Home » 5 Experimental Theme Park Attractions That Didn’t Quite Work Out

5 Experimental Theme Park Attractions That Didn’t Quite Work Out

Arrow Pipeline Coaster

Innovation and experimentation are what drives the theme park industry forward. Most new rides are based on proven concepts, but every now and then a manufacturer or park operator will invest in something truly unique. Sometimes, the risk pays off handsomely – look at Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey at Universal’s Islands of Adventure, for example.

On other occasions, the gamble backfires. There have been numerous instances over the years of rides and attractions that have failed to function as expected, or that didn’t capture the public’s imagination. Let’s take a look at five examples…

5. Pipeline Roller Coaster


Arrow Pipeline Coaster

Back in the early 1990s, the once-mighty Arrow Dynamics was on the verge of bankruptcy. However, it hoped that its salvation would come in the form of the pipeline coaster, a new design that it was showing off to various theme park operators. Chief among those was the Tussauds Group, which had just acquired Alton Towers in the UK and was looking for a unique new roller coaster to boost its line-up.

The chief innovation of the pipeline coaster (and the one from which it derived its name) was the positioning of the ride’s trains. Rather than sitting on top of the track (as with a traditional coaster) or beneath it (as with a suspended or inverted coaster), the vehicles would instead sit in-between the rails. The u-shaped track, with the trains running down the middle of it, had the appearance of a pipeline.


Pipeline Coaster

According to Arrow, the early test runs of the pipeline coaster were a huge success. “Awesome”, “smooth” and “totally different” were among the superlatives apparently thrown at the new creation by those lucky enough to try it out.

Problems, though, began to emerge when Tussauds’ John Wardley was invited to Utah to ride the prototype. He found it to be a huge disappointment, later describing it as “very slow and rather boring”. The primary issue was the level of friction generated by the ride’s trains as they traversed the track, which made it very energy inefficient. Alton Towers chosen to build a Bolliger & Mabillard inverted roller coaster instead – and Arrow never succeeded in selling one of its pipeline coasters. The company went bust, and was eventually acquired by S&S.

4. Flying Saucers (Disneyland)


Flying Saucers

The futuristic Flying Saucers ride was installed in Tomorrowland at Disneyland in 1961, having been manufactured by longtime Disney partner Arrow Development and National Research Associates. Like a large-scale version of air hockey, it saw guests boarding personal flying saucers that sat on a cushion of air, and then bouncing into each, bumper cars-style. There was no steering wheel, instead guests simply leaned from side to side to try and guide their saucer.

Unfortunately, the Flying Saucers proved to be troublesome and expensive to maintain. This, coupled with the ride’s low capacity, meant that they were scrapped in 1966 as Tomorrowland was converted into New Tomorrowland. A similar attraction, Luigi’s Flying Tires, opened at Disney California Adventure in 2012.

3. Mickey Mouse Club Circus (Disneyland)

Not long after Disneyland opened in 1955, Walt Disney experimented with an on-site circus show. Tied into the new Mickey Mouse Clubtelevision show, it saw two huge circus tents being set up on the edge of Fantasyland. Two 75-minute performances took place every day, featuring acrobats, aerialists, wild animals and Mouseketeers from the show.

Unfortunately, guests hadn’t come to Disneyland to see a circus show, and it proved to be unpopular compared to Disneyland’s other attractions. A series of mishaps – including an incident in which a black panther bit the paw off another animal in front of a live audience – led to the circus being removed after just a few months.

2. Cannon Coaster

Cannon Coaster

Image via Westland.net

We’ve featured the Cannon Coaster on Theme Park Tourist before, but the concept is just so utterly insane that we can’t resist mentioning it here again. The ride was by the far most ridiculous of the many unique and unusual rides that were installed at the amusement parks of New York’s Coney Island around the turn of the century, and opened in 1902.

George Francis Meyer’s design included a gap in its track. The idea was that the train would leap over it, in a thrilling effect that had never been attempted before. Had the park managed to pull it off, the ride would have simulated the “car leaps canyon” seen in innumerable action movies since.

Mercifully, the “leap the gap” concept was never tested with humans. The train was run through the circuit loaded with sandbags, but several crashes resulted. In the end, the Cannon Coaster opened with the gap filled in. That didn’t stop it being popular, with urban myths of fatalities during the test phase helping to ensure its popularity.

1. The giant wave machine (Disney’s Polynesian Resort)

Polynesian Resort

Dick Nunis is something of a legend of Disney theme parks. Having initially been employed in a “summer job” at Disneyland, by 1968 he was vice president of operations in the company’s theme parks division. In 1971, he was promoted again, being named executive vice president of Walt Disney World and Disneyland.

Like many executives, Nunis had his own “pet project” during the construction of Walt Disney World. He was determined to introduce his favorite sport of surfing to the Polynesian Resort, where he hoped to rename the West Beach as “Surfrider Beach”. His plan to accomplish this involved acquiring an enormous wave-creating machine from a start-up firm in San Diego, and setting it up on an island opposite the beach.

At first, things look promising. The machine, which used eight enormous “paddles” arranged in a semi-circle to generate waves, was successfully installed and the waves were indeed huge. So huge, in fact, that some feared that they could swamp the hotel if the machine was cranked up too high.

Unfortunately for Nunis, his plans were foiled when it became clear that the return current was eating away the island itself. In the end, the wavemaking machine simply shook itself to pieces, and the majority of its components were removed.