Home » 4 Attractions Disney Didn’t Care Enough About to Save

4 Attractions Disney Didn’t Care Enough About to Save


It’s not always clear why Disney decides to move on from certain attractions. Conventional wisdom goes a little like this: XYZ attraction is popular/hailed as a classic/something Walt once touched, looked at, or breathed on, so therefore it should remain a hallmark of the park. When Disney then decides to excise it from the landscape, we can’t help but feel a little betrayed.

Couldn’t Disney see how much we loved Maelstrom? How integral the Great Movie Ride was to the identity of Disney’s Hollywood Studios? How moved we were by the first cheerful refrain of the Sherman Brothers’ beloved ditty, “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow”?

The answer is both simpler and more frustrating than we want to hear. At the end of the day, Disney is going to make whatever decision they feel is best for the company. Sometimes, it’s a branding move. Sometimes, it’s because they have something new and shiny up their sleeves. (Sometimes, we can’t help but think, it’s to throw a little chaos into the mix.)

Let’s hear it for some of the finest attractions Disney decided to bid an all-too-hasty goodbye to…

1. Horizons


Image: Sam Howzit, Flickr (license)

Dates of operation: 1983 – 1999

Replaced by: Mission: SPACE

Ask a Disney Parks fan to list their most-missed attractions, and there’s a good chance you’ll find Horizons at the top of it. After all, how many rides truly put Disney’s “If you can dream it, you can do it” ethos to the test?

When it first opened in 1983, exactly one year after EPCOT’s own premiere, Horizons offered guests a satisfying sequel to the already-beloved Carousel of Progress in Magic Kingdom. Visionaries who stepped aboard the Omnimover vehicles were transported to an as-yet unrealized version of the future, in which desert farms, floating underwater cities, and space colonies were not only possible, but common. It was a fascinating blend of cutting-edge technology and innovative edutainment, something that couldn’t have more perfectly summed up the essence of the park’s Future World pavilion.

Ten years later, Horizons’ sponsor declined to renew their contract with Disney. General Electric had poured a decade of funding into the project, and while the ride had established a fanbase and reputation within the park, the company didn’t feel an impetus to extend their sponsorship for another long-term deal.


Image: Sam Howzit, Flickr (license)

It was bad timing for Disney; in 1995, they were planning to shut down Universe of Energy and World of Motion for much-needed refurbishments. They decided to keep Horizons running—albeit sponsor-less—through the winter of 1999, when it was shuttered and razed to make way for a new space-themed attraction called Mission: SPACE.

Unlike the other attractions on this list, Horizons wasn’t shut down because Disney didn’t recognize its potential or popularity. In addition to the lack of sponsorship, the building reportedly suffered from a plethora of structural problems and was later seemed unsafe for the thousands of guests pouring through Epcot’s entrance. It may have had something to do with a weak foundation, an issue with the soil under the building, roof issues… or even a sinkhole. Whatever the case, its fate was the same. And, while Mission: SPACE has proved a polarizing and thrilling addition to Future World, Disney hasn’t attempted anything close to the more imaginative, elegant Horizons in the two decades since its unfortunate demise.

2. Country Bear Jamboree

Country Bear Jamboree

Image: HarshLight, Flickr (license)

Dates of operation: 1972 – 2001

Replaced by: The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

From the moment Henry introduced the dishpan-tapping, mouthharp-playing Five Bear Rugs in 1971, the Country Bear Jamboree appealed to the hearts and imaginations of even the most steel-hearted cynic in the Magic Kingdom. While the 18-critter cast has been a mainstay in Walt Disney World for nearly five decades now, it proved far less popular over its 29-year run in Disneyland.

Exactly what Californian crowds didn’t “get” about the bears isn’t quite clear. Its dwindling popularity may have been directly linked to Disney’s high expectations for the show; over in Orlando, the jamboree was squeezed into a single staging area, but when the attraction was revised and moved out West, the Audio-Animatronics were doubled to fill two separate theaters. With twice the capacity and twice the daily performances, Disney figured they would have no problem keeping up with demand. And they were right… for exactly the wrong reasons.

The twin theaters certainly provided ample room for guests, but the show failed to attract the same crowd-pleasing status it was enjoying in Walt Disney World. The final nail in the coffin was the result of still more creative measures by Disney. In 1986, 15 years after the “E” ticket opened to the public, Disneyland’s original Country Bear Jamboree was replaced by a tackier revue called, at different points, the Country Bear Theater Vacation Jamboree, the Country Bear Vacation Hoe-Down, and the Country Bear Playhouse.

Country Bear Vacation Jamboree in Tokyo Disneyland

Image: Joel, Flickr (license)

The basic premise was the same, except that the bears now wore bikinis and tacky t-shirts and sang parodies of hits like “California Girls” and “Thank God I’m a Country Boy.” (During the holiday season, their warm-weather attire was swapped for scarves, sweaters, and bedazzled Elvis suits for the Country Bear Christmas Special.) Like any Disney attraction, the new show had its own share of enthusiasts, but there was no denying that the decision to axe the original had been a misstep on Disney’s part.

Over in Walt Disney World, the Vacation Hoe-Down lasted six short years before it permanently closed in 1992 in order to revert to the original Jamboree lineup. Disneyland, meanwhile, kept the show running for another 15 years before closing the entire operation down in the fall of 2001. In its place was another Magic Kingdom staple and more widely-known crowd-pleaser: The Many Adventure of Winnie the Pooh.

Disney may not have been able or willing to keep the Country Bears’ musical dreams alive in California, but that didn’t mean the public had completely given up on the show. Within a year of its closure, Disney debuted the poorly-received The Country Bears (2002), while the original bears continued to charm audiences in Florida and all three iterations of the show lived on in Tokyo Disneyland.

3. Discovery River Boats

Discovery River Boats

Image: Sam Howzit, Flickr (license)

Dates of operation: 1998 – 1999

Replaced by: N/A

Disney hasn’t always given the boot to fan favorites. Sometimes, the lack of guest enthusiasm for a particular attraction directly led to its removal from the parks.

Nowhere was this more evident than at the newly-opened Animal Kingdom in 1998. Disney’s newest park was scarce on rideable Opening Day attractions, offering guests a choice of DINOSAUR, Kilimanjaro Safaris, Wildlife Express Train, and Discovery River Boats. While DINOSAUR was a dark ride similar in scope and special effects to Disneyland’s Indiana Jones Adventure, the other rides were primarily focused on showcasing the wildlife around the park rather than delivering the thrill-ride experience guests had come to expect at modern-day theme parks.

Discovery River Boats was neither a thrill ride nor a vehicle for highlighting animal habitats. It was originally designed as a whimsical adaptation of the Jungle Cruise, where guests would board boats for a tour of the fantastical animals around the Tree of Life, including an ethereal unicorn, a vengeful Kraken, and a fire-spitting dragon.

Discovery River Boats

Image: Sam Howzit, Flickr (license)

That’s not exactly what guests got from Disney on Opening Day. Thanks to budget restrictions, there was little Disney could do to make their dreams of boat-rocking, flame-breathing Audio-Animatronics come to life. Instead, Discovery River Boats became a much milder transportation attraction, with the primary goal of transporting

Instead, Discovery River Boats was reduced to a transportation attraction with the primary goal of ferrying guests from docks in Safari Village to Asia and back again. Early versions of the ride featured a splashing Iguanodon animatronic, a unicorn statue, and a fire effect emanating from a “dragon’s cave” (with the dragon nowhere to be seen), but within several months, even these had been removed from the experience. Gone, too, were the very real lizards and spiders that cast members would sometimes display to guests in the hopes of drumming up more interest in the ride.

Within its brief year-and-a-half lifespan, Discovery River Boats was rebranded as the Discovery River Taxi and the Radio Disney River Cruise. The latter involved moderate retheming as guests no longer used the boats as transportation between docks, but instead were treated to a one-way ride and a recorded broadcast from Radio Disney DJs “Zippy” and “Just Plain Mark.”

It’s certainly possible that Disney could have waited out the initial dry spell and continued to make modest upgrades to the attraction over the years, but they didn’t want to risk alienating their guests any further. The ride officially and permanently shuttered in the summer of 1999, leaving the river serene and unpolluted as Disney focused their attention on bringing true “E” ticket experiences to the rest of the park.

4. Maelstrom


Image: Lisa Jacobs, Flickr (license)

Dates of operation: 1988 – 2014

Replaced by: Frozen Ever After

Few changes, it seems have inspired more heated debate than Disney’s decision to replace Maelstrom with a Frozen-branded attraction in the fall of 2014. While Future World had seen its fair share of rotating attractions, upgrades, and replacements over Epcot’s 32-year history, World Showcase remained largely unchanged from decade to decade. The cultural films and occasional ride (along with Norway’s Maelstrom, guests could hop on El Rio del Tiempo—now the Gran Fiesta Tour—in the Mexico Pavilion or catch an Audio-Animatronic history lesson over at the American Adventure) started to feel stale after a while, but no one could complain that they weren’t representative of their home countries.

Maelstrom was a unique, if somewhat disjointed attraction nestled in the back corner of the Norway pavilion. Guests entered a long queue designed to mimic a Norwegian fishing village, then boarded Viking ships for a long and complicated voyage through mythological Viking towns, troll and Nokken-infested marshes, and a stormy North Sea. After surviving the spell-casting trolls, polar bears, and a near-collision oil rig, they were returned to their loading dock with an optional epilogue presented in the form of a five-minute film on Norway’s culture and history. While not among the fan favorites at Epcot, especially compared to some of Future World’s thrill rides, it captured the spirit of Norse mythology and adventure in a way that no other park attraction had done before.

Maelstrom mural

Image: Sam Howzit, Flickr (license)

After 27 years, however, Disney spied an opportunity they felt was too good to pass up. Frozen had seen unprecedented success at the box office following its debut in 2013, raking in staggering profits of $1.276 billion at the box office as the best-selling animated film of all time. To the delight of many children (and generating almost-equal distaste among adult fans), Disney capitalized on the Frozen mania at every turn, with character meet-and-greets, sing-a-longs, and parades designed to infuse as much of the Arendelle sisters’ presence in the parks as possible.

When Disney inevitably turned to the Norway pavilion as a potential landing spot for Anna and Elsa, the public reaction wasn’t overwhelmingly positive. Disney characters roamed World Showcase, sure—you could reliably find Mary Poppins gracing the streets of the UK pavilion, while Snow White took to Germany and Aladdin, to Morocco—but replacing a culturally-appropriate attraction with a piece of Disney fiction was something else altogether.

Still more insulting was the way Disney pretended that the transition to a Frozen ride was not motivated by a need to capitalize on the film’s commercial success, but rather driven by a desire to draw attention to Scandinavian culture. “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,” COO Tom Staggs told the Wall Street Journal. “To me it doesn’t seem out-of-character at all.”

Frozen Ever After first opened to parkgoers in 2016, and there’s no question that it’s become one of the most popular attractions in Epcot (if not the whole of the Walt Disney World Resort) ever since. While few have shed tears for Maelstrom in the wake of its removal, Frozen Ever After’s addition to the pavilion raised two important and yet-unanswered questions: Might it have better served Disney in the Magic Kingdom? What kind of precedent was Disney looking to set after displacing an important cultural attraction—and what ramifications might their decision have for the future of World Showcase?


This is just a sampling of the rides and shows that Disney has put out to pasture over their long history in the theme park industry. Which of the Disney Parks’ abandoned attractions would you add to the list?