With The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror closing this week at Disney California Adventure, I'm sure that many fans would cite Disney's decision to replace that attraction with a new Guardians of the Galaxy theme as their pick for biggest theme park blunder. Taking it back several more years, I'm sure some fans continue to insist that Disney blew it by building California Adventure in the first place, instead of going with competing plans for Westcot or even a Long Beach DisneySea.
I'm on the record as supporting Disney's call to swap The Twilight Zone for Guardians of the Galaxy on DCA's Tower of Terror. But that doesn't mean I agree with everything Disney decides. (I'll wait a moment for long-time Theme Park Insider readers to stop laughing.... We good now? Okay, let's move on.) In my Orange County Register column this week, I list a few of the attractions removals from the Disneyland Resort that I think turned out to be actual mistakes for the company.
It's too early to tell if The Twilight Zone removal will turn out to be a mistake or not. After all, we can't honestly make that decision until we see the Guardians of the Galaxy version of the ride. Let's face it — sometimes when fans complain about an attraction's removal, their complaints end up being drowned out by the cheers of other fans who fall in love with that attraction's replacement. (Heck, sometimes, even the people who complain about a removal end up flipping when they see the new ride.) Epcot's Frozen Ever After provides the most recent example. Even though many fans decried the removal of Maelstrom for a Frozen-themed makeover, the much longer lines and higher ratings for the replacement demonstrate that the majority of Disney visitors are not only just fine with the switch, they prefer the new version.
You can see the same thing up the road at Universal Orlando, too, with some fans continuing to insist that Universal made a mistake removing its Jaws ride, despite the wild popularity of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley, which replaced it. No one who has responsibility for Disney's or Universal's bottom lines would argue that replacing Maelstrom or Jaws was a mistake. But some fans still do.
I suspect that we'll see the same thing happen with Guardians of the Galaxy in a few months. As long as the wait times got for Tower of Terror since the announcement its closing, I'll bet you a TPI button that the wait times for the Guardians ride will exceed that when it opens this summer. Disney's replacing a pretty-much forgotten old television franchise with one of the most popular movie franchises in the world right now. Throw in a more coherent storyline and a company that's much more in the mood to invest in its theme parks than it was back when the ToT opened at DCA in 2004, and I'm very hopeful that Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout will over fans the way that Frozen Ever After did at Epcot.
But that doesn't excuse the fact that getting rid of the PeopleMover for Rocket Rods at Disneyland really was a mistake. ;^)
So let's get back to the question I asked at the start of this post. What's the biggest mistake you've ever seen by a theme park?
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Honestly, the fact that other versions of Tower of Terror will persist as Tower of Terror softens the blow. You can always go to those other parks and ride the original version, at least 'til the Disney executives see the massively improved numbers of the Guardians ride and green light the other ToT rides to get the same treatment.
Also, the Twilight Zone is not a forgotten franchise. It's an iconic TV show that fit in DCA and DHS.
The mistakes for me have mostly been in Future World. Horizons for Mission: Space is bad, but the Imagination and Living Seas replacements were even worse. Removing the Spaceship Earth descent for the screens was also a mistake. Innoventions was also a big step backward and now is gone. Disney has made few changes at Future World that really click. Test Track and Soarin' are the exceptions, though I wish they could have existed alongside World of Motion.
Anthony - Not forgotten by people who know what it is, but there are a lot that don't. As for my own anecdotal evidence, my 32-year-old wife LOVES the Tower of Terror. It's one of her favorite rides. I showed her a picture of Rod Serling the other day ... and she didn't know who it was. And she's never seen an episode of "The Twilight Zone." She's excited about the Guardians makeover.
Like it or not, TTZ is not as well-known as you'd like it to be, particularly overseas. Given that no one complains that the Tower of Terror in Tokyo is missing the "Twilight Zone" theme, I suspect this will be easily forgotten when the new story / theme is added and people realize that the ride hasn't changed, just the presentation. And Guardians has the benefit of being a more recent franchise, as well as IP owned by Disney, and has worldwide appeal.
Actually, the biggest mistake of all time, to me, will be Disney's Poop Brownies.
But if I cant pick Maelstrom, easily replacing Extraterrorestrial Alien Encounter with Stitch's Great Escape was a HUGE mistake. The ride was clearly labeled as being scary and the people who loved it, always came back. Theres room for rides that stand out Magic Kingdom, and not rides thats are this terrible.
I miss the People Mover and the high up Rocket Jets very much. They gave the land it's neat inviting kinetic energy and functioned as the weenie to pull people away from the hub.
And can I agree that Pooh Bear is utterly wrong for Critter Country. His British roots and whimsicality would've been a perfect fit for the old Motorboat attraction space between Alice and Small World. But maybe that's just me.
As for a true biggest mistake, from what I've experienced I'd say either PeopleMover to Rocket Rods or Main Street Electrical Parade to Light Magic. Both of these cost Disneyland a beloved attraction for a replacement that failed to impress and lasted a very short time. A runner up is the Windjammer Surf Racers at Knott's Berry Farm, which was plagued with technical problems and gave a very rough and unpleasant ride. Also, it's impossible to leave the Cedar Fair Windseekers out of this discussion, as all of them have been problematic for their respective parks.
The Mummy for Kongfrontation (I like the Mummy, but boy do I miss the old Kong)
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea for...Pooh's Playful Spot and a character Meet & Greet...?
And Jaws. Yes, Harry Potter is better. It was just such a cool experience to be attacked by Jaws in a boat. Not so much as a mistake as a lament.
There are a few others which I personally view as a mistake, but still acknowledge that they were either popular with the general public or good for the company. These include..
Rainbow Caverns Mine Train -> Big Thunder(probably alone on this)
20000 Leagues -> Little Mermaid
Horizons -> Mission Space
Kitchen Cabaret -> Food Rocks
Tusker House - Character meal
Crystal Palace - Character meal
Rod Serling was, first and foremost, a WRITER. He wrote 99 of the 156 "Twilight Zone" episodes. No writer would be proud of the slapdash "plot" of this ride. Even when Serling didn't write an episode, the show was still his baby and endings were VERY important to him, especially those with twists. Just think of many of the best-known episodes and the third-act twist: Man hates people, just wants to read, world ends, he's happy, then breaks his glasses. People start accusing each other of being aliens, we find out it's aliens playing games with them. A woman who has gotten plastic surgery is unbandaged and her human face is considered monstrous by the monsters who inhabit this world. Those aliens that are being so nice to mankind don't have a handbook on how "To Serve Man" but a cookbook! Astronauts who have landed on a desert planet are killed off for their water, only to have their killer discover they never landed on Earth, and a town was just over the ridge. And so on... Even his most famous movie - "Planet of the Apes" - is most famous for that Statue of Liberty twist ending.
So how does anyone think he'd actually approve of this "story"? "These people entered a hotel, and fell into the Twilight Zone... by going up and down a bunch of times, I guess? Though it's hard to tell since we don't know who these people are. Maybe they deserved to go up and down a lot? And the elevator shafts have been clearly been sent to the Twilight Zone also - you can clearly see they are missing as you approach the hotel - yet somehow you will stand in line to get onto an elevator! That then basically does what an elevator is supposed to do, except a little faster and more often, and then you return to the real world because... ummm, lightning? Oh, and because it's Disney, who loves immersing you in a complete experience, they will open the doors of the elevator so you can see a replica of the Matterhorn a few times because... some of those people were Swiss? You know what? I'm going to go haunt whoever came up with this idiocy!"
The ride will still go up and down. There will still be some "magical" film footage when you aren't going up and down. You actually won't be taken out of the experience by being shown that you are still in a theme park. You just won't have an extremely talented dead person being forced to "host" a ride he would be embarrassed of. Win/win.
Winner (Disney): Not fixing the Yeti for going on a decade.
Runner up (Universal): Making Dueling Dragons / Dragon Challenge not Duel (a tragic mistake which will be further compounded when the ride is unceremoniously torn down and replaced with another Harry Potter screen based ride).
Winner (Universal): Charging $55 per person to ride the Hogwarts Express rather than offering a round trip option for people who don't want/need (or can't afford) to park hop.
Disney's biggest USA mistake? Underinvestment in USA parks has allowed Universal to steal market share from Disney. 2nd biggest mistake? Gutting California Adventure to create "Superhero Nerd World". Removing Twilight Zone, Soarin' Over California and Aladdin has killed the spirit of California Adventure and removed any reason to ever visit again.
Secondly, and on a related subject, I'm still bitter about the way Disney unceremoniously chucked the Toy Story Zoetrope in favor of an Anna and Elsa meet and greet. The zoetrope was one of the coolest things I've ever seen in any theme park, and perfectly demonstrated the art of animation. So they evict it from the animation building to make room for yet another freakin' meet and greet. Appalling.
Hard Rock Park's concept and execution wasn't that bad. It had an edgy, adult theme and I think given time to mature it could have been a really top notch park. But the location was a big mistake and of course timing was awful.
Euro Disneyland's location was a big mistake. Should have been built in sunny, friendly Spain instead. And since many British and Northern Europeans already spend their holiday there it seemed like a no-brainer.
Everytime the spend money on something like Test Track, Tower of Terror, Soarin, and Frozen (Maelstrom) that is really just new themeing rather than something entirely new is a lost opportunity to add an attraction.
I'm not saying don't maintain an attraction, but to slap a new theme on an existing ride doesn't add to your ride/attraction count. I would rather have two or three experiences of varying quality than one super duper one.
That's what I hate.
What lost opportunity? If they don't refurb Test Track, it'll just deteriorate and you'll lose it forever. Body Wars went away and never to return. You lost an attraction. Not doing anything means it won't remain. The Universe of Energy ride is at its last legs. People just ignore it like it isn't even there.
What super duper one? They aren't super anymore if not updated and modernized.
Imagination turned a decent, yet aging attraction, into a horrible mess. Horizons was a good dark ride that was replaced with Space that few people actually want to ride.
The ugly New Tomorrowland 1998 at Disneyland changed out a family People Mover ride into a thrilling slow loading Rocket Rods disaster. The Discoveryland paint job just didn't work.
I'm beginning to wonder if Shanghai Disneyland isn't a disaster for building two parks that are 1000 miles apart. Not enough distance and political uncertainty as China flexes its political clout against US dominance. Disney should only build in democratic countries.
"Disney should only build in Democratic countries"
There is a reason why Disney/Universal/Six Flags woukd rather choose to build in places like China and Dubai over places like India, the world's largest democacy will over a billion people.
And that is the nightmare bureaucratic red tape and big NIMBY attitude that exists in India. Walmart and other big retailers have been trying to get in for ages with no success.
Plus most developed democracies are dealing with aging populations, declining birth rates and shrinking or stagnant disposable incomes. Why in the world would theme park operators want to enter those markets?
And political uncertainty is just made up by the media to drive ratings and circulation
No China: no walmart, dollar stores or affordable IPHONES.
As for the ride I MISS most/think was a poor judgement call? ExtraTERROR-restrial. And let me say this - I WAS one of those kids who was terrified/probably too young to ride it. I rode it for the first time in 2002 on a school trip, and we were definitely warned that it would be that scary. The signage was very clear. I certainly wasn't itching to ride it again that trip and I tried my best not to see or hear any of it while it was happening, but I deeply regret that the complaints were such that the ride had to be "tamed". It doesn't make any sense at all. I regret never being able to go back and ride that ride again. And even though I don't hate Stitch as much as everyone else does (probably because I still remember the original..) I still think it was a mistake.
However the point I really wanted to bring up is that we're talking a lot about the Overseas "ventures" being mistakes, and talking about how all the real, full blown "new" attractions are going to these overseas parks rather than stateside - and it serves to note that this isn't happening because Disney *cares* more about expanding overseas...
It's happening because those parks are all Private Holdings. Disney's partnered with other companies willing to Foot The Bill. To my knowledge, Disney doesn't even *own* DisneySea/Tokyo Disneyland.
Imagine that - an imagineer's dream. Freedom to realize all of those awesome ideas coming out of WDI without a hyperfocus on the greed/nostalgia balance going on in the stateside parks.
It's reflected in - what I can only imagine - the broken partnerships that led to the decline of Future World in EPCOT. EPCOT got all those cool (Educational! On Theme!) attractions by partnering with other companies that sponsored them individually.
So the real mistake, I think, was moving away from the potential for those kinds of partnerships in favor of keeping as big a slice of the pie as Disney could muster.
It follows, furthermore, that the *biggest* mistake was the shift in philosophy/business model, and the CEO who made all this possible.
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