Theme parks invest millions of dollars each year to create new attractions that they hope will endure by drawing millions of fans to their parks over the next decade or longer.
But sometimes, they end up spending millions of dollars simply to embarrass themselves with flops that draw the wrath of fans, instead. So let's climb aboard the Schadenfreude Express and talk about some of the worst flops in theme park history.
Since I live in Southern California, I will start today with some of the more notable flops from parks in this region. But I invite you to share your stories of flops from other parks around the world, in the comments.
SeaWorld San Diego, 2017
"It's a submarine ride, but it's on an elevated track." And with one sentence, I can elicit a "WTF?" expression from anyone to whom I've described SeaWorld's ill-advised Submarine Quest.
Submarine Quest opened this time last year, as the centerpiece of the San Diego park's Ocean Explorer kiddie land. It closed at the end of the summer and hasn't reopened since. The ride didn't exhibit any of the live animals that SeaWorld's best known for, relying instead on glitchy video screens to depict sea life. Each open-air submarine car (again, what the...?) included touch screens for a gaming element that was next to impossible to see, thanks to the glare from being an outdoor ride.
ICYMI (and you probably did):
Since Submarine Quest opened and closed, SeaWorld's CEO and one of its top creative leaders have left the company. That might, or might not, be coincidence, as Submarine Quest represented the latest in a long string of flops from the company, including Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin at SeaWorld Orlando and the Pantopia project at Busch Gardens Tampa. With its cheap look and uninspiring track, Submarine Quest was the worst track ride in Southern California since...
Disney California Adventure, 2001-02
Even the industry leader can gack now and then. Much of California Adventure v1.0 failed to connect with the public, but none of its attractions flamed out as badly as Superstar Limo.
It's basically the same set-up as Rock 'n' Roller Coaster at Disney's Hollywood Studios — we're on our way to a big show and rushing through Hollywood traffic to get there. But instead of whisking us along on a thrilling Vekoma launch coaster, we are dragged around a simple dark ride track, looking at cringey bobble-head-like caricatures of circa-2000 celebrities, most with some connection to Disney-owned ABC.
Wisely, Disney recognized the wisdom of addition by subtraction and closed the ride, eventually replacing it with the far superior Monsters Inc. Mike and Sulley to the Rescue. (Though an installation of Tokyo Disneyland's Ride and Go Seek would have been even better.)
We're not done yet piling on the Disneyland Resort. The successor to Disneyland's beloved Main Street Electrical Parade might have been the first theme park attraction killed by the Internet. Less a parade and more a traveling street show, Light Magic bombed in its previews and never got the chance to retool and recover, thanks to scathing reviews on alt.disney.disneyland and other Disney-related Usenet groups that helped spread the bad word of mouth about the show faster and wider than bad word of mouth had ever spread before.
Disneyland (the park) didn't get another night-time parade until Paint the Night.
The late 1990s were a tough time at Disneyland. The year after Light Tragic, Disney followed with one of its worst screw-ups ever, Rocket Rods. Intended as a next-generation, high-speed thrill ride reboot of the Peoplemover, Rocket Rods quickly stalled, thanks to design compromises that made running the attraction at anywhere near its intended capacity impossible.
The high-speed vehicles needed a banked track to make the tight corners in Disneyland's Tomorrowland at speed, but Disney went cheap and tried to run the attraction on the old Peoplemover track. That resulted in a herky-jerky ride that was continually accelerating and braking, leading to intense wear on the vehicles. To no one's surprise, they started failing pretty much immediately, and eventually Disney just gave up.
The Peoplemover/Rocket Rods track remains unused to this day.
Six Flags Magic Mountain, 2002-07
A flop doesn't have to be a bad ride. But like with Rocket Rods, maintenance issues can doom even a fun experience. X was the country's first "4D" coaster, with spinning seats that sat on the side of the track. Combining elements that rival Bolliger & Mabillard later would perfect in its Wing and Dive coasters, Arrow Dynamics' X instead doomed the company as it frustrated client Six Flags Magic Mountain with its unreliability.
After limping along for a few years, Six Flags closed the coaster, bought the plans and retooled it as X2, which continues to operate at the Valencia, California park. X was the first on-ride roller coaster video I did, from back when I covered theme parks for the Los Angeles Times, but that video is long lost in multiple LAT website redesigns. I do, however, have my X2 media day on-ride video for you:
Creature from the Black Lagoon: The Musical
Universal Studios Hollywood, 2009
Universal's attempt to create a comedy musical based on one of its more obscure horror franchises bombed so horribly with audiences that Universal Parks head Tom Williams even joked about it when he was inducted into the IAAPA Hall of Fame. But this isn't just a park's flop, it's a personal one, as well. That's because I appear to be the only person in the known universe who actually thought this production was a good idea.
Yep, I gave Creature from the Black Lagoon: The Musical a rave review on Theme Park Insider, providing eternal proof that I am an idiot.
A fire in the theater during Halloween Horror Nights that fall apparently damaged some of the sets, providing the divine signal that the company needed to abandon this production. Fortunately for Universal, the next year went much, much better for the company.
What other theme park flops from around the world deserve a place on this list?Tweet
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