What was the biggest flop in the theme park history?

May 24, 2018, 10:47 AM · 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.

Submarine Quest
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...

Superstar Limo
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.)

Light Magic
Disneyland, 1997

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.

Rocket Rods
Disneyland, 1998-2000

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.

X
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?

Replies (52)

May 24, 2018 at 11:01 AM

I think you went too easy on WDW!

Journey into YOUR Imagination
Tiki Room Under New Management
The Boats at Animal Kingdom (whatever they were called)

May 24, 2018 at 11:01 AM

Opryland’s Chaos. A single train 40 car rollercoaster with not so special special effects. After a three story circular climb to the top, the first few cars crept down the first drop in slow motion as the other 30+ cars were still ascending the lift hill.

May 24, 2018 at 11:08 AM

Journey Into YOUR Imagination was pretty awful. It was so bad that Disney had to shoehorn Figment back into it to give it some sort of semblance

May 24, 2018 at 11:08 AM

Like I said, I just stuck with SoCal here, but definitely Orlando has plenty to add to this list!

May 24, 2018 at 11:42 AM

Don't even get me started on the SEVEN PAGE argument I wrote AT EPCOT guest services after the first Imagination ride retool. It was so horrible and condescending and awful - the most recent (the one that's still there) one is still pretty bad. But not worth a multi page screed.

May 24, 2018 at 11:45 AM

Stitch's Great Escape taking over for Alien Encounter has to be one of the worst moves in Walt Disney World history.

And then of course there's Rivers of Light which was legit already deemed a failure with a replacement in the works before it even entered soft opening previews.

As much as I love Knoebel's, I am amazed that Flying Turns actually made it to opening (and still operates) after what felt like a decade of design and building snafus.

May 24, 2018 at 12:16 PM

This was a fun article. The theme park industry is endlessly fascinating, even if sometimes they produce some duds. Even the duds can be fascinating as a lesson in what not to do.

Of all these duds though, I truly wish that light magic would have worked better. From a creative standpoint, those floats and the massive use of fiber optics was really something special. At least the size of the floats. Those Pixies and the overall look was not very good, but technically, the show was amazing for its time.

May 24, 2018 at 12:37 PM

I think you're forgetting some of DCA's opening day attractions. Golden Dreams for one. And the Bountiful Valley Farm for another, which in case you've forgotten consisted of some crops and the opportunity to take photos with farm equipment. The more I think about it. I think the original DCA as a whole is the biggest flop I can think of in my lifetime.

May 24, 2018 at 12:40 PM

You missed the whole Hard Rock park.

May 24, 2018 at 12:49 PM

"Muppets" and "It's Tough To Be A Bug" may still be around at Disney World, but they didn't last at California adventure, which had too many screen based attractions including closed "Golden Dreams" that had to be edited for being shocking by blowing up some Chinese miners. What else? They made Rosie O'Donnell more tolerable by not having to see her entire routine at "Boudin Sourdough Bakery".

Tomorrowland '98 was the biggest land flop, but California Adventure the Original was the biggest theme park flop.

May 24, 2018 at 1:26 PM

I see you mentioned the "Antarctica" addition to Sea World Orlando but it should be expanded on more. It had a big push (even remember some claiming "better than recent Disney stuff") but it ended up doing little for attendance and soon suffering various shutdowns. So basically, Sea World blew about $60 million on a huge addition that just put them further in their hole.

May 24, 2018 at 1:32 PM

Anthony Murphy is right, any list of WDW flops has to start with Journey into Your Imagination, which even Imagineers themselves today admit was one of their worst ideas ever.

Another contender: The Edge at Six Flags Great America, a "plummet" ride which gained headlines when a cable snapped and sent it crashing off the track, injuring everyone inside (no one was killed despite popular myth). After that, understandably, no one sane wanted to go on it and it was taken apart less than two years later.

May 24, 2018 at 1:39 PM

I'd argue that X was not a flop, as despite all the mechanical issues it still drew a ton of people to the park and continues to be among the most popular attractions today. Personally, I'd say that park's biggest flop was probably either Thomas Town (which failed to attract guests and now often operates limited hours under the generic theme of Whistlestop Park) or Green Lantern (which is a horribly uncomfortable ride that has been SBNO since last summer). Also, if talking about So Cal, either of the wind rides at Knott's (Windjammer or Windseeker) also deserve spots on this list.

I definitely think Submarine Quest is probably the biggest flop from this list as it has no redeeming qualities and barely made it three months, but Light Magic and Creature from the Black Lagoon (which I almost forgot was ever a thing) are pretty high up there. Worldwide, however, it's harder to think of a ride in recent memory that was a bigger failure than Ring Racer or Twist Coaster Robin, two coasters that only operated for a couple days before closing for good.

May 24, 2018 at 1:41 PM

Lots of rides from the Paramount parks: Stealth, Son of Beast, Tomb Raider, Hypersonic XLC.

May 24, 2018 at 2:28 PM

AJ,

I included X only because of what it did to Arrow, which was one of the most influential contractors in the industry's history.

I totally forgot about Windseeker, though, which really does merit Knott's inclusion on this list. That break-down was a major f-up.

May 24, 2018 at 2:45 PM

Sure there have been rides that have flops, but what about ENTIRE parks that have been flops? Hard Rock Park in particular comes to mind...

May 24, 2018 at 3:39 PM

Antarctica at sea world ; I remember seeing the concept art for the land and the ride thinking I was going to be in a boat going through caves of ice seeing penguins , then actually going to the finished product seeing an ice land that looks like dirty concrete and a truly terrible ride

May 24, 2018 at 3:50 PM

submarine quest takes the cake without a question

May 24, 2018 at 3:58 PM

Got to agree with MIkeW ..... Penguin encounter/Antarctica at Sea world is just the pits. Please please just bring the penguins back on their own. I’ve seen that line for the “ride” at 1hr 30mins ... !!
I almost feel I should tell them what they’re letting themselves in for ....

May 24, 2018 at 4:53 PM

How about "The Astuter Computer Review" a show so bad it was closed and retooled at Epcot six months after opening. (It became "Backstage Magic")

May 24, 2018 at 5:11 PM

Gypsy Camp at Knott's, MGM Grand Adventures in LV.

May 24, 2018 at 5:36 PM

In an epic case of "who could've seen that coming?" lets not forget about Six Flags buying Sea World Ohio & Geauga Lake, subsequently losing tons of money and selling it a huge loss to Cedar Fair, who then lost tons of money themselves and ended up literally abandoning the park.

Although to be fair to Cedar Fair, Kinzel did admit the reason they bought the park was protect Cedar Point from competition, so in a way they did accomplish that goal. Though anyone who bought the park would probably have miserably failed anyway if they tried to compete directly with Cedar Point.

May 24, 2018 at 5:50 PM

I've never seen any footage from Super Star Limo!! Oh no!! How? Why?

Rocket Rods actually seemed like it would've been kinda fun (it seemed like it was a decent length ride)

May 24, 2018 at 6:06 PM

The Hard Rock Park in Myrtle Beach was a huge flop. It was a good concept but it never took off and closed just a couple of years after it opened.

May 24, 2018 at 6:55 PM

That's funny what the_man said about six flags and sea world Ohio. I just told my cousin about it earlier today. Speaking of Sea World, I remember when they were building the Waterfront and I was thinking this area is going to be so cool. Then it turn out to just be two restaurants and a few stores.

May 24, 2018 at 8:28 PM

Am I going to be the first to remind everyone of the disaster at DHS that was Sounds Dangerous with Drew Carey? Disney had a lot of mistakes during the last few years under Eisner, and this was probably the most notorious one at Hollywood Studios, forcing you to spend nearly a quarter hour essentially sitting in darkness while being entertained by the "comic antics" of Carey in a bit of synergy that never entertained anyone. It lasted about 10 years, by which time at the end Carey was hosting The Price is Right on CBS, making this a really odd period piece before it deservedly closed.

May 24, 2018 at 10:14 PM

Does anyone know why universal hollywood has had ride sets destroyed several times (king kong,too. perhaps more?). Has any other theme park had this problem more than once? it's odd

May 24, 2018 at 10:18 PM

to be fair. Isn't the submarine listed here, just like the peoplemover. That we all say, we want back? and. the suess overhead ride, in orlando? maybe we should give it a little love. other than the mistake of pretending to be a sub, when it is not.

May 25, 2018 at 1:45 AM

Knott's had a couple of fails, too. My personal favorite, if only for the irony if the name, was Windjammer. This coaster sat where Xcellerator is now and had cars themed with big surfboards that sat vertically behind the riders. Unfortunately, these decorative boards became sails and the coaster would stall if the wind was blowing too strongly from the wrong direction, leading to a wind jam; hence the ironic name.

May 25, 2018 at 2:34 AM

Antartica was and is horrendous.

Twirling around looking at television sets. And that cost 60 million !!!

May 25, 2018 at 2:35 AM

Agree with Wesley...Sounds Dangerous was probably the worst theme park attraction I ever experienced.

May 25, 2018 at 3:42 AM

Dollyywoods Timber Tower.

May 25, 2018 at 4:36 AM

At Dollywood the new ride Lightning rod a coaster with a new type of launching it brand new technology was a fail. It didnt open the day Dolly was there to open it. It was anx still is always broke down. It runs occasionally. My son hated it. People who came for opening were told it wouldnt be open for months.

May 25, 2018 at 4:43 AM

At Dollywood the new ride Lightning rod a coaster with a new type of launching it brand new technology was a fail. It didnt open the day Dolly was there to open it. It was anx still is always broke down. It runs occasionally. My son hated it. People who came for opening were told it wouldnt be open for months. I loved Superstar Limo. I was trying to prove it existed before monsters inc.i think taking down great movie ride is a big mistake. They want a ride based on the new shorts. Its the first mickey cartoons i hate! Hate how they are drawn and they speak other languages!

May 25, 2018 at 5:42 AM

You're not alone, Robert -- I love Universal's classic monster movies and also would have been excited about the idea of a Creature musical. I'd still like to see USO build a dark ride someday that's based on all the classic monsters.... and not that ill-conceived "dark world" stuff.

Add me to the list of folks bashing the Journey into Imagination re-boot... Ugghhh!!!

May 25, 2018 at 8:06 AM

Don't forget MGM Grand Adventures Theme Park. Also, The World of Sid and Marty Krofft. Maybe the shortest lived amusement park ever?

May 25, 2018 at 8:59 AM

Superstar Limo... whoa that brings back a memory of an excited me 17 years ago walking onto a ride with no wait in the new DCA. I remember my family and I got off the ride not saying a single word and moving on to the churro stand. That speaks loudly of it.

Rocket Rods seems like a decent ride with good views and some decent acceleration segments. I was too young to ride but my family was cool with it. It certainly beats whats there now (nothing). But obviously it was more of an engineering misstep.

Creature from the Black Lagoon. I had the pleasure of visiting USH during the six weeks the show was actually open. It was ok but it was definitely a big miss. The amount of people leaving the show was cringey. Once the first people decided to bolt, quite a few other folks decided to do so as well. For all the reasons mentioned before it failed and as someone who witnessed it personally, the show never had a chance past the first 7 or so minutes.

May 25, 2018 at 9:07 AM

As for Submarine Quest, I was actually very excited for it. The end product is obviously what no one had in mind. I really enjoy visiting Sea World San Diego and was ecstatic to first here about this ride but it did not deliver. Now they pretend it doesn't exist. What would have been cool and I think everyone thought this was going to be a sub like ride, Finding Nemo or 20,000 leagues (Disney Sea), but with live animals.

Now they got to fix this. They have the track and vehicles.
Step 1: Don't call it Submarine Quest, rename it to Ocean View or something.
Step 2: Remove the "interactive" screens on board.

What you end up with is a PeopleMover style ride that doesn't pretend to take you under the water and gives you nice views of the park. I don't think they'll invest huge amounts of money to something that was already deemed a failure. It is what it is and time to make the best of it.

May 25, 2018 at 10:32 AM

In my opinion , the New Revolution at Six Flags, Magic Mountain with the Samsung VR feature is a flop! It takes forever for the attendants to put the gear on. When I wore mine, the screen was "forward" when I turned my head to the right. Basically, I rode the entire ride while facing to the right so that was awkward. The feature was also a game about shooting enemies which I lost like less than halfway through the ride. So it was kind of lame that it didnt give me extra lives to enjoy the game at least. Worst idea ever. It's extremely time consuming and the video isn't clear and accurate as conceptually it might have been

May 25, 2018 at 11:15 AM

I guess it depends how we define flop, but... It's really disappointing that Nemesis Sub Terra at Alton Towers has been abandoned by the park for the last three years. It was far from a perfect ride, but was genuinely unique and a really interesting attempt at mixing flat ride and dark ride concepts. It's still sitting behind closed doors, so hopefully one day it'll get the budget for a refresh & revive.

May 27, 2018 at 11:54 AM

A smaller park, but a major flop has to be AutoWorld in Flint, Michigan in the seventies. The area invested a great deal in what was to be a hybrid History of the Automobile museum and theme park. Six Flags agreed to a management contract on it. I was accused of being a pessimist when I said it wouldn't last a full year. I turned out to be the optimist when it closed in six months. This was a great idea but not implemented well. It cost too much for admission and didn't give enough to do inside.

May 25, 2018 at 3:46 PM

The Kong ride at universal orlando sucks. After all the hype big letdown. We also just rode the Eire ride at Busch gardens willamsburg. Talk about wtf!!!

May 25, 2018 at 7:05 PM

Internal studies at Universal Creative are showing BIG MISSES with Kong, Fallon and Fast & Furious. Plans are being developed to PLUS each of the attractions.

While corporate is still hesitant to spend more money, the recent attendance figures, even though they are UNofficial, have given UC more leverage!

May 25, 2018 at 7:44 PM

Hard Rock park in Myrtle Beach was a disaster and a huge waste of money.

May 25, 2018 at 11:20 PM

Maliboomer at DCA - I was one of the few who actually enjoyed it. It quickly disappeared.

Golden Zephyr at DCA - it's a fun ride, but rarely runs because it can't operate in any wind.

And what about Son of Beast at Kings Island? A looping wooden roller coaster sounded interesting, but what a painful ride!

May 26, 2018 at 8:02 AM

Six Flags' X. Two couples were going to meet at a theme park. I am a die hard Cedar Point fan, but had never been on an "X-type" coaster. I got to choose since the other three people didn't care which park. I wasted our whole vacation going to Six Flags for four days. X was closed the entire time. I was not happy, to say the least. The rest of Six Flags was dirty, dated & boring. Still think about that missed CP vacation.

May 26, 2018 at 8:40 AM

X and X2, the same ride. Just a different paint job.

May 28, 2018 at 1:32 AM

A small reaction to (quote)
72.189.136.49
May 24, 2018 at 11:01 AM
"Opryland’s Chaos."
....
> It's all written down in the concept. The exact same of the ORIGINAL of this ride in Belgium, (and so, as a matter of fact, the only one still existing) called Revolution, had the concept marketed clearly as DARK RIDE. It's the dark ride show inside which is the attaction. (Offering several versions of themed shows now !)
Marketing it as a plain dark rollercoaster gives it the wrong expectations. People (alas) seldom can make up their own independent appreciation, they tend to project it on the marketing materials... Revolution in Bobbejaanland, still is a success... (Even after the takeover of the family owned park, by Parques Reunidos multinational group)

May 28, 2018 at 1:37 AM

Splendid China park (Orlando) , most probably flopped due to the Chinese propaganda goals with the park.

May 28, 2018 at 7:38 AM

Disaster Transport at Cedar Point. First dark theme ride - haven't had one since. Wikipedia has a nice breakdown.

May 29, 2018 at 5:30 PM

Fast & Furious Supercharged definitely needs to be added to this list now.

May 29, 2018 at 5:36 PM

Malibooomer disappeared quickly? like 9 years after it opened? It had issues. 52 inch height requirement was the tallest in all 11 parks. The plastic shields believed to be to stop the throw up were for sound suppression like the one sided tubes on Screamin' The screens would often have kids smack into them at launch. Disney did not like a ride that sent kids away with bloody noses. The original restraint check was hard to operate especially for short people and caused a lot of CM complaints. It was fixed. The attraction was also very expensive to maintenance. Popular throughout it's life with adults and big kids. Nothing has taken it's place as although the 180 towers are gone the tower bases are still buried about 60 under the platform. It used the small space well since it went straight up.

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