Since the earliest days of WED Enterprises, Imagineers have built a reputation as the ultimate in creative design. Their many triumphs have led to a theme park industry valued at $45.2 billion, and that number strikes me as low given Disney’s 150 million park visits last year. Still, the global leaders in innovative attractions aren’t above the occasional misstep. Some of their blunders were so aggressively incompetent that they get mentioned decades after the fact. Here are seven times when Imagineers blew it.
7. Kali River Rapids
Some Disney theme parks are better than others. An explanation for the inconsistency in quality is resource expenditure. You may roll your eyes and think you’re in a boring office meeting when you hear the term, but the reality is that time and money are critical components of a wonderful attraction.
At Disney’s Animal Kingdom, the harsh truth is that most of the early resources justifiably went toward the habitats for the animals. Disney’s then-CEO, Michael Eisner, cut corners in many areas rather than increasing the park’s budget. It’s why we never received the greatest themed land that Disney never built.
For attractions that did make the cut, they were often behind schedule and fell below the high standards of Disney Imagineers. Kali River Rapids is a blueprint example, as it wouldn't open until 11 months after Animal Kingdom. When it did, many of the promised features on the attraction were lackluster at best. Some didn't work as expected, while others tore up quickly and have proven challenging to troubleshoot.
Disney’s current solution to the problem is to refurbish the ride during the winter months, although it doesn’t get plussed. The time is almost exclusively spent on repairs. The fire, fog, and mist features are inconsistent at best, and the “rapids” are as tranquil as It’s a Small World. And the many fragrant aromas intended to accentuate the ride get drowned out by other smells at Animal Kingdom. This one’s a big oopsie for Disney, even though the splash of water is refreshing on a scorching Florida day.
6. Rocket Rods
Sometimes, a ride fails so much in the conception phase that it’s irredeemable from that point forward. I can think of no better example of this statement that Rocket Rods, the Tomorrowland attraction that replaced the beloved PeopleMover at Disneyland.
Someone at Disney miscalculated mightily when they decided that the PeopleMover had grown outdated. Disneyland needed a futuristic attraction for this Tomorrowland track, and so they embarked on a quixotic quest to repurpose the PeopleMover. The outcome was predictable.
For all its glory, the PeopleMover was never intended as a high-speed transportation system. Rocket Rods could go as fast as 35 miles per hour, making it one of the 20 fastest Disney attractions. It’s like sticking a train in a skateboard park.
The slogan suggested that you could “Ride the road to Tomorrowland.” In reality, you felt like you were riding the PeopleMover in fast motion. The incongruity of the infrastructure in place and the ride apparatus caused countless mechanical and maintenance issues as well. Rocket Rods wasn’t just a disappointing attraction. It was an expensive one to keep in operation. After barely two years, Disney threw in the towel on this, one of the most ill-considered attractions in theme park history. The worst part is that they didn’t bring back the PeopleMover.