Walt Disney World opened in 1971 and now includes Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom.
Each theme park has had attraction closures that have upset fans before new fan-favorites arrived.
These rides have been updated or shut down entirely due to space, sponsorships, or controversies.
Snow White’s Adventures was so terrifying that it was revamped and renamed Snow White’s Scary Adventures before closing entirely.
Snow White’s Adventures was a dark ride at Fantasyland in Magic Kingdom that opened in 1971 on Disney World’s opening day. A similar version came out 16 years earlier in Disneyland and still stands today under a new name. However, it didn’t last in Disney World.
In the ride, guests are put into Snow White’s point of view as they travel through frightening scenes from the animated film. From the Evil Queen to several replicas of the witch from the film, the ride was so scary that it was closed in 1994 for redesign to have a more child-friendly tone. The changes included updating the name to Snow White’s Scary Adventures for a more accurate depiction, adding the princess herself into the ride, adding more scenes with the seven dwarfs, and more.
However, the ride was still too scary and it wound up closing in 2012 when Fantasyland was being expanded. After being demolished, The Princess Fairytale Hall was added for character meet and greets and the highly popular Snow White ride alternative, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, was also created.
The Skyway transported guests above Magic Kingdom but was eventually demolished. Similar transportation operates in the parks today.
The Skyway (also called Sky Buckets by guests) opened with the park in 1971. The gondola ride ran two ways in Magic Kingdom between Fantasyland and Tomorrowland. It provided a unique mode of transportation and also gave amazing aerial views of the park.
The attraction closed in 1999 because of low ridership and maintenance costs. The death of a cast member working on the Skyway that same year and the expansion of Fantasyland also contributed to its closure and eventual demolition in 2011.
Today, both boarding stations have been converted into bathrooms with the former Fantasyland location serving as the current Tangled-themed restroom.
In 2019, a similar gondola-style transportation method with a similar name was added into the park. The Skyliner now moves guests between Hollywood Studios, Epcot’s International Gateway, and many Disney World Resorts.
Flight to the Moon quickly became passé and was replaced by Mission to Mars, which al
so shut down and replaced.
Flight to the Moon gave guests a look into what it would be like to fly to the moon through a simulated dark ride with moving seats and animatronics. The ride opened in 1971 in Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland. It quickly became lackluster, though, because the US had sent astronauts to the moon several times between 1969 and 1972.
Disney therefore closed the ride in 1975 to create the new and improved ride, Mission to Mars. Opening the same year, guests instead traveled to Mars rather than the moon. This was far more futuristic and whimsical, which fit in with the theme of Tomorrowland. The ride was successful and popular for 18 years, closing in 1993 to make room for a new ride: ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter. More on that next.
After, the frightening ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter took over. It was renovated, shut down, and replaced by Stitch’s Great Escape, which also closed.
ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter was one of the scariest rides in Disney World. The collaboration between Disney and Lucasfilm opened in 1994 and received a negative reception immediately.
In a theater-turned-laboratory, guests sat harnessed into their seats for the simulation ride. They learned about teleportation space travel before the demonstration went wrong and an alien was released into the audience. The lights went out, the seats shook, and other special effects made the experience terrifying, especially for children.
Within a month, the ride closed down for a reworking it because of complaints before re-opening in 1995. Still, it was too scary. Because of the complaints and the juxtaposition it had to the rest of the light-hearted and family-friendly park, it officially closed in 2003.
In 2004, Disney replaced it with an equally frightening ride, Stitch’s Great Escape. The ride was essentially the same as Alien Encounter, with the exception of adding the beloved blue alien Stitch instead. This still didn’t go over well with guests.
In 2016, Stitch’s Great Escape started operating seasonally and in 2018 it closed entirely. After that, the space was used for Lilo and Stitch character meet-and-greets. Currently, the spot isn’t in use for any attractions.
If You Had Wings gave birth to several aviation-themed rides that all shut down due to sponsorship issues.
If You Had Wings was the start of several overhauls and closures in its Tomorrowland location. This aviation ride was sponsored and paid for by the now defunct Eastern Airlines, which was the official airline of Walt Disney World when it opened in 1971. Using the Omnimover vehicle system, this slow-moving ride propelled guests through scenes all over the world by plane.
But in 1987, Eastern Airlines withdrew from its contract with Disney as its official airline and as the ride sponsor. The ride was b
riefly renamed If You Could Fly while Eastern signage and theme music was removed or altered. It then closed and reopened that same year as Delta Dreamflight, since the new sponsor was Delta Air Lines. Again, the ride gained new signage, music, scenery, and focused on aviation history while the track remained unchanged.
In 1996, Delta pulled its sponsorship, partly because of a new focus on sponsoring the 1996 Summer Olympics. The ride was renamed Dreamflight for a few months before closing and reopening to be Take Flight, another similar aviation-themed ride. This lasted for two years, closing in 1998 to make room for more Pixar rides, in this case, the highly popular Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin ride.
World of Motion was an enjoyable history lesson in transportation that was replaced by a thrill ride.
World of Motion was one of the opening day attractions at Epcot Center in 1982, located in Future World. The ride was presented by General Motors and gave guests a tour through the history of transportation and automobiles.
Guests rode in Omnimover vehicles through scenes of different time periods with many audio animatronic characters and vehicles. It ended in the Transcenter exhibit with top-of-the-line, futuristic cars and technology.
The ride closed in 1996 in order to build another General Motors-sponsored ride, Test Track. Epcot’s high-speed attraction opened in 1999 and incorporated an Inside Track exhibit and gift shop in place of the Transcenter.
Universe of Energy closed and was replaced by Ellen’s Energy Adventure, which starred Ellen DeGeneres, and also eventually shut down.
The Universe of Energy Pavilion in Epcot opened in 1982 and taught guests about the history of energy by traveling through scenes into the prehistoric past. The indoor ride was sponsored by Exxon and had solar panels on the roof that helped fuel the slow-moving track, video screens, and audio-animatronic dinosaurs.
The ride was considered quite boring and was updated and replaced by Ellen’s Energy Adventure, starring Ellen DeGeneres, within the same pavilion in 1996. It kept the plot of teaching the audience about energy, but from a more comical standpoint. During the 45-minute ride, DeGeneres dreamed of playing on Jeopardy but didn’t know any of the energy-related questions, so Bill Nye the Science Guy stepped in to teach and help her.
ExxonMobile, a now controversial sponsor for Disney, continued presenting the ride until 2004. Ellen’s Energy Adventure was beloved but eventually closed in 2017 to make room for the indoor roller coaster Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, which opened in May 2022.
Horizons was a very popular dark ride that closed twice before being replaced by Mission: SPACE.
Horizons opened in Epcot’s Future World in 1983. It was sponsored and powered by General Electric and gave guests a look into future living. The suspended dark ride showcased future communities and gave guests the option to choose the ride ending, picking between under the sea, in the desert, or up in space. This could give guests a different experience every time they rode.
When the GE sponsorship ended in 1993, the ride temporarily closed the following year. However, it was brought back in 1995, when renovations were being made to World of Motion and Universe of Energy, so that there were enough rides to entertain guests at Epcot.
Horizons officially closed in 1999. It was rebuilt and replaced by Mission: SPACE, a space exploration simulation ride.
Fans were upset when EPCOT’s Maelstrom ride in the Norway section was replaced by a “Frozen” ride.
Maelstrom was an indoor boat ride in the Norway Pavilion of Epcot that opened in 1988. It took guests through the history and mythology of Norway and included viking, polar bear, troll, and puffin animatronics. It also went backwards and down steep rapids. It was a fixture for 26 years but was replaced by Frozen Ever After, based on the 2013 film “Frozen.”
Epcot’s World Showcase was meant to showcase countries’ cultures and histories, so Maelstrom fans were upset that a film that took place in the fictional kingdom of Arendelle, which was only based on Norway, was taking over.
Frozen Ever After opened in 2016. The boat ride contained the same track and path and paid homage to Maelstrom through the remaining original puffins placed in the final scene.
Body Wars quickly became obsolete when compared to the similar-yet-more-enticing Star Tours.
The former Wonders of Life Pavilion in Epcot was sponsored by MetLife and was dedicated to promoting health and physical fitness. When it opened in 1989, Body Wars was its star attraction. The ride used new simulator technology and forced perspective to shrink down guests in a laboratory in order to beam into a human’s bloodstream and explore it. The CGI was realistic and there were plenty of thrills as the ride jolted around.
While it was exciting when it was created, Star Tours opened in Hollywood Studios shortly after. It shared the same technology and mechanisms but was more thrilling and had the obvious popular ties to “Star Wars.” When guests compared both rides, Body Wars became the unpopular option.
In 2001, MetLife ended its sponsorship of the pavilion, and in 2004, the ride started operating seasonally. Body Wars and Wonders of Life both closed in 2007, and were mostly untouched, with the pavilion used seasonally for Epcot festivals and events. It is set to become the Play! Pavilion in 2022.
The Great Movie Ride was a classic that eventually closed to make room for a Mickey Mouse-themed ride.
The Great Movie Ride was an opening day attraction at Hollywood Studios, originally named Disney-MGM Studios, in 1989. It was built inside a replica of Hollywood’s TCL Chinese Theatre and showcased movie history.
Guests rode in movie theater seat-style cars and a cast member joined to narrate while passing movie props, costumes, and iconic film scenes. The movies included “The Wizard of Oz,” “Mary Poppins,” “Singin’ in the Rain,” and “Indiana Jones.”
The riders also became part of the show when the cars were jumped by an outlaw or gangster who then fought a cast member. This would then lead passengers down one of two different tracks and storylines.
In 2015, Turner Classic Movies sponsored the ride, slightly altering the pre-show and finale with its own film content, and adding film historian Robert Osbourne as the narrator. But this was short-lived as The Great Movie Ride, the last remaining attracti
on from opening day, closed in 2017.
This was mostly due to Disney’s plans to focus more on it’s own brand and intellectual property. It was replaced by the very first Mickey Mouse-themed ride in Disney World, Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, which opened in 2020. The tornado scene from The Great Movie Ride is incorporated in it.
Journey Into Imagination went through two closures before finding the sweet spot with fans.
After the Imagination Pavilion in Epcot’s Future World opened in 1982, the Journey Into Imagination dark ride opened in 1983. It was very popular with young children because they rode through a world of creativity and imagination and were led by the animatronics of a red-headed Dreamfinder and their purple dragon friend, Figment.
However, there were issues with Kodak’s sponsorship, so it closed for revisions in 1998. It reopened a year later as Journey Into Your Imagination with major changes including the removal of Dreamfinder and Figment, and the addition of the human narrator character Dr. Nigel Channing.
While the original ride focused on the arts, this interpretation focused more on science. Fans complained about all of the changes and the lack of their favorite original characters, so the ride shut down again in 2001.
In 2002, the ride was back and better than ever, now entitled Journey Into Imagination With Figment. The friendly purple dragon is back and supplements Channing’s narration. This version of the ride sends guests through labs that focus on the five senses.
Kodak’s sponsorship ended in 2010, but the ride still lives on today.
Primeval Whirl had safety issues and turned off fans throughout the years, leading to it getting demolished.
Primeval Whirl was a steel Wild Mouse roller coaster set in DinoLand U.S.A. within Animal Kingdom. DinoLand is more of a carnival-themed section that is quite different from its neighbors, the surrounding safari and “Avatar” Pandora lands.
The ride opened in 2002 but was never extremely popular, falling behind the nearby DINOSAUR dark ride that opened in 1998. The spinning roller coaster was negatively received because of its safety: It could cause whiplash, had nauseating movements, and led to two deaths of cast members.
In 2019, it was announced that it would only operate seasonally and in 2020, with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the ride shut down entirely. It was eventually deconstructed. As of 2022, the space serves as stroller parking.
The Sum of All Thrills closed after its sponsorship ended, and before an entire section of EPCOT closed.
Sum of All Thrills once stood in the now defunct Innoventions East in Epcot. The ride opened in 2009 and was sponsored by Raytheon as part of their MathMovesU program, which aimed to engage young people in math, science, and engineering to help shape the future.
While Innoventions was full of attractions an
d exhibits, Sum of All Thrills allowed guests to custom-design their own experience via touch screens and then ride it through a robot simulator. Guests could choose between a roller coaster, jet, or bobsled along with different ride elements and speeds.
The ride closed down in 2016 when Raytheon’s sponsorship ended. Several other Innoventions attractions like Habit Heroes and StormStruck closed that year too and Innoventions East closed all together in 2019. This made room for World Celebration, one of four newly renovated sections of Epcot.
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