Don’t get me wrong. I do appreciate the constant strive for improvement that Disney Imagineers push for in the parks. Updates and refurbishments are sometimes necessary to stay relevant. I can admit that. It’s the theme park equivalent of a new haircut every few years to stay fresh. Although, perhaps with everything in life, sometimes these changes can leave us yearning for the old days.
1. Test Track – EPCOT
At the risk of sounding like an angry old man, I can say with pride that I was at the opening of Test Track in the Spring of 1999. It immediately became one of my favorite attractions with its playful storyline, realistic car tests, and epic conclusion. Wait… you’re going to make us all your crash test dummies? Sign me up! I loved it. But if the Star Wars prequels have taught us anything it’s that all good things come to an end. In 2012, they closed this masterpiece for a lengthy refurbishment and reopened it with an entirely new theme. The adorable pre-show was replaced by a “create your own” car design workshop that feels hollow and forced. (We get it EPCOT, you’re all about learning!) Remember the road blocks and temperature tests? Gone! Without the storyline, even the suspenseful ending becomes a bore as we catapult toward a wall for no apparent reason. They removed nearly every ounce of charm this ride once had and replaced it with a makeover that feels like Tron on a budget. Gone is the playfulness. Gone is the storyline. Gone is the fun. They left this one feeling heartless and empty. Thank God it’s only a few short steps to the Mexico pavilion where we can drown out our disappointment in tequila.
2. The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror – Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Let’s just get right to it. Seatbelts. I think we can all agree that Tower of Terror is one of Disney Imagineering’s greatest creations. It’s an absolute theme park gem that does not need to be touched. When this classic attraction opened in 1994, it implemented a lap bar system that stretched across your entire row leaving a pretty generous gap between the bar and yourself, allowing you to fly up into the air as the elevator plunged 13 stories straight down. I recall vivid memories of my sisters and myself getting some serious air time as kids. In the early 2000s, this lap bar was replaced with individual seatbelts for each rider which severely limits the amount of air time you can get. The ride is still gorgeous, but this new safety system takes away a lot of the fun. I desperately miss the lap bar days.
3. Soarin’ Around the World – EPCOT
This overhaul simply wasn’t necessary. Soarin’ opened in 2005 in the Land pavilion as a carbon copy of its sister attraction at Disney California Adventure. It featured beautiful shots of various locations throughout California as you gracefully fly above. The scenes changed seamlessly and the overall feel of the ride flowed well. The idea of focusing on one state worked well as I genuinely feel like I learned something about California and its vastly complex landscape. (See! I learned something. You happy now, EPCOT?) In 2016 we received Soarin’ Around the World which features scenes from, well you guessed it… around the world. The scenes genuinely do not flow well together as we aggressively transition from one scene to the next with an overabundance of CGI effects that serve as nothing but a gimmick. I thought the original Soarin’ was perfect as it was. Why change it? Honestly, they’ve been playing the same clip show at the Sci-Fi Diner for the past 30 years and we’re all fine with that. This did not need to be updated. At least we got to keep the pre-show video featuring Patrick Warburton. Pudddddy!
So what does the future hold for Walt Disney World attraction refurbishments? It seems like we’ll be getting a lot of updates centered around popular movie franchises, and that may not be a bad thing. Although, as a fan, I just ask that the Imagineers stay true to the charm of the original attractions and do not leave us talking about just how good they used to be.