If you haven’t heard, Walt Disney World is preparing a Frozen attraction to take over the space of Maelstrom in Norway in EPCOT. It’s a bit of a controversial move, but attraction makeovers actually aren’t all that unheard of around the resort to varying levels of success.
Today I wanted to take a look at some of the most successful and least successful attraction makeovers at Walt Disney World. I’m leaving out attractions where the show building remains, but the interior was gutted (for instance “World of Motion” and “Test Track”) and attractions that are largely movie screens (Circle of Life film at The Land) and stage shows, both of which are designed to be changed relatively easily and frequently.
Star Tours to Star Tours: The Adventure Continues
When Star Tours first opened in 1986 (1989 at DHS), it raised the bar for motion-simulator attractions. You were enveloped in the world of Star Wars and thrust right in to a dramatic moment from the film. I almost didn’t include this one on the list, but I think the work on converting it from film to digital projection holds a lot of promise. The main advantage is that it will make it possible to swap out segments adding new destinations as Lucasfilm releases new Star Wars films. The good news is that promise is about to be realized when Imagineers add a segment from Episode 7. Expect it to debut with the new Seasons of the Force event. Once that actually happens, I’ll put the Star Tours makeover at the top of the list.
Grade: 4/5 stars.
Test Track to Tron Track
Test Track rose from the hollow shell of World of Motion’s showbuilding. Originally targeted for a 1997 opening it faced many technical difficulties and didn’t officially open until Spring of 1999. The original theme was a GM Test Facility and guests were welcomed aboard to be the Test Track Dummies. The end of GM’s 10-year contract with Disney corresponded with an economic downturn that sent the company into bankruptcy, and temporary bailout by the US taxpayers. GM pulled its sponsorship, but Disney was able to negotiate a deal with Chevrolet. Out of those ashes rose the affectionately called “Tron Track” (really also called “Test Track”). It kept the same track layout as the original, but replaced all the sets with a ‘digital’ testing ground for a sim-car. Guests are now encouraged to design their own sim-car and then journey inside the computer to see how it measures up against fellow passengers in the virtual simulation.
Grade: 4.5/5 Stars
Hall of Presidents makeover
“The Hall of Presidents” has undergone a few makeovers over the years. The most recent update (July 2009) to the Hall of Presidents added a new direction for the show emphasizing the democratic improvement that our nation’s chief executive is chosen from and by the people. He (or she) is one of us.
Grade: 4.5/5 Stars
The Barnstormer to The Barnstormer
The 2012 transformation from Mickey’s Toontown Fair to Storybook Circus wiped out nearly every feature of the previous attractions, but one attraction survived – The Barnstormer. Not only was the name tweaked slightly (“The Barnstormer at Goofy’s Wiseacre Farm” became “The Barnstormer featuring the Great Goofini”), but the attraction got a new paint job, some additional set design, and the loading and unloading sides were switched in the main station. The track, however, remained exactly the same. This one was successful for its simplicity, however it also saw the addition of Fastpass+ which generally isn’t needed for such a minor coaster.
Grade: 3/5 stars
Dreamflight to Buzz Lightyear
“Delta Dreamflight” replaced the popular Tomorrowland attraction “If you could fly” in 1989. It, in turn was replaced by “Take Flight,” which lasted for less than two years. The concept of flight gave way to outer space and the toys made popular by Pixar’s Toy Story franchise. “Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin” was the first in series of what is now a go-to attraction in Disney theme parks around the world. It brings interactive game-play to the theme parks of Disney allowing guests to shoot targets while traveling in omnimover vehicles through a simple story. In the end the bad guy is defeated and you’ve helped Buzz Lightyear save the galaxy. You can even compare your score with others in your party and find out who is a Galactic Hero who remains a Star Cadet. The attraction was controversial at its opening as the cartoon feel was thought to be out of place in Tomorrowland, but it continues to be very popular with guests at all 5 parks it has opened in (coming soon to #6 – Shanghai Disneyland too).
Grade: 4/5 stars
El Rio del Tiempo to Gran Fiesta Tour
“El Rio del Tiempo” was one of EPCOT’s original attractions. Guests toured the various parts of Mexico in more of a series of scenes than any real story. It closed in 2007 to make way for “Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros.” The overlay added three Disney characters (Donald Duck, Panchito Pistoles and José Carioca) and a thin plot to link all the scenes together. The move was controversial in that some fans wanted to keep Disney characters out of the World Showcase attractions, but others saw the move as a way to draw interest to the culture and beauty of Mexico through improved storytelling.
Grade: 3.5/5 stars
Journey into Imagination to Journey into Imagination with Figment
“Journey into Imagination” opened in 1983 and is viewed as a creative masterpiece by many longtime fans of the park. It introduced the characters of Dreamfinder and Figment to park guests and took them on a journey to discover their own spark of imagination. In 1999, the ride went through a makeover in into “Journey into YOUR Imagination” and took on the theme of the Imagination Institute based on Disney’s “Honey, I shrunk the audience” movie, the Dreamfinder and Figment were almost nowhere to be found. This version was widely panned by fans and guests and resulted in the current version, “Journey into Imagination with Figment!,” opening in 2002, where the Imagination Institute is still the setting, but Figment, at least, is back as your guide through Imagination.
Grade: 2/5 stars for initial makeover 3.5/5 stars for the 2002 fix.