What Should Go Into the DisneyQuest Space?

This month, Walt Disney World filed a construction permit for the extinct NBA Experience building at Disney Springs. This post shares details of the demolition, a brief history of the interactive experience that time has (already forgotten), and what we’d like to see come next for the former DisneyQuest space.

This is not really a construction permit, but more accurately, a Notice of Commencement for destroying or removing some aspect of the NBA Experience (the permit itself indicates it’s for “general construction/demo”). The work is assigned to Adena Corp., a contractor that the DTB Archives indicate has previously worked on TRON Lightcycle Run and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. So the only logical conclusion is that they’re finally building the long-rumored Monsters Inc. Door Coaster–you heard it here first!

Not really. To be abundantly clear, this will not be a roller coaster. In fact, it may not be anything at all. We’ve seen a lot of permits like this over the last few years that have gone absolutely nowhere. Starcruiser, Play Pavilion, Reflections Lakeside Lodge, and the EPCOT in-park (or adjacent) hotel are all still stuck in “permit purgatory,” with periodic permits that amount to nothing.

The best example here could be Stitch’s Great Escape, which has seen a scattering of permits over the last few years that have been nothing-burgers. At least, from a guest-facing perspective. The lobby still occasionally opens with photo ops, but nothing is happening with the attraction space. (The big question is, why not?! This is prime real estate and it sure seems like an opportunity for a quick-fix stop-gap attraction.)

The most obvious option for work on the NBA Experience would be removing the sets and interactive activities inside the building so that it could serve as office space or other backstage facilities. Another possibility would be removing the stylized swooping NBA metal facade wrap-around atop the exterior of the building. Basic stuff to keep guests from asking, “what used to be here?!”

With that said, WDWMagic reports that Walt Disney World has been actively searching for new tenants, with multiple options being explored for the large building. Disney has yet to announce a replacement, but it’s entirely possible that this permit is a sign that an agreement has been reached with an operating participant to take over the space, and is a precursor to an official announcement.

The totality of our NBA Experience coverage was construction updates and a lame running joke where I pretended to forget what was replacing DisneyQuest and feigned surprise that the project hadn’t been cancelled. My commentary repeatedly questioned whether the market for such a huge venue dedicated to a single sport existed among Walt Disney World visitors.

It did not. Even while open, NBA Experience struggled to draw guests and offered aggressive Cast Member deals and even free admission. Obviously, the closure of Walt Disney World and subsequent slowdown during the phased reopening didn’t help. However, business had been booming at Disney Springs for over a year at the point when Walt Disney World announced in 2021 that the NBA Experience would permanently close.

The closure of NBA Experience was inevitable. It would’ve happened regardless of March 2020. That was not what killed the NBA Experience–it’s what gave a convenient face-saving cover to close the incredibly unpopular attraction. We didn’t cover the NBA Experience while it was operational because there was zero reader interest. We didn’t receive a single comment asking when we’d review it.

A bit tangential, but the NBA Experience did help in strengthening Disney’s relationship with the NBA, which proved invaluable in Summer 2020 when the league chose Walt Disney World as the home of its NBA Bubble. That was huge for Walt Disney World. It filled empty hotels, helped keep Cast Members employed, and was invaluable marketing for Walt Disney World and its reputation as being a safe place. It’s impossible to say whether that offset the tens of millions of dollars lost with NBA Experience, but it certainly helped.

The point of all this backstory is that whatever Walt Disney World does next with this space (or allows to happen via a tenant), they need to be sure that it’s cost-effective and has not just the potential–but the probability–for success. Three consecutive failures wouldn’t be a good look. So with that in mind, here are our ideas…

The Void VR – The NBA Experience wasn’t the most consequential closure at Disney Springs in 2020. The biggest, most disappointing loss was lesser-known, but way better: The Void. We did the Void VR: Star Wars Secrets of the Empire and absolutely loved it. Truly an underrated Walt Disney World experience.

When it closed, here’s what I wrote: “I believe immersive virtual reality experiences have a strong future. The Void was ahead of its time, and I can only imagine tech companies will further iterate upon the idea, improve it, and scale it up. Hopefully Imagineering has such projects in the pipeline.”

We now know that Imagineering does have such projects in the pipeline, as prolific patenter Lanny Smoot is currently working on the HoloTile floor, the world’s first and only multi-person, omni-directional, modular, expandable, treadmill floor, where any number of people can have a shared virtual reality experience, walk an unlimited distance in any direction, but never collide or walk off its surface.

The HoloTile floor plus whatever other tech Imagineering has created plus a larger space (for scale, not larger environments) plus whatever The Void has been developing since all of their locations closed are the perfect recipe for the former DisneyQuest/NBA Experience space. I’m leading with this because I think something of this nature is probably the best and most realistic option for the space. It wouldn’t necessarily need to be another partnership with The Void–just something of the same nature.

Escape Room – If you Google “are escape rooms still popular” you will get a ton of results from escape room companies assuring you that it’s still a growing market, will be for decades to come, and is definitely not a fad. Okay, color me convinced!

Rumors swirled of escape rooms at Walt Disney World almost a decade ago, and really gained momentum in 2020. I have not heard anything since, but if there’s a good location for multiple permanent escape rooms, it’s the NBA Experience building. It could be similar to Universal’s Great Movie Escape rooms, with several concepts under the same roof. Basing the escape rooms on popular but underutilized IP and current or extinct attractions seems like it has potential. Escape rooms based on Alien Encounter, S.E.A., Haunted Mansion, or Darkwing Duck sound pretty cool to me!

Star Wars Starship – We’ve discussed why Starcruiser won’t become a regular hotel. Likewise, the difficulties of converting that space into a day-trip experience due to its location, infrastructure, and so forth.

One option would be packing it up and setting up shop in another large, windowless space. Yeah, I know–Theme Park Tycoon isn’t real life. But this relocation would actually make sense, as Disney Springs is far more accessible and a new space would allow for a ‘right-sizing’ of the various venues to accommodate day use.

Imagineering Lab (Bar?) – There’s obviously no way that Imagineering can (or would) recreate Horizons in full inside the former NBA Experience. Or even the smaller Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, for that matter. But technology is evolving to the point that immersive extinct attractions could be virtually re-created and housed here.

Make this the Walt Disney Imagineering Lab (like on the Disney Wish–except not just for kids), install the DISH, and make it all a bar. Let adults play, create, and relive the past. They could probably even recycle some of the extinct Innoventions interactive exhibits or, heck, even stuff from the former ImageWorks above Journey into Imagination. I’d pay big bucks to walk through that Rainbow Corridor again!

Adventurers Club – Speaking of things that are extinct, how about the Adventurers Club?! I’ve mentioned this before, but if Adventurers Club managed to hang on for another 5 years, it would be insanely popular right now and incredibly lucrative to the company. Just look at Trader Sam’s and the bucks that makes with the regular releases of Tiki mugs.

The Society of Explorers and Adventurers has become a big thing since Adventurers Club, as has this kind of participatory entertainment. Adventurers Club was quirky, unique and addictive–a better and more polished incarnation of an entertainment style that’s very popular right now. A reincarnated Adventurers Club would be a smash success among the ever-growing audience of Disney Adults–a demographic with tons of disposable income.

The potential for Adventurers Club to return is aided by the fact that its original Cast Members still reunite for private events on a regular basis–we’ve attended multiple and they just returned for a Cast Member night at Magic Kingdom in 2024. Repurposing this space to the Adventurers Club–even as a low-dough test–would be a great move and much more popular than AC when it closed in 2008.

Pleasure Island – More broadly, it’d be awesome to bring back the Pleasure Island neon marquee and make the building home to mini-clubs all under one roof. I’m personally partial to Mannequins Dance Palace, 8TRAX, and Comedy Warehouse. (Perhaps because those are the only clubs that we ever visited, at least, to the best of my hazy recollection.)

Pleasure Island was at least partially ahead of its time. Disney Springs is much more popular, busier, and easier to access than Downtown Disney ever was. Central Florida’s local population has exploded, and a large percentage of these people are Disney fans. Given all of that, plus the aforementioned Disney Adults and the surge of convention-goers at Walt Disney World, a large self-contained venue offering “Disneyfied” adult nightlife could work.

Walt Disney Family MuseumWe love the Walt Disney Family Museum, and think every diehard Disney fan should visit. It’s a loving tribute to the man who created the magic both as a person and as a creative. Disney fans will leave WDFM with greater admiration for the company’s founder and deeper appreciation for what he created.

In fact, just about anyone who would enjoy Walt Disney World will also appreciate the Walt Disney Family Museum. It’s truly an experience with universal appeal, for all ages and interests. The presentation and quality of the museum are far above what you’d expect for a “niche” museum.

The only problem is that the Walt Disney Family Museum is in San Francisco, fairly far away from Disneyland or Walt Disney World. Opening a second outpost at Disney Springs would be fantastic for fans. While I highly doubt it would be self-sustaining, there’s no reason Disney couldn’t take the loss on it or have it sponsored by D23 or whatever. (Honestly, now that I think about this, it’s a shame that this didn’t happen as a pop-up museum for Disney100.)

DisneyQuest 2 – There’s a version of DisneyQuest that actually works. It features a mixture of arcade games and communal, tactile games that are Disneyfied. It maybe has an Imagineered experience or two, but the pitfalls with that are development costs and the propensity for datedness.

Although its (few) diehard fans have memories tinted by rose-colored glasses, DisneyQuest was not good when it closed. It was not good the decade before that, either. It was dated and dark for a long time, and had abandoned 90s mall vibes. But there was a point in time when it was ahead of its time. The key would be reducing the development so it could be updated over time and not stagnate. It would also need to be more inviting to families, and not an imposing box that looks and feels like a dreary arcade on the inside.

Meta Quest or Apple Vision Experience – This already happened. One year after NBA Experience closed permanently, the Meta Quest Virtual Reality Experience opened for a few months. This offered guests a hands-on preview of ILMxLAB’s Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge. It allowed guests to explore Black Spire Outpost, and was good marketing for the Quest 2 headset that also made sense from a Disney perspective.

Revisiting this idea just makes sense. Disney has collaborative partnerships with both Meta and Apple, and either (or both!) could probably be easily persuaded to open something in the space. The headset wars are only just starting to heat up, and the biggest barrier to their success (well, aside from the cost of Apple’s product) is getting people to give them a chance. Meta or Apple footing the bill for something here and offering a free experience to guests for the marketing value certainly isn’t the sexiest entry on this list, but it’s certainly plausible…and better than the status quo.

Flagship Apple Store – Speaking of unsexy ideas, another option–or perhaps a combined one with the Apple Vision demo–would be a flagship Apple Store. This was rumored as an anchor tenant for Disney Springs (and Flamingo Crossings!) over a decade ago, and didn’t happen for a variety of reasons. And it would seem that ship has sailed given the other Apple Stores in Central Florida.

However, a flagship Apple Store would still have massive appeal with international tourists and keep them inside the Disney Bubble. It’s not what I want to happen, but it seems at least somewhat plausible. Failing that, another quintessentially American brand would be perfect. And by that, of course I mean a combined Buc-ee’s and In-N-Out Burger.

This is just a partial list of plausible ideas. Honestly, there’s a considerable amount of overlap with our list of the Top 10 Replacements for BoardWalk. This includes (but is not limited to) a Museum of the Weird, Explorer’s Club, Portillo’s, or massive character meal. Here’s hoping Walt Disney World can figure out something soon, as this massive venue sitting empty is a missed opportunity!

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What would you like to see as a temporary, test, or permanent replacement for NBA Experience at Disney Springs? Think it could be a spiritual successor to DisneyQuest or even Pleasure Island? What is most needed in Disney Springs? Think something more adult would be a good fit, or should Disney focus more on family-friendly options? Do you agree or disagree with our list? 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!

31 Responses to “What Should Go Into the DisneyQuest Space?”
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