Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith is closed for another multi-month refurbishment beginning in 2024 at Walt Disney World. This post covers dates & details about what to expect from the project, what will likely not change and why this probably isn’t a reimagining.
With the end of the peak holiday crowds ending after the first week in January, another ‘season’ is right around the corner in early 2024 at Walt Disney World: refurbishment season. Historically, the winter months have been the top time for ride closures and maintenance, as lower crowds make that easier to accomplish.
Already, the 2024 Walt Disney World Refurbishment Calendar is starting to bear this out. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Kali River Rapids have had closures added for this winter in the last few weeks, and it’s entirely possible more rides will join the list. Then there’s Splash Mountain, which will permanently closed last year for conversion into Tiana’s Bayou Adventure (which won’t open until Summer 2024). All will be quiet on the western front this winter with both of those mountains down.
This probably isn’t going to win me any friends among those visiting in Winter 2024, but I think Walt Disney World should be adding many more attractions to the refurbishment calendar. There are numerous rides that have been experiencing above-average downtime, and others that are operating but not show-ready.
Preventative maintenance does not seem to have been occurring as it should–which is the ‘best of both worlds’ solution, as it means overnight work that has minimal impact to guests. I guess that’s what happens when you let go of a bunch of old-timers who held the institutional knowledge and lived-experience necessary to maintain and fix so many of these legacy attractions! (But I digress…)
Another attraction just added to the 2023 closure calendar is Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith, which will close January 8, 2024 for a refurbishment. Per Walt Disney World, the rocktastic attraction will resume its super-stretch limo rides in Summer 2024. The ride is reporting going down for regular maintenance and there are no changes expected to the guest experience as a result.
If this sounds like deja vu all over again, it should. The exact same thing happened one year ago–right down to some of the above verbiage from Walt Disney World about the nature of the refurbishment and the announcement coming around Christmas. That closure also started during the winter off-season and was scheduled to run through summer.
This year, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith unofficially reopened at the start of the Memorial Day holiday weekend following its multi-month refurbishment. Worth noting is that this was much earlier than expected–by several months. Rumors originally pointed to the ride being closed through at least July, with the project potentially continuing into the fall off-season.
Our guess–and this is just that–is that there was a last minute change of plans by Walt Disney World, and only a portion of the originally-scheduled work occurred. That instead of doing everything all at once, Disney opted to break the project into two parts, doing the first half before the summer tourist season in 2023 and pushing the second half to the same timeframe in 2024.
Again, this is just a guess, but it’s at least somewhat supported by the timeline shortening. Other than this, when is the last time Walt Disney World got something major done ahead of schedule? Then there are the permits. There’s also the practical reality that Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster has continue to have reliability woes, which is precisely what the refurbishment was aimed at addressing.
It’s entirely possible that last year’s project was completed in full and Disney is only revisiting the project now because, despite the work being done, downtime issues persist. So they’re going to do more and different maintenance as a result. I have no insider info, so I certainly wouldn’t count that out.
However, we can also look to the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, which had its own bifurcated refurbishment over the course of 2021-2022. That was slightly different, as it was a ‘stealth’ project done while the ride was still operational (elevator shafts went down for maintenance while the others continued to run, effectively cutting the ride’s capacity in half). But that was also done with a long gap in between the two halves of the project.
Operationally, this is a big blow for Disney’s Hollywood Studios, which already is lacking in enough attractions to absorb the heavy crowds the park sees. This will only make that worse, especially if there’s overlap with any other closure. Here’s hoping that Walt Disney World brings back Jedi Training Academy, Citizens of Hollywood, or some other entertainment in the first half of 2024.
We already know that Voyage of the Little Mermaid won’t be returning during this refurbishment, as Walt Disney World announced that a reimagined version of that, “The Little Mermaid – A Musical Adventure” is coming in Fall 2024. On the plus side, DHS does have several character meet & greets, but those don’t have nearly the same capacity as a show or ride.
The Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster refurbishment will put even more strain on the already imbalanced Lightning Lane lineup. Already, return times are often pushed out into the late afternoon and early evening, and this will only worsen that. Expect to only score a few good Lightning Lanes via Genie+ if you don’t have a strong refresh game.
As for the scope of the work, it’s hard to believe that this will be a complete track replacement. Anything less than a year is not enough time to remove and rebuild a roller coaster inside an existing gravity building. Anyone who watched the construction of TRON Lightcycle Run would understandably be skeptical of Disney’s ability to do anything with that amount of speed.
What’s more likely is that portions of the track are replaced, or the launch system is upgraded. This is yet another Vekoma coaster, the same manufacturer of Cosmic Rewind and TRON Lightcycle Run. The redone Avengers Assemble: Flight Force at Walt Disney Studios Park, which was previously Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster before the reimagining, is also a Vekoma.
It’s possible Imagineering and Vekoma have partnered to refresh components of the coaster and extend its life, having learned lessons from those projects or others around the world. I don’t know what such an update would entail, but it would presumably be achievable in a ~6 month timeline. By contrast, there’s no conceivable way that Walt Disney World could essentially rebuild the roller coaster in that time. I don’t think there’s a way they could do that in anything less than 18 months.
Now let’s turn to speculation about what’ll occur during this lengthy closure–or rather, what will not happen. According to Walt Disney World, the ride is going down for regular maintenance, and that’s it.
If you’ve read our post, Will Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Be Reimagined? (which discusses possibilities for the reimagining), you know that we think this will happen at some point in the next couple of years. There are several reasons for this, including the reputational liability presented by Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, who has now been named in two sexual abuse lawsuits in the last two years. Those allegations haven’t gained a ton of media traction, but if they do, it would make sense for Disney to want to distance itself from Tyler.
Reimagining Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster is not just the safe move, but it would be money well spent. It presents an opportunity for Imagineering to easily inject new life in an attraction that’s inherently popular as a thrill ride, and would give the company something to market between now and 2025.
That alone puts the start of serious construction work in late 2024 or 2025. That’s the point at which we’d expect work to begin on the Tropical Americas at Animal Kingdom, meaning that Indiana Jones Adventure and whatever else is planned won’t open until 2026 at the earliest.
In the meantime, Tiana’s Bayou Adventure will open sometime in 2024, probably before October. That leaves absolutely nothing for 2025, which is the year that Universal’s Epic Universe–a brand new theme park–will debut. Unless Walt Disney World is just going to ‘give up’ and let Universal have 2025 (a strategy that we pointed out might make some degree of sense in Is Universal “Beating” Disney?), they need to start moving on something soon.
About the only possibility at this point for an indirect answer to Epic Universe–or marketable additions, in general–is reimaginings. When it comes to those, few attractions have as much untapped marketing potential as Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. A redone Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster could be done in 6-8 months and would be a colossal draw with mainstream audiences. Even though Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster is already pretty popular, I can’t think of any other rides that hit the ‘sweet spot’ of an efficient reimagining and a marketable one.
Given all of that, there are a few possibilities. The first is that we’re just flat-out wrong and Walt Disney World has no plans whatsoever to touch Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. Honestly, this might be the most likely scenario. Even though we think a retheme is highly likely–and pragmatic–in the next 2 years, it’s probably still only 50/50, at best.
The next scenario is that the retheme will happen in 2024, and Walt Disney World is just not ready to announce it yet. This kind of thing happens, where Disney denies initially or says there are “no plans…at this time.” Those are famous wiggle words from Disney, with the idea being that plans change–and the company expecting fans to believe the plans didn’t exist when the original non-announcement occurred.
The final scenario is that the 2023 and 2024 refurbishments are both necessary prerequisites to a reimagining. That Imagineering, the coaster manufacturers, and contractors are getting in there to deal with the ride system and nuts & bolts of the attraction now, refreshing the underlying roller coaster, making it more reliable, and laying the groundwork for a thematic and aesthetic reimagining around the same timeframe in 2025. That way, when it goes down in Winter 2025, all they need to do is swap out the scenery and change the window-dressing, rather than doing that and addressing the ride system.
Whether it’s in 2024, 2025 or beyond, we still think that a substantive overhaul is inevitable at some point in the next ~5 years. I personally love Aerosmith, but I’m nevertheless surprised that Walt Disney World is taking the attraction offline for so long and not giving it a retheme. Popular thrill rides can always become even more popular with the integration of more popular intellectual property. Just look at Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout at DCA.
Iconic as they may be, it’s probably fair to say that Aerosmith doesn’t have the same cachet or name recognition with younger guests. I can’t think of another contemporary band that is popular, crowd-pleasing, non-controversial, and fits the ride profile. Then again, the Guardians of the Galaxy have demonstrated that classic rock can transcend its era. (So here’s hoping Led Zeppelin is in the next movie!)
Whatever ends up happening down the road with Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, I hope Imagineering also learns from Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind and incorporate fitting and fun songs. They also need to take the time to test a ton of different options. The end result on Cosmic Rewind is awesome–even with the songs I don’t personally love.
Perhaps Walt Disney World is ‘saving’ the reimagining for next year, and another “new” Marvel roller coaster will be the marketable draw for Walt Disney World in 2025? There are plenty of characters that are off-limits due to the Universal contract, but that still leaves plenty of options–including ones that are popular in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Phase Four.
What do you think about the multi-month closure of Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith at Walt Disney World? Disappointed that it’ll be down during your trip? Think Disney is being coy, and it’ll actually get a retheme in 2024? What about in 2025 or beyond? Thoughts on potential bands, brands, or super heroes to replace Aerosmith? Any questions about the current refurbishments at Walt Disney World? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? 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!