7 Best Recent Disney Ride Changes
The Walt Disney Company recently confirmed that Splash Mountain will soon receive a re-theming.
Disney will thankfully drop the uncomfortable Song of the South connections and introduce The Princess and the Frog.
This decision leads to an interesting question. Which recent Disney attractions have received the best updates?
Here are my picks for the best seven Disney ride improvements during the 21st century.
Frozen Ever After
When Disney modernizes attractions, the company always garners headlines.
Every theme park ride comes with so much history that serious tweaks evoke outrage from some circles.
I can’t cast stones here, because I’m currently sweating the upcoming Spaceship Earth update, which could significantly change my favorite ride.
I mention this because Maelstrom at the Norway pavilion claimed an oddly devout number of fans. Frequent World Showcase guests treasured the attraction. It was rarely crowded and delivered a terrific ride experience.
Some Disney fans also dislike the company’s focus on intellectual properties IPs), a position I struggle to understand.
Walt Disney built Disneyland into an international phenomenon by highlighting the company’s movie IPs.
So, when I heard that Maelstrom would turn into Frozen Ever After, I understood fans’ disappointment, but I understood Disney’s logic.
When Frozen Ever After debuted, even the harshest critics had to admit the truth. The ride’s a masterpiece, highlighting all the best parts of Arendelle.
Plus, that final drop at the end somehow feels better due to the chilly setting and the knowledge that we’re getting our pictures taken.
For fans of Splash Mountain, Frozen Ever After embodies the best-case scenario for an attraction’s re-theming.
Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros
Depending on how long you’ve been visiting Walt Disney World, you might not even know this ride received re-theming.
Think of Gran Fiesta Tour as the small-scale version of Frozen Ever After.
Like at the Norway pavilion, the Mexico pavilion featured an anchor attraction.
This ride, El Rio del Tiempo, opened with EPCOT in 1982.
You can watch the ride video to appreciate how structurally similar the original version is to its successor.
Sadly, El Rio del Tiempo stopped drawing crowds after 20 years.
In 2007, park officials introduced a modest change, and, yes, it was IP-based.
Donald Duck joined a couple of his friends to reunite the Three Caballeros. Together, the trio went on a Gran Fiesta Tour.
This update reinvigorated the attraction for a while, although it’s still one of the less-trafficked rides at EPCOT.
Gran Fiesta Tour deserves mention because the introduction of cartoon violence, most of it at Donald’s expense, added a new element.
The ride appealed to children more after the change, and they still get a kick out of watching their favorite duck suffer through his usual series of shenanigans.
Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT!
While people argued against Maelstrom’s re-theming, the outcry paled in comparison to what happened at Disney California Adventure (DCA).
The park opened a West Coast version of Twilight Zone Tower of Terror in 2004.
After the park’s shaky first year, Disney decided to duplicate one of its best overall rides.
For 13 years, this version of Tower of Terror thrilled Californians and other guests at the Happiest Place on Earth.
However, the blockbuster appeal of Guardians of the Galaxy tempted Disney into re-theming the attraction.
Already, we’re talking about the third instance of IP driving a re-theming decision.
The difference this time is that Disney didn’t own The Twilight Zone. The company does possess the entire Marvel library.
Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT! foreshadowed the arrival of Avengers Campus, as it was the first comic book ride.
The remarkable part of this transition stems from the way that Imagineers rebuilt the attraction.
The drop tower attraction occurs in an elevator shaft. So, Disney had to retrofit the new ride into the old space.
Somehow, Imagineers pulled off this feat by combining Guardians of the Galaxy fight scenes with rock music.
Disney even added a random part to the proceedings, as each song comes with a different video. It’s like six rides in one!
While most DCA fans prefer Guardians of the Galaxy, I’m more of an Incredicoaster fan.
This re-theming required less work, but that doesn’t mean Disney cut any corners.
Imagineers utilized the track from California Screamin’ but added comic book action scenes.
The Parr family harbors a secret identity as The Incredibles. You’ll soar down the tracks on this roller coaster, but the excitement happens in the tunnels.
Here, you’ll watch as the Parr family tries to retrieve the baby, Jack-Jack, who has escaped his babysitter.
If you close your eyes, you’ll experience the ride the same way you always did when it was California Screamin’.
However, if you keep your eyes open, you’ll witness every member of the family employ their superpowers to catch Jack-Jack, the most powerful of them all.
The splashy tunnels sequences feel straight out of a comic book, which is the point. It’s glorious.
Pirates of the Caribbean
The re-theming changes we’ve discussed thus far involved a change of IPs. However, several of Disney’s recent plussing exercises tweaked the original concept.
For example, Pirates of the Caribbean shares similarities with Splash Mountain.
Everyone loves the attraction, but we’re acutely aware of the uncomfortable undertones, too.
Disney officials wisely chose to eradicate those outdated elements in favor of ones that better reflect modern society, an idea Walt Disney would appreciate.
With Pirates of the Caribbean, the slave auction of women had to go, and most people knew it.
The new version features an empowered woman named Redd, who drinks and carouses alongside the men.
The scene is better, but it also serves a secondary purpose. Disney will soon produce a Pirates of the Caribbean movie based on the adventures of Redd.
After the success of The Curse of the Black Pearl, Imagineers added Jack Sparrow to the ride. So, this version will work in the opposite direction.
The new character from the attraction will star in a movie.
Give Disney credit. The company always has a plan.
The Seas with Nemo & Friends
Raise your hand if you remember The Living Seas! Shout out to my fellow old school EPCOT fans!
I understand that not all of you were around for The Living Seas. The original EPCOT pavilion celebrated the infotainment concept to its fullest.
The pre-show movie in the above video reveals a somber, dense story that wasn’t for everyone. But the pavilion was brilliant!
Guests would “ride” a Hydrolator and Sea Cabs to reach the inner chamber of this aquarium, the largest of its kind at the time.
EPCOT officials bragged that the water from The Living Seas would fill the entirety of Spaceship Earth and overflow.
From a structural perspective, this pavilion qualifies as one of Disney’s most outstanding achievements ever.
However, children found large portions of it boring, especially after the first 20 years.
To entice kids to spend more time there, Disney revamped this place more than anything else we’ll discuss. Pixar’s Finding Nemo tore up the box office, becoming the studio’s most popular movie at the time.
Since Disney had just bought Pixar, EPCOT could add a themed attraction that solved the pavilion’s attendance woes.
Enter The Seas with Nemo & Friends, the new name for the building and its anchor attraction as well.
On this ride, the educational stuff has been tossed aside. Instead, guests experience an eerily similar adventure as Nemo did in the movie.
Technically, this attraction counts as a sequel, albeit a prequel to Finding Dory. So, everyone watches Nemo get lost again.
The most remarkable part of the ride is unquestionably the East Australian Current portion, which somehow feels like you’re surfing through the ocean.
Soarin’ Around the World
Soarin’ Over California distinguished itself as the one great DCA attraction when the park opened.
Yes, California Screamin’ opened that same day. Other than having California in the title, it didn’t display much of a theme, though.
The first Soarin’ ride highlighted both the attraction and its theme park.
I have high standards for any replacement, as I consider the original ride one of the finest Imagineering achievements ever.
Still, Soarin’ Around the World somehow surpasses its predecessor.
The beauty of California is unmistakable, but the state is relatively insignificant compared to the entire planet.
With the second Soarin’ ride, Imagineers could choose scenery from the most exotic and historic locations on the planet. That’s the difference here.
One second, a playful whale will splash water in your face. Then, you’ll fly by the Taj Mahal or the Great Wall of China.
You may encounter majestic waterfalls that fill the entire movie screen, too.
The original version of Soarin’ demonstrated everything great about Imagineering.
However, the current one demonstrates that when the choices are California or the rest of the world, the Golden State just can’t compete.