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11 Infamously Flubbed and Failed Theme Park Attractions

6. Drachen Fire

Image: Jeremy Thompson, Wikipedia (license)

Location: Busch Gardens Williamsburg (Williamsburg, Virginia)
Cost: $4 million
Lifetime: 1992 – 1998 (4 years)
Video Evidence: Point-of-view video
Full Story:
 Disaster Files: Drachen Fire 

The Story: Roller coaster enthusiasts know a whole lot about ride manufacturer Bolliger & Mabillard, a Swiss firm responsible for many of the world’s most popular steel coasters including the inverted, Wing Rider, and Dive Machine models. The firm famously paired with Busch Gardens’ two parks in Florida and Virginia to create sibling style rides. When Florida got the inverted Montu, Virginia got its sister, Alpengeist. Same with SheiKra and Griffon.

In 1993, B&M opened Kumba in Florida, a multi-inversion coaster with an iconic loop around its lift hill. However, prior commitments with Six Flags to build the world’s first inverted coaster prevented B&M from building a sibling at the Virginia park. Arrow Dynamics, a popular manufacturer of the era, stepped in – even using B&M’s plans as a guide – to create a sister for Kumba at Busch Gardens Williamsburg.

Why It Failed: Arrow Dynamics, which has since gone bankrupt, is known (perhaps infamously) for its multi-loop coasters, which have a reputation for being uncomfortable. Arrow operated in an era during which computers were not used to build and bend track, often melting and arranging track on site leading to abrupt track transitions, unusual elements, and unexpected forces. Such, we can imagine, was the deal with Drachen Fire, their take on B&M’s ultra-smooth, multi-inversion Kumba. Even using B&M’s signature supports instead of their own usual style, Arrow built their best take on a B&M coaster with Drachen Fire, though it didn’t include the smooth transitions and tasteful pacing B&M is renowned for.

The ride originally included six inversions, including a corkscrew halfway down the first hill and a “cobra roll” – a B&M classic that Arrow had never used before and never used again after. Two years after opening, one of the ride’s corkscrews was removed to make the experience more comfortable. The ride closed in 1998 with plans to modify the coaster, though it never happened. Four years later, it was removed from the park. Today, the ride's station is still used for a haunted house during the Halloween season, while the rest of the ride's footprint is dedicated to a picnic area and part of the park's Verbolten coaster. Looking for the full story? Check out Disaster Files: Drachen Fire for all the grisly details.

5. Journey into Your Imagination

Image: Disney

Location: Epcot (Orlando, Florida)
Lifetime: 1999 – 2001 (2 years)
Full Story: Disaster Files: Journey into YOUR Imagination

The Story: One of the dark rides that defined Epcot during its early years, Journey into Imagination was a unique omnimover-style ride through – you guessed it – imagination. Guided by a jovial original character named Dreamfinder and his faithful imaginary friend, the energetic purple dragon Figment, you literally entered imaginary landscapes to the tune of the Sherman Brothers' "One Little Spark." The ride carried guests through dreamscapes celebrating arts, literature, performance, and science as gateways to imaginative thinking. The ride was such a fan-favorite, it earned its own in-depth entry in our series Lost Legends: Journey into Imagination.

The ride, created by famed Imagineer Tony Baxter, was a fan-favorite with Dreamfinder and Figment becoming tied directly to Epcot’s identity. In 1999, the ride was completely re-done as Journey into Your Imagination, with a theme to tie into the new “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience” 3D movie. The entire pavilion was unified into an “Imagination Institute” theme and the dark ride was re-cast as a journey through the institutes sensory labs. Dreamfinder, Figment, and "One Little Spark" were occasionally visible as mere cameos, but their time as icons of Epcot was over.

Why It Failed: While the original “Journey into Imagination” was probably in need of a new lease on life as the new millennium neared, turning the attraction into a sort of cold and lifeless scientific tour without its defining characters irked fans big time. As well, 6 minutes were shaved from the ride time by shortening the dark ride’s circuit, closing off half of the show-building entirely. The debilitating and sad story of the half-baked ride is forever saved in our Disaster Files: Journey into YOUR Imagination entry that's a must-read for Epcot fans.

The ride closed as quickly as it had opened and, after seven months off, opened again in 2002 as the long-winded “Journey Into Imagination With Figment,” retaining the laboratory / Imagination Institute theme but including a more mischievous and off-putting version of the little purple dragon here and there. A dozen years later, fans still haven’t warmed to the unfortunate dark ride, and rumors persist that any day now, the entire pavilion will close to either get a new lease on life, or become another unfortunate loss like Epcot's closed Wonders of Life and Horizons pavilions.

At this point, a closed pavilion may be preferable to a dated 3D film (be it Honey, I Shrunk the Audience or the currently-playing Captain EO) paired with a disliked dark ride that really only serves to kick Epcot fans while they're down.

4. Walt Disney Studios Park

Image: Disney

Location: Disneyland Paris
Full Story: Disaster Files: Walt Disney Studios Paris

The Story: The mad dash to add a new gate to every Disney Resort during Eisner’s ill-fated Disney Decade of the 1990s meant almost everyone got the short end of the stick, with half-done, lazy parks lacking imagination, charm, detail, and attractions. 2001 saw the disastrous opening of the original Disney’s California Adventure next the original Disneyland, which was instantly disliked and ended up necessitating over $1.5 billion in fixing over the course of the first fifteen years. 2002’s Walt Disney Studios has fared even worse.

Click and expand for a larger view. Image: Disney

Why It Failed: Opened with nine (yes, nine) things to do (three rides and six shows... can you find them all in the map above?), the park was by far Disney’s smallest in terms of size and number of rides, yet commanded a ticket price equal to Disneyland Paris next door (with fifty attractions). An obvious money-grab, Walt Disney Studios languished.

Since opening, the park's seen an influx of nicely dressed family flat rides, a spinning coaster, a tepid Toy Story Playland, and a version of The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Still, Walt Disney Studios continues to fare poorly compared to just about any other Disney Park on earth. A sizable investment in the impressive looking new attraction and land based on Disney and Pixar’s Ratatouille did something to bolster the park, but it’s in need of a full, multi-billion-dollar rebuild in the vein of California Adventure if any lasting success is to be expected. And given Disneyland Paris’ finances, don’t hold your breath.

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There are 25 comments.

I think you forgot the expensive failure of Buzz Saw Falls at Silver Dollar City in Branson Mo!

Islands of Adventure's Poseidon's Fury was a fantastic experience when it originally opened, with a breath-taking surprise ending that left you wondering, "How in the world did they DO that?!" Subsequent re-writes and theme changes left us with a neutered, unsurprising show stripped of a lot of its initial wow-factor. Too bad...

Thank you...I was the senior production designer on Poseidon's Fury. We rented the giant dirigible hangar at El Toro Marine Base to mock up the transition finale. It was a fun project...and there were some very innovative effects, from the "water tunnel" to the bronze "Poseidon Time Lock" and, of course, the seamless transition from the Temple scene back to the first scene. My concern was how long our live actors could keep their characters fresh and on point. I haven't seen the show in years and I heard it had been through some changes. We had a great team on Poseidon's Fury and I enjoyed working on it.

So cool! It's incredibly odd now... You walk from the second chamber, through the water tunnel and... back into the second chamber? Makes for a cool transition when the lights go out and the giant temple appears around you, but it doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

Poseidon's Fury was one of my favorite "adventure" at IOA when it opened. In fact for my very first time, I was so mesmerized by the Time Lock that I thought the water tunnel was some type of projection and not real. And in addition to the cool transition at the end, it was impressive you could feel the blast of heat from the Fire Balls. I'm an architect and was just amazed how quick and soundless the transition occurred. Big Kudos for creating something that took my breath away!

Avalanche Run/Disaster Transport at Cedar Point. Avalanche Run's big gimmick was that it was a bobsled. It was a coaster with no track! So as you flew around curves and such it would feel more dangerous. Only, to make sure it wasn't dangerous it was slow. Very slow. And sometimes it would come to a full halt. I remember getting in the ride so excited and almost immediately realizing it was bad. And this was after the excruciatingly long "new ride" line. Go back to the park another season and Avalanch Run is "gone", replaced by Disater Transport. DP was fully enclosed inside a giant building and promised to take you on a dangerous sci-fi ride. So I was expecting an indoor coaster in the dark with maybe some filmed or mechanical dramatic "boo" moments. Wait in a huge long line which featured an okay animatronic setup of the ride's story. Get to the end of the line, get on and immediately realize, hey, this is that godawful Avalanch Run coaster. They just built a building over it so it would be in the dark and added some flashing lights and such. It was still horrible just horrible in the dark with strobe lights. It still sucked. I spent THAT whole ride bored and angry as hell I had been tricked into waiting in line and then riding that piece of garbage a second time when I swore I'd never set foot on it again.

it's a shame what they did the alien encounter... A crying shame!! The ride clearly had intensity warnings throughout,although ridiculous overbearing parents had to spoil yet another great staple in the World of Disney! "Parents just don't understand"!!

it's a shame what they did the alien encounter... A crying shame!! The ride clearly had intensity warnings throughout,although ridiculous overbearing parents had to spoil yet another great staple in the World of Disney! "Parents just don't understand"!!

you didn't mention Britannia park in the uk ,

If Alien Encounter would have opened at Disney Hollywood Studios instead of the Magic Kingdom, it probably would still be here today in its original format. I realize that they re-incorporated the Mission to Mars theaters and that is why it was built at the MK, but the concept was much too "mature" for the family friendly Magic Kingdom crowd.

Windjammer Surf Racers at Knott's Berry Farm.

I have to laugh at mention of the alien ride. My dad forced me on it when I was 7, nearly 8. I'm not sure if it was he that wanted to go or my older brother. But he thought it was riskier to leave me in the park alone than to drag me onto the ride.

That was one of the most terrifying moments in my life. I vaguely remember the warning signs, but dear dad didn't seem to take them seriously. That warm breath on my neck nearly gave me nightmares for months.

As far as I recall, I was not the only kid crying after that ride, which is obviously why it became a problem. Several parents seemed to be consoling their kids. I really think they should've had more of an age limit. The warning signs couldn't really explain how and why it was terrifying without spoiling the ride. It came across as simply "Ooo this will be terrifying!" like you see before a cheesy haunted house.

Very interesting read. Thanks!

I'm surprised Dollywood's Timber Tower was not listed. That ride was a mess. It was shut down more than it ran and riders were stuck on the ride, high up in the air frequently. Even when it was working properly (which was a rarity) it wasn't thrilling at all. Now, where the ride once sat, is a patio with picnic tables.

I remember ExtraTERRORestrial and I do miss it but I am a HUGE Stitch fan. Though a newly created dark ride would have fit him better I am glad he has an attraction at Disney. I enjoy it regardless.

You can't forget the epic fail that was Deja Vu at Six Flags Great America.

For sure! I only saw it open once but was too afraid to ride it because it was always broke down.

I've often thought that if stitch had been the original attraction like that, it would do better. The problem is it is a near replication of the previous attraction minus one compnent with nothing new or different. Taking out the scary component and not really replacing it with something new is what ruins it for many. But like I said, most everyone I know that experienced stitch for the first time and didn't know about alien encounter actually loved it.

I enjoy it and make sure to go on it everytime I go to Walt Disney World. I have taken 2 Disney newbies on it and both loved it as well.

Does anyone remember that terrible Stitch's Superstupid--err--- "Supersonic" Celebration stage show at the Magic Kingdom Tomorrowland that lasted a whopping TWO MONTHS? Where that ugly "Tomorrowland Stage" is now?

Yep. Didn't think so.

Oh my Gosh, I remember Skippy! I forgot completely that I had ever been on this ride. It must have been so traumatic I blocked it out the past 15 years. X_X

I don't know why you guys hate on Stitch so much. I think Stitch's escape is a fine replacement for ExtraTERRORestial. The original wasn't even around that long and replaced an unknown alien for a beloved Disney character. I agree it feels shoehorned in but worst update ever? Certainly not. That definitely belongs to Journey into YOUR imagination. To totally gut such a beloved and iconic ride into a half a ride filled with cheap optical illusions was an absolute disaster. It's ironic how it is named Journey into Your imagination as the imagineers put absolutely no imagination into the update. I don't even know how this ride was greenlit.

"The Bat" @ kings Island. It was suppose to be the greatest coaster ever. It lasted one year.

I rode or experienced all of these. I still hold out hope for Walt Disney Studios Paris. As it is, I think of it as an add-on to Disneyland Paris.

What about Hard Rock Park and Celebration City? Both were short-lived parks with lots of potential.

No mention of Vertigo at Walibi Belgium? It was intended to open in 2006, but was delayed for a year. In 2007 it ran from mid-June to late July, so troubled by technical problems that it was closed more often than not. At the end of July, it was closed for overhauls for the entire rest of the season. In 2008, Vertigo once again opened to great fanfare on May 5 - and closed forever on May 19, as the technical problems were back with a vengeance. It was torn down in December 2008, and Walibi Belgium has not built a proper coaster ever since. 3.8 million Euros down the drain, the ride was experienced by a couple thousand riders at the highest estimate.

I think The Bat should be on here instead of Tomb Raider/The Crypt. They both failed, but The Bat was so much more of a ride that I feel it deserved a mention (and I never even got to ride it, since it was built a year before I was born and only lasted one year, I believe).
I rode Son of Beast twice and swore off it after that. We expected a wooden coaster to be rough, but this was ridiculous. The loop was the only smooth thing about it, and it left me with massive headaches that no amount of ibuprofen could touch. If it had been smooth and built differently, I think it would have made for an amazing ride.


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