Home » “‘Be Fair to Disney World!’ – 5 Disneyland Attraction Plusses We WISH Disney World Would Invest In

“‘Be Fair to Disney World!’ – 5 Disneyland Attraction Plusses We WISH Disney World Would Invest In

According to “Disney legend,” back in the earliest days of Disneyland, Walt was wandering around the park as he often did, mingling wih guests and taking in the sights. While passing through Adventureland, he heard a guest assure his family that they didn’t need to go on Jungle Cruise since they’d already ridden it the last time they’d visited. Horrified, Walt turned to his Imagineers with a simple request: “Plus it.”

Since then, the notion of returning to even the most classic Disney rides to “plus” them with new effects, new technologies, and new story elements has been one of the key ingredients that’s kept Disney’s theme parks feeling fresh, new, and alive. Walt said, “Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.” 

But looking across Disney Parks, some fans can’t help but feel that when it comes to “the little things” – the happenstance, piecemeal “plusses” like added projection, improved lighting, and integrated new effects – Disney World tends to get the short end of the stick. It’s true that Disney World’s global audience takes some of the pressure off of executives to fund “the little things” versus Disneyland’s locally-oriented, generations-long following. But the 5 “plusses” below are wildly effective updates that would really add up! What do you think? Do these “little things” matter? Or are Magic Kingdom’s rides just fine without the technological flourishes that Disneyland’s receive?

1. Big Thunder Mountain’s “Explosive” Finale

In Anaheim, Orlando, Tokyo, and Paris, “The Wildest Ride in the Wilderness” sends runaway mine trains squealing through canyons, around rock formations, and into abandoned mines. Along the way, each version of the ride features a third lift hill through the mountain’s core. Originally, this “finale” lift hill included shuddering, rumbling rocks, giving the impression of a mine collapse. That effect was shut off across the globe in 2011 when a “loose rock” actually did fall on the train in Paris, injuring guests. 

Without an “earthquake” finale, the final ascent and the last run out felt like it was missing something. In 2013, Disneyland’s version of the ride closed for an unprecedented 15-month refurbishment, during which the entire track was removed and replaced.

The in-depth effort also came with a new “explosive” finale. As guests enter the third lift hill, a knocked-over lantern accidentally ignites fuses rigged along the ascending cave walls. Just as guests reach the mid-way point, bundles of dynamite are lit, with two small blasts triggered on each side of the train, then a massive blast of smoke (with a projection-mapped explosion) released from overhead. 

The “explosive” finale is a brilliant example of how simple technologies can “plus” an already-beloved show. It was rolled out at Disneyland Paris in 2016, and when Magic Kingdom’s version of the ride closed for a lengthy refurbishment that same year, it was a foregone conclusion that it, too, would get the new ending. It didn’t. Then, when Disney World’s parks re-opened in June 2020 during the pandemic, Big Thunder Mountain stayed closed as part of another lengthy refurbishment. Would it get the “explosive” finale in time for the resort’s 50th Anniversary Celebration? Of course not.

It’s just one example of our 16 Disneyland Exclusives That Should Make Disney World Fans Jealous. And it’s not the only easy, obvious “plus” that Disneyland’s gotten and Disney World has just passed up.

2. Fantasyland Dark Ride Improvements

As we saw in our recent By The Numbers: Dark Ride Count Countdown feature, Disneyland is the dark ride capital of Disney Parks. It not only features all three of Fantasyland’s Opening Day Originals (Snow White, Mr. Toad, and Peter Pan), but also dark rides based on Pinocchio and Alice in Wonderland, all packed into the tiniest “Castle Park” on Earth! Probably because Disneyland is considered “hallowed ground” by Imagineers, local-and-vocal fans, and even executives, the charming dark rides there aren’t just preserved; they’re plussed.

In the last decade, Disney Imagineers have meticulously returned to Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan’s Flight, and Snow White’s Enchanted Wish to “plus” them all with new technologies. Smartly, these “shining ups” don’t go over the top. While it would’ve been easy for Disney to plop clones of the Seven Dwarf’s Mine Train’s Dopey and Doc Animatronics into the Snow White ride, that would totally not match the scope of these classic, blacklight experiences. Instead, it’s simple figures like a waving Dopey and gem-examining Doc that feel like perfect additions

Each has subtle projection, vivid lighting, and wonderful, simple new effects placed throughout so naturally, you’d think they were always there. From the Evil Queen’s throne room rusting and decaying as she turns into the Wicked Witch, to living flowers bringing Wonderland to life, and fiber-optic forests that glow as Snow White awakens, and water lapping around the River Thames, Neverland’s beaches, and Tiger Lilly as the tide comes in (above), these subtle changes feel like elements that would’ve been included back in the ’50s if the technology had existed. 

Of course, of the original three dark rides, only one – Peter Pan’s Flight – remains at Magic Kingdom. (The others – the Lost Legends: Snow White’s Scary Adventures and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride – are gone, with The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and Journey of the Little Mermaid joining the land instead.) Though Pan got a new queue in 2014, the ride itself wasn’t really touched, and though the “little things” upgraded in Disneyland’s version aren’t deal-breakers, they add up to a very fresh experience that feels cared for and preserved for future generations.

3. Space Mountain’s Music & Projections

Despite opening within two years of each other (1975 in Florida and 1977 in California), the two Space Mountains couldn’t be more different. Disney World‘s take a cue from the Matterhorn, with two side-by-side, mirror-imaged track layouts and sled-style trains; Disneyland’s is an original creation, with a single track. By their stats, both are pretty mild coasters (with just 25mph and 32 mph top speeds, respectively) made extraordinary by being in the dark. But beyond that, even their experiences are significantly different.

In 1996, Disneyland’s version of the ride gained an on-board audio score composed by Aarin Richard, featuring sci-fi sounds remixed with iconic surf rock guitar riffs by Dick Dale. Then, in 2004, Disneyland’s version of the ride closed for the same kind of rebuild that would come to Big Thunder a decade later. The track was fully scrapped and rebuilt from scratch. A new, enclosed projection tunnel surrounded the ride’s lift hill; new trains came equipped with a custom music score by Michael Giacchino (composer of The IncrediblesLost, Alias, the MCU’s Dr. Strange and Spider-Man movies, and much more). 

Customizable music and projection capabilities throughout the ride’s lifts and main area also allow for overlays, like the retired Space Mountain: Ghost Galaxy (with a cosmic entity chasing riders through the dome) and Hyperspace Mountain, (above, featuring a Star Wars mission using the projected lift hill tunnel to jump to lightspeed), both which left returning guests cheering – and that’s pretty cool for a ride from the ’70s!

After you’ve been on Disneyland’s smooth, modern coaster with synchronized music and HD projection, it’s kind of hard to believe that Magic Kingdom’s ride is still just riders screaming in the echoing darkness. Don’t misunderstand: some fans prefer Magic Kingdom’s Space Mountain precisely because it’s pretty much exactly the same ride that it was almost 50 years ago; a nostalgic, Space Age throwback whose simplicity is its strength! But let’s not let Disney off the hook here: Florida’s Space Mountain could have on-board audio and seasonal overlays, which feels like a missed opportunity.

And that’s not all.. Read on as we look at three other Disneyland “plusses” that have somehow skipped Walt Disney World entirely…

4. “it’s a small world’s” Characters

In 2008, Disneyland’s “it’s a small world” closed for a refurbishment that would also bring some significant controversy. Following in the footstops of the Hong Kong Disneyland version of the ride (which opened that year), the original version of “it’s a small world” would gain several new inhabitants: namely, 29 Disney and Pixar characters, rendered in Mary Blair style and embedded throughout the ride.

Ironically, the change probably would’ve been far less controversial at Magic Kingdom, which tends to be treated less like “hallowed ground” and where domestic and international travelers probably would’ve liked the character addition right out the gate. Of course, at Disneyland, such changes aren’t as easily swallowed. As you’d probably expect, the Internet was alight with commentary, as fans passed around petitions, raged on discussion boards, and generally suggested that the change was an “idiotic plan” that “represents a gross desecration of the ride’s original theme.”

As tends to be the case, the ride re-opened in 2008, and for the most part, all was well with the (small) world. Though the characters aren’t exactly inconspicuous (that’s definitely Aladdin & Jasmine in the Middle East, Pinocchio in Italy, Cinderella in France, Nemo in Australia, etc.), it’s not so offensive or outrageous that it lessens the ride’s message or detracts from the experience. Sure, very young children may now use the ride as a “Seek & Find” as they try to spot Disney characters rather than contemplating global harmony and togetherness, but another entry point to experiencing the right isn’t a bad thing.

The characters joined Tokyo Disneyland’s version of “small world” in 2018, with rumors suggesting that they were a shoe-in for Magic Kingdom’s ahead of the 50th Anniversary. But like clockwork, the characters never came. It’s yet another simple “plus” that’s rolled out across Disney Parks… but that Disney World just doesn’t seem interested in funding. Weird!

5. Haunted Mansion’s Hatbox Ghost

When Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion opened in 1969, the ride was absent of one very suspicious spectre: the Hatbox Ghost. As the story goes, Imagineers toiled over the character – a decripid, knobby-kneed, hollow-faced phantom whose head would disappear off of his shoulders and reappear, detached, in the hatbox he held. But ultimately, ambiant lighting in the Mansion’s Attic ruined the trick (just using blacklight) and called for the character’s removal just before it opened to the public.

Though no one outside of Imagineering ever actually saw the eerie Hatbox Ghost in the ride, he remained an icon of the Haunted Mansion thanks to his starring role in the ride’s marketing and his particularly unsettling appearance. Surely he was out there – one of the 999 Happy Haunts who never returned to corporeal form – but fans clung to the character as a lost icon of one of Disney’s most fabled and legendary rides…

In 2015 – just in time for Disneyland’s 60th Anniversary celebration – the Hatbox Ghost finally materialized. Now standing on the rooftop just as guests fall through the attic window, the chuckling character is made possible by modern projection technology, but it’s still a staggering and surprising effect. He even gets in on the act for Haunted Mansion Holiday (another seasonal overlay Magic Kingdom skips), adding a skull bow and holly leaf to his bowler hat.

Don’t get us wrong – Magic Kingdom’s Haunted Mansion has been “plussed” separately from Disneyland’s before, too, like with the M.C. Escher style Endless Staircase scene added in 2007 (to an area that Disneyland’s ride has no equivalent to). But when it comes to simple, “quality of life” additions like this one, you’d think that Imagineering would simply have two produced so that they could be installed in the two stateside Mansions at the same time. I guess Disney World had other plans.

5. Fantasmic’s possibilities

Of all the one-sided “plusses” to have rolled out at Disneyland and not Disney World, by far one of the biggest has to do with Disney’s most legendary nighttime spectacular. Our partners at Park Lore explored the story of Disneyland’s Fantasmic in a full-length feature, but even those who only know a little bit about the show tend to know one thing: Disneyland’s is better.

It’s partly because Disneyland’s show seems to appear from no where, overtaking the Rivers of America and Tom Sawyer Island before guests’ eyes (while also using the park’s real, full-sized sailing ship and riverboat). It’s also partly because Disney World’s version of the show opened later in the ’90s, meaning it prioritized Disney Renaissance films like Pocahontas and Aladdin over classic movies like Pinocchio and Peter Pan. But it’s also because Disneyland’s version has undergone two complete reimaginings and refreshings that are both jaw-dropping.

First, in 2008 as part of the “Summer Nightastic” promotion, the show received new high-definition digital imagery, new air-launched firework floats, new lighting, and a staggering 45-foot Audio-Animatronic dragon to serve as the show’s climactic battle. Since the Rivers of America needed to be drained for the construction of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in 2016, Imagineers took the opportunity to give the whole show a do-over, adding projection-mapping, new audio, and new scenes. Some of “Fantasmic 2.0” is a gargantuan leap forward for the show, while some elements feel weaker than the long-running original. But far and away, the unimaginable journey through Mickey’s dreams is bigger than ever.

Disney World‘s version of the show has been sadly static. Until 2020, it featured the same overlong Pocahontas and Aladdin segments; the same ’90s dragon made of a cherry picker and two sheets of fabric. You’d think that a custom amphitheater and set would let Disney World’s show be bigger than Disneyland’s, but it’s weirdly much smaller and less all-encompassing. Still, Fantasmic used to be the biggest production at Walt Disney World, but since it’s been basically untouched and has fallen so far behind Disneyland’s counterpart, it’s frustrating to know it could be so much more.

The good news is that as we await the re-opening of Walt Disney World’s Fantasmic in 2022, Disney has officially announced that the show is getting a boost by way of new segments from Moana and Frozen. That’s all well and good, but we have to wonder if the resort’s umpteenth reprise of “Let It Go” will actually make Florida’s Fantasmic a must-see or if Disney World is content with it being “good enough.”

Good Enough

And that’s sort of the throughline here, isn’t it? Those “little things” don’t mean much one by one, but when you add it all up, it means that visitors to Disney World are getting less. Of course Space Mountain is an E-Ticket with or without on-ride audio, and of course Big Thunder Mountain is a fun ride even without an “explosive” finale, and folks wait hours for Fantasmic without an Animatronic Dragon, and families love Peter Pan even though it doesn’t have projection-mapped details. So all’s well that ends well.

But there was a time when “good enough” wasn’t good enough for Disney Parks, and it’s surprising to see how many “plusses” were dreamed up then dashed for Magic Kingdom. Of course, since most of these plusses were rumored to be on the way for the resort’s 50th Anniversary, maybe we’re being unfair, and maybe COVID-19 cancelled plans to enact every one of the “plusses” we mentioned…

But until they’re here, let’s face the fact that Walt would probably want to see his parks “glow up,” and that includes the parks in Central Florida…