Walt Disney was a firm believer that his parks would never be completed; that they would continue to change and grow and evolve for the rest of their lives. But that didn’t just mean building new attractions and closing old ones. Walt spoke of “plussing” rides in his park – making simple (or not-so-simple) changes that would go a long way to improve the overall experience.
Just this month, we counted down the top 10 best examples of “plussing” in Disney Parks attractions and how Walt’s idea of a continually refreshed experience has benefitted some rides tremendously. But in their haste to keep aging rides “hip,” Disney has made a few foibles. Here, we’ve collected five examples of rides that Disney set out to “plus,” but might really have “minused.” And worse, a botched “plus” on a classic ride is a double slap: a bad “new” ride, and a lost old one.
Throughout our countdown, you'll find links to our Lost Legends and Disaster Files features that will give you the full story of forgotten favorites and – in some unfortunately cases – their failed follow-ups. Jump to those in-depth features to get the before-during-and-after of some of the world's most well-known rides.
6. Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage
There’s not too much about the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage that challenges the status quo. Maybe that’s the problem. Walt Disney proudly introduced the Submarine Voyage attraction in 1959 as one of the first ever “E-ticket” designated rides. It thrilled guests for years in Disneyland’s Tomorrowland, and even inspired a Jules Verne themed fantasy spinoff in Magic Kingdom’s Fantasyland.
In the 1990s, both California and Florida’s submarine rides closed. They were expensive to operate, had a low hourly capacity, and were victims of a cost-cutting era in the Parks’ history. Disney Parks fans might want to check out our in-depth Lost Legends: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea feature that tells the whole story. In any case, Florida’s lagoon was empty for years and eventually filled in to become a Pooh playground and, now, New Fantasyland. Disneyland’s was mercifully spared thanks to the 50th anniversary and a nostalgic park president, but to justify its return, it was stamped with an intellectual property to replace the original story.
The Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage retains the classic ride system and adds a kinetic energy that the park was missing during its absence, but it’s just not quite what fans wanted. The original sub ride’s animatronics and special effects were replaced with digital characters projected on glass screens that appear to be in the water (similar to an effect at Epcot’s similarly “plussed” Seas With Nemo and Friends pavilion). The ride is still fun, but it’s lost most of what made it a classic while retaining the low capacity and long lines. It’s also just an odd fit for Tomorrowland, which is already plagued with a jumbled identity.
5. Rocket Rods
For most of Disneyland’s life, Tomorrowland looked just the way Walt had envisioned: a glimmering white Space Age city of the future full of rocket ships, gleaming white Googie architecture, and pointed spires. And the entire land was encircled by the meandering elevated track of the Peoplemover, a revolutionary mass transit system that leisurely glided through and above the land and the Submarine Voyage, adding a kinetic energy and a second story to Tomorrowland.
By the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Space Age style made Tomorrowland look like something out of the past rather than the future. Tomorrowlands across the globe got sweeping renovations to make them more “timeless.” But as budgets closed in, Disneyland’s New Tomorrowland was botched. The dark reimagining of the land was done on a dime, and the only significant new attraction was the Rocket Rods.
We chronicled the rise and fall of Walt's Tomorrowland in an in-depth Lost Legends: The Peoplemover feature that's a must-read for Disney fans, but here's what you need to know: the ride's replacement was the staggering Rocket Rods, sending an early version of Test Track’s technology whizzing along the convoluted and twisted track of the Peoplemover at “thrill ride” speeds. Problem is, unbanked turns, possible structural issues, and frazzled computer systems left the ride closed more than it was open, and after just a few years, it retired for good. The Rocket Rods were such an iconic failure, they earned their own companion piece in a very different series – Disaster Files: Rocket Rods. For a number of reasons, the Peoplemover doesn’t seem able to return, so the expansive track weaving throughout the land is simply… empty.
Once in a while, Disney executives hint that the former Peoplemover track is being looked into and that they understand fans’ rabid fascination with the Walt original, but it just seems very unlikely that anything will happen to re-open a ride there. Best cast scenario, the next (high anticipated) renovation of Tomorrowland will probably tear the tracks out, closing a wound that’s been open for a long time. For all their efforts to “plus” the Peoplemover track by making it a thrill ride, fans would do most anything to get the old ride back.
4. Space Mountain: Mission 2
Location: Disneyland Paris
Perhaps Disney Imagineers have never heard the saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Disneyland Paris never had a “Tomorrowland.” Rather than a cold, silver city of the future, Paris’ heavily romanticized version of the land – here called Discoveryland – is a gold and bronze seaport based on European fantasy writers like Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. Fittingly, Space Mountain – a bronze and copper “steampunk” style mountain of cogs and metal sheets – opened as Space Mountain: De la Terre à la Lune, based on Verne’s novel of the same name.
In the novel, explorers are launched to the moon in a giant Columbiad Cannon. To tell the tale, Paris’ Space Mountain was designed as a launched coaster, blasting guests up a cannon bolted to the mountain’s face and into a fantastical journey through the stars set to a riveting orchestral score and filled with special effects matching the “steampunk” styling of the land and the fantasy novel origins of the ride. This unique take on a beloved favorite was so thoughtful and clever, it earned its own in-depth feature to tell the full story – Lost Legends: Space Mountain - De la Terre à la Lune.
In 2005, the ride was briefly closed and re-opened with the Mission 2 moniker, eliminating almost any references to Verne’s work and replacing the orchestral score with Michael Giacchino’s space age score. It’s not that it’s bad, but it’s distinctly sci-fi whereas the ride’s original concept brilliantly ignored sci-fi in favor of fantasy and literature. While it’s a shame, we could’ve seen it coming. With the addition of Buzz Lightyear and Star Tours, Discoveryland became little more than a gold Tomorrowland copy anyway, whereas it had such potential to be different.
To make matters worse, Disneyland Paris made a "grand" announcement in October 2016 that their Space Mountain would soon take on the Star Wars themed Hyperspace Mountain overlay that proved so popular in Anaheim. The thing is, nothing could be more antithetical to the gorgeous, steampunk, Victorian fantasy ride than to apply a Star Wars overlay. And maybe Paris' guests don't care and would prefer the Star Wars version, even in a mismatched wrapper. But fans of Imagineering sigh as yet another thoughtful, detailed, intellectual ride is masked by an intellectual property.