Home » 9 Bizarre (But True) Early Versions of Disney and Universal Attractions

9 Bizarre (But True) Early Versions of Disney and Universal Attractions

Disney and Universal have built many of the best theme park attractions on the planet. But some of their most famous creations could have been very different.

During the course of an attraction’s development, the Imagineers at Disney and Universal’s Creative team consider dozens of different concepts. Sometimes, these come very close to actually being constructed, before a sudden change of direction alters the ride or show completely. Let’s take a look at 9 well-known Disney and Universal attractions, and consider what could have been if their designers had continued with the initial concepts that were put forward.

9. Dragon Challenge (Islands of Adventure)

Dragon Challenge

Image © Universal Orlando Resort

What it was (closed in 2017): A pair of Bolliger & Mabillard inverted roller coasters that originally opened as Dueling Dragons. Although the trains now no longer “duel” due to safety concerns, the ride lives on as part of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. What it could have been: The original concept for Universal Orlando’s second theme park was “Cartoon World”, which would have incorporated characters from a variety of different animated worlds. This was changed to Islands of Adventure after the decision was made to include an area themed around Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, which, of course, was a live-action movie. Cartoons, of course, still feature heavily in several areas of Islands of Adventure. This includes Marvel Super Hero Island, which celebrates classic Marvel creations including Spider-Man and the Incredible Hulk. But the original designs for Cartoon World featured superheroes from a different stable altogether – those of rival comic book firm DC Comics. Batman vs. The Penguin

Image: Goddard Group

Chief among them was the Dark Knight, Batman himself. An entire land was to be dedicated to the character, and would be themed around his home of Gotham City. Batman vs. The Penguinwas to be a dueling suspended roller coaster, complete with special effects and pyrotechnics. Although DC Comics was dropped in favor of Marvel, the concept was eventually expanded into Dueling Dragons.

8. Jurassic Park: The Ride (Universal Studios Hollywood)

What it is: A boat ride through Jurassic Park’s dinosaur exhibits which goes awry, resulting in riders being terrorized by velociraptors and a tyrannosaurus rex. What it could have been: Design and development work began in late 1990, with Gary Goddard’s Landmark Entertainment being brought into the fold early the following year. The book upon which the Jurassic Park movie was based, written by Michael Crichton, featured a lengthy sequence in which its heroes are harassed by dinosaurs as they float down what was intended to be a gentle river ride. Originally, Universal had intended to build an attraction based around the Jeep ride that would be featured heavily in the movie. However, Goddard felt that this would not work: “I noted that our T-Rex was not going to be able to chase the jeep or tear through trees and jungles,” he told Inside Universal. Jurassic Park Jeep Safari

Image: Universal

Instead, Goddard pushed for an attraction based on the boat ride sequence from the book. He pitched the concept to Steven Spielberg: “[I noted] that with a boat ride we could create our ‘own’ story that would be in the tone and character of his movie but would add its own surprises. I also said ‘I don’t think we should try and recreate the movie because it will never be as good as what you will have on film.'” Spielberg agreed, and the boat ride was green-lighted. This would ensure that the attraction had a large capacity, as well as filling a glaring hole in Universal Studios Hollywood’s line-up. Jurassic Park Jeep Safari (2)

Image : Universal

That hasn’t stopped the concept being revived on more than one occasion for Universal Orlando’s Islands of Adventure. The attraction would have been similar to Jurassic Park River Adventure, but on land. Guests would have encountered a brontosaurus and would have come under attack from a pack of velociraptors.

7. The Simpsons Ride (Universal Studios Florida)

Simpsons RideWhat it is: A makeover of the former Back to the Future: The Ride, which uses motion simulators and an enormous projection screen to take riders on a tour of Krustyland with the Simpson family. What it could have been: Prior to the opening of Men in Black: Alien Attack in 2000, Universal looked at a number of different ride concepts for Universal Studios Florida. Among these were a roller coaster based on Apollo 13, various rides based on Nickelodeon characters and an entire dark ride based on long-running animated television series The Simpsons.

Log ride

Universal Creative’s Craig Hanna’s ideas for this ride, which would have been based around the Simpson family winning a contest to come to Orlando and would have satirized the area’s theme parks, were to be revisited at a later date in The Simpsons Ride. Men in Black: Alien Attack was built instead of the dark ride concept.

Otto's Bus RideThe Simpsons Ride and the surrounding Springfield area are now popular fixtures at Universal Studios Florida, but the characters could also have appeared at Islands of Adventure had early plans gone ahead. The headline attraction of the Simpsons-themed area was to be a simulator ride themed around a school bus journey with Otto. Otto’s Bus Ride was reputedly killed by Fox’s unwillingness to license the characters at the time.

6. Pirates of the Caribbean (Disneyland)

Pirates of the CaribbeanWhat it is: One of the most famous dark rides of all time. Riders board boats to witness scenes of bands of pirates pillaging and generally getting up to mischief. What it could have been:Pirates of the Caribbean was originally envisioned as New Orleans-themed Blue Bayou Mart. A Madame Tussauds-style Pirate Wax Museum would have have been housed in a 70-foot deep basement.


Before his death in 1966, Walt Disney made a key decision: the ride would no longer be a walkthrough, but would now reuse a boat system, to allow for a much broader array of scenes and a high capacity. The success of It’s a Small World at the New York World’s Fair played no small part in this decision. Workers had already built much of the basement when the World’s Fair kicked off, but now started work on a much larger ride building located outside Disneyland’s berm. The basement would now serve as the grotto section of the attraction. The wax figures were no longer necessary, with Disney having also developed realistic audio-animatronic humans for the World’s Fair.

5. The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man (Islands of Adventure)

The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man

Image: Universal
What it is: A ground-breaking dark ride that combines moving, motion-simulating vehicles, 3-D projection screens and physical effects to take riders on an adventure with Spider-Man himself.
What it could have been: Despite its reputation for risk-taking, Universal originally intended for Spider-Man to be a much simpler attraction (and, initially, it was to be based on Superman, until the Marvel deal was struck). According to Ben Lovelace, who worked on the ride, it was initially conceived as a simple dark ride, with a chain of cars passing by a film of some sort. This has been confirmed by Gary Goddard, whose design firm worked on an early version of the ride that would have used a similar ride system to Disney’s Omnimover attractions (such as the Haunted Mansion).

Omnimover Spider-Man

Image: Goddard Group

However, when in 1995 Disneyland opened Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Forbidden Eye, combining an innovative motion vehicle system with stunning special effects, Universal felt it needed to up the ante. “We always try to make things a little higher, a little faster, a little bit more dynamic, so we have something to market technologically,” said Lovelace. “Universal pushes the envelope.” Universal instead decided to incorporate elements from two previous rides – Back to the Future: The Ride (which featured advanced motion simulators) and Terminator 2: 3-D (which combined 3-D projection screens with physical) effects. The rest is history.

4. Haunted Mansion (Disneyland)

Haunted Mansion

Image © Disney

What it is: A stunningly detailed dark ride through a haunted abode that has entertained generations of visitors to Disneyland. What it could have been: The facade of the Haunted Mansion began construction in 1962, and was completed in 1963 – but the ride itself did not open until 1969. Initially, the building was expected to contain a walkthrough attraction, along with a pre-show/queuing area and a themed restaurant. The pre-show area and restaurant were both to be themed around a “Museum of the Weird”, packed with curiosities “discovered” all over the world. Museum of the Weird

Image: Disney

After Walt Disney died in 1966, the Haunted Mansion concept evolved significantly into the Omnimover dark ride that it is today. The Museum of the Weird concept was dropped, although it has seen been revived in comic book form by Disney-owned Marvel.

3. Terminator 2 3-D: Battle Across Time (Universal Studios Florida)

What it was (closed in 2017): A mini-sequel to Terminator 2: Judgment Day, directed by James Cameron and featuring a combination of on-screen 3-D action, physical effects and live actors. What it could have been:When Gary Goddard’s Landmark Entertainment were asked to put forward concepts for an attraction based on Terminator 2, they devised several alternatives to the 3-D / live-action show that was ultimately built. Among these was a roller coaster ride set in a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles:

Terminator 2 roller coaster

Image: Landmark Entertainment

Another Terminator 2 concept was for an interactive attraction set in a futuristic war zone, which would have seen guests joining the battle between man and the machines:

Terminator Interactive War Zone

Image: Landmark Entertainment

Ultimately, Goddard was able to convince Universal to push ahead with the development of a hybrid movie and live-action show, as well as persuading Cameron to come on board as director.

2. Twilight Zone Tower of Terror (Disney’s Hollywood Studios)

Tower of Terror lobby

What it is: A thrilling combination of a dark ride and a drop tower. Guests enter the Hollywood Tower Hotel, where they board a service elevator that carries them directly to the Twilight Zone. What it could have been: When Disney-MGM Studios opened in 1989, it was featured only a handful of attractions. It had been designed as a “half-day” park, but Disney was soon scrambling to expand it in the face of overwhelming visitor numbers and guest complaints. One concept was for a huge airport based on comedy movie Airplane!, but this was swiftly dropped due to the spiralling projected costs. Disney CEO Michael Eisner, a fan of collaborations with outside firms and individuals, brought in filmmaker and actor Mel Brooks. Brooks and Disney’s Imagineers devised an attraction concept based around the “Hollywood Horror Hotel”, which would have doubled as a real hotel. One version of this attraction featured a freefall drop tower. Hotel Mel Eventually, Brooks left the project and Disney began looking for other themes. At one stage, Disney considered basing the ride on the works of horror author Stephen King (Universal Orlando also once developed a plan for a ride based on King’s works). However, the Twilight Zonewas ultimately seen as offering a broader range of elements that could be incorporated into a ride. The idea of incorporating a real hotel was dropped, and the Hollywood Horror Hotel became the Hollywood Tower Hotel that we know and love today.

1. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey (Islands of Adventure)

Harry Potter and the Forbidden JourneyWhat it is: A unique dark ride that employs robotic arm technology to take guests on a simulated “flying” adventure with Harry Potter and his friends. What it could have been: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey achieves its stunning “flying” effect through the use of Kuka Robocoaster arms mounted onto a track. But this wasn’t actually the first intended use of the technology in a Universal theme park. Instead, a ride based on 2004’s horror action movie Van Helsing was proposed for Islands of Adventure as far back as 2003. The movie itself was directed by Stephen Sommers, who collaborated with Universal on the Revenge of the Mummy roller coaster over at Universal Studios Florida. Van Helsing The attraction would have incorporated a variety of special effects as well as projection screens. Some reports have claimed it was canned due to the film’s negative critical reception, but Van Helsing still pulled in a healthy $300 million at the box office. A more likely explanation is simply that it was pushed aside once Universal secured the rights to Harry Potter.