In almost 50 years since Walt Disney World’s grand opening, countless attractions have come and gone. Some parks have undergone huge transformations, but some rides have just been recycled into a new concept with very little major construction. The next ride to get this treatment is Splash Mountain, which will be reworked into a Princess & the Frog attraction. With Splash Mountain’s remodel on the horizon, let’s take a look at some other rides that have gotten new themes over the years.
There aren’t many rides located in Epcot’s World Showcase, and for a long time Norway’s Maelstrom was one of the most popular stops around the pavilions. It only became even more beloved when the ride got a Frozen-themed makeover in 2014.
Maelstrom opened on July 5, 1988 as a mix between log flume and traditional film dark ride. Guests boarded boats designed like longships and passed through various maritime village scenes with audio-animatronic characters. The ride’s theme was a mythological recreation of Norway’s Viking days, complete with a glowing appearance from Germanic God Odin. Boats also came face to face with animatronic portrayals of a Nokken and a three-headed troll.
Angry at the trespassing riders, trolls put a spell on the boats and send them flying backward. The boats stopped just on the edge of a waterfall and then raced forward down a 28-foot plunge into the North Sea. Eventually, the journey came to an abrupt end in a calm harbor. After the ride, guests could exit into a gift shop or watch a 5-minute tourism movie called “The Spirit of Norway”.
Frozen Ever After
Since it closed in 2014, Maelstrom has been repurposed into Frozen Ever After. The structure of the ride has been left mostly unchanged, but the concept and decor is totally different. What was once a dark, mythical ride through a Viking village is now a fun, musical journey through Arendelle. Stops along the journey include a frozen willow forest, Troll Valley, and Elsa’s ice palace on North Mountain. As popular songs from the movies play, riders can see appearances from several characters including Elsa, Anna, Olaf, Kristoff, Sven, the trolls, Marshmallow, and the Snowgies.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Keeping with the theme of the park, the Great Movie Ride was one big celebration of the film industry inside Grauman’s Chinese Theater. When it closed in 2017, the building remained mostly untouched but the concept took a complete turn and became the first-ever Mickey Mouse-centric attraction!
The Great Movie Ride
The Great Movie Ride was one of the original attractions at Disney-MGM Studios when it opened on May 1, 1989. The dark ride was a journey through some of the most iconic films in history. Leading up to the attraction, the queue served as a museum of Hollywood with a variety of costumes, props, and movie memorabilia on display. After a short video commentary on different film genres, guests walked through the doors of a 1930s Hollywood soundstage to get ready to ride.
After boarding the “traveling theater”, riders moved under an old Hollywood-inspired theater marquee for a journey through classic films. Movies featured in the ride included:
- Busby Berkeley’s Footlight Parade
- Singin’ in the Rain
- Mary Poppins
- The Public Enemy
- Man With No Name
- Raiders of the Lost Ark
- The Wizard of Oz
When the iconic attraction closed, the ride building and track structure was repurposed for a completely different concept.
Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway
Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway replaced The Great Movie Ride in 2017. Based on the Mickey Mouse Cartoon Shorts series on Disney Channel, the attraction takes riders into a 2 & 1/2 dimensional world where the rules of physics do not apply. After boarding the Runaway Railway, which is led by Engineer Goofy, riders will follow Mickey and Minnie on a leisurely drive in their sporty roadster. The journey is filled with unexpected twists, slapstick jokes, and mind-boggling illusions. In addition to being the first ride at any Disney park to focus on Mickey Mouse and his friends, Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway also feature more hidden Mickeys than any other Disney attraction or area!
At Magic Kingdom, one of the best examples of a re-themed attraction is Stitch’s Great Escape. The interactive theater experience opened in Tomorrowland on November 16, 2004. Originally, the ride building was home to the ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter. When Alien Encounter closed in October 2003, the motion theater was repurposed into a new family-friendly experience starring Stitch.
ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter
The ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter opened in Tomorrowland on June 20, 1995, replacing the Mission to Mars attraction. The dark humor sci-fi experience was a collaboration between Walt Disney Imagineering and Lucasfilm. Because it had a much darker tone in comparison to the rest of the park, there was a warning outside of the entrance. The alert explained to guests that the experience may not be suitable for kids under 12 years old due to its intensity.
After a preshow in the “Tomorrowland Interplanetary Convention Center” there was a secondary pre-ride encounter with a talking simulated intelligence robot (S.I.R.) and a cute animatronic alien named Skippy. Finally, guests were led into a circular chamber and seated in harnesses so the ride could begin.
Inside the teleportation tube, two X-S Tech employees communicated with riders “live” from across the galaxy via video screens. One lucky rider was supposed to be teleported live out of the chamber to met with the X-S team in person, but one of the employees got impatient and decided to teleport himself instead.
The unexpected change of plans caused the teleportation signals to be totally crossed and diverted to an unknown planet. Instead of the X-S employee, a giant carnivorous alien with wings was beamed into the tube by mistake. The other technicians panicked at chaos ensued. Flashes of light alternating with total darkness showed glimpses of a shattered, empty teleportation tube before the whole chamber fell completely black. Guests were still restrained to their seats with the harnesses, leaving them completely stuck in the dark chamber while maintenance workers tried to restore power.
Without the ability to see what was happening around them, riders were left to listen to the alien attacking the maintenance worker and the creepy shrieks that followed. The seats rumbled under the weight of the alien moving around the chamber and guests could feel the creature’s drool and hot breath coming from its mouth.
Stitch’s Great Escape
Stitch’s Great Escape was a complete turn-around in theme compared to the ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter. However, the two attractions were very similar in regards to the actual experience. Riders still loaded into the circular chamber and buckled into their seats. The chamber went black, just like the previous attraction, but the chaos was caused when Stitch escaped his teleportation tube instead of a carnivorous alien monster. While the old attraction was more sci-fi and spooky, its successor was much more humorous and zany. At one point, riders could even smell Stitch’s chili dog burp!
Eventually, Stitch’s Great Escape began operating seasonally and is currently not operating at all. No word yet as to whether it will get another new theme, or will be completely removed from the park.
For more Disney history, check out the Evolution of Test Track at Epcot!