal by design, featuring travel posters advertising excursions to various planets in the Star Wars universe, a video on a giant screen encouraging guests to travel to Endor, and audio-animatronic droids that spoke to guests, including original C-3PO and R2D2 props from the Episode IV, modified for the attraction.
In 2011, Star Tours received an update with new destinations and 3-D technology, and in 2012, the Themed Entertainment Association gave Star Tours: The Adventures Continue an award for the most “Outstanding Attraction Refresh.” Since then, Disney has added new worlds and characters from the Skywalker Trilogy (The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi, and Rise of Skywalker), and now guests at Disneyland and Disney’s Hollywood Studios at Disney World can experience 21 randomized scenes on each voyage for a total of 700 different ride experiences!
Snow White’s Scary Adventures to Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Walt Disney World wasn’t built in the exact physical location where Snow White’s Scary Adventures ran from 1971-2012 (Princess Fairytale Hall took that spot), but it replaced it thematically as the sole Magic Kingdom attraction based on the 1937 animated feature. While the beautifully painted murals, colorful storybook scenes full of detailed character figures, and legitimately creepy moments gave Scary Adventures appeal, there is a similar attraction with recent updates still in operation at Disneyland (Snow White’s Enchanted Wish).
Seven Dwarfs Mine Train maintains the charm of its predecessor with a tunnel through the sparkling gem mine under the mountain and a jolly dancing scene at the dwarfs’ cottage (featuring audio-animatronics recycled from Snow White’s Scary Adventure), but it also provides a fun family thrill ride for kids who aren’t quite ready for the mountains (Space Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain). With an innovative ride system that allows each mine cart to swing independently as the train zips around hairpin turns, this coaster is so much fun, we only wish it lasted longer! As the parent of two young kids, I really appreciate a detailed interactive queue line as well, and while guests wait to board the mine train, they can sift and sort gems at a digital jewel washing station and spin bright gemstone-filled barrels to reveal projections of each dwarf on the ceiling, along with some other fun interactive surprises.
Maelstrom to Frozen Ever After
This 2016 change was initially a controversial one among Disney World regulars because Maelstrom was housed in the Norway Pavilion at Epcot, and the decision to replace it with a Frozen-themed ride would leave the pavilion with an attraction set in a fictional Scandinavian kingdom rather than an official Norway-based attraction. Because Frozen relied heavily on visual and cultural inspiration from Norway, Disney decided it was an appropriate fit for World Showcase. In response to the question of whether the planned Frozen attraction would reflect the purpose of World Showcase, then COO Tom Staggs said, “If the goal is to give people a taste of something like Scandinavia with the Norway pavilion, then Frozen would only increase the extent to which people would be drawn to it. To me it doesn’t seem out-of-character at all.”
Although longtime Disney World patrons like me still miss the bowed cultural mural honoring Norway’s past and present, the face of Odin preparing us to “seek the spirit of Norway,” and the animatronic trolls and Vikings bringing Norway’s mythological history to life, there’s no denying the appeal of Frozen Ever After.
For starters, the formerly bare old queue area with its scant Norwegian flags along the walls had nothing on today’s highly themed one, which passes through Wandering Oaken’s Trading Post and Sauna, where Oaken and family draw with their fingers in the steam on the small square sauna window and periodically peer out at guests. The snow-filled journey through Arendelle retains Maelstrom’s Nordic boat-shaped vehicles and reversing “shoot-the-chute” style ride system, but instead of experiencing a sea-faring adventure, passengers sail through a “Summer Snow Day” celebration past all of their favorite Frozen characters, including projection-enhanced animatronics of Anna, Kristoff, and Elsa.
El Rio Del Tiempo to Gran Fiesta Tour
One of two EPCOT World Showcase attractions to make this list, Grand Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros replaced El Rio Del Tiempo (The River of Time) inside the Mexico Pavilion’s Mesoamerican-style pyramid in 2007. While the new version of the ride begins the same way, in a boat on a quiet river floating past the San Angel Inn restaurant on one side and a spewing volcano at twilight on the other, El Rio Del Tiempo focused on Mexico’s history and native inhabitants throughout the ride.
Instead, Gran Fiesta Tour follows José and Panchito from Disney’s 1944 anthology film The Three Caballeros on a search for their friend and fellow musician, Donald Duck, after he runs off on a tour of Mexico. Some current scenes are notably like those from the original, including the fiesta featuring doll-sized animatronics reminiscent of it’s a small world and the cliff-diving scene on one of the many video screens throughout the ride, but Donald now makes appearances in these, first as a piñata the dolls are trying to break open, and then diving from the cliffs himself in the video.
Guests still get to experience some of the sights and sounds of Mexico, but the antics of the Three Caballeros are more prominent than the roles of the previous native inhabitants. However, the finale when the Three Caballeros are reunited for their performance feels more climactic than the dancing life-sized marionettes on a carousel in the original. Guests still get to watch the same electric fireworks overhead, and since 2015, audio-animatronic Donald, José, and Panchito (recycled from opening day Magic Kingdom attraction, The Mickey Mouse Revue) serenade guests as their boats float through the display toward the exit.
World of Motion to Test Track
EPCOT’s World of Motion at Walt Disney World gave the history of motion and transportation the same treatment Spaceship Earth gives to the history of communication. It was another omnimover attraction that carried passengers past animatronics riding prehistoric animals, DaVinci’s renaissance age plans for a flying machine, hot air balloons, coaches and horse-drawn carriages, steam-engines, bicycles, and eventually planes, bullet trains, and automobiles. The classic educational dark ride was sponsored by General Motors, and in the mid-nineties, when the automotive manufacturing company was conducting lay-offs and making spending cutbacks, they decided to justify renewing their sponsorship agreement with Disney, wanting to construct a new ride that would prominently showcase their vehicles.
Imagineers designed Test Track around the concept of an automobile testing facility, with a queue weaving past testing areas for doors, tires, and crash dummies. Originally, guests boarded prototype “test vehicles” that carried them through a series of assessments to demonstrate the evaluation process for new automobiles before they hit the market. The ride simulated an anti-lock brakes test, a test to determine how well the vehicles fared in extreme weather conditions, a handling test, and a surprise “crash” test at the end, but instead of crashing, the barrier at the end of the road opened to allow guests to accelerate along an outdoor portion of the track at high speeds reaching 64.9 miles per hour.
In 2012, Test Track received a sleek makeover, sponsored specifically by the GM Chevrolet brand, and now guests can design their own virtual concept car and test their designs on a digital “SimTrack,” with a dark neon aesthetic and a computerized guide voice. As the fastest attraction Disney has ever built, this ride was good for thrills before, but the Chevrolet version is a definite upgrade.
Mr Toad’s Wild Ride to The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride was an opening day Fantasyland attraction at Magic Kingdom based on the Wind in the Willows segment of Disney’s The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. Replicas of Mr. Toad’s motorcar from the film took guests on a reckless joyride across the English countryside and through the streets of London to “Nowhere in Particular,” before a fatal crash in a railroad tunnel sent them into Disney’s cheeky depiction of hell. Instead of the three-dimensional characters and sets featured in other opening day Fantasyland dark rides, like Snow White’s Scary Adventures and Peter Pan’s Flight, it mostly relied upon two-dimensional painted plywood cut-outs and backdrops, giving the impression of a glorified carnival funhouse. Guests who miss the nostalgia of this attraction can still experience the Disneyland version, and its replacement at Disney World pays tribute to the ride with pictures of Mr. Toad and his friend Moley subtly displayed in Owl’s house.
The sweet innocence and simple wisdom of A.A. Milne’s books and the Disney film adaptations of them have appealed to my kids from very early ages, so The Many Adventures of Winne the Pooh is a must-do for my family every time we visit Magic Kingdom. It helps that the 1999 attraction is an immersive ride through the storybook page framework Disney uses in the movie. Oversized honeypots carry guests past Rabbit’s garden, into Owl’s teetering treehouse during a windstorm, on a bounce through the forest with Tigger, into Pooh’s dreamscape, and through the flooded Hundred-Acre Wood for a festive celebration at the end. The bright, colorful scenes include mostly three-dimensional characters and settings in contrast to the drab, flat ones in Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, although Winnie the Pooh more effectively uses painted plywood in a couple of scenes to simulate Owl’s treehouse falling and Pooh’s disorienting dream about Heffalumps and Woozles. In 2010, the addition of an interactive queue line where kids can beat on melon and pumpkin drums, spin sunflower wheels, harvest tomatoes, fly honeybees in and out of their hives, and swipe around on a digital wall of honey to reveal the characters completed this already enchanting experience.
Ellen’s Energy Adventure to Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind
Despite its educational value, memorable soundtrack, nostalgia, and humor (courtesy of Ellen DeGeneres and Bill Nye), the 1996 update to EPCOT’s opening day traveling theater dark ride, Universe of Energy, was even longer than the original–a whopping 45 minutes long, to be exact. Even as someone who is moderately interested in renewable energy, I found it got boring after a while. On Ellen’s Energy Adventure, guests sat in theater seats that rotated and moved forward through a primeval diorama highlighting the history of fossil fuels with audio-animatronic dinosaurs, into a second theater, and eventually back to the theater where they began. Along the way, several film segments projected on large screens highlighted the Big Bang, the production of energy, and the search for new sources of renewable energy. It was an improvement upon the original, but I never felt compelled to ride it more than once or twice over the last 13 years before it closed.
Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind is a welcome addition to the park that effectively incorporates the Guardians of the Galaxy while paying homage to the concept of EPCOT’s pavilion model and even working in some references to old EPCOT attractions via Peter Quill’s memories of visiting the park as a child still living on Terra (Earth). “The Galaxarium” is a planetarium-like exhibition that introduces guests to the “incredible wonders of Xandar.” The tour culminates in an incidental action-packed adventure with the Guardians of the Galaxy to retrieve the Cosmic Generator (a Xandarian technological device that creates “jumpholes” through time) that a disgruntled Celestial steals from Nova Corps. Cosmic Rewind is the first-ever reverse-launch Disney coaster, and in addition to this feature, its individual ride cars rotate 360 degrees to allow guests to take in all the sights without missing any of the action.
The Great Movie Ride to Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway
A journey through classic moments in cinematic history, like Gene Kelly swinging from the lamppost in Singin’ in the Rain, the chimney top sequence in Mary Poppins, Humphrey Bogart saying goodbye to Ingrid Bergman on the runway in Casablanca, and the beginning of Dorothy’s adventure along the yellow-brick road, The Great Movie Ride was the anchor attraction at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (originally MGM) until its closure in 2017. Although much-loved and still missed, especially by movie buffs like me, films like The Public Enemy, A Fistful of Dollars, and even Footlight Parade were becoming more obscure among younger audiences.
The trackless dark ride through Mickey and Minnie’s visually striking and wildly unpredictable cartoon world is a delight for the senses, and the incredible detail in each scene draws guests back to the ride repeatedly to look for those they may have missed on their last ride. The premise of the Perfect Picnic short film premiere works well in the movie-themed park, and the long-felt absence of a Mickey-themed attraction at any Disney resort has now been rectified at Walt Disney World (and now Disneyland as well).
If you’re interested in experiencing the recently opened Disneyland version of this ride, read our review and synopsis of Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway for what to expect.
The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror to Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout!
In contrast to The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the Disneyland experience always felt slightly lacking. Without the horizontal track portion of the ride, during which the elevator car exits the lift shaft into the “Fifth Dimension,” the brief ascent to the top and subsequent non-randomized drop sequence seemed like a half-hearted attempt to draw crowds at California Adventure by replicating an existing attraction without taking the time to fully reimagine it for that space.
So, while the idea of replacing the original seemed utterly blasphemous to many Disney fans, the Marvel retheme of the Disneyland Tower of Terror ended up being a welcome change. In Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout!, the Collector’s display of relics in the queue and pre-show area, the completely original storyline featuring performances by the actors from the Guardians of the Galaxy films, the impressive audio-animatronic Rocket in the ventilation system, and of course, the smashing “Awesome Mix” soundtrack make this ride a fan-favorite. The possibility of six different drop sequences–each synced to their own scenario, visuals, and song–is likely to keep the attraction from getting old any time soon.
In our guide to the Avengers Campus at Disney California Adventure, you can read more about Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout! and the other exciting offerings for Marvel fans in the park.
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