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11 Short-Lived Disney and Universal Attractions You Might Not Even Remember

Flying Saucers

The unfortunate truth is that not every ride lasts forever. That said, most last longer than these ones! Every year, attractions come and go for various reasons. Aging technology, outdated stories, lost sponsorships, low ridership... sometimes, the reason is abundantly clear. Other times, we're not even sure why an attraction left in the first place.

The attractions we've listed here have all disappeared completely or changed so drastically as to become unrecognizable. Maybe for a few, that's a good thing. But with such short lifespans, you might not even remember a few of these. In some cases, more time was spent designing and building them than guests spent actually riding with them! Do you have memories of any of these short-lived attractions? Or were your vacations just a little too far apart to see them in action?

1. Flying Saucers

Location: Disneyland Park
Lifetime:
August 6, 1961 – August 5, 1966 (5 years)
Replaced By: Space Mountain 

A Tomorrowland attraction that couldn’t stand the test of time, the Flying Saucers were at least entirely unique. Riders sat in one-person saucers. As the ride cycle began, hundreds of valves in the ride’s field would begin emitting air. This would cause the saucers to “levitate” just over the ground, floating on a cushion of air not unlike a puck on an air hockey table. As riders leaned, the saucer would respond by zooming off in the desired direction.

At the end of the ride cycle, a massive arm would sweep across the “hockey table,” corralling the fourteen saucers against a path for riders to disembark. The movement of the arm would consequently have released fourteen other saucers that had been on an opposite bank where riders had just boarded. The ingenious mechanism was brilliant, but the ride still handled only 14 riders at a time. Coupled with its extreme cost to operate and its heavy maintenance needs, the ride simply didn’t earn a spot in New Tomorrowland in 1967. The Tomorrowland Stage replaced it. Today, Space Mountain occupies the spot.

Disney did make an attempt to pay homage to the retired concept with a new ride more than 50 years later. Unfortunately, it lasted even less time, and you'll find it further down our list... 

2. Rocket Rods

Location: Disneyland Park
Lifetime:
May 22, 1998 – September 25, 2000 (2.5 years, intermittent)
Replaced By: Nothing 

Disneyland’s Tomorrowland was looking pretty tired by the mid ‘90s. The Carousel Theatre had been vacant since 1987 (since its animatronic cast was “borrowed” by Splash Mountain), Captain EO was looking pretty dated in the Magic Eye Theatre, and Mission to Mars hadn’t been open for years. Worst of all, the sleek overhead highway of Walt’s PeopleMover had been motionless since 1995, a closure we chronicled in its own in-depth Lost Legends: Walt's Tomorrowland feature. A change was needed.

In 1998, New Tomorrowland re-opened, cast in bronze and gold in an (ultimately doomed) recreation of Disneyland Paris’ more romanticized, European Discoveryland concept. Most of the “new” attractions for New Tomorrowland were recycled from Walt Disney World, but the most egregious was the land’s only headliner: The Rocket Rods had taken over the PeopleMover tracks overhead. A very preliminary version of the technology later perfected on Epcot’s Test Track, the powered vehicles accelerated through Tomorrowland at high speeds, tackling the twisting and turning PeopleMover track in a fraction of the time.

Problem is, they didn’t work. Budget cuts had left the PeopleMover track unchanged. That meant unbanked turns that required the Rods to screech to a halt at every twist in the convoluted track. Tires wore down weekly and were replaced constantly. What’s worse, the start-stop of each car frazzled computer systems, which constantly E-stopped the ride for hours at a time. The ride closed in mid-2000 with signs proclaiming a grand return in 2001. It never happened. The vehicles were scrapped. Literally, used as scrap. The Rocket Rods are easily recognized as one of the most infamously flubbed and failed attractions of all time.

Today, the empty track of the PeopleMover still curves its way throughout Tomorrowland as a forgotten testament to Walt's concept of a World on the Move. At this point, ADA requirements make a return of the Peoplemover more or less impossible, though fans can find a similar ride still in operation at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom.

3. Superstar Limo

Superstar Limo

Location: Disney California Adventure
Lifetime:
February 8, 2001 – January 11, 2002 (11 months)
Replaced By: Monsters Inc. Mike and Sulley to the Rescue 

When Disney California Adventure opened in 2001, the park was almost immediately declared a loss by Disney Parks fans, who would rather have kept Disneyland’s parking lot than have the low-budget second gate. So disliked was the original park that it earned a must-read in-depth feature in our Designing Disaster series, where we walked through every ailing avenue. The original California Adventure committed many sins, not the least of which being its modern, “edgy,” distinctly-90s style that spoofed Californian culture rather than celebrating its reverent and romanticized history. A modern, circus-freak boardwalk with off-the-shelf carnival rides was a stark contrast to Disneyland Park’s idealized settings.

The worst offender was the park’s Hollywood Pictures Backlot land, inexplicably themed to a flat, façade-filled studio-style recreation of modern Hollywood (despite the real Hollywood being an hour away). Filled with tacky, modern puns and more restaurants than rides, Hollywood Pictures Backlot was a groaner. Its “starring” ride was the intolerable Superstar Limo, a comic-book style ride through the neighborhoods of Los Angeles passing horrific “small world” style dolls that looked like ABC soap opera celebrities and C-list Hollywood names like Whoopi Goldberg and Regis Philbin. Filled with in-jokes that only Los Angeles' elite would care to understand, the ride was said to be a personal favorite of then-CEO Michael Eisner.

The self-referential mess of a ride was so poorly done, it didn’t seem possible that Disney could’ve allowed it. The ride lasted almost a whole year before it closed. There weren’t even any plans for a replacement. Superstar Limo had been the park’s only dark ride (compared to Disneyland’s dozen) and still the park was simply stronger without it. No replacement necessary. Talk about one of the worst failures in park history! In 2006, the infrastructure was re-used for a very nice family dark ride themed to Disney-Pixar’s Monsters Inc., and the land it’s in has taken great strides, including a re-branding as a vintage 1940s Hollywoodland during the park’s 2012 re-opening.

4. Poseidon’s Fury

Poseidon's Fury

Location: Universal's Islands of Adventure
Lifetime:
May 1999 - summer 2000 (1 year)
Replaced By: Poseison's Fury (completely different version) 

When Universal’s Islands of Adventure opened in 1999, it rightfully called itself "the most technology advanced theme park on Earth." One huge piece of that title was thanks to Poseidon’s Fury, a walkthrough guided dark ride into the bowels of a dark and ancient temple dedicated to the Greek god of the seas. Narrated and guided by an old man named The Keeper, guests were told of an ancient battle between the kind Zeus and his power-hungry merman brother Poseidon. That’s when Poseidon awakens, sealing guests inside the temple and forcing them further into his grasp.

The only path is a waterlogged bridge through a spinning vortex leading into the massive city of Atlantis. There, the Keeper reveals that’s he’s been Zeus all along, disappearing in an instant and re-appearing on a water screen to battle the evil Poseidon. The climax, of course, is a special-effects-soaked show pitting fireballs and water alongside mist screens and collapsing rocks.

What Happened: Then, just a year into its run, things changed. Poseidon’s Fury was closed. After a brief period of closure, it re-opened with a new script, new effects, and new story with almost nothing in common with the original Poseidon's Fury. Now set in the 1930s and given an Indiana-Jones-esque overlay, the attraction pairs guests with Taylor, a hapless intern of the Global Discovery Group currently excavating the temple. Here, Poseidon is the good guy, combating an ancient nemesis named (brace yourself) Lord Darkenon. The physical structure of the building remains the same, as do most of the key special effects (with one glaring change that rewrites the finale). Instead of the computer-generated hero and villain of the original, Poseidon and Darkenon appear in the finale thanks to Spandex-clad humans against a green screen.

Why? We don’t know. Few others seem to have any idea, either, and fans often blindly wish for the return of the more mythological original. According to Gary Goddard (the famed designer behind the new version), the original tested poorly with crowds (and particularly families) who found that it lacked action, that the Keeper was unconvincing (clearly a twenty-something heavily costumed to resemble an old man) and that the attraction had a nearly incomprehensible story. On a shoestring budget and forced to reuse as much of the original as possible, Mr. Goddard's changes are as good as can be expected. The original show didn’t run long enough to be seen by many people, but video evidence can help the rest of us. If you’re hankering for more, take a look at the iconic collapsed Poseidon statue outside the temple or the bronze statue holding the marquee for the Treasures of Poseidon gift shop: it’s the original, animated merman, back when Poseidon was the bad guy.

5. Discovery River Boats

Location: Disney's Animal Kingdom
Lifetime:
April 22, 1998 – August 21, 1999 (16 months)
Replaced By: Nothing 

If you’ve been to Disney’s Animal Kingdom, you probably have one very specific memory of the place: walking. The park is huge… among the largest amusement parks in the world at over 500 acres. When the park opened, it had a way to cut down on walking time: The Discovery River Boats. Circling Discovery Island (the park’s central land, with the Tree of Life), the Discovery River Boats had stops in Safari Village (later renamed Discovery Island since too many folks were looking there for Kilimanjaro Safaris) and in Asia.

Problem is, Animal Kingdom was very, very, very short on rides (it had only three when it opened) and Discovery River Boats sure sounded like a fourth! Folks queued for long periods to board the simple transportation ride. While it offered a “sneak peak” of the park’s lands (a triceratops animatronic drinking from the river on the banks of Dinoland, a fire-breathing cave on the shores of Camp Minnie-Mickey, etc), it was not intended to be an attraction on the Jungle Cruise scale despite the similar name and boats.

What Happened: A few months after the park opened, it was renamed the Discovery River Taxi to emphasize its transportive purpose. In March 1999, it was again renamed, this time as the Radio Disney River Cruise. In an odd example of synergy, Radio Disney DJs Just Plain Mark and Zippy claimed to be broadcasting from the branches of the Tree of Life (huh?). The ride’s path was also modified to return to the dock it departed from (so no more transportation) as Radio Disney songs played. By August, the boats had closed altogether. Their docks are still visible and accessible, being used as meet-and-greet locations.

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There are 10 comments.

We visited IOA during its first soft-open in '99. It was amazing...and almost completely empty. It was great for us, though. We did Poseidon and Triceratops Encounter. I remember enjoying both, but particularly remember TE. It truly seemed like a living Triceratops. What aided illusion was that one thinks of them as slow, lumbering creatures. It's movements, therefore, were slow, and you had to keep reminding yourself it was robotic. My mind kept saying otherwise.

There were cool little individual boats at the Contemporary Resort that looked like big innertubes and had small engines. They were contained in a small area poolside and you didn't take them out on the larger lake. It was like bumper cars on the water!! We loved them and always think about them when we are at DW.

I love the storybook version of Sinbad. Looks like Tokyo is the place to be.

If journey to imagination is limping along in Disney opinion. ..it's simple stop fixing things that are not broken. A new ride always gets more attention and That's what keeps us coming back...but we are REALLY there for our old Disney favorites!!!! Put journey back to it's original and see it become the popular attraction it was my kids are 26 and 29 NOW figment is still one of their favorite! And the original journey you are making to many change to the old attractions people remnemeber as kids and when they are gone so are those visitors.

Triceratops in the Triceratops Encounter are definitely NOT there anymore. After going back into the three huts, they're all gone. One got taken apart. One got shipped to Japan's universal studios and the other is in storage.

I loved the original Poseidon's Fury. Much better than the corny new story.
In the original you found Atlantis. I heard Disney had the right to the movie Atlantis and made Universal change it.

When Epcot opened in the early 1980's, I was about 7 years old. The only ride I was entertained by was Journey into Imagination. It was so beautifully thought out and charming with that great song I can still hear in my head right now. Even in Disney World, where it's a constant struggle to keep up with the future and not fall behind the times, I still think the original version would have stood the test of time. In my opinion, they should either bring it back as close to the original version as possible (after all, the ImageWorks is intact behind locked doors), or start over completely with a whole new concept.

I always chuckle when people talk about how great the original Imagination ride was. Don't get me wrong, my family and I loved it but it was always a walk-on. Always. If people loved it so much, why wasn't it ever busy? As soon as it was gone, it was everyone's favorite. I'm not surprised that Disney was looking to replace a ride that really didn't have much foot traffic.

An excellent point.Though the Disneyland Haunted Mansion has regular periods of short lines, even no line. I can't imagine they would even consider removing this classic. The uproar would be earth rending.

I worked at IOA when it first opened. I remember the original Poseidon ride/walk-thru and it was truly amazing. I wish they'd bring that one back.

I also got stuck on Imaginations once when I was a kid. That song on repeat will never be forgotten. I loved Figment and the newest versions are just no where near as good.

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