With the end of the peak holiday crowds ending on January 9, another ‘season’ is right around the corner in early 2023 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.
Those planning Walt Disney World vacations are always disappointed when their favorite attractions are down, but on a positive note, this list has not been anywhere as ‘bad’ as the 2023 Disneyland Refurbishment Calendar. There, it really is refurbishment season, even as the Disney 100th Anniversary Celebration kicks off in January.
This probably isn’t going to win me any friends among those visiting in January 2023, 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.
Sadly, 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. Per Walt Disney World, this will close February 20, 2023 with the “rocktastic attraction will resume its super-stretch limo rides in summer 2023.”
This going down for regular maintenance according to Walt Disney World, and “there will be no changes to the Guest experience as a result of this routine refurbishment.”
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 or some other entertainment in early 2023.
It also 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 2-3 good Lightning Lanes via Genie+ if you don’t have a strong refresh game. (Here’s hoping that Fantasmic is added to the Genie+ lineup sooner rather than later to help offset this.)
Now let’s turn to speculation about what’ll occur during this lengthy closure–or rather, what will not happen. Some of you might recall that back in November 2018, the New York Times did a puff piece about how much Disney was spending on expansion that included a tidbit about Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster being rethemed. The company quickly issued a denial–that there were “no current plans” to retheme Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster “at this time.” (Famous wiggle words!)
My belief then and now was that the story as originally published was accurate, and Disney unintentionally let the cat out of the bag early. The company clearly participated in the piece and its author is a seasoned Disney fan, not just some random journalist who would’ve confused the Paris and Florida versions of the ride. Regardless, it didn’t come to fruition pre-closure, and pretty much all plans since have been derailed.
Nevertheless, there undoubtedly will be “rumors” of a Marvel re-theme or a different band replacing Aerosmith. If we’re going to throw around bands that would be perfect, my vote is for Led Zeppelin. It’ll never happen for a number of reasons, but it should. Kids these days need to learn history–and good taste in music!
Another band replacing Aerosmith or another theme entirely would be plausible speculation in the absence of official word from Walt Disney World. However, the company has released an unambiguous statement that no changes are planned to the ride experience. This one doesn’t even have wiggle words! That should put those rumors to rest, at least for now.
Instead, the refurbishment will revolve around roller coaster’s launch system and entail other general preventative maintenance. While that’s the official word, this is arguably more than just preventative. Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster has been experiencing extended downtimes in recent years, and that’s only gotten worse this year.
There have been a few multi-day stretches when the attraction has been closed, and it has become one of the most unreliable rides at Walt Disney World. (It was down for most of the morning today, in fact!)
I’m not a roller coaster expert, so I can’t speak to the likely causes of the downtime (dispatch, unload, or other backups?). It’s also possible that the ride manufacturer recommends certain maintenance after X years of operation, and the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster will soon hit that. Regardless of the reason, it is desperately needed.
This also likely explains Walt Disney World’s seemingly perplexing choice to take one of the elevator shafts at Twilight Zone Tower of Terror out of service (again) during the holiday season. Previously, it was unclear whether that was planned or unplanned downtime. Now I’m leaning towards planned, with the goal of finishing that before starting this–or at least prior to the end of the winter off-season.
Earlier this year, the other side of Tower of Terror was refurbished and that project took a few months. That wrapped up midway through the summer season, and Walt Disney World didn’t take the other side down for refurbishment immediately thereafter. That’s now a perplexing decision, as the other half could’ve been done in August through October when crowds were lower. (Suggesting that this Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster closure was not added to the internal schedule until more recently.)
Down the road, a substantive overhaul is still likely. 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!)
Another thing the Guardians of the Galaxy attractions have taught us is that fun and upbeat music can go a long way in elevating thrill rides. This is also true with Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, although I’d say to a lesser extent. The roller coaster doesn’t really have the same energy as Cosmic Rewind, which is part due to the ride profile and part due to song selection.
Whatever ends up happening down the road with Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, I hope Imagineering incorporates 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. By contrast, Cosmic Rewind: Holiday Remix falls flat even though it’s the exact same underlying attraction. (Still very good, but does not measure up to the regular ride!)
One thing that might explain why Walt Disney World is not reimagining Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster in 2023 is because that’s a card they want to play later. With TRON Lightcycle Run opening in Spring 2023, they’re already going to have a new roller coaster to market in the coming year.
By contrast, the only thing maybe in 2024 is Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, which is going to struggle to debut by that Christmas and very well might slip into 2025. (I would bet on it.)
With little in the way of physical props or sets outside of the pre-show, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster could be meaningfully transformed in the span of a few months (the company could actually remove Aerosmith overnight in the event of a scandal!).
Perhaps Walt Disney World is ‘saving’ the reimagining for next year, and a “new” Marvel roller coaster will be the marketable draw for Walt Disney World in 2024? 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 2023? What about in 2024 or 2025? 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!