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11 Infamously Flubbed and Failed Theme Park Attractions

3. Rocket Rods

Intended as the centerpiece for Disneyland's golden New Tomorrowland, Rocket Rods stalled. © Disney

Location: Disneyland (Anaheim, California)
Lifetime: May 1998 - September 2000 (Intermittant, 30 months)
Video evidence: Point-of-view video
In-Depth: Disaster Files: Rocket Rods

The Story: Besides Honey, I Shrunk the Audience and Innoventions, Rocket Rods was the only notable new addition to Disneyland for its much-touted New Tomorrowland 1998 (which didn't end well - see #8 on this list). The attraction used an early version of the technology behind Epcot’s Test Track and California Adventure’s Radiator Springs Racers to send slot-car style vehicles blasting along an elevated highway high above Tomorrowland, darting in and out of the golden buildings and touring attractions from the inside. The queue made use of the park’s former Circlevision theatre, snaking around between the 360-degree screens that teased at transportation of the future, and of Disneyland’s past.

Why It Failed: The Rocket Rods' early adaptation of Test Track technology left them fickle, with sensors often triggering and closing the ride for hours or days at a time. What’s more, the Rocket Rods replaced the leisurely and beloved Peoplemover, which had glided along the highways of Tomorrowland since 1967.

Walt envisioned his Peoplemover as a sincere prototype for future transportation, briskly and gently carrying guests through Tomorrowland and into a twisted highway of track over the Autopia and Submarine Lagoon. The Rocket Rods not only replaced the beloved Peoplemover, but did so poorly, navigating the same convoluted and iconic overhead track in a fraction of the time. A “thrill” ride, the Rocket Rods accelerated down straightaways before having to slow to a crawl at every un-banked turn in the track. The start-stop maneuver left the experience awkward and wore out tires daily.

The final nail in the coffin for the much-maligned New Tomorrowland, the Rocket Rods closed for good after two and a half years of downtime and frustration, promised to return in April 2001. They never did, and the ride’s queue turned into the Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters ride in 2005. The Peoplemover track still sits above Tomorrowland, abandoned. The must-read obituary is forever recorded in our Disaster Files: Rocket Rods feature.

2. Universal Studios Escape

Official logo of the whole "resort" when known as Universal Studios Escape.

Location: Orlando, Florida
Lifetime: 1999 - 2002 (3 years)

The Story: One of the least well-known but most egregious flubs in the theme park industry came with the opening of Universal’s Islands of Adventure in 1999. Now recalled as a cutting edge park full of technological innovation and detail that meets and even surpasses even Disney’s best, Universal’s second park in Orlando was quite a mystery for its first year.

That’s because when it opened, the park was named Universal Studios Islands of Adventure. Of course, it was built next to the original Universal Studios Florida as part of the brand-new and much-advertised Universal Studios Escape (which will sound familiar to fans of Nickelodeon and Slime Time Live, which filmed there and famously ended each show with a shout-out to Universal Studios Escape).

So what is Islands of Adventure? Confused yet?

Why It Failed: Probably you can spot the issue. “Universal Studios Islands of Adventure at the new Universal Studios Escape” seemed to indicate that these "Islands of Adventure" were nothing more than an addition to the original park. The new park fared miserably in attendance despite having some of the most incredible rides of the era. Universal spent years trying to clarify what exactly Islands of Adventure was, until finally renaming everything. The second park became Universal’s Islands of Adventure, part of the larger Universal Orlando Resort.

It may seem obvious now, but remember that, aside from Walt Disney World, parks weren’t growing into what we would now easily identify as “multi-park resorts” at the time! Universal was inventing its own marketing via the “school of hard knocks.” Their eventual realization of the possessive “Universal’s” moniker and the “Resort” name for the entire complex was doubtlessly a helpful precedent for the many “Resorts” that sprung up soon after. Without Universal taking the brunt of that discovery, we might’ve ended up with “Disneyland California Adventure” at “Disneyland Escape!”

1. Stitch’s Great Escape!

© Disney

Location: Magic Kingdom; Orlando, Florida
Lifetime: 2004 – present
Video evidence: Stitch's Great Escape point-of-view
 
Full Story: Disaster Files: Stitch's Great Escape

The Story: Perhaps the most despised Disney attraction of all time, it isn’t necessarily that Stitch’s Great Escape is a horrible attraction (although, subjectively, it probably is). Or that it's a misuse of technology (but it is). Or that it can't live up to its predecessor (though it doesn't). The issue is all of that and then some.

Just like Disneyland got a New Tomorrowland in 1998, Magic Kingdom opened a New Tomorrowland in 1994, based on a “real, working” city of the future. A sort of pop-culture, sci-fi alien spaceport, Tomorrowland had public transportation (Tomorrowland Transit Authority Peoplemover), a launch port (Space Mountain), and a nightclub (Cosmic Ray’s) that all existed in the same continuity. Near the entrance to the land along the stunning Avenue of Planets was the Tomorrowland Interplanetary Convention Center, then rented out by X-S Tech, a Martian technological company eager to show off its newest development: a teleportation pod. This beloved attraction, developed by Disney with George Lucas (of Star Wars fame), was the ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter.

In agreeing to witness X-S Tech’s demonstration to “Seize the Future,” guests were ushered into a pre-show room where an adorable fuzzy alien creature named Skippy would show off the teleportation technology on a small scale, simply being transported between two tubes at opposite ends of the room. Never mind that poor Skippy turns up in the second scorched, charred, and clearly in pain (a "dark side" Disney rarely showed)… on to the main chamber, where X-S Tech’s Chairman Clench will visit us from across the galaxy!

© Disney.

Strapped into chairs arranged in a tiered circle around a massive teleportation tube, the process goes smoothly. Until something stands in the way of the intergalatic beam. As the lights flash, the tube is filled with a disgusting alien creature somewhere between a spider, a grasshopper, and a lizard… with wings. The tube visibly cracks and shatters as the alien escapes into the audience. In pitch-black darkness, cutting edge sound and tactile effects let you feel the alien breathe on your neck and growl in your ear as blood splatters from a worker overhead on the catwalk and warm drool drips down your arm.

Subject to numerous re-writes and re-workings, the attraction was first not scary enough for then-CEO Michael Eisner, and then became too dark (for a brief time, a work-in-progress version had X-S Tech purposefully using humans as gineau pigs with its carnivorous alien). After half a year of soft-openings and testing periods, it opened for good in June 1995. If you want to know more about Alien Encounter, check out the must-read standalone Lost Legends: Alien Encounter that tells the full story. 

It closed after eight years in October 2003, and was re-opened just a year later featuring the comical dog-like alien Stitch from Disney’s 2002 film Lilo & Stitch. Instead of being scared for your life, Stitch burps chili dog in your face, spits on the audience, and jumps across your shoulders. It’s horrifying, just not in the same way as Alien Encounter. Skippy and his burned-self are re-used in the pre-show, but as two separate aliens, not with one as a disfigured version of the other.

© Disney.

Why It Failed: The precise failing point of Stitch's Great Escape is impossible to pinpoint. It seems that everything executives hoped the attraction would have going for it turned out to disappoint fans. Alien Encounter was a genius re-use of the circular-seating Mission To Mars show, a uniquely dark story crafted by Disney and George Lucas (before they stumbled across the Forbidden Eye), and made great use of simple effects to create an experience that was good old-fashioned theatrical fun.

Replacing the unique alien with flavor-of-the-week Stitch and his chili dog burps seemed a cop-out. By keeping the gross-out effects and total darkness, but pairing them with a cuddly, comic creature, Disney created a ride that appeals to... well... practically no one. Too intense for kids, too slapstick for teens. It was clearly as hasty re-branding of an attraction deemed "too intense" for the Magic Kingdom. 

© Disney.

Unfortunately, the replacement of Alien Encounter rippled. The idea was to serialize Alien Encounter and export copies to Disneyland and Tokyo Disneyland when their Tomorrowlands got their respective renovations. After horrified parents reacted negatively to Magic Kingdom's (ignoring clearly posted signs and the word TERROR in the attraction's name), those plans were dropped. The space earmarked for a copy at Disneyland (already outfitted with the circular seating) was instead turned into a pizza resaurant. It's a shame - with rides based on Indiana Jones and Star Wars, Disneyland park has more in the way of "PG-13" attractions, and Alien Encounter would never have recieved such harsh criticism there.

So that's how Stitch took control of one of the most interesting and retroactively-loved attractions Disney ever made and flubbed it. All the details are contained in an in-depth Disaster Files: Stitch's Great Escape feature. It seems Alien Encounter will never get another lease on life, but at least Stitch's Great Escape seems equally unlikely to ever be duplicated elsewhere.

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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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