There’s something of a bloodbath going on at Walt Disney World right now. Large numbers of existing attractions – some of which have been in place for many years – are being ripped out, ready to be replaced.
With the Magic Kingdom’s New Fantasyland expansion having been completed in 2014 with the debut of the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, all three of Walt Disney World’s other theme parks are set for big changes. In fact, the attraction closures that have been made in 2014 and 2015 point towards radical changes in the nature of Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
Let’s take a look, in order, at what’s been removed over the last two years and what it might mean for the parks that hosted the attractions.
10. Camp Minnie-Mickey (Disney’s Animal Kingdom)
Closure date: January 6, 2014
The infamous Camp Minnie-Mickey was thrown together late in the development of Disney's Animal Kingdom, following the decision to push back the construction of Beastly Kingdom (which never actually went ahead) and the realisation that work on the Asia area was behind schedule.
According to Jim Hill, then-CEO Michael Eisner decided to install a temporary land similar in style to the former Mickey's Birthdayland area at the Magic Kingdom (which had been designed and built in just 90 days). Rather than Imagineering, Walt Disney World's entertainment office was brought in to create the land, built around a low-budget stage show and character meet-and-greet "trails".
Although Festival of the Lion King ultimately proved to be a popular show and has now been (appropriately) relocated to the Africa area of the park, the rest of Camp Minnie-Mickey is no more. It was closed in January 2014, making room for the Pandora - The World of Avatar expansion.
The Avatar expansion is not the only change coming to Animal Kingdom. The addition of a night-time spectacular, Rivers of Light, and an evening version of Kilimanjaro Safaris will see the park staying open until late for the first time. Disney is finally seeking to banish Animal Kingdom's reputation as being a "half day park".
9. American Idol Experience (Disney’s Hollywood Studios)
Closure date: August 30, 2014
The American Idol Experience began entertaining guests at Disney's Hollywood Studios in February 2009. Based on the hit talent show of the same name, it offered budding singers the chance to perform on stage in one of the park's enormous soundstages. Guests could audition throughout the day, and a select few were then given their chance in front of a live studio audience. At the end of the day, one lucky contestant was awarded a coveted "Golden Ticket" to jump the line when the American Idol auditions hit their home town.
After five years of showcasing Orlando's latest musical talents, The American Idol Experience hung up its microphone for good on August 30, 2014 (several months earlier than originally announced).
The American Idol Experience harkened back to the old days of Disney-MGM Studios, when TV shows really were produced at the park. Those days are gone, and Disney has decided to move on.
8. Maelstrom (Epcot)
Closure date: October 5, 2014
The decision to close Maelstrom, the headline attraction in Epcot’s Norway Pavilion, is surely the most controversial one on this list – but that has little to do with the ride itself, which was moderately popular but not one of Epcot’s star attractions. Instead, it has everything to do with the ride’s replacement – a Frozen-themed boat ride that will reuse its ride system.
This forward/backward flume ride took guests in Norse viking ships on a cruise through a troll-inhabited swamp, past Nordic polar bears, and into the oil refinement industry of present-day Norway before culminating in a short film on the region's contributions to technology.
Given that Frozen is not set in Norway, and is entirely fictional, some Disney fans have suggested that the World Showcase will be changed forever by the introduction of the attraction. We’ll have to wait and see whether this marks a long-term trend, or is simply an opportunistic move by Disney to get an attraction based on the smash-hit movie up-and-running anywhere in Walt Disney World as quickly as possible.
7. Studio Backlot Tour (Disney’s Hollywood Studios)
Closure date: September 27, 2014
If the replacement of Maelstrom at Epcot marks a change in approach to the World Showcase, then the removal of the Studio Backlot Tour is an even more significant change to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. It is the final nail in the coffin of the decades-old dream to turn Orlando into “Hollywood East”, and finally sees Disney dropping the pretence that Hollywood Studios is still a working production facility.
Clearly “inspired” by Universal Studios Hollywood’s famous tram tour, the inclusion of the Studio Backlot Tour in Disney’s plans for Disney-MGM Studios (as it was then known) forced rival Universal to tear up its original plans for Universal Studios Florida (which included a very similar tram tour, with a set-piece that was almost identical in concept to Disney’s Catastrophe Canyon).
Ironically, the Studio Backlot Tour actually contributed to Disney-MGM Studios' failure as a working studio. The noise from Catastrophe Canyon made outdoor filming on the park's backlot streets impractical. Yet the ride outlasted the studio itself, continuing to offer a glimpse at the process of filmmaking for some 25 years before finally being closed.
Disney is yet to confirm what use it plans to make of the acres of space opened up by the removal of the Studio Backlot Tour, but all signs point towards an expanded Pixar area and possibly a clone of Toy Story Playland at Walt Disney Studios, Paris.
6. The Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow (Disney’s Hollywood Studios)
Closure date: November 6, 2014
Few will mourn the loss of The Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The attraction was the latest in a series of basic walkthroughs to occupy the same space in the park, and replaced the similar Journey into Narnia.
Often derided as little more than a pre-show, the attraction was based on the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, rather than the original theme park ride. It offered guests a view of key moments in the films from the perspective of Captain Jack Sparrow.
Although Disney did at least make an attempt to theme the surroundings, it’s difficult to view The Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow as much more than an extended trailer for the movies.
The Narnia attractions and The Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow continued the "behind the scenes of the movies" theme that Disney's Hollywood Studios is now moving away from.