Not every ride reimagining is an upgrade. Some updates to old attractions, or outright replacements, are actually inferior to what came before. This list offers an EPCOT Center and Magic Kingdom-heavy list of the worst of the many attractions that have come and gone at Walt Disney World, as the parks have evolved. (Updated November 27, 2023.)
This is the second installment in our “Replacements Attractions at Walt Disney World” series, a follow-up to our Best Attraction Replacements at Walt Disney World list. It should go without saying, but this is simply an academic exercise–or just for fun. We don’t expect Walt Disney World to undo past mistakes, many of which they don’t view as errors, but rather, evolving the parks to comport with contemporary guest expectations and preferences.
Evolution is an interesting word, isn’t it? It connotes improvement. Common change justifications include a slew of Walt Disney quotes about moving forward, progress, and Disneyland never being complete. This is fallacious reasoning (if one-liner quotes can be called “reasoning”) that presupposes change is always good.
My belief is that many people conflate change for progress. The latter is undoubtedly good, but the same cannot be said of change. Change for the sake of itself is not necessarily good; it can be a positive, negative, or lateral move. A replacement can be inferior, in which case it most certainly was not “progress.” For me, this is borne out in the decline of EPCOT Center into today’s Epcot.
As with the last list, we’re comparing current attractions with their immediate predecessors. This prevents the sins of the father from being laid upon the son, and keeps things cleaner. This actually saved a few attractions (such as SuperStar Television at Disney’s Hollywood Studios) because there have been multiple replacements since the “good” attraction.
With that said, and as intimated above, we recognize a couple of things. First, that the times change, and what might’ve been beloved in the 1980s or 1990s is no longer popular today. Guests have certain expectations and preconceived notions of Disney theme parks before they even visit.
As a business, it makes sense to Disney to meet guests where they are, so to speak. However, we are under no such obligation to pretend that guests have great taste, just like viewership numbers doesn’t mean the Kardashians or other reality television is good.
Second, that all of this is entirely subjective and very obviously colored by the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia. So much of Disney’s secret to success is sentimentality. Whatever you saw or experienced as a child, or on your first visit, is not only etched into your memory–but your heart. We’re hardly immune to this, and this list is undoubtedly biased as a result.
Basically, don’t take any of this too seriously if one of your favorites makes the “worst” list. You may have a great reason for loving it, or you could simply lack the nostalgia we had for the previous incarnation of the attraction. In the end, none of this matters–and even if it did, you’d “win” since your version is what actually exists!
Anyway, on with the list…
Great Movie Ride -> Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway – I woke up and chose violence, as the kids say. (Do they still say that?!) Let me start by saying that I have the self-awareness to realize that this is a minority opinion. Great Movie Ride wasn’t particularly popular in its final years, and Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway is much more of a crowd-pleasing draw. Wait times and guest satisfaction both bear this out.
Not only that, but time had passed by Great Movie Ride. It was too long, too slow, and featured movies that most younger people had never seen. While I firmly believe that Great Movie Ride was a timeless tribute to the classics of cinema that could pique curiosity about great movies, it missed the mark for the majority of guests. And I cringe at the idea of what switching out movies to “modernize” would’ve meant. After all, it was called the Great Movie Ride and not the Relevant Movie Ride for a reason. I’d rather have Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway plus my memories of the former than the latter.
Great Movie Ride had tremendous depth, set design, and was a long attraction bursting with detail. It was a love letter to classic cinema and Old Hollywood that helped define the identity of the Disney-MGM Studios. It was one of the reasons that I fell in love with both Walt Disney World and movies as a kid. Great Movie Ride was the perfect culmination of the Disney-MGM Studios of yore and a thesis statement of sorts.
In fairness, though, Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway is kind of the same thing today with Disney’s Hollywood Studios. It finally gives Walt Disney’s most iconic creations their own ride, which is very overdue. It also helps that Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway is a very good attraction that has a ton of heart and personality, and is an absolute hoot. Given all of that, it’s tough to be mad about this replacement, even if for me personally, it’s a downgrade as compared to Great Movie Ride.
IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth -> Fantasyland Fireworks at EPCOT – No words can do justice to IllumiNations. It was pure Disney magic, a show that fit perfectly at both EPCOT and Walt Disney World, inspiring and uplifting.
The progress of mankind told symbolically through fireworks and a beautiful soundtrack, Illuminations was my favorite nighttime spectacular anywhere, ever. You could say that it didn’t “feel” like a Walt Disney World show because it didn’t have any character IP. However, those who have been going to Walt Disney World for decades know that this is exactly what made IllumiNations a distinctly Disney show. The high caliber of the show, the orchestration of the music, and the optimistic feeling it leaves you with once it’s over. IllumiNations was quintessential Disney from a different generation.
Unsurprisingly, plenty of people found IllumiNations to be boring. It was timeless, abstract, ambitious, powerful…and also completely devoid of Disney characters. In the end, that was its downfall. As for its replacements, Walt Disney World guests will get what they want–more movie music–and shows that are more fitting for Fantasyland than World Showcase. Visitors may want a second version of Happily Ever After (a perfect show for Magic Kingdom that made our ‘best of’ list!) in EPCOT, but that doesn’t make these fireworks shows an upgrade.
Innoventions West -> Giant EPCOT Dirt Pit – Okay okay, it’s “only” been just over 4 years, not 84. That meme is only off by 80. But the point stands that it’s already been over 4 years that the central spine of EPCOT has been torn up and behind construction walls. That’s a ridiculous amount of time to have the main corridor of the park out of commission.
The pace of the project has been too slow from the outset, but it’s only gotten worse post-reopening. But at least it was going to be ambitious at one point, overhauling a park that had been stagnating for far too long while adding unique architecture and interactive features.What’s discouraging is to go through 3 rounds of redesigns and end up with this.
In the end, we don’t actually expect CommuniCore Hall and Plaza to be worse than Innoventions West. It’ll likely be more or less a lateral move. But that’s without taking into account the colossal cost. Walt Disney World is taking over 4 years and to rebuild a building that’s roughly equivalent to what they tore down (minus the symmetry).
All the while, visitors to EPCOT had to navigate a sea of construction walls for over 4 years. And for what? A tremendous amount of time and money have been wasted for a difference amounting to “more trees!” and “one fewer fountain!” This is going to be around for decades to come, and looks wholly unambitious and uninspired. Whatever, though. It’s not like this is the park dedicated to the spirit of human innovation and imagination. Oh wait.
Legend of the Lion King -> PhilharMagic – On the one hand, Legend of the Lion King (a show similar to Voyage of the Little Mermaid) had a good run and was probably due for a replacement. On the other hand, the puppetry was great and even when PhilharMagic was added, it seems like people were sort of “over” 3D shows.
I really enjoy PhilharMagic so I really can’t complain too much here, especially with the latest updates that brought Coco to the show. Swapping out (or simply adding) more scenes to PhilharMagic would extend the life of this excellent 3D show.
Nevertheless, I think an updated Legend of the Lion King would still be popular today. Just listen to how crazy guests go for the Lion King scene in Disneyland Forever (audible cheers are louder than they are for the Frozen scene–children of the 90s represent!)
Snow White’s Adventures -> Princess Fairytale Hall – I get the thinking here: Seven Dwarfs Mine Train made Snow White’s Adventures a redundant Fantasyland attraction. However, replacing a ride with a simple meet & greet leaves a bad taste.
This would’ve been a prime opportunity to introduce a refreshed Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, or build another charming C-Ticket Fantasyland dark ride. Meet & greets certainly have their place–and I really like what was done with Enchanted Tales with Belle–but that place is not at the expense of actual attractions.
The Timekeeper -> Monsters Laugh Floor – Unlike a lot of people, I actually enjoy Monsters Laugh Floor. A lot, actually. Still, it makes the list because The Timekeeper was better, and thematically appropriate. The Timekeeper was a visual feast with a clever “something has gone wrong” mix up involving Jules Verne.
Between its quirky spins in history (that’s right, back in my day, Disney made guests learn even outside of Epcot!) and infusions of humor, The Timekeeper was a real gem. Monsters Laugh Floor can have humor (if you get a good audience), but it’s not on the same level as The Timekeeper.
Wonders of Life -> Nothing – This list could easily be titled “Ways Disney Screwed Up EPCOT Center” but I want to avoid fixating on that carnage, so I’m going to limit my EPCOT Center selections. With that said, near the top of the list would be the decision to simply shutter and forget about the Wonders of Life pavilion.
Admittedly, the last original-era attractions to EPCOT Center aged the worst, but in a time when childhood obesity is at epidemic levels with over a third of children obese or overweight, never has a conversation about health and wellness been so important. Offering guests an entertaining and educational perspective on these topics could help make a profound difference.
We had hoped that this would fall from the list once the Play Pavilion opened, but that has become the Pause Pavilion, and likely abandoned. Kind of fitting, even if it is disappointing.
SpectroMagic -> Main Street Electrical Parade/Nothing – SpectroMagic replaced Main Street Electrical Parade, and then it was replaced by Main Street Electrical Parade. SpectroMagic had a good run, so this isn’t about it, so much as it is the disappointing turn of events that resulted in Magic Kingdom having no nighttime parade.
Light parades capture the imagination and captivate guests, so it’s really a shame Walt Disney World brought back Main Street Electrical Parade, a relic from 1972, before sending that back to California and having nothing for a nighttime parade. (SpectroMagic was not properly stored during its downtime and was destroyed as a result.)
Paint the Night shows just how much these night parades can benefit from new technology. Dreamlights demonstrates how to pay homage to MSEP without running the same tired parade. Both of these newer parades are testaments to what night parades in the current century can be. It’s really a shame that Magic Kingdom is now without a night parade and has been for so long.
Meanwhile, Disneyland has two night parades just sitting in storage…but Walt Disney World can’t even borrow one of those because they don’t have anywhere enclosed to store the floats (and won’t build anything), and Disneyland already learned its lesson about loaning its entertainment without proper shelter from the Florida weather.
World of Motion -> Test Track – I get why EPCOT Center changed. Future World had too many elaborate, lengthy, and slow-moving Audio Animatronics-based dark rides. Management and guests(?) wanted attraction diversity…and more thrills. That doesn’t mean I have to like the change.
Test Track, especially the much-improved 2.0 incarnation, is a solid attraction that fits Future World, but it is visually-sparse as compared to World of Motion. World of Motion was funny and educational, presenting rich and detailed vignettes as it progressed through the history of transportation.
Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride -> the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh – This doesn’t make the list because I think Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride is an iconic attraction the replacement of which is tantamount to “Disney treason.” In fact, had I been active online during the “Save Toad” campaign, I probably would’ve been indifferent. After all, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride was dated and had a good run. The Imagineers were capable of doing far better.
Unfortunately, “better” didn’t happen. Unlike the revolutionary Pooh’s Hunny Hunt, built a year later at Tokyo Disneyland (which was undoubtedly in development at the same time as this version), the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh was a lateral technical move, and a squandered opportunity.
The ride itself lacks the charm and whimsy of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and it fails to showcase Pooh’s posse and their quirky personalities, making the change a net loss. This could be the most popular attraction in Fantasyland–it was at Tokyo Disneyland until the Enchanted Tale of Beauty and the Beast Mega E-Ticket opened. Instead, it’s a mid-tier dark ride that feels like it could’ve been built in 1971.
The Magic of Disney Animation -> Star Wars Launch Bay – None of this would exist without Disney animation. I guess in a way, it’s fitting irony that what Disney used to be all about has been replaced with what Disney is now all about. Since the Magic of Disney Animation has been a shell of its former self since actual animators left the building over a decade ago, it’s a little easier to swallow.
Still, I remember this being such an exciting and inspiring attraction when I was a kid, and it left me drawing and dreaming long after our trips. I can only imagine how many kids grew up to be animators because of it. Launch Bay is so half-hearted that it isn’t inspiring anyone to do anything…except maybe buy merchandise?
Now that Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is open, Launch Bay is even sadder and a shell of its former self, which wasn’t much to begin with. The sooner this space is reimagined again, the better. It can’t get any worse than what’s there now.
Horizons -> Mission Space – I’ll be honest: I don’t really remember Horizons. My family visited numerous times while it was operating, but for some reason, it didn’t stick with me (that, or we didn’t do it much). Although I have watched ride through videos of it numerous times, I don’t have the same emotional attachment to Horizons as many fans.
As much as I think Horizons was a brilliant dark ride with an optimistic and inspiring view of the future, I view Mission Space as a story of squandered potential. This was to be the Space pavilion. Few things are more inspiring than humankind’s exploration of space. How do you not fully convey that?!
Were Mission Space actually a thought and emotion-provoking attraction offering a glimpse into the promise of space exploration, and not merely an entertaining simulator, I think the loss of Horizons wouldn’t sting nearly as much. It also doesn’t help that Mission Space can be uncomfortable and unpleasant, which is why it makes our list of attractions we skip at Epcot.
Alien Encounter -> Stitch’s Great Escape – I experienced Alien Encounter for the first at just the right time in my life, when I was 10 years old, shortly after it opened. I was at an age where I could grasp some of the dark humor in the pre-show, but not so old that the attraction didn’t scare me a tad.
It had everything that made an attraction awesome to me: an interesting story, an entertaining wait in line, and original characters with personality. Sure, it scared children–but there were plenty of warnings, and Stitch’s Great Escape also scared children–but it was satirical, well-written, and thrilling.
Alien Encounter was a thoughtful attraction disguised under the hype of “aliens,” whereas its replacement is mindless and clumsy. At least Stitch’s Great Escape has now been retired, too. Addition by subtraction.
Journey into Imagination -> Journey into Imagination with Figment – Some Disney attractions are so captivating and entertaining that they are timeless. Despite utilizing technology from the 1800s, I doubt anyone’s reaction to Haunted Mansion is that it feels dated. The same holds true for the original Journey into Imagination. The original was, in a word, mesmerizing. In another word–as cliche as this sounds–it was imaginative.
As a young child, I was spellbound by this attraction, its characters, and the scenes they inhabited. I remember it in vivid detail not because we rode it over and over (although we did), but because it was a timeless attraction that captured the attention of guests, sparked their imaginations, and left an indelible impression. The replacement, Journey into Imagination with Figment (I’m not even acknowledging the insipid and short-lived Journey into Your Imagination) seems like it strives to annoy rather than inspire.
Yeah…so I have to admit that writing this list bummed me out a bit. I’d like to think of myself as a realist, albeit one who is largely optimistic (maybe to a fault) about the parks, but a few of these really sting. In some cases, like Journey into Imagination and Alien Encounter, it’s a personal thing.
In other instances, it seems like Disney, renowned for the “Disney Difference” just isn’t trying. I think there’s a lot to be optimistic about in terms of the parks’ future, but a place as financially successful and with as high of standards as Walt Disney World should and can do better than some of what’s on this list…
Do you agree or disagree with my list? Do you miss any of these attractions, or do you think the replacements are true progress? Which extinct attraction do you miss most? 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!