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Editorial: Why I'm Done With Disneyland

A Different Disney

Let's call Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT! a last straw for me. I know that the ride will be a blast and a fan favorite (though the five month window in which Disney hopes to make this transition frightens me, especially given that the equally-despised-but-far-less-consequential changeover from Epcot's Maelstrom to Frozen Ever After took four times as long).

But the ride doesn't exist in a vacuum. It fundamentally uproots the delicate California story that $1 billion was just spent weaving while simultaneously forcing the closure of one of California Adventure's starring rides, an integral piece of the new park's story, and – quite simply – a very good attraction.

But it's all part of the new modus operandi at Disney. I think it started when Disney saw that Universal's Wizarding World of Harry Potter was going to change things. Most fans agree that Disney made a mistake when – in a mad rush to emulate Universal's success – they quickly gobbled up the biggest franchise they could find. At the time, that was James Cameron's Avatar. And ever since, it seems that Disney has been chasing Universal and resorting to Universal's tactics: cannibalizing classics to shove short-sighted flavor-of-the-week intellectual properties into the parks.

That's a shame, because Marvel could and should be a tremendous positive influence on the parks, and now its legacy – and the Guardians' – will be tied to this.

Image: Disney / Marvel

To be clear, this is NOT out of the blue. Aside from the rumors and rumblings that so many considered a red herring, it has been clear in fan circles for a while now that Marvel would come to Disneyland in a big way. It’s true that, if you ask insiders, the space behind Tower of Terror – the park’s most logical expansion site – has been earmarked for a Marvel land for a long time. Rumors always suggested that this new Marvel land would be anchored by a Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster reboot angled around the Avengers or the Guardians of the Galaxy, with another D-ticket or C-ticket to create a respectable standalone Marvel presence in the parks.

Sounds great! And maybe that's why when these rumors started to emerge about Tower of Terror, it seems plausible (though still silly) that the Guardians would take up residence there as a quick seasonal overlay – a taste of what Marvel would be like, sort of like Hyperspace Mountain whetting our appetites for Star Wars Land in an inconsequential, temporary way. 

But this is different. Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is closing forever. Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT! is taking its place. Sure it'll use the same ride system, but this is an entirely new ride. As if the Pirates of the Caribbean were kicked out, with Frozen animatronics and scenes set along the waterways. It's a new attraction. And like Tower of Terror, it's timeless and will still be a hit fifty years from now, right? Err...?

Why It Matters

Image: Disney

The unfortunate and troubling refrain from those who support this change is that Disneyland's Tower of Terror has never been a hit anyway. Their arguments are first that the California Tower is technologically inferior to Florida's original (infamously built with a more budget-friendly ride system compared to Florida's, which ran tens of millions of dollars overbudget) and second, that California's Tower never has lines as long as Florida's (though this is due in large part to crowd dispersion, since California Adventure has a dozen E-Tickets and Hollywood Studios has three.)

Neither argument works. Why? Because frankly, despite what and how enthusiasts like you and I think, most guests to Disneyland will never go to Walt Disney World. Many probably don't even know (and certainly don't care) that other Towers of Terror exist in Florida, France, and Japan.

It's of no consequence at all to most Disneyland guests that a beloved ride is closing but will still exist in a different – even better – form a thousand miles away. Imagine, for example, if Magic Kingdom announced that its Pirates of the Caribbean would close. Would it soothe Disney World guests' anger to be told, "Well, don't be upset. There'll still be a Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland, and it's better there anyway." Of course not! The notion is just silly. 

Image: Disney

Coming to Terms

Just a few years after bringing Disney California Adventure to life with a storied, distinctly-Californian narrative, this. And I concede. In a million years, I would never have imagined that the ridiculous, unimaginable rumors would be true. Disney would never be so foolish as to spoil what they worked so hard to build in the new California Adventure! They would never physically alter a Californian icon at the California park to resemble a spaceship looming over Hollywood! And yet… Here we are.

And the worst part of it all is that we've seen this with Maelstrom, and Frozen: Live at the Hyperion. We've begged and pleaded and commented and Tweeted and tried to make someone – anyone! – understand that these decisions are shortsighted and guided by the wrong principles. And it doesn't matter. Nothing we say or do can change this now. It's happening. Why fuss? Why fight? Why rally? Why call Disney? Why try? Why care? Less than a year from now, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror will be gone, and Disney California Adventure will have a new headlining attraction in Hollywood Land: Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT!

But that’s not my Disneyland.

I expected better, and I don’t apologize for feeling that way. Why isn’t California Adventure home to Discovery Bay, the never-built steampunk San Francisco originally planned for Disneyland in 1970s that even today, 50 years later, still feels relevant and right? Why isn’t Marvel getting its own separate land parked elsewhere in California Adventure, or saved for a much-needed third gate where it could be built to its fullest potential? Why isn’t Mystic Manor being built in Grizzly Peak instead?

Or, why isn't Marvel moving into the tired and desolate Tomorrowland at Disneyland next door, which is creatively starved and rudderless in the same way California Adventure used to be? Tomorrowland needs an identity, and Marvel could be a piece of it. Instead, that land will continue to languish and wither while superheroes move into Hollywood. 

It's unacceptable.

Image: Disney

But it doesn’t matter. We can't stop it. And that's why I said I don't feel angry or surprised or hurt. I just feel defeated. We can't change it. And that is what hurts the most. The overwhelmingly negative reception to this announcement falls on deaf ears, and we lose again. And this time, Disney isn't even allowing negative comments on the Disney Parks Blog entry announcing the change, so they're ready to battle.

Forget being an enthusiast – the rabid fans who decry any change Disney makes as an abomination. Just as a Guest, this is a troubling decision. If we've learned anything in our Designing Disaster series, it's that modern, character-infused overlays to beloved attractions can't stand the test of time. They instantly date themselves. 

Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disney's Hollywood Studios will still be an emotionally gripping, captivating, eerie, and relevant ride in fifty years. But in 2066, will your grandchildren know who the Guardians of the Galaxy from 2014 are?


Image: Disney

The careful cohesion that Imagineers crafted with the new Disney California Adventure was evidence that Disney designers can still knock it out of the park. The new California Adventure was alive and energetic and thoughtful and brilliant. Like it or not, Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT! is coming, and The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is disappearing forever from the careful narration of that new park. I intend to follow it.

I know plenty of people here and on Facebook will let me have it and say, “Good, don’t come! Shorter lines for me!” (probably without having read what I’ve written here, to be honest), and that’s fair. The lines will indeed be at least one person shorter. You can count on that.

I know many of my Southern Californian friends want to be mad at Disney and to never return, but they just… can’t. After every tone-deaf attraction closure; every out-of-touch overlay; every time Guests overwhelmingly ask for something only to be met with silence; every time synergy wins; every time prices increase and quality falls, they say “That’s it! Never again!” They say they won’t go back, but they do. Luckily, my decision is much more simple. I live across the country from Disneyland, so a trip doesn’t happen out of habit or accident, and an Annual Pass isn’t an option. I have to choose to go to Disneyland. And for now, I’m done with Disneyland.

Image: Disney

I’ll see Disneyland again.

Long before this mess, I’d calculated with a huff that the earliest I could visit again would be at least a few years after Star Wars opens… Maybe 2022. Maybe if they can solve the overcrowding that stifles the parks. Maybe pending whatever 21st century Fastpass+ solution they come up with. Maybe if I can still afford a ticket. Maybe if any of the rides I cherished are left. Now, I’m just tired and demoralized. The parts of Disneyland I loved – my Disneyland – are disappearing little by little.

To reiterate: I’m not enraged or emotional. I’m not saying this from a heated anger that’ll subside in time. It’s not a gut reaction. I’m thinking rationally and carefully when I say: I’m just defeated. It’s not my Disneyland anymore. I knew eventually it would happen, and it has. A new generation is just discovering the park, and they’ll never know what they’re missing by not having the Hollywood Tower Hotel stand against the resort’s skyline. For them, Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT! will be a classic in its own right. And that’s wonderful. I know they’ll embrace it and enjoy it and it will be part of their Disneyland.

To them, I offer these words of warning: Enjoy it while you can. It won’t be your Disneyland forever.

Image: Disney

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There are 23 comments.

Fully agree that change is hard. But, how can we complain about change when that very change brought us the rides and attractions that we so dearly cherish.

We are quick to point out the 100 people that agreed with us on a blog, but fail to admit Frozen fills the theatre more than a 10+ year Aladdin production.

We fail to admit, the Submarine Voyage never had a line prior to Nemo. Or that the People Mover was considered BORING in our hip teen years.

Bring on something new and exciting, you know... that e-ticket rush Indy and Star Tours gave us as Hollywood films joined Walt's classic lands.

Turns out, they didn't destroy Walt's original lands. They're following Walt's example, for he too, continually changed and expanded them.

Iv never commented on any of the posts on here but after reading this one i just felt i had to. Everything you said hit home with me, everyone indeed has their own Disney that they have grown up with, myself included and to read your thoughts on the matter was like a punch to the stomach, making me realize i too feel the same way but hadn't fully processed it through properly. I feel your pain and your post is one that moved me and made me get frustrated at myself equally once i realized my own feelings on the matter and on other similar Disney decisions of the past.

I agree with you Brian. Disney today seems to be increasingly out of touch with their own fanbase. The last 10 years of decisions have been questionable at best and they are becoming increasingly frustrating. First they pick an unestablished ip to bring into a park instead of their planned original expansion. While odd and risky they have poured a lot of resources and thought into this expansion and are going to make it worthy addition to Animal Kingdom. Then they inject characters that only marginally have anything to do with the Norway. But at least the outside structure still very much fits in with the flow and theme of the area. Now this decision with tower of terror will be an absolute blight on the entire park. What happened to the Disney that so carefully plans out sight lines and themes to the point that they build a building with the careful thought of how it will look even from another park?

But one area I have to disagree with is that while Hollywood Studios is limping by with 5 Eticket attractions (not three like you suggest) there is no way that California Adventures has a dozen.

you hit the nail on the head! my sentiments exactly except that i am refering to Disney World because i have never been to Disneyland. Disney World is my happy place. i've been there many many times. but with the removal of so many things like the sorcerers hat, and now the ears tower, and several rides, i'm upset. the addition of Star Wars is horrid!! not to mention Avatarland. good grief the kids will be scared to death before they even see mickey!! start a whole new theme park somewhere else for this stuff. leave my happy place alone. i suppose next i'll see tinkerbell being shot by a deathstar super laser. ENOUGH already!

Beautifully said and right on point. I grew up a child of Disney World. We would go every other year when I was young. But the last 3 times I've flown down to Florida, I've thought, "This just isn't what it used to be." I didn't feel the magic anymore in Disney World. I hadn't been to Disneyland since I was 6, but last year (after a 23 year hiatus), I returned to Disneyland in October for the 60th anniversary celebration. I fell in love. I felt the magic that I used to feel at Disney World. I decided I'd much rather fly to Disneyland from the east coast than make the much shorter trip to Disney World...And then Star Wars land was announced, and I found out they'd be closing so much at Disneyland for an extended period of time. But it was ok, I'd deal. I flew back to Disneyland last month to experience the 60th anniversary celebration again. I stayed in the Grand Californian and started every day staring out my window at Grizzly Peak and Tower of Terror. At night, I walked onto the balcony and watched the Tower Hotel glowing eerily in the distance. To me, it was the best view imaginable from a hotel room. And now it's going to be gone? Replaced by some superheroes that I don't know (and probably never will because I'm so over superhero movies). I'm just sad. Sad that Disney doesn't listen. Sad that they think they know what's best for us even if it's not what anyone wants. And for me at least, it goes way back. Remember when Winnie the Pooh replaced Mr. Toad in Disney World? Awful. Or when they said they were closing 20,000 Leagues for refurbishment and put in a Pooh playground in Disney World? The worst. Or how in Disney World, they're still shoving Avatar down our throats even though no one cares about it? Or how they tore out Maelstrom and gave us Frozen, which has nothing to do with Norway?
And now Disneyland. This beautiful place that I've just rediscovered. The place where the magic still lives. They want to destroy that too. (Sigh.) I was kind of hoping if they put anything in California Adventure, it would be a Big Hero 6 ride. At least that would actually fit the Californian theme (kind of...since it's San Fransokya, and not San Francisco). But this. Guardians of the Galaxy makes no sense. It doesn't fit. It's going to ruin the landscape. And even when I return to Disneyland, I know I won't ride it...just like when I was there in June, I didn't see the new Frozen stage show. I can't support these decisions that they're making. I do understand it's a business, but they've gotten so far away from Walt's vision that it hurts my heart.

My only concern with this retheme is in terms of how the building will fit into dca as a whole. I even emailed Disney about that. Otherwise, I am ok with a new ride experience. Our family travels to both coasts and it will be nice to further differentiate the feel of each coast and get the most for our travel dollars. I don't, however, want to sacrifice the feeling off being transported to another time and place for a flavor of the year ride experience that doesn't fit overall.

My only concern with this retheme is in terms of how the building will fit into dca as a whole. I even emailed Disney about that. Otherwise, I am ok with a new ride experience. Our family travels to both coasts and it will be nice to further differentiate the feel of each coast and get the most for our travel dollars. I don't, however, want to sacrifice the feeling off being transported to another time and place for a flavor of the year ride experience that doesn't fit overall.

I am all in favor on capitalizing on the acquisition of Marvel, but not at the expense of other attractions. Tower of Terror really connects Disneyland to its neighboring city of Hollywood and I believe historically this is important. Tower of Terror is a great stand alone story telling attraction that should not be destroyed. I am a Marvel fan, always have been, but I found Galaxy of Guardians to be boring. If anything focus it in an original stand alone attraction in a new Marvel Land. Ok, Disneyland may be limited for space but Disney World is not limited. I hate that Disney made this decision about Tower.

I totally agree Brian. The WDC (I never call it the Walt Disney Company, because Walt has nothing to do with the company as it is today) is in totally for the bottom line. Has nothing to do with innovation, creativity of imagineering.

Ver ooked at the park that way. I'm a child of the 70s. So yes, I miss things such as Adventures thru Innerspace and the Main Street Electric Paradebut m always excited to see the new things. What I appreciate is the little things. A Dole whip on a hot day with birds serenading me. Enjoying a meal I. New Orleans without the airfare. Walking through the maientre and seeing the Mickey-head flower bed in DL and the homage to Pan Pacific auditorium in DCA. Each park has things I love and sure things will change but I think since I grew up with change size always been willing to adapt and accept. It is a shame you feel like it is no longer yours, the thing is it wasn't meant to be is ours and our children's. The parks are now a part of my son's new memories but I always discuss with him the changes that have already happened and the changes still yet to be. If anything I want him to be flexible and adaptable since the world is constantly changing and to be unable to adapt is to be unable to survive.

You mention that no one will be comforted by the thought that there is still a Hollywood Tower of Terror in Florida. You're right, but that seems to be their answer to the closing of many attractions people love. Unhappy that Mr Toad is gone? He's still in CA. Unhappy that the Country Bears are gone? Go to FL. You still want the old Snow White ride? Back to CA with you! I'm sensing a pattern, here.
I was a Disneyland child of the '60s. The last time I was there was '74, and I was surprised then how much it had changed in just 6 years. I have told my family that I'd like to go back, and as long as the Matterhorn is still there it'll be ok. Maybe I'll just keep my memories of growing up there, and spend my time now at WDW, where I'm not so attached.

While I understand your frustration, I find it interesting that you say the attraction will quickly feel "dated". Twilight Zone isn't dated? It's a TV show from the 50's. A majority of young people today probably have no idea what Twilight Zone even is. The ride is already dated. Great ride, but most definitely dated. Plus, if the planned Marvel expansion ends up being where the rumors suggest(behind the Hollywood Tower), the GOTG ride wont be a big eyesore out of place in Hollywood Land. It will be a new icon at the entrance to Marvel Land. It all makes sense. The bottom line here is that Disney cannot win here no matter what they do, and since they cannot use Marvel characters in the Florida parks, it's coming to California. Just breathe man, it's gonna be alright. =)

I think you're getting the term dated confused with the word classic. As much as I absolutely loved the Guardians of the Galaxy, reskinning the ToT is equivalent to having the Rock n Roller Coaster staring Smash Mouth. That's why Disney chose Aerosmith as the band the headline for the Rock n Roller Coaster. Aerosmith didn't have a single song in the top 100 the year the ride opened.

Actually, Disney can use Marvel characters in its parks. Doctor Strange is already in Hollywood Studios. The contract states that the Marvel characters in Universal Studios can't show up in Disney and characters in Disney can't show up in Universal. Basically Spider-Man and his characters, Doctor Doom and his characters, Storm and Her characters, and the Incredible Hulk can't show up at Disney. Disney can use the Avengers, but the Hulk isn't allowed.

When this rumor first circulated it did occur to me that they were throwing away the beautiful billion dollar fix they had done of DCA, but I have to admit that as a fellow east coaster I was more concerned with beating back the same thing happening to the beloved Tower attraction in Florida. Now they're pushing GotG into Epcot and I'm not sure we won that one.

Thankfully I got my Disneyland trip in over last summer and I don't need to go back to something that isn't as good anymore. I will continue to go to Florida's parks for a while and keep my fingers crossed that 'my Disney' doesn't fully disappear there. The fix of DCA and the pretty darn good New Fantasyland had raised my confidence in the company's understanding of their parks - - but this really makes me wonder.

Personally, I'm a fan of change. I may not like every single one, but I like change in general. I trust Disney enough to believe that if they really were "out of touch with the fan base" that a drop in attendance would quickly become evident. Rather, perhaps, they have a constantly evolving fan base.

I am not personally attached to any given iteration of Disney. I have been going to Disneyland since the 60s. I've been going to Disney World only since 1997, but that was long enough ago that Animal Kingdom wasn't open, yet, River Country was skill open, and all the parks have significantly changed. I always enjoy what they have. I might miss what's no longer there, but that leads me to cherish my memories all the more and to truly savor every experience because one never knows when it might no longer be there.

I call it "different kinds of awesome." One year in particular, we had been to Disneyland and California Adventure so many times that we'd done the highlights again and again. So on one trip, we changed the theme of the weekend to "things we haven't done" and actively sought out attractions and experiences we normally skipped. On another trip (just adults), we made it a photo-safari of looking for interesting shots of architectures, flowers, decor, and more. There's always SO much to enjoy.

The last Orlando trip, we quipped "how do we get to everything we want to do in a two-week Orlando vacation? Simple:Add a third week."

I can talk fondly of Rocket Rods, of Alien Encounter, of Mission to Mars, of Journey to Inner Space, to the days of actual tickets when a ride was an E-ticket ride because I actually had an E-ticket to hand over when I got on.

I love the Disney of my youth. I love the Disney of my adult years. I love the Disney of today. I'm sure I'll love the Disney of tomorrow. Why? Because I love Disney - and I recognize that as times change, Disney will change with them, and if times change back, Disney will change back with them.

On the other hand, I would love to see a whole new park of Disney Classic with the old rides installed over there and many of the vintage things to be experienced by generations to come.

Brian, I empathize with you and whole heatedly agree. Being from Ohio my Disney is in Florida so Disneyland never was my Disney, but I did visit Disneyland and California Adventure with my wife and children in 2007 and very much enjoyed it. It was exciting to see the differences between attractions from the Florida park that even bear the same name, and the chance to visit an entirely new park with a new theme really made us love the Disney ingenuity even more. With this in mind I began to immediately question the rumors that California's Tower of Terror would be no more in favor of Guardians of the Galaxy. "Had Disney abandoned reasoned for madness." Like you stated Guardians belongs in Tomorrowland, not Hollywoodland, but it would seem the Disney execs would disagree. When it comes to Disney I think that we all become disappointed when we lose something that we have cherished. You lament over what once was and is now no longer. I lament over what has never been and will likely never be. When Animal Kingdom opened in 1998 it was to be a celebration of life, all life. Animal Kingdom was going to effortlessly incorporate the prehistoric with the modern and the modern with the mythical. The marquee above the entrance even reflects this with images of dinosaurs, giraffes, elephants, griffins, and unicorns. Alas, the long circulating rumors that Disney's Beastly Kingdom expansion to the existing Animal Kingdom have been all but quelled by the announced Avatar expansion. Instead of dragons we will now be graced with blue cat people from an intellectual property that currently exists as a singular film with long standing plans of sequels that have yet to happen. The mythical earth creatures have given way to mythical alien creatures. Why did it happen this way? I am not completely sure. Does Disney want to capitalize on the IP that they have purchased, or does the success of Harry Potter in Universal Studios just down the road, which already incorporates mythical creatures, make Disney want to go in an entirely different direction? Again, I just don't know. Either way, like your concession that Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout will be a fun and exciting attraction I, too, concede, that Pandora in Disney's hands will come alive with its floating islands and beautiful forests. It just won't be my Beastly Kingdom.

Wait a minute. You are telling me that Disney is a for-profit company that can do whatever they want with their park and ensure a continued profit?!?!? *shock* *dismay* Get over yourself. I love Disney - we are proud DVC members and go multiple times a year. Embrace the changes. Love the new rides. Realize Disney is far bigger than you.

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I appreciate the eulogy to Disneyland 90's, and you should take a moment to mourn the loss of your park. I think we all have those moments. In fact, I didn't like the addition of a second gate AT ALL when DCA came online. I felt like it was a slap in the face to all things that made Disneyland great. Why would anyone want to walk off the streets of California and into California? Why build a park that felt like the Santa Monica Pier when that very pier was just up the road? Who's dumb idea was this anyway? But, as will all things Disney, you give it time to breath, time to find legs, AND time to correct mistakes.... and look what you get! So... please take your moment and grieve, but take months, not years as you state. The next Disneyland is yours too.

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you for saying so eloquently what I have been feeling ever since they announced the change.

Great article. I have been reading articles on Theme Park Tourist since I was a lot younger, and this is my very comment since I created my account on this site a few seconds ago. Great to hear your opinions on this.

Just adding to the lose of "my" Disney; I think the sadness we feel at the news that one of the classic Disney attractions from our childhood is closing forever is so much deeper and intense because it reminds us of our own mortality. It's not just the closing of a ride but the closing of our childhood, a time in our life we can never go back to, experiences we will never have again. The building of new attractions symbolizes that life goes on and with every year that passes there's a new generation and parts of the world that we are less and less connected to.


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