Friday Face Off – Aging Attractions

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Running a theme park has to be a dicey experiment. The more a park works to stay current, the older the older attractions tend to look. While many attractions retain their charm throughout the years, many others tend to feel dated pretty quickly. Attendance drops, lines decline, and parks decide to refresh the attraction through refurbishment, rebuilding, or demolition. Today, let’s look at a few Disney and Universal attractions, and throw them down in a Friday Face Off – Aging Attractions. Universal’s Jurassic Park River Adventure vs. Disney World’s Dinosaur and the recently-deceased Maelstrom.

Here to save the World?
Here to save the World?

First, I’ll beat the dead horse that was Maelstrom. Relax, people. Relax. Don’t get me wrong: I’m disappointed that Maelstrom will be re-created into a Frozen attraction, but I don’t think it’s any great loss. Those crying over its demise will no doubt rue the day that Captain EO eventually is mercifully put out of its misery.

On a side note, I truly believe that Disney Cast Members are punitively placed to work there. I mean, how COULD this be such an epic failure? Spielberg? Coppola? Space? Michael Jackson? Dancing? Puppets? I can remember being there in 1986 – sporting the mullet, most certainly, and seeing the preview posters for the upcoming Captain EO film, and being disappointed that Captain EO didn’t premiere until that fall. We were out of the Disney World environment until 2009, when we saw Honey, I Shrunk the Audience. Then we returned in 2013 for our visit to the Return of Captain EO. Let me tell you how that trip went.

When we entered the queue area, we encountered the most seriously working – and for the most part completely clueless – Cast Member employed at the Disney World property.

We entered the area, and she kept chanting to the audience, “FILL IN ALL SPACE! MAKE ROOM FOR EVERYONE TO GET IN!” Now, this was the busy season, but even my children were rather clued in to the fact that this show was going to have more than a few empty seats. She then began chastising every guest who wanted to sit or lean anywhere. And when we entered the theater, we were sternly reminded to move all the way down – don’t leave ANY open seats! The pre-show began – and she read – in halting, saccharine faux enthusiasm – the pre-show announcements. Even my eight-year-old began laughing. Of course, when the show began, all of us began to cringe. I could see it being revitalized some day as a participatory event – much like The Rocky Horror Picture Show – in a few years. But for the rest of the trip, our ongoing joke was that all of the bad employees were to be shuttled off to Epcot to work for MJ…. “Listen, Marjorie. I’m sorry to inform you of this… But we’ve set some goals, and… We haven’t quite reached them… I regret to inform you… That you’ll be introducing Captain EO this fall….”

Rest in Piece.  Uh, PEACE, Maelstrom
Rest in Piece. Uh, PEACE, Maelstrom

Epcot is in need of many a renovation. The criticisms of Hollywood Studios are founded, but Epcot has many sections that time has forgotten. Maelstrom was never all that great to begin with. And Disney is trying to strike while the iron still retains some of its heat. Maelstrom went backward. And had trolls. Frankly, Epcot in the back of the park isn’t the place to flock for the thrills. It had the biggest thrills of any attraction in that area. But what, really, are we comparing it to? Gran Fiesta Tour? Reflections of China? Martin Short? It had a hill, kids. And like many of you, we were guilt-tripped into watching the movie the first time on the pageantry of Norway with proud statements on the country. Interesting? Perhaps. But I’m going to get a pastry, instead. Truly, the most terrifying part of the attraction was the man with a thick red beard and wavy eighties hair in the mural over the entrance turning the big wheel to supply oil from the North Sea. Did ANY of us stay up until midnight to reserve our FastPass+ at sixty days out? When it was a level one – did ANYONE really reserve it over Test Track and Soarin’? Anyone ever run into the pavilion years ago, HOPING that a few FASTPASS tickets might be available for a ride on Maelstrom later in the day? Certainly, we got them then. But usually it was for a ride thirty minutes from then. And the FASTPASSes were already gone for Epcot’s big two. The Frozen upgrade might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is Disney’s profit machine for now. Certainly the thing needed some upgrading. Upgrading won’t always work – take the Journey into Imagination with Figment, for example. I know that we all wish that the original version could come back – and I remember it with fondness – but it couldn’t survive today.

Dinosaur still has the best photo opportunity anywhere at Disney World!
Dinosaur still has the best photo opportunity anywhere at Disney World!

Maelstrom’s closest comparison could be the Jurassic Park River Adventure. But it’s more of a hybrid between DINOSAUR and Maelstrom. DINOSAUR has crossed over to dated lately. Phylicia Rashad’s haircut, at minimum, needs a serious upgrade. It does still have the greatest Orlando photo location, placed just at the moment a dinosaur pops out to the right of your vehicle. On our trip in 2013, our youngest, who still loves dinosaurs, buried her face into my wife’s lap. Even though it has crossed over its best days, it still packs a good punch, even if just in the pop from its perhaps impending doom. Usually the lines are shorter, but much of the setup is excellent. I know that DinoLand U.S.A. breaks the model Animal Kingdom – and I don’t really get it – but the land commits to its setup. DINOSAUR crosses back over into a pretty tasteful setup, and treats the topic area with reverence.

The film before can be silly if seen under current eyes. Really? You think it’s a great idea to bring a dinosaur back on a time travelling car with all of us? Nice move. No, that’s stupid. Where would the thing fit, anyway? Sure – we’ll put Aladar in the back seat of this thing. But after the initial film, it really works. I love the spikes of heat and cold in the time travel sections. It started out more intense – and to confess, I don’t remember its less-intense version, but it seems to balance the intensity with the reality that I don’t want to have an additional protein spill in the car. The use of alternating darks and light hide the dinosaurs and their rubberized faces. While the dinosaurs at Universal are probably more doom-causing, the spikes of fear bring great terror. My six-year-old loved dinosaurs – up until her ride on Dinosaur. My older kids weren’t scared, but were betrayed just a bit by the ride photo. They were, however, terrified of their trip on the Jurassic Park River Adventure.

End of the Jurassic Park River Ride
End of the Jurassic Park River Ride

Jurassic Park River Adventure sets a great tone. My daughters hadn’t seen Jurassic Park yet, so the adventure was a real parallel to what the real park may have been like. The trip starts with a quick lift up a hill, and then a left turn around into the large doors of the park. Quick improvement? Give me about five more seconds before the launch of each new vehicle. It would also hide the boat ahead of me just a little. Turning the corner and seeing the doors close again gives just a little away. The float through the park with the dinosaurs is great – just hide a few of the platforms that the dinosaurs are connected on. Muddy the waters, maybe? One other criticism? Maybe put more of the playful dinosaurs causing us to go off track a little more. Wave? Crash? Right before the boat goes off-track, the playful dinosaurs leap around. What if right when a dinosaur poked its head up, it could be followed by a push of a wave that would hit the boat into the ‘restricted’ area. Then, we could really float off into the new section. Perhaps even have some tiny dinosaur biting the top of the rail, loosening a lock or something. Each time we rode, we just seemed to be following along the path – and although I know where we were going, it could have been masked a little better. Here’s a place where Disney’s Dinosaur certainly wins out. The voice over continuing along a path that we never follow? Great touch. This sold my kids. My wife even confessed that my middle daughter was terrified. I had previewed the attraction with my youngest daughter, knowing that DINOSAUR was such a difficult moment for her. However, my nine year-old daughter – having no clue how or where we were ending up – was terrified. The box that we float under and the escaped small dinosaurs all still pack a great punch. A few of the animatronics of some of the dinosaurs could have been improved – like the sliding ones across the tracks. Does a dinosaur really skateboard to the side of the rail? The final section – directly under the T-Rex? A thing of beauty. I have to confess that I am a sucker for great sound – and it was boisterous without blowing out the speakers. Although a few folds on her neck seemed to be a bit tired, this trip quickly encapsulated the high stakes of the film in a quick snapshot. I don’t know if a hybrid Maelstrom and DINOSAUR attraction would be better – but as is, I would prefer to escape back on the Jurassic Park Ride again. The attraction has been rumored to see a refurbishment in the near future, but outside of the removal of the fantastic gate outside, the complete re-build has been put on hold to put the new Kongfrontation experience in.

When an attraction gets toward the end of a run, a theme park may be faced with tough decisions. Disney World has kept running many attractions past their prime, but often their quaint appeals can survive, and nostalgia can take over. Sometimes, however, a trip down memory lane simply needs to be closed forever. It’s easy to sit back and criticize decisions to refurbish, re-theme, or remove – a theme park can’t always have the luxury of complete vision. Instead of unrealistically remembering, or criticizing – take the time to really remember. Also, take the time to forget, too. Sometimes memories are best left there. Take it from Captain EO. We aren’t always here to save the world.

Kevin Bastos

Kevin has taught high school since 1998, and loved Disney World since a 2009 visit with his wife and three daughters. He loves the planning stages of the vacation, and tends to focus on details (while his wife manages the big picture). He also collects comic books, and sometimes maintains a blog reading them. You can follow my twitter @kevin_m_bastos.

25 thoughts on “Friday Face Off – Aging Attractions

  • October 10, 2014 at 11:02 am
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    Tom Sawyer Island and Tomorrowland Speedway are huge wastes of valuable real estate at Magic Kingdom that could go.

    Also – Ellen’s Energy Adventure needs to be replaced with something new – like maybe Stark Industry’s technology Expo???

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    • October 10, 2014 at 12:31 pm
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      I agree with your comment on Tommorrowland Speedway – and Energy Adventure. Old and tired. Energy Adventure takes time to wait, time for the movie, and time for the ride. All are pretty dated. But not the worst moments of an afternoon. Tom Sawyer, however, I have a nostalgic love for. It was one of the best experiences I had on my first visit as a kid – and one of the best experiences I had with my children on our first visit. It’s also one of the places that Walt himself had a real hand in – albeit at Disneyland. As much as I don’t take the time to really wait for it – along with Carousel of Progress and Tiki Room, too… They were Walt’s. Especially Carousel – his hands touched them. Also – I’ve heard about a ton of times about the accessibility issues on Tom Sawyer Island, too. If or when it is updated – it has to add ramps, etc. Don’t see it. And still like them, too.

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    • October 16, 2014 at 11:21 am
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      Tomorrowland Speedway serves a purpose… to allow those young children the concept of driving a car on their own. Yes, it takes up a great deal of real estate, but lets be real, it isn’t like Disney is lacking for space, they can easily keep those attractions and add rides elsewhere.

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      • October 17, 2014 at 9:45 pm
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        Be kind to Tom Sawyer island. My boys had some of their best times at the world on this island. It is every elementary school boys imagination come to life. It would be a sad day to see it go.

  • October 10, 2014 at 11:27 am
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    The problem with the Maelstrom becoming a Frozen ride really isn’t because anyone thought the Maelstrom was so great it shouldn’t be touched (I don’t think hardly anyone would argue that). It’s the broader problem of the World Showcase (and Epcot in general) evolving into yet another Magic Kingdom, instead of the original vision that it was founded on. The Living Seas is now Under the Sea with Nemo and Friends. Maelstrom will become Frozen. Will it be long before the movie in France becomes a Ratatouille short? Epcot is evolving away from its science and culture mission to one of “Just Another Theme Park Based on Disney Movies”. Also, I don’t for a minute buy the “well, they have to make these changes because the kids don’t have anything to do at Epcot”. People who say stuff like this are selling their kids short. Kids are fascinated by everything (especially young kids) if it is presented to them correctly. It’s only when adults are bored by things that their kids pick up on it. Instead of just expecting your kids to “get” Epcot on their own, point out to them how neat it all is. You’d be amazed by the difference in their attitude.

    –Lee

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    • October 10, 2014 at 12:41 pm
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      While I agree that kids are fascinated by nearly anything, when my family runs around Epcot – we find ourselves stopping at nearly every character greeting – even when we’ve met the person just before. When the two of us went, we toured quite differently. If Epcot re-focuses on just being the original mission of education and cultural mission, Epcot again ratchets itself back to a one-day park for these mixed families. The biggest lines at Epcot still remain for the ‘attraction’ rides – Soarin’ and Test Track. Add a third, and lines move and split better. Keep it the same – or worked back to before Test Track and Soarin’, attendance drops. Yes, it is a lot like a third Magic Kingdom. Attendance is better at Magic Kingdom than at Epcot.

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      • October 11, 2014 at 12:20 am
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        Kevin:
        Well, you’ve managed to ignore my central point concerning Epcot, namely that it has wandered far from its original purpose. I am REALLY disappointed that a touring plans blogger would take such a position.

        You need to learn how to broaden your children’s horizons.

        –Lee

      • October 11, 2014 at 11:49 am
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        Lee – apologies – I certainly didn’t mean to offend. In fact, I tend to agree with you completely. On a trip in 2013, we scheduled only one day for Epcot, and it was a complete disaster. I agree with you. We ended up spending most of our time in Living Seas. Manatees are always our favorite there. I have great video of our family on our first visit in 2009 watching over the tanks with our youngest just laughing and moving from attraction to attraction. We spent a healthy amount of our days in Innoventions, as well. On our upcoming trip, we’ve scheduled two days for Epcot, and two for Magic Kingdom. I guess that my point is that Disney is also a business. To get people to stay at Epcot – or not make the mistake of giving the park one day, they need to make it so that you can’t see all the ‘big’ stuff in just one day. In addition, I think much of Epcot is either poorly used, under-utilized, stuck in the past, or maintaining tired attractions. The old Body Wars building, as well as the Odyssey building need to be re-invented. I also think that the renovation of Test Track was a mistake.

        Please don’t take offense – we may disagree over only one thing. Certainly I won’t force anyone to agree with me, either. I’m just a humble guy with strong opinions. Luck to you.

      • October 14, 2014 at 2:57 pm
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        The original purpose of Epcot was to be an actual city where people would come to live and work. That was never built.

        The Epcot that was built was basically a permanent World’s Fair. Companies and governments would sponsor pavilions to educate people about different products and cultures.

        The current reality is that governments and large companies are under constant pressure to cut costs, and sponsoring Epcot attractions are an easy area to cut. Norway was given a chance to have someone take over the sponsorship of the pavilion, which lost its initial sponsor of a group of travel companies years ago. No one stepped forward with money, so Disney will do whatever makes them the most money with the area. If you don’t like it then don’t go, that’s the only signal that Disney really cares about. Personally I love the updates to Epcot, and would be happy to have one fewer person in line ahead of me.

  • October 10, 2014 at 5:16 pm
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    Tomorrowland speedway a waste of real estate? Outrageous! This attraction is pure Disney and my kids absolutely LOVE this ride. If this attraction ever goes – they might as well remove the castle too – after all what does the castle have other than an overpriced restaurant?!

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  • October 10, 2014 at 6:29 pm
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    Tom Sawyer is in a odd location. Accessible only by boat. I could see it becoming a ‘never land’ with pirate ship to transport guest.
    But that would be way out of place in Frontier land.

    As for Tomorrow land race track. To Adults it’s rather ‘meh’. but kids love being able to drive their own cars to get a taste of their tomorrow.

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  • October 10, 2014 at 7:20 pm
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    Tomorrowland Speedway was my son’s favorite ride this winter, and my husbands favorite memory of this trip was riding it with him. It’s still great for families with young kids.

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    • October 11, 2014 at 11:51 am
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      I do love how we all have unique favorites. But if you took me back to 1994, I would have said to remove Tomorrowland Speedway – and keep 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (ducks to avoid thrown vegetables!)

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  • October 10, 2014 at 11:05 pm
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    My kids (age 5 & 6) request Tomorrowland Speedway ahead of anything else. They think it is so cool to drive the car. They talk about it months after. Never get rid of this Disney

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    • October 11, 2014 at 11:51 am
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      My kids loved it, too. Especially the younger two.

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  • October 11, 2014 at 10:43 am
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    I just wish they convert the Tomorrowland Speedway cars to all electric. The Gas fumes are pretty overwhelming.

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    • October 11, 2014 at 11:49 am
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      Agreed. Completely.

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    • October 11, 2014 at 6:48 pm
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      lol! All electric? Too funny.

      Unless they made them electric hover cars…hmmm…

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      • October 13, 2014 at 7:14 am
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        Wait. Wasn’t that the planned revision for the Back to the Future II ride? Electric Hover Boards!

        🙂

  • October 11, 2014 at 12:56 pm
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    My son and I loved the changes that were made to Test Track. Gone is the long, boring, noisy que line, replaced with a calm, soothing environment (like a show room) and the chance to design your own car. My 7 year old loves this part, and I think it’s pretty cool too. The ride is the same of course, but I love the Tronification of the ride. I love TRON and the ride feels very cool and hip now. And we spend WAY more time in the aftershow now than we used to. Test Track went from something I wanted to avoid to top of my Fast Pass + list.

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  • October 13, 2014 at 2:46 am
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    I loved your descriptions of DINOSAUR and Jurassic park. I love both rides but feel that DINOSAUR is so much scarier than Jurassic Park (at least for me). I’m terrified on DINOSAUR and can’t look at the Carnotaurous but I’m not too scared on Jurassic Park for some reason.

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    • October 13, 2014 at 7:16 am
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      It still amazes me that my baby had to bury her head in my wife’s lap on Dinosaur, but was fine on Jurassic Park. But my middle daughter was TERRIFIED on Jurassic Park – and had no problem with Dinosaur.

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  • October 14, 2014 at 9:36 am
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    If we’re talking about Epcot and updating, when was the last time they updated any of those movies at the country showcases?

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    • October 14, 2014 at 12:09 pm
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      Reflections of China was updated in 2003 – which sounds like a long time ago, but then consider what it replaced (Wonders of China) was from 1982-2003. Impressions of France is an original – from 1982. O Canada was updated in 2007 – but has essentially been a similar film.

      So… Yes, could use some updating. And I thought the Soarin’ movie was looking old!

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  • October 21, 2014 at 4:01 pm
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    Tomorrowland Speedway just needs to be more tomorrow-ish. Instead of combustion engines, how about electric? Another cool change that might bring in renewed interest is to re-theme it for Sugar Rush. You would only have to paint the cars and change the landscaping.

    They had better never touch Tom Sawyer’s Island. For a five or six year old, it is one of the most fun playgrounds on the planet. Also the best Picnic location.

    Reply

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