Over the years, many attractions have come and gone at Walt Disney World. Some better than their predecessors, some worse. This post is 1 of 2 in a series, with this list focusing on the best replacement attractions added to the park, plus the follow-up Worst Attraction Replacements at Walt Disney World. (Updated December 19, 2019.)
This list focusing on improvements wasn’t easy. Most of the best additions at Walt Disney World have been new developments or original attractions, so it’s not really possible to dub them as replacements. Often, replacement attractions are also faced with the challenge of being shoehorned into an existing space, which seems to make it difficult for them to surpass their predecessors.
Additionally, as someone who has been visiting Walt Disney World my entire life, I’ll admit that I’m probably nostalgic for what I grew up with. Even though I try to view everything with an open mind and clean slate, sometimes the replacements already have a strike against them in my head.
For the purposes of this list, we’re comparing current (or future!) attractions with their immediate predecessors. This prevents the sins of the father from being laid upon the son, and keeps things cleaner. (So no comparing Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin to If You Had Wings.)
When first published, this list included a couple of speculative picks. However, the lands those attractions are in have since opened and we’ve tweaked our list as a result. In both cases, we got things slightly wrong…
10. Camp Minnie-Mickey Trails -> Avatar Flight of Passage – Speculating is a dangerous game, and we originally expected Na’vi River Journey, the slow-moving boat ride through a bioluminescent rainforest with relaxing music along the way, to be our favorite attraction in Pandora – World of Avatar. Even then, it was obvious that Flight of Passage would be the headliner, but we’re suckers for boat rides.
In reality, the marquee draw and our favorite replacement for the Camp Minnie-Mickey Trails has been Avatar Flight of Passage. While this could be described as Soarin’ on steroids, it’s really so much more. Before riders climb aboard the back of a banshee and fly through Pandora for a simulator experience, there’s a ton of build-up and cool queue. Plus, the ride itself is a multi-sensory experience that is relaxing and exhilarating all at once. Words don’t do Flight of Passage justice–it’s so good that it ranks as #6 on our list of the Top 10 Attractions at Walt Disney World!
9. Pooh’s Playful Spot -> Seven Dwarfs Mine Train – This isn’t totally fair. Some fans will probably remember that the attraction before Pooh’s Playful Spot was 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, a true Walt Disney World classic. Comparing Seven Dwarfs Mine Train to that might not go as well.
Pooh’s Playful Spot, on the other hand, was nothing special. While its predecessor was epic in duration and scale and its successor is exciting and endearing for families, Pooh’s Playful Spot was sort of just “there,” a stop-gap to throw in place while they figured out what to do with the plot of land.
8. El Rio del Tempio -> Gran Fiesta Tour – Since El Rio del Tiempo was replaced by Gran Fiesta Tour, it has been met with a mixed response by fans, many of whom were upset over the introduction of characters to the attraction. I’ve always been fine with Gran Fiesta Tour (although I really miss the music from El Rio del Tiempo) and that’s because it utilizes characters who are from an obscure film that heavily focuses on the culture and scenery of Mexico.
This wasn’t simply a matter of Disney wanting to capitalize on the popularity of Three Caballeros as has happened elsewhere in Epcot. Since the Audio Animatronics have been added, the attraction has an appropriate finale a true “wow” scene that gives it a real climax. This is something it has never had, and in my book, makes the current Gran Fiesta Tour better than El Rio del Tempio.
7. Tarzan Rocks -> Finding Nemo: The Musical – This one is clear-cut, and without caveats. Tarzan Rocks was a high-energy concert style show with some neat visuals, but the “extreme sports” vibe made it feel out of place in Animal Kingdom. It also wasn’t nearly as elaborate or well-produced as Finding Nemo: The Musical.
Although the Nemo show is a CliffNotes version of the movie, it works incredibly well, and features excellent production value. The way it utilizes performers versus puppets is the highlight for me, and I think the show is one of the best ones Disney has done in the parks.
6. Donald’s Boat -> Dueling Dumbos – I still remember the drive down to Walt Disney World in the early 90s, and listening to Disney Radio, “Florida’s in-car welcoming station.” One year, the radio touted a new temporary land, Mickey’s Starland, with a Disney Afternoon Show. As a young child, nothing was quite as cool as this. Two decades later, this “temporary” land was still chugging along as Mickey’s Toontown.
New Fantasyland’s “Dueling Dumbos” aren’t totally new in the sense that there was a Dumbo spinner in Magic Kingdom before, but the presentation is significantly better, as is the overall experience. The wait is also now a lot shorter, there’s an indoor interactive play area, and the Storybook Circus area around the Dumbos is top notch.
5. Celebrate A Dream Come True -> Festival of Fantasy Parade – How many Disney fans have uttered the phrase “I’m not a parade person” as result of a decade-plus of the various incarnations of the Celebrate A Dream Come True Parade? It’s not that it was bad…in 2001 or 2002 when it first debuted, but a decade later I was more than over it.
It wasn’t until seeing some of the parades at other castle parks that I realized maybe it’s not me, it’s the parade. Festival of Fantasy is imaginative, elaborate, colorful, and features a few jaw-dropping floats that culminate in a daytime parade worthy of Magic Kingdom.
4. Under New Management -> Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room – Sometimes, all it takes is a small fire to really set things right! I don’t know whether Disney decided to revert to the original Tiki Room because it was the right thing to do, or the cheaper thing to do, after a fire damaged aspects of the Tiki Room.
Regardless of motivation, the original Tiki Room is back, undoing the 1990s damage inflicted upon the attraction.
3. Food Rocks -> Soarin’ – Epcot attractions will feature prominently on the sequel to this list–the 10 worst attraction changes, but it also earns a high place for one of the best changes. Part of the reason Soarin’ ranks so highly is in part due to the fact that Food Rocks was an inferior replacement for the EPCOT Center-era Kitchen Kabaret, a fun and more memorable show.
In larger part, Soarin’ is here because it manages to capture the spirit and ambition of EPCOT Center, while also adding excitement to the mix. The updated Soarin’ Around the World is arguably inferior to its immediate predecessor, but for the sake of this list, we’re considering Soarin’ as a whole attraction, not the film playing in it.
2. Who Wants to Be a Millionaire: Play it -> Toy Story Mania – For the last several years, Toy Story Mania has been one of the most popular attractions in Walt Disney World. I have to admit that I think it’s overrated, with popularity coming from a dearth of other family-friendly options in Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Still, I think it’s better than Who Wants to Be a Millionaire: Play it and the type of attraction the park needed. The subsequent Toy Story Land additions (Slinky Dog Dash and Alien Swirling Saucers) were built on unused land, so they don’t really count here. With that said, Slinky Dog Dash is our favorite of the trio.
1. Lights Motors Action -> Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance – It’s been well over a decade since the Disney-MGM Studios really shined as a working studio, and since then the Streets of America portion of the park trudged along without any memorable draws (save for the Osborne Lights at Christmas). As such, it was pretty easy for us to speculate that the billion-dollar Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge would easily surpass it.
What we did not foresee back when originally publishing our list was that Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance would be superior to Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run. After all, what kid hasn’t dreamed of piloting the Fastest Hunk of Junk in the Galaxy?! As it turned out, Smugglers Run is fun, but Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance is revolutionary–a true triumph of Imagineering and arguably the best attraction in all of Walt Disney World.
Do you agree or disagree with my list? Do you like the replacement attractions on this list, or would you prefer their predecessors? Which of the new-generation attractions are your favorites? Share any questions or additional thoughts you have in the comments!