9. Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
When the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror opened at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 1994, it represented an absolute pinnacle of Disney's "Ride the Movies" era; a stunningly cinematic journey into a completely original legend born of the Golden Age of Hollywood and the hotel's star-studded, paranormal abandonment. The misty grounds of the eerie Hollywood Tower Hotel and its lightning scarred exterior have since become the de facto icon of Disney's Hollywood Studios, and there's no question that the ride inside is one of the most sensational dark rides and thrill rides ever concieved. And man, did that make Disneyland fans jealous...
Which is why, in the mid-'90s, Disneyland actually intended to re-use the Tower of Terror ride technology in a never-built "mountain" in Frontierland. But after Disney's California Adventure opened in 2001, it turned out that the Californian-themed park needed a headliner to lure guests in... and the legend of the Hollywood Tower Hotel seemed like a perfect fit. There was a problem, though... Deep in the cost-cutting era that marked Michael Eisner's departure, the West Coast version of the ride was reengineered to be more efficient and less costly, losing its signature scene and imposing position.
Anaheim's version of the ride was the hit that the park needed, seemingly perfectly poised to anchor the park up to, during, and after its billion-dollar reimagining to focus on historic Californian settings and stories... but the next phase of the park's growth prioritizes "characters" over "California." The Lost Legend: Twilight Zone Tower of Terror became a sci-fi superhero prison, home to irreverent rock 'n' roll Guardians of the Galaxy. Rather than trying (and inevitably failing) to imitate the greatness of the Floridian Tower of Terror, the Marvel ride at least feels like something fresh and different. But man, what Disneyland fans wouldn't give to have had a true clone of the original Twilight Zone Tower of Terror for themselves... in which case, it would probably still be looming over the park's Hollywoodland to this day!
10. Pandora - The World of Avatar
When Disney announced that they'd acquired the global rights to build attractions based on Fox's AVATAR film, it was widely seen as a knee-jerk attempt to secure something big in the wake of Universal's Wizarding World. From the start, fans protested the idea of a permanent land themed to the militaristic dystopian action film in Animal Kingdom, especially on the land Imagineering fans knew could've held the Possibilityland: Beastly Kingdom! It didn't help that in the years since, Avatar disappeared from pop culture to an almost-comedic extent. And in fact, fan resistance to Pandora remained pretty strong... until the day it opened.
Who could've imagined that Disney Imagineers would manage to overcome Avatar's inherent issues by severing the land from the film entirely and instead opting to bring to life an entirely original place and a brand new mythology focused centuries after the film? Pandora is a lush, glowing, alien moon of spectacular floating mountains, otherworldly plants and animals, and two impressive rides that both serve the park's big idea well. In other words, if you told grandma that Pandora was an entirely original, self-contained land with no IP film tie-in, she'd probably believe you.
If you'd told us a decade ago that Disneyland would one day be jealous of Pandora, we might've called you crazy. Yet it turns out that Disney managed to create an immersive, exotic, impactful, and beautiful place Imagineering fans travel across the world to see, even if it's in spite of the limitations of Avatar. Don't get us wrong: Pandora should not be squeezed into Disneyland or Disney California Adventure... But maybe in a third, IP-focused, Islands-of-Adventure-style park in California, a Pandora land wouldn't be so bad after all...
11. Country Bear Jamboree
Like Carousel of Progress, the Country Bear Jamboree wasn’t initially designed for Disney Parks at all. In fact, in our in-depth Modern Marvels: Country Bear Jamboree feature, we explored the show’s original destination: a never-built Disney ski resort. But when the attraction opened at Magic Kingdom in 1971, it was an instant hit, becoming one of the Florida resort’s first “exclusive” experiences that Disneyland didn’t offer. It just wasn’t exclusive for long.
In fact, the Country Bear Jamboree was the first attraction to be copied from Disney World to Disneyland, opening in California in 1972. Also like the Carousel of Progress, repeat viewings tended to dwindle thanks to Disneyland’s heavily-local crowds, meaning that the Country Bears played to half-empty audiences. In the early 2000s, the “character invasion” overseen by Michael Eisner necessitated that Big Al and the gang make way for a much more merchandise-friendly bear, and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh opened in the Critter Country spot.
Are the bears gone from Disneyland forever? Maybe not! One of Disney California Adventure’s themed lands is the 1950s-themed Grizzly Peak National Park. Several of the Country Bears can be found in meet-and-greets there, though fans still lobby for a full return of the show… or even the Country Bears’ inclusion along the banks of the Grizzly River Run rapids ride!
12. Epcot Festivals
For decades, Epcot has been Disney’s “festival park.” Though naysayers insist that it’s just Disney’s half-hearted attempt to lure guests into the infamously divisive park, several of its celebrations have become annual favorites. From the Flower and Garden Festival in the summer, the Food and Wine Festival in the fall, and the newer Festival of the Arts in the spring, there’s always something going on at Epcot. And fantastically, each comes with tapas, wine, special presentations, and interactive experiences that make the park feel alive.
More recently, Disneyland has attempted to capture that festival flavor, too, and it seems inherently well suited for that local audience! And indeed, celebrations of local holidays and Hispanic cultural showcases tend to be big hits. But Disney California Adventure’s Food and Wine Festival and the Festival of Holidays as a whole just don’t seem to resonate in the same way. Maybe it’s because both mostly amount to special food and drink offerings (already prevalent in the resort) with sample sizes at fairly unfriendly prices.
But maybe it’s just that, once more, the “spirit” (and frankly, “blank canvas”) of Epcot lends itself to cross-continental celebrations, educational seminars, topiaries, and a focus on food and drinks that Disney California Adventure’s just doesn’t match. We wish that the “festival” culture could embed itself at Disneyland Resort but so far, it just doesn’t seem to land.