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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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!
Or just rename everything from the bird show theater to Kali River Rapids as “South America.” 98% of people won’t notice.
If I remember correctly Dinosaur used to be much more thrilling and an much rougher ride when it opened. It used to be down right scary an jarring experience, and the 1st time I rode it I could of swore it was a roller coaster because of how fast, varied the ride vehicle moved in response to the action. It seems like over time they have severely toned down the ride and the ride vehicle movement. It also seems like there are less dinos now too, possibly due to maintenance issues an they toned it down to save on repairs/maintenance?
I think they should take the re-imagining of Epcot an bring back re-imagined versions that pay homage an tribute to the old rides, New Horizon an New World of Motion. They could blend these into the Innoventions area being cleared an the dead space between world showcase and future world. Re-imagined Figment ride/pavillion. Re-theme Living Seas back to Living Seas but add-on the Moana Water Attraction to the outside of the Living Sea Pavillion. Add Sweden pavillion with a Matterhorn coaster or add Mt Fuji coaster. They should remove Monster Inc attraction and use that space to expand an upgrade Buzz light year space shooting ride with 3-d enhancement a la Toy story mania. Upgrade Carousel of Progress, add new modern animatronics, update/change all the scenes, with the last one as a colony on Mars. Update an expand the people mover track to go further and through the new tron ride, or even make it actual transportation with an additional unload/loading near fantasyland with the track expansion. Update Jungle boat(coming?), remove Jack Sparrow from pirates, but leave Barbosa with no mention of Jack Sparrow. Put in the USA Main Street Theater an use it for Philharmagic with updated show length an effects, larger theater. Use the emptied space to update an expand Peter pan, so the new que quits looking better than the ride.
Awesome post. I would just add that Dinosaur is horrible except the preshow. My kids don’t event like it. I would leave carousel of progress alone. Look what they did to imagination. A few attractions need to be left as is. Let people be nostalgic. Just add awesome attractions to the mix! FOP comes to mind.
Dinosaurs are to rides as Bacon is to food: adding them to anything makes it better.
Thank you so much for this site.
Still thinking about this topic. I really wish I had become a set designer (or whatever you need to be to design these “experiences”). Why didn’t they ever do anything with Wall-E, and/or why don’t they? I love Wall-E. They could easily work him in somewhere at Epcot, using him to emphasize some sort of conservation/environmental message. Would people flip out if they were to totally overhaul Spaceship Earth? That would be a great place for Wall-E and Eve and their environmental message. I’m not even sure if I would count Spaceship Earth as a true “classic” ride, since I was in high school when it came out.
I would be heartbroken if spaceship earth, and carousel of progress, for that matter, we’re to be done away with. I can go on spaceship earth 20 times a day and never tire of it. No lie.
Interesting suggestions. For me the only problem with Kali River Rapids is that it isn’t long enough. It is a heck of a lot of fun.
For me, the rides that most need upgrading? Peter Pan, Space Mountain and Test Track. Although Peter Pan remains a fun experience, it’s as much because of nostalgia as anything else. But what it really needs is a complete gutting and reworking, with a new ride system with drastically increased capacity and Audio Animatronic figures maxing out 21st century tech, not 1950s era.
Test Track. No ride seems to be as affected by rain as Test Track. If need be, enclose the whole ride to cure that (you could set the present outdoor program as in warehouse, still giving plenty of natural sunlight, as just one example). I’d also change out the vehicles, replacing them with larger capacity ones.
And then there’s Space Mountain. After Tron arrives, shut down Space Mountain, gut it expand the back side as needed, and put in a new track with new cars that can actually hold a decent number of riders.
I think Muppet vision 3D and it’s Tough to Be a Bug. Those are embarrassing. Digital 3-D, like they have in the Magic Eye theater now, it would make them good shows again…
#1 on our wish list is Moana, Moana anywhere! We have a toddler who basically reenacts the entire movie and most of her favorite toys are Moana related. I understand that it takes a while from acknowledgment of a film’s popularity to creating a permanent fixture at a park, but I’m surprised that there are no announced future plans, or even character activities, especially with so many easy location tie ins at MK and the Polynesian Resort. For our vacation next spring, we are staying at a moderate, but probably would’ve forked out for the Polynesian resort if there was a Moana tie in there and any Moana attraction would’ve been a top priority ( my wife and I semi-considered going to Hong Kong instead because they have a Moana show there!) I know there are many factors, but Disney should know that since they are producing quality films for new generations, that today’s young children would want to see them at the parks, not just the characters from my youth or earlier, rather than wait until their preteens when their enthusiasm and affection for a character turns into semi-interested nostalgia.
Is anyone aware of any Moana developments at the parks?
They focused all Moana related entertainment to Aulani, Disney’s Hawaiian Resort
Tom keep up the fight. Your posts give me hope for figment. I hope every time they consider replacing journey that they come across your posts and see people still love figment.
WDW RR — I like the relocated UOE’s dinosaurs idea
RnRC — I am an Aerosmith fan but I am ready for a more-Disney type overlay
Dinosaur — Do not remove the Dinosaur ride but replace the carnival section
Pooh — Thank god Toad is in DL so I am not bitter. If I am ok with the current version since I have never experienced Tokyo’s version.
COP — I like your idea to revert to the original since it will be continually outdated no matter when its refurbished.
JII — Bring back Dreamfinder and keep Inside Out the heck away from that pavilion
What about adding dinosaurs to Pooh? Though actually that’s my six year old’s favorite ride after Little Mermaid, as is, and she likes the queue as well. Dinosaurs in CoP might be interesting (extreme retro futurism?), although that’s my favorite along with small world and the tiki room. Tomorrowland cars going electric (hey Musk, want to sponsor?) or a Robinson’s influence on CoP might be good.
Tom you have a lot of great thoughts… all of which I agree with in some way. But there are a 7 other attractions that need much more help with much simpler fixes.
Upgrade all films to digital 4K park wide. That is SIX of them. This is easily done. If classic movies from the 70’s & 80’s (including Star Wars,) can be upgraded to 4K digital, they can do it with these attractions where they are 1/10th the length of them. ESPECIALLY Mickey’s Philharmagic, Muppet vision 3D and it’s Tough to Be a Bug. Those are all especially embarrassing. Digital 3D, like they have in the Magic Eye theater now, it would make them good shows again.
A 4K seemless versions of the current France & Canada shows could be done using the same process and they don’t need to re-shoot like they are doing (I’m hoping still) for China. Those are SIX rides that would be massively improved for almost no money. The common sense part of my mind things WDI is working on all of them, right along with China.
But the last easy one would be add at least SOME new tech into Pete Pans flight, the ride. The ride is one of the most popular in the MK. but only the standby line got an upgrade (and a great one BTW). If you get a fast pass, you miss it, and the ride itself has not had any tech upgrades since opening day. Even the Haunted Mansion got a few tech upgrades a few years ago. It’s the only Dark ride that has received no upgrades or changed in the park since opening.
None of these would take a lot of money… a little frustrating seeing how far behind they are in these 7 rides (although at least they are working on China).
Also, I could not possibly agree with you more about the Winnie the Pooh ride. Look at some of the POV videos of rides in DL Shanghi, Hongkong & Tokyo. They DID disservice to poor ‘ol Pooh. I think the reason a lot of people are “salty” is that the Pooh ride is not as good or exciting as Mr. Toads. The train scene in that ride as a kid was exciting at least.
So, in short – all the rides need more dinosaurs? 😉
And more COWBELL
HAHAHA!!! My favorite skit
I love the Pooh ride! I don’t really understand how so many people love Pooh but yet so many people hate the ride? Was Mr. Toad REALLY that much better or are y’all blind with nostalgia?
I think the ride that needs the most uplifting is Splash Mountain. The audio recordings need to be redone because you can barely understand them. The animatronics are old, and I don’t need to mention the one of Brer Rabbit that scarred some people for life. And what about the laughing place scene? For some reason it smells terrible.
It feels like the Imagination/Inside Out juxtaposition is inevitable.
Spaceship Earth needs an update – it feels like it ends at Steve Jobs and then you go down.
The gas guzzling slot racer known as Tomorrowland Speedway needs to go. I’m sure that was on your “Tomorrowland 6” list though.
On my trip 2 weeks ago I somehow finally noticed that Aladdin, Dumbo and Astro Orbiter are basically the same ride. Is this duplication necessary?
I love your suggestions to fill in some of the dark gaps in rides like Dinosaur. I think rides like Space Mountain and Peter Pan need to TURN UP THE CONTRAST! I wouldn’t want them to fundamentally change these classics, but the lights/brights could be so much brighter.
Space Mountain queue area could use some help. I could stand it because I’m an adult and I love Space Mountain, but my 9-yo with Asperger’s had a sensory meltdown from the loudness and monotony of the queue area. Switch or turn down the music, add some interactive, themed special effects/diversions like in the Peter Pan queue.
Plus…has anyone ever come up with an idea for seating in a queue area? Maybe add some of those plastic seats that flip down and then flip up when they’re not in use?
As far as the Carousel of Progress…I tend to want to leave historical pieces as-is (or as as-is as possible in order to remain relevant/interesting). Maybe Disney could eventually open a separate park filled with defunct attractions that only “old people” care about.
I really hope WDW isn’t trying to go with a thrill-ride-centric model a la most other theme parks. Even as an adult, I go specifically for the magical, carefree, breathtaking, sensory FEEL of the whole experience. I’m sure I’m a minority, but that’s my angle.
Loved the post!
Disney needs to replace the Indiana Jones attraction at HS with the ride that they have at Disneyland.
I disagree. I like that the parks have some rides that are the same, and some rides that are unique. The show could be replaced with another IP.
Agree with all of these, except Rock ‘n’ Rollercoaster. I think its perfect just as it is and should be left alone. I think its themeing is perfect, it has its story start to finish.
Agree completely! This is very possibly my favorite ride in DW, with Kiliminjaro a close second. The build up to the limousine taking off is just great. Visiting DW in December and this will be our first FastPass+ selected!
But the kids ask, “what’s an Aerosmith?” 😛
From Dinosaur: “We were just talking about seatbelts. Plug them in. Use them. It can get kinda choppy out there, so keep your hands and arms inside the vehicle at all times. Flash photography? I wouldn’t. It alters the homing signal, and that’s not good.”
Possibly my favorite safety spiel in Disney World.
These are all pretty solid. Disneyland’s Mr. Toad didn’t do much for me and I haven’t been to Asia, so I don’t have a problem with the Pooh ride. I’d put Stich (anything is better than an empty building) in its place.
And I know it will never happen, but I’d actually put Soarin’ on the list. The new film just doesn’t work nearly as well as the California version for me. The horrible curved buildings if you aren’t in the center row, the CGI, and even the transitions that just make it seem like a slide show instead of a journey to me. I appreciate the clean projection, but overall I think it was a downgrade.
And while I’m telling kids to get off my lawn, please give me the old bird show back. And a night parade. Thanks. 🙂
“And while I’m telling the kids to get off my lawn…”
Hahaha! I love this!
I have to ask though – old bird show? You mean the original show in the Tiki Room?
No, I meant Flights of Wonder in animal Kingdom. The new Up show is a serious downgrade, IMO.
Rock N Roller Coaster – Cars Overlay
Lightning McQueen in the race of his life!
Kali River Rapids – Up – Paradise Falls Overlay
One of my favorite movies of all time needs a ride. Paradise Falls with a house on top would be perfect.
Journey into Imagination – Figment meets Inside Out Overlay
Combine the best of the old ride with the best overlay theory of all.
The rest are reaches…
Railroad – Lone Ranger Ride Overlay
Just add some explosions pointless explosions (just like the movie!). And maybe Johnny Depp will stop by (Maybe we need a restraining order)
Dinsosaur – Ice Age Overlay
Jim Hill Special. But instead of rescuing a dinosaur, you rescue Sid the Sloth!
Carousel of Progress -Meet the Robinsons Overlay
Underrated movie. And the movie jumps so far into the future so that you won’t have to worry about real life passing it by.
Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh – Star Wars Episodes 7-9
Ok. You need to get Star Wars into more parks. And now you can put all the 2D, flat, cardboard like characters from the latest trilogy onto the 2D flat cardboard cutouts that make up Winnie the Pooh!
Changing Rock’n’Roller Coaster to a Cars theme: BRILLIANT!!
Ohh nooo..i love Rock‘n Roller Coaster! I hope it stays forever
Ohh nooo..i love Rock‘n Roller Coaster! I hope it stays forever
I’m not sure about some of your suggestions, but I LOVE the Kali > Paradise Falls idea. That would be awesome!
The problem with the Up overlay is that the ride is in Asia and Up clearly takes place in South America.
Dog and Russell are already in the Bird show, technically in Asia.
Or just rename everything from the bird show theater to Kali River Rapids as “South America.” 98% of people won’t notice.
Or just change the name from Dinoland to “MERICA” and name all the other lands “NOT AMERICA” and everyone will be cool with it.