5 Walt Disney World Attractions We Really Miss
Walt Disney World is always changing, always improving. This fluctuation is an edict from Walt Disney himself. He believed strongly in the concept of plussing, updating the parks to provide the best possible guest experience. Alas, some of these changes come at a high cost. The developed land at the four theme parks is in demand, forcing park planners to close a few great rides in favor of new ones. Here are five Walt Disney World attractions we really miss.
ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter
Stitch’s Great Escape is a relatively recent victim of plussing. Actually, in this instance, it’s better described as minusing. Park officials decided that Magic Kingdom was better served hosting a character greeting with Stitch in the same space. It wasn’t a difficult choice since Stitch’s Great Escape perennially scored at the bottom of customer satisfaction surveys.
The tragedy of this wasted opportunity is that the Stitch attraction replaced something vastly superior…and I say that as a Stitch superfan. The previous ride, ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter, stood apart from everything else at Walt Disney World. It was a genuinely frightening attraction, one that was probably 20 years ahead of its time.
Back when the ride opened in 1995, horror wasn’t the subject of a three-month Disney ticketed event. In fact, even Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios ran for less than two weeks. This alien encounter was truly built in the wrong era. I’m convinced that if it had replaced Stitch instead of vice versa, it would be celebrated as one of the greatest Magic Kingdom attractions.
As the name suggests, ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter simulated a too-close meeting with a carnivorous alien. It was an intense seven minutes that horrified guests beyond Disney’s comfort level. Even though Disney caters to adults, it desires a kid-friendly atmosphere. The alien encounter tilted the balance. But its insanity will live on forever on YouTube.
The Great Movie Ride
This one hurts. From day one, Disney’s Hollywood Studios claimed one signature attraction, the centerpiece of the entire park. For that matter, The Great Movie Ride was the ONLY true ride on opening day except for some studio lot tours and the like. It was also the longest operating ride and day one attraction at Hollywood Studios. The Great Movie Ride encompassed the entire identity of the third Disney park for 20 years.
The Great Movie Ride swept guests away on a ride through the history of Hollywood. The giant topless tram transported guests through several movie sets, all of which recreated some of the most beloved film genres.
Cast members performed roles to bring the ride into the movie experience. They played narrators or gangsters or cowboys. It was a gleeful take on the frivolities of cinematic storytelling. And it reminded riders why they fell in love with movies in the first place.
Sadly, change is inevitable at all Disney parks, and it’s easier to make them at an underachieving place like Hollywood Studios. As Disney took a strong step toward modernizing its least trafficked park, they had to break with the past. Disney closed The Great Movie Ride in anticipation of a new attraction, one with a headline act for the ages. Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway is the replacement that will thrill guests for years to come. It’s just a shame that its arrival comes at the expense of The Great Movie Ride.
Maelstrom is the opposite of ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter. Its replacement is a show-stopping attraction that’s one of the finest at Walt Disney World. So, a bit of reminiscing about the loss of a classic Norway attraction is in no way a dig at its follow-up. Frozen Ever After is terrific, yet I still feel melancholy that I will never ride a Viking boat into daylight ever again.
To fans of the Norway Pavilion, Maelstrom went hand-in-hand with a visit here. It didn’t technically open at the same time as the Norway Pavilion. Construction ran late, so it missed its target date by a month and two days. Yes, since the second month of the pavilion, Maelstrom anchored the area as a worthy centerpiece attraction.
1980s Imagineers drilled the theming here. They celebrated Norse mythology and the history of the Vikings. Maelstrom combined a trip on a realistic Viking boat with a fictional encounter with trolls. The end result was a whimsical, thrilling ride that made people feel like Vikings, if only for a time. And it delivered an exciting surprise, too. At one point, guests would exit the darkness of the ride building and follow the watery path to a brief open section with sunlight. Disney closed this off for Frozen Ever After, which is kind of a bummer.
For fans of mythology like me, Maelstrom represented the best of the World Showcase. It championed the history of the proud Viking people, and it embraced the absurdity of the Norse deities, too.
Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride
Ah, Mr. Toad, you magnificent gadabout. Your hedonistic tendencies and coveting of the finer things in life led you astray. All you wanted was one of the exciting automobiles that were all the rage. Once you acquired one, however, you learned that you were less than an optimal driver. In your rush to experience the highs and lows of steering, you:
- Were imprisoned
- Drove into an oncoming train
- Went straight to Hell
Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride is one of Disney’s cheekiest attractions ever. It’s one of the darkest ones, too. The titular Mr. Toad suffers eternal damnation at the end of his (wild) ride. Since the entire journey is such madcap fun, nobody cares, though. Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride was an opening day original at both Disneyland and Magic Kingdom. At the latter park, however, Disney regrettably chose to close the (admittedly dated) attraction in favor of The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.
I honestly have no idea why they did this rather than shutter Tomorrowland Speedway, which has an exponentially larger footprint. Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride embodies everything that I love about Disney theme parks.
It’s a silly ride that’s impossible to take seriously. It’s overflowing with imagination and stylish set pieces. And it’s paced at such a breakneck speed that it genuinely feels like an out-of-control adventure. I believe it’s one of the greatest things that Disney’s ever done, and it kills me that they don’t have it at Magic Kingdom any longer. The worst part is that it’s been gone 20 years yet it feels like a ride that closed just the other day.
Snow White’s Scary Adventures
The good news about today’s list is that two of the attractions are still available at Disneyland. You just have to sojourn to the West Coast to experience them. The bad news is that many people like me vastly prefer Walt Disney World, where Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride was shuttered in 1998. Snow White’s Scary Adventures lasted quite a bit longer.
This ride fell victim to the changes at New Fantasyland at Magic Kingdom. Disney had faced a black eye in the early days of Snow White’s Scary Adventures. The Walt Disney World version was undeniably upsetting to small children. Snow White and her Dwarf buddies barely appeared during the attraction. Instead, the evil witch was a constant presence, making seven different appearances.
During the 1990s, Disney modified the ride to make it friendlier and more in line with the Disneyland version. It’s this charming version that I miss. The early sets use bright colors to set a happy tone. Also, who wouldn’t love watching Snow White hold a bird in her hands? The more balanced deployment of Snow White and the Dwarfs makes for a more engaging experience.
I’m not quite sure how/why, but the original Disneyland dark rides have stood the test of time in extraordinary fashion. I lament that Walt Disney World’s management didn’t feel the same loyalty to their opening day rides. Magic Kingdom certainly doesn’t need Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride or Snow White’s Scary Adventures to deliver an exceptional guest experience. They’re certainly rides that I miss dearly, though.