Home » The Rides That Came before the Rides You Love

The Rides That Came before the Rides You Love

Space is tight at Disney theme parks. Attractions that underperform eventually get replaced. That’s the brutal truth of the business. For fans of theme parks, the situation is frustrating. We get attached to rides but have no control over their continued existence. Generally, great rides do seem to come after the unpopular ones, though. Imagineers rarely blow it, after all. Here are seven rides that came before the rides you love.

California Screamin’

Disney California Adventure (DCA) was mostly a bust during its early years. While the Radiator Springs expansion turned around people’s perceptions of the park, Imagineers understood that they still had more work to do. Everyone involved with DCA recognized that the future of theme parks is intellectual property (IP), and Disney had two potent licenses in its possession.

During the 21st century, Disney has bought Pixar and Marvel. Park officials understandably wanted to emphasize these IPs and capitalize on their popularity. DCA is changing into a place where guests can engage in Pixar and Marvel escapism.

For that to happen, attractions themed to the former concept, the state of California, had to go. While California Screamin’ was a terrific roller coaster, it just didn’t fit with the future of DCA. Disney shuttered it in favor of The Incredicoaster. The repurposing of the coaster was surprisingly simple, requiring less than six months to complete.  The new version is vastly superior in terms of theming, although many theme park tourists are nostalgic about the best Disney roller coaster on the West Coast.

The Living Seas

Some ride changes are modest, as is the case with the Incredicoaster. In other instances, Disney nukes rides from orbit and then starts all over again. The Living Seas falls into the latter category. This attraction was once the heart of the pavilion (of the same name).

Guests would watch an admittedly dull movie and then board a Hydrolator, a fake elevator that went nowhere, to reach the central part of the attraction. It was a place called Sea Base Alpha that wasn’t that different from parts of the pavilion today.

The change is with the theming and the connected attraction. The infotainment aspect of The Living Seas Pavilion failed to connect with modern audiences. In this instance, Disney’s hand was forced. They had to make a change, and they did. Even before the company owned Pixar, they committed to the IP of Finding Nemo, one of the most successful animated movies of all-time at that point.

Image: DisneyDisney altered the appearance of The Seas Pavilion and removed all references to SeaBase Alpha. They still themed the pavilion as an exploration of the world beneath the water. They just had to give it a cute Nemo touch to entice children to visit.

The integral part of the pavilion now is its namesake, The Seas with Nemo & Friends. It’s an adorable dark ride that more than adequately replaces the silly Hydrolator and other aspects of the original pavilion. Since the change, traffic has surged here. Traditionalists may hate the idea, but Nemo means more to kids than a bunch of educational stuff at Sea Base Alpha. In fact, the re-theming was so successful that Disney did the same thing with its submarine attraction at Disneyland.


A few of you may have shed a tear just at the mention of Maelstrom. Formerly the pride of the Norway Pavilion, this attraction underscored the fantastic elements of Norse mythology. The Viking culture was one of exploration, a daring journey into the unknown.

Stories of real adventures evolved into fables about mystical creatures and a complex narrative involving deities. You know many of the characters now because of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but Maelstrom debuted long before then, arriving in 1988. The set pieces of this dark ride once entertained guests for being so serious about the subject matter. Over time, people lost interest in the mystical adventures, a tragedy given the tremendous quality of this log flume attraction.

Image: DisneyWhen Frozen became a box office phenomenon in 2013, the fate of Maelstrom was sealed. Perhaps it would have been anyway. The Norway Pavilion’s lack of traffic was an open secret among Disney insiders. When park officials committed to fictional Arendelle, the business side of the decision was logical. The emotional side stung people who grew up on Maelstrom.

Maelstrom was shuttered in 2014, and Frozen Ever After debuted two years later. The latter attraction has become one of the most popular of all Walt Disney World rides. Lines are regularly longer than an hour to this day, sometimes quite a bit more. And I’m a huge fan of Frozen Ever After as a dark ride. The animatronics and sets are wonderful, while the use of music is exceptional. It’s just a shame that Maelstrom had to die for Frozen Ever After to exist.

Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride

The way that many theme park tourists feel about Maelstrom is a drop in the bucket compared to my rage over the closure of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride at Magic Kingdom. It’s one of the best dark rides ever built, a hysterical and surprisingly dark tale of poor decision-making.

Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride was one of the few opening day Disneyland attractions that Disney didn’t build, leaving that honor to Arrow Development. It has stood the test of time as one of the best mood-altering ride experiences. Most guests have smiles on their faces when they exit the wild ride.

Image: DisneyWhile Magic Kingdom hosted an opening day version of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride as well, they didn’t feel as married to it. Disneyland risks savage PR backlash when they alter attractions that Walt Disney worked on.  The situation at Walt Disney World isn’t quite the same since he was dead by then.

After 27 years in operation, Magic Kingdom replaced Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride with The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. While I like the latter attraction, the Tokyo Disneyland version is much better since it’s trackless. Disney could have copied that one if they had waited a few more years. And they might have saved Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride in the process. Ah well, at least we still have the original at Disneyland.

Snow White’s Scary Adventures

This one’s kind of a twofer. Snow White’s Scary Adventures at Magic Kingdom was a duplicate attraction of the opening day ride at Disneyland. The Walt Disney World version had a rocky history. Imagineers had tried to differentiate it as Snow White’s Adventures.

Don’t let the name fool you. It was a darker version of the concept, one that confused guests due to the absence of Snow White. There were skeletons and poisons and misshapen trees. Guests never warmed to it, forcing Disney to re-theme it more in line with the original version. For 23 years, Snow White’s Adventures disappointed. Then, Snow White’s Scary Adventures felt derivative for most of its 18 years.

When Disney decided to create New Fantasyland at Magic Kingdom, the Snow White attraction had to go. Its former park space is now home to Princess Fairytale Hall, a character meeting spot. Many of the Audio-Animatronics from the Snow White attraction were carried over to Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.

The roller coaster features a ride cart that tilts on its axis, causing an unprecedented sensation. It’s a gleeful experience that leaves a smile on the faces of all who are lucky enough to ride it. Out of all the attractions on this list, I suspect that Snow White’s Scary Adventures is the one that people miss the least. Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is simply better in every way.

Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

In the annals of theme park history, Twilight Zone Tower of Terror has carved out its own niche. History will remember it as one of the greatest themed attractions ever built. While Disney officials have mastered the art of turning their own intellectual properties into brilliant attractions, Twilight Zone is a different story. It was a third-party property that they licensed because they wanted to anchor Disney’s Hollywood Studios with an entertainment-based attraction.

For all of the great moments in Haunted Mansion, Disney’s not viewed as a master of the macabre. Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone, on the other hand, is the most famous television program to explore the unknown regions of the human psyche. While Tower of Terror easily could have been a Stephen King or Mel Brooks-based attraction (seriously), park officials correctly chose Twilight Zone as the basis for this chilling drop tower ride. 

Image: DisneyThe genius of Tower of Terror led to its duplication at three other Disney parks. The first of those was Disney California Adventure (DCA) in 2004, a decade after the original version. Since DCA was still a mess during those early years, The Twilight Zone attraction stood out due to its heightened quality. Still, it never fit the park’s overriding theme and felt like what it was, a Hollywood Studios attraction duplicated at Disneyland Resort out of desperation as much as anything else.

When park officials committed to a new vision for DCA, the writing was on the wall for Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Disney wanted Pixar and Marvel as the backbone of the latest iteration of the theme park, not a third-party property. They caused headlines everywhere with the announcement that the Hollywood Tower Hotel would close forever in California. Its replacement would have a Marvel theme.

Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT! is a much different kind of drop tower dark ride. Its bounces are more measured, part of a mood-setting tone that fits the temperament of its superheroes. The Guardians of the Galaxy defeat bad guys by accident as much as skill. Their attraction is theatrical and musical, with cinematic sequences set to six different unforgettable rock songs. Gothic is out, and silly is in.

To Disney’s credit, the reception of the Guardians attraction has been largely positive, a considerable accomplishment in light of the outcry against the re-theming during the early days. I don’t think anyone would argue that it’s the superior version of the ride concept, but it’s a terrific standalone attraction. In the long term, that’s better for DCA than a clone.

World of Motion

During the early days of Epcot, sponsorships mattered. When a sponsor asked for something, Imagineers honored the request. It led to some rather whorish attractions such as World of Motion. It was oddly similar to Spaceship Earth in design, as ride carts passed through set pieces that displayed moments from the history of mankind.

I’m not sure why a car ride started in caves and felt the need to show elephants and rafts, but they fit the premise. World of Motion told the story of humanity’s transportation-related inventions. Horse-drawn carriages, a triangle-shaped wheel, and some hysterically low-budget animation were all integral parts of the ride experience.

Even by 1980s-era Epcot standards, this ride was cheesy. And guests remember it fondly anyway. I’m one of them. I have a vivid memory of the first time boarded World of Motion as a kid. It had that kind of impact for its time.

Image: DisneyStill, World of Motion never stood a chance with modern audiences. After only a decade, it seemed like a relic. Disney closed the ride for good in 1996, and it was replaced by the first version of Test Track. Technically, that ride would qualify for this list as well since it was so different from the current iteration.

Test Track is now a combination of a dark ride and roller coaster, although it’s technically called a slot car attraction. Disney’s the global leader in this sort of attraction, with Radiator Springs Racer and Journey to the Center of the Earth also in the same style.

The idea that Test Track came from World of Motion is patently absurd, as it’s one of Disney’s best thrill rides. Any thrills that anyone got from World of Motion were purely by accident. This, too, is an example of a terrific change by Disney. How many of the titles on this list would you argue are changes for the better? Leave a note in the comments.