Tom’s Top 7: Disney World Ride Upgrade Wish List

Walt Disney World is in the midst of an unprecedented amount of construction and expansion ahead of its 50th Anniversary. It’s rumored that this milestone will feature a ’50 Things for the 50th Anniversary’ celebration, with a mix of new and improved offerings comprising those offerings.

This makes a lot of sense. Disneyland’s 60th Anniversary Diamond Celebration took a similar approach, with new entertainment plus enhancements to iconic attractions for the perfect mixture of nostalgia and freshness. Disneyland Paris did the same for its 25th Anniversary, too. With so much already on the horizon at Walt Disney World for 2021, the parks would only each need a handful of attraction ‘plussings’ to meet the goal.

To that end, I’ve decided to come up with some Walt Disney World attractions I’d like to see enhanced. This isn’t a “Tom’s Top 7” in the traditional sense, as I’m trying to be pragmatic with these choices. They need to be attractions that can be realistically improved via refurbishment (and not just gutted and rebuilt). It’s also not really a list of the “top” anything, more just rides I think could benefit greatly from upgrades…

Beyond Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary, this post was inspired by the rumored Tomorrowland overhaul, as well as a post I’ve had in my drafts folder for over two years titled, “Give Me $2,975 And I Will Fix Carousel of Progress.” Since that post referred to Tiffins as “new” and had a couple of paragraphs about the upcoming Pandora – World of Avatar, I figured it was time to just cut my losses with it and roll it into this post.

Unfortunately, in my first pass at coming up with a full list, 6 of the 7 entries were from Tomorrowland, which led me to believe maybe that’s another topic for another day. I decided to include Carousel of Progress, as that was one of the main points of this article in the first place. I’ve also made an effort to include at least one attraction from each of the four parks, so we don’t get bogged down in any one area.

Walt Disney World Railroad – In terms of pragmatism, this is an easy one. At the end of this year, the Walt Disney World Railroad will go down for an indefinite refurbishment during the construction of the TRON coaster in Tomorrowland. It’s unlikely that the track will be re-routed during that time, but construction will be occurring all around (including over) the track.

As this downtime could be in the neighborhood it 2 years, it’s the perfect opportunity for some upgrades to the Walt Disney World Railroad’s show scenes. We’d absolutely love to see the Grand Canyon diorama added–and we have it on good authority that Florida has a dinosaur surplus since a certain ride went extinct. Even if that’s overly ambitious, it’d be great if more scenery and effects were added or restored.

Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith – The humorous pre-show and pun-filled queue help, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster is basically an unthemed rollercoaster in the dark. It draws long lines because people like thrill rides, but this is not the caliber of experience you’d expect from Disney. Very little about the ride experience itself feels Imagineered.

For me, the real solution here was giving this the Mission: Breakout treatment and converting it to a Guardians of the Galaxy coaster. Since it would seem that Epcot’s going to be the home of Marvel, that’s not going to happen. Failing an outright re-theme, I’d appreciate something as simple as more dimensional props and icons from Hollywood in the same ‘impressionistic’ style currently employed. Adding a ton of spotlights and flashy effects (a la the soon-to-be-retired Paris version) would also help. It still wouldn’t have the depth of a Disney attraction, but incremental improvement is still improvement.

Dinosaur – The optimist in me would like to think that the rumors about Dinoland being expanded are true, and will take the shape of something with more dinosaurs, rather than just Indiana Jones. The pessimist in me thinks I’ll never be so lucky, and Animal Kingdom will be stuck with Dinorama until the end of eternity.

Rather than throwing good money after bad and trying to put lipstick on the pig that is Primeval Whirl, I’d like to see upgrades to Dinosaur. I think it’s already a solid and engaging attraction with a wry sense of humor about it, so the foundation is there. What it could use is a reduction of dead, dark space and an increase in its dinosaur population. Good news! I hear there Walt Disney World has some of those…

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh – It seems like almost every Disney fan harbors some animosity towards this ride. Longtime Walt Disney World goers are still bitter over it replacing Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. Those who have been to Tokyo Disneyland find it laughable as compared to Pooh’s Hunny Hunt.

I actually like the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. It’s cute, and it has some charming moments. However, I also fall into the latter group above, wondering how this attraction is deemed passable when it was in development at the exact same time as Pooh’s Hunny Hunt. I don’t think there’s sufficient space to make this a meaningful trackless experience, but upgrading the figures to more advanced Audio Animatronics and improving the effects would go a long way towards healing old wounds among fans. Plus, Winnie the Pooh is a flat-out great character, and he deserves better.

Kali River Rapids – After the build-up of the elaborate and beautiful queue, the actual ride experience is so anti-climactic. The ride feels like it was truncated and you can almost see the exact moment in its progression where the budget ran out. While I don’t think river rapids rides are Disney’s strong suit, the climactic encounter with Q’araq in Roaring Rapids at Shanghai Disneyland demonstrates how a single wow-moment can really carry the entire ride. Retooling the ride’s narrative and focusing it around a cool Audio Animatronics figure would go a long way in addressing our main complaints about the attraction.

Heck, maybe a cave could be built with an epic showdown between two mighty dinosaurs over a sea of lava. There doesn’t need to be any exposition as to why dinosaurs are on a rapids ride about conservation–it’d improve the ride exponentially regardless. (Basically, one way or another, I want the Universe of Energy dinosaurs reused somewhere at Walt Disney World. They could put them in the back of the Impressions de France theater for all I care. Everyone knows that any attraction is instantly improved with dinosaurs!)

Carousel of Progress – The whole notion behind my “Give Me $2,975 And I Will Fix Carousel of Progress” post was how little money it would take to make the final scene less embarrassing. My idea was hyperbolic to the extent that I can’t actually build anything–and also in that I know Disney can’t replace a lightbulb without multiple conference calls, research trips, and other costly endeavors. Still, something needs to be done about that finale, and it needs to happen over a decade ago.

Given that Tomorrowland is going to receive some TLC in the next few years, I hope the upgrades to Carousel of Progress have a budget of more than a few thousand bucks. What the attraction needs is a solution to its finale problem, and one that will stand the test of time. It’s safe to assume that the ride won’t be refurbished again before 2035, so the smartest move would seem to be restoring the original World’s Fair version of the attraction, with some sort of narrative framing that it’s being presented by the Tomorrowland Metro-Retro Historical Society or something. No one bats an eye at the Progress City model in the TTA, and I think this would work if Tomorrowland embraces retro-futurism in its redesign.

Journey into Imagination – Many keystrokes on this blog have been devoted to the topic of restoring and fixing Journey into Imagination. It goes without saying that it’s the wish of every Disney fan who yearns for a return of EPCOT Center, its vision, and mission, to not just have Figment stay–but have Dreamfinder return. (Sorry, Inside Out fans–there’s a theater next door–or a pavilion across Future World–for you, though!)

While my ideal Journey into Imagination refurbishment is a next-gen attraction in the spirit of the original (rather than a direct reboot), I wouldn’t mind repurposing the existing show scenes to resemble something approximating the original. This covers everything from specific scenes to the tone and sense of childlike wonder. Bonus points if the queue is one big Rainbow Corridor, since it seems unlikely we’ll ever get a restored upstairs ImageWorks.

On the other hand, I’m totally willing to wait until 2025 if that means a big-budget Figment & Dreamfinder redo instead of a band-aid. I’ve waited this long…what’s another decade or so?!

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Your Thoughts

Which Walt Disney World attractions would you like to see ‘plussed’ or enhanced? Do you agree or disagree with my choices? Anything on this list that you think is fine as-is…or that needs more than a minor refurbishment? 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!


33 Responses to “Tom’s Top 7: Disney World Ride Upgrade Wish List”
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