Every Walt Disney World fan has extinct attractions that they miss, and would give anything to see one last time. This post takes a look at some of our favorite long-gone offerings from Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, and Hollywood Studios, but with a twist: everything on this list actually could come back.
While we spend a lot of time on this blog waxing nostalgic about EPCOT Center (our 10 Worst Walt Disney World Attraction Replacements is very EPCOT-heavy), the reality is that extinct omnimover attractions are never coming back. Sadly, it’s unlikely that any ride is coming back, no matter much we might want it–and how good of an idea it might be. The best we can hope for on that front are sequels (of sorts), like the elusive Journey into Imagination reboot so many fans hope to see coming sometime this decade.
However, there are some things gone from Walt Disney World that could come back, and that’s what we want to focus on here. Making this a “top” 10 list and simply rehashing the EPCOT rides we miss the most would’ve been the easy route. Instead, we’ll focus on 10 things that we really miss, but that could conceivably return in some form, be it direct restorations or ‘spiritual successors’ that embody the same characteristics and quality.
Not only that, but it seems like the time is right for daydreaming about what Walt Disney World might do to recapture some of the magic. For one thing, returning CEO Bob Iger has already tried to assuage Cast Members and fans that he’s trying to right the ship and undo some of the damage done by his successor/predecessor, Bob Chapek. That almost certainly will not take the form of price decreases, but efforts could be taken to restore goodwill and repair brand damage. Playing the nostalgia card is a good way to accomplish that, and lure back disillusioned fans.
Additionally, there’s the exhaustion of pent-up demand at Walt Disney World and Disneyland coupled with broader macroeconomic factors. Data suggests that household savings is dwindling, consumer debt is on the rise, and equities markets are trending downward. An economic downturn in 2023 or 2024 is almost certain, with a recession possible. (See What Does Walt Disney World Do During a Recession? for more on that.)
Finally, there’s the simple reality that Walt Disney World doesn’t have much on the horizon after TRON Lightcycle Run opens in Spring 2023. There are minor things like Moana’s Journey of Water, more new restaurants, and Disney Vacation Club expansion–but nothing around which marketing campaigns can be crafted or that’ll prompt people to book vacations. The next somewhat major thing is Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, which won’t open until Late 2024 or 2025. After that, who knows–nothing has been announced despite Universal’s Epic Universe opening then.
Walt Disney World’s turnaround time on new attractions is painfully slow. Even if lands based on Moana and Zootopia are officially announced in early 2023 to expand Animal Kingdom, they won’t debut until Summer 2026 at the absolute earliest. So fans might be in for a dry spell until then, or perhaps 2027.
Fortunately, there are things that the company can do expeditiously to incentivize trips and win back weary former fans. Here’s our list of what Walt Disney World should bring back in the next few years…
10. Year of a Million Dreams – We really enjoyed this celebration, and a big part of that was surprise Magical Moments awarded by the Dream Squad. We won several times during that two-year celebration, the highlight of which was getting to ride in Mickey’s Jammin’ Jungle Parade during the event.
Year of a Million Dreams was a great way to make guests feel special and valued. It might’ve even convinced us to take more trips, wanting to win bigger. (That’s us above in Summer 2008, sporting baby faces and Mickey Mouse ears we won while lining up for Journey into Imagination–one of several successes during the Year of a Million Dreams! If I could trade everything added to Walt Disney World since to revisit then, I would do it in an instant.)
I do have some skepticism about Walt Disney World’s ability to pull off the Year of a Million Dreams now. The world has changed, social media has exploded, and there are more and more stories of guest entitlement. Too many people might feel they are owed a Magical Moment and would complain when they didn’t receive one. Or, someone on TikTok would post a way to “hack” the Year of a Million Dreams and win every day.
Regardless of what it’s called or the form it takes, a worldwide event paying tribute to Walt Disney World and celebrating the legacy of the theme parks would be cool. Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary was a complete bust, so this could be a nice mulligan for that. The Happiest Celebration on Earth was really the first time we heard much about the international parks, and it’d be fun for each of the parks to pay tribute to one another with a focus on Walt Disney World’s history and legacy.
9. Lights of Winter and Dreamlights – Fair Warning: there is a lot of Christmas on this list. Part of that is because it’s fresh in our minds. Another part is that we left Walt Disney World this holiday season not feeling that it was nearly as festive as it used to be. There are a bunch of little things that are still missing, even as the parks are mostly back to normal.
Then there’s the one very big thing: the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights, which we fear may never return. Walt Disney World bringing that display back for Christmas 2023 is the bare minimum. That’s doubly true after cutting out virtually every other major wow-inducing light display in the years prior to that.
The Lights of Winter was not a huge-scale offering, but perfectly set the mood for Christmas in Epcot. These archways ran between Future World and World Showcase, and were abruptly “retired” (to put it charitably) one year due to technical issues. For the next few years, many fans hoped their infrastructure would be updated and they’d return, but I think that hope has mostly dissipated. With that said, these could still be rebuilt and restored on short notice, and would give Epcot a shot in the arm during the Christmas season. Perhaps not a bad idea as the park is a veritable unfinished construction site.
8. Extinct Foods – My official vote here is for Figaro Fries, the loaded fries that used to be offered in Fantasyland. There are also several desserts and a sandwich I miss at Sunshine Seasons, and a couple holiday cupcakes I really miss. Bringing any of these back would be easy–if there was one thing Walt Disney World did well during the 50th, it was this. Let’s keep the momentum going during Disney’s 100th Anniversary and beyond.
7. Timekeeper or Alien Encounter – These are the only two attractions on the list, both because Tomorrowland ’94 was a huge hit for me as a kid and they would be fairly easy to bring back with retrofits to existing venues that could be accomplished in under 6 months (less than the time it took to create Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout!)
Let’s start with Alien Encounter. First, Stitch’s Great Escape reused a lot of the same infrastructure, props, and effects…just with a far worse execution. Restoring Alien Encounter would be far easier than creating something new from a blank slate. Second, Walt Disney World demographics skew more adult every year, and Tomorrowland in particular will soon be a land that caters towards an older (or at least taller) audience. Finally, Alien Encounter was just flat-out good.
As for Timekeeper, I loved the time travel components, historical figures, and the animated personality Robin Williams (probably one of the most recognizable actors to any child of the 90s) gave to Timekeeper. What went over my head at the time–that I think I’d appreciate today–was the range of filming locations beyond the Eiffel Tower. Bringing back this CircleVision 360 film wouldn’t be that tough.
6. Adventurers Club – Another one that’s never coming back–at least, not in its former home or original form. Nevertheless, I think a concept similar to the Adventurers Club would be well-received and popular among Walt Disney World’s growing adult audience. It was quirky and unique–a better and more polished incarnation of an entertainment style that’s very popular right now.
The potential for Adventurers Club to return is aided by the fact that its original Cast Members still reunite for private events on a regular basis–we’ve attended multiple (one held outside at Beach Club is pictured above). With plenty of unused venues at Walt Disney World, it’d be easy enough to bring Adventurers Club back on a “limited time magic” basis for the 50th Anniversary.
5. Pirate & Princess Party – Modern Walt Disney World may be reluctant to offer free special events when a hard-ticket event is a possibility. In the case of the Pirate & Princess Party, we’d be willing to pay. We are guessing 99% of you reading this post never experienced the Pirate & Princess Party; the event occurred at various times for a couple of summers around the Great Recession, but was so sparsely attended that it was canceled.
We attended only once, and loved the Enchanted Adventures Parade, fireworks, and moody atmosphere of the event. If Magic Kingdom would run this parade during Disney After Hours, that would be the nudge we need to buy tickets to that event. In fact, “Disney Adventures After Hours” has a certain ring to it, and is a sufficiently open-ended concept that it could incorporate elements from Pirate & Princess Party and characters from the 90s, when Disney Adventures magazine was a huge hit with kids.
4. IllumiNations – It’s hard to believe this is actually a realistic suggestion, and yet, it is. Two years ago at this time, we were watching as the Harmonious infrastructure was installed in World Showcase Lagoon. Given the scale and cost of that (rumored) $100 million production, it seemed like Harmonious would be around for the long haul.
Fast-forward two years, and it’s highly likely that Harmonious will end not in another decade, but on March 31, 2022. There isn’t going to be a long farewell or send-off season. As of right now, there’s just a small note on the 50th Anniversary page listing it as one of the limited time offerings that ends with the celebration. Talk about a surprising turn of events!
Bringing back IllumiNations after a 5-year hiatus would definitely draw locals and long-time fans back. If that’s the route Walt Disney World opts to go, we’d like to see improvements to the show, but we aren’t picky. A larger globe (but one that isn’t out all day!) and better pacing seem likely, as does some Disney music. Frankly, that’s a compromise I’ll happily take at that point if it means getting a spiritual successor to IllumiNations. Bringing it back along with Happily Ever After would be the safe bet after the stunning failures of Harmonious and Disney Enchantment.
3. Country Bear Christmas – Assuming the costumes and props are still backstage somewhere (a bold assumption, to be sure), Country Bear Christmas could run again next yearwith only a short refurbishment to accomplish the changeover. Aside from the past 3 years (due to scaled back operations), Tokyo Disneyland typically does Jingle Bell Jamboree, and it is glorious. Some might say jovial bears singing Christmas carols captures the true spirit of the season.
Despite blogs like this one extolling the virtues of Country Bear Jamboree, the show is not all that popular, and it’s arguable that the investment wouldn’t be worth it to do the Christmas version. Setting aside the fact that popularity is a terrible barometer of quality, I’d argue that Christmas music has more universal appeal. With November and December attendance at Magic Kingdom surging since the show last ran in the mid-aughts, Country Bear Christmas would be a great way to soak up some of those crowds.
I really hope there is a nighttime parade in the cards for Magic Kingdom, and I really hope it’s in the spirit of SpectroMagic. There was something special about that parade, from SpectroMickey’s lavish costume to the beautiful soundtrack. A technically-advanced replacement that borrows notes from the parade–much in the same way Tokyo’s Dreamlights is an homage to Main Street Electrical Parade–would be a huge hit, and something we’d watch on a near-nightly basis.
Failing that, Paint the Night has been sitting in a California warehouse, unused, for several years now. Disneyland seems satisfied bringing back Main Street Electrical Parade every couple of years, so perhaps it’s time to unload their unused night parade and send it to Florida.
1. Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights – Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is amazing. Rise of the Resistance is mind-blowing–the #1 attraction out of 88 at Walt Disney World. However, in our Star Wars Land v. Osborne Lights post, there was no place at Walt Disney World we loved being in more than the Osborne Lights. It brought smiles and awe to the faces of other guests was really a sight to behold—it was the embodiment of “holiday cheer.”
There were nights we went to Disney’s Hollywood Studios for no other reason than the Osborne Lights, and we’d spend hours just standing back on the Streets of America. Even when it was wall-to-wall people, the Osborne Lights just oozed happiness. Obviously, due to the closures Star Wars land necessitated, the Osborne Lights can never return in their previous form…but a large scale Christmas light display could be added elsewhere at Walt Disney World. There are a ton of Osborne Lights fans out there like us. Bringing it back somewhere even in a more limited form would give a big boost to attendance in November and December 2023.
What things–insignificant or major–do you miss at Walt Disney World? Are there seasonal events, entertainment, or attractions you’d like to see resurrected? Do you agree or disagree with our list? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!