Disney theme parks were never intended to stand still.
When Walt built Disneyland, he wanted it to be a place that constantly evolved, with attractions being “plussed” on a regular basis. Eventually, when they had served their purpose, they could be removed to be replaced by something new and improved.
It’s no surprise, then, that plenty of attractions have come and gone over the years at Disney’s various resorts around the world. What is perhaps a little surprising is that, in many cases, rather than removing or replacing the shuttered attractions, Disney has instead left them in place. Sometimes, parts of the abandoned attractions have been left in full view of guests.
There are numerous examples from the past – the Submarine Voyage attractions at Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom both stood idle for years before their eventual replacement (in Disneyland’s case, the ride was finally overhauled to become the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage). Some of the towers of the Skyway attractions were removed long after the rest of the ride closed.
Even today, if you take a close look as you wander around Disney’s parks, you’ll often find evidence of abandoned attractions (and we’re not including the long-list of hopefully-soon-to-be-replaced closed rides and shows at Disney’s Hollywood Studios). Here are some prominent examples…
6. Disneyland's PeopleMover
Walt Disney longed for an overhead transportation system that could offer people a rapid overview of an area in a city. In 1964, he set Imagineer Bob Gurr to work on creating one. The result was the WEDWay, also known as the "PeopleMover".
The chief innovation of the WEDWay was that the vehicles never stopped moving. Instead, guests boarded via a circular moving walkway, which dramatically improved the loading speed when compared to a linear walkway. This was coupled with a set of small trains that were pushed along by rotating tires that were embedded in the track every nine feet, each with its own electric motor. The cars themselves did not have motors, and the breakdown of any of the spinning tires would not cause the entire system to break down.
Like the monorail, the WEDWay was to play a vital role at the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT), the futuristic city that Walt planned to build in Florida. Residents would commute to work via WEDway trams, with automobiles and trucks confined to underground tunnels.
Walt hoped to bring representatives from cities and shopping malls to see the first WEDWay system once it opened as part of Disneyland's New Tomorrowland makeover in 1967. However, he died before he had the chance. Without Walt as a cheerleader, the system never caught on.
In 1998, Disneyland's Tomorrowland underwent a major overhaul, re-emerging as New Tomorrowland. One of the "casualties" of the project was the former PeopleMover attraction, which had been installed to offer guests an overview of the area. Its moderately-paced vehicles were replaced by the Rocket Rods, a high-speed thrill ride that operated on the same track. After boarding a five-seat Rocket Rod, riders raced around the circuit at a much faster pace than the old PeopleMover vehicles.
Unfortunately, the new attempt to bolt the new attraction onto the existing PeopleMover infrastructure proved to be catastrophic. The unbanked turns weren't suited to high speeds, so the Rocket Rods had to slow down to a crawl on each bend. Tires wore out quickly, and the entire attraction was shuttered in September 2000.
The PeopleMover track remains in place, with many Disneyland fans demanding the ride’s return. Disney has yet to confirm what will become of this decades-old attraction.
Where to see it: It’s not hard to spot the abandoned overhead tracks as you make your way through Tomorrowland. Sections of it have been put to use on occasion, such as acting as a stage for a group of Stormtroopers during the opening of Star Tours: The Adventures Continue.
5. Discovery Island at Walt Disney World
Back in 1974, Walt Disney World was short on attractions outside the Magic Kingdom. Desperate to get something open quickly, the resort made plans to convert a small island close to Fort Wilderness in the heart of Bay Lake into a nature preserve. Animal exhibits were installed, and in April 1974 Treasure Island opened to the public. It was later renamed as Discovery Island.
When Disney’s Animal Kingdom opened in 1998, there was little reason for Disney to continue to maintain a much smaller zoological attraction. It opted to close Discovery Island, moving many of its captive animals to the new theme park. Discovery Island was abandoned and cut off from visitors.
Several alternative uses of the island have since been put forward - including turning it into an attraction based on Lost. None of these have come to fruition. Urban explorer Shane Pérez reached the island in 2010, claiming to have discovered "abandoned buildings, cages, preserved snakes in jars, even old employee photos".
How to see it: Discovery Island is visible from boats on Bay Lake, although you won’t get too close.
4. Wonders of Life Pavilion (Epcot)
In 1989, a new pavilion debuted at Epcot. The Wonders of Life Pavilion was dedicated to human life and health, and boasted two major attractions.
The first of these was Body Wars, a Star Tours-style simulator ride through the human blood stream. This consisted of four simulators, each able to accommodate up to 40 passengers. Riders were “shrunk”, along with their Bravo 229 vehicle, down to a size “smaller than a drop of water”. They then passed through the lungs, heart and various other parts of the body.
Elsewhere, Cranium Command saw guest becoming “Cranium Commandos” and being sent on a mission into the human brain. It starred Buzzy, a tiny little soldier, who had been tasked with keeping a twelve-year-old boy out of trouble by entering his cranium.
A third attraction, Making of Me, was a theatre presentation starring Martin Short. It focused on contraception and birth (an unusual topic for a Disney park), and remained in place until the pavilion’s closure.
The Wonders of Life Pavilion was closed permanently in January 2007, with no explanation given. Both of its major attractions were boarded up, and large elements of them are believe to remain in place.
How to see it: The Wonders of Life pavilion is located close to Mission: Space and Ellen’s Energy Adventure. It is still used for private events, and the Making of Me theatre has been reused to show food-focused films during Epcot’s annual International Food and Wine festival.