If you’ve been to a Disney park in the last few years, you know that the technology is getting pretty crazy!
Disney has been developing tech that would pave the way for theme parks since the early years of Disneyland. We’re taking a look at five of Disney’s BIGGEST technological achievements that laid the foundation for the rides of today!
1. Matterhorn Bobsleds
Yes! Even a ride from way back in 1959 could be revolutionary for the technology of the time. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Matterhorn Bobsleds in Disneyland is considered to be the first-known tubular steel continuous track roller coaster!
Tubular Steel was a new innovation for roller coasters. Traditionally, coasters used wooden rails with steel mounted on top. Tubular steel can be bent in any direction allowing designers to create loops, corkscrews, and more! Nowadays, most roller coasters are made of this type of steel, even if wood is still utilized. And it all started with the Matterhorn Bobsleds. Pretty neat, huh?
2. The Enchanted Tiki Room
Next up, we’ve got another totally iconic Disneyland attraction (that’s made its way to Disney World, too!). The Enchanted Tiki Room opened in Disneyland in 1963 as the first ride to incorporate audio-animatronics. Yeah, that’s a pretty big deal.
Per The Imagineering Story, these little robot birds were totally revolutionary and paved the way for attractions like Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln and everything to come — all the way up to the hyper-realistic animatronics of Rise of the Resistance.
The Enchanted Tiki Room was also the very first fully air-conditioned building in Disneyland, but not for the reason you’d think! The building had to be cooled because computers played a central role in the attractions and the giant 1960s computers produced a lot of heat and had to be cooled to work properly!
The attraction also helped to establish the precedent of Imagineering ingenuity. The birds’ chests are covered in custom-woven cashmere that helps them to “breathe.” Imagineer at the time, Harriet Burns, noticed the way that Walt’s cashmere sweater moved in a similar way to how they wanted the breathing to look. Thus, cashmere was chosen!
3. “it’s a small world!”
“it’s a small world!” opened in Disneyland a few years later in 1966 after a successful run at the 1964 World’s Fair. Disney Imagineer Mary Blair created the whimsical, stylistic approach for the attraction.
You might be wondering how a simple boat ride could be so revolutionary, but “it’s a small world” isn’t so simple, especially for the time. The attraction was the first to feature propulsion on a boat ride!
Carnivals had been featuring boat ride attractions for years prior, but none of them could stop and start during the attraction. “it’s a small world!” changed that. The more controlled experience that this produced would be the foundation for years to come. And we still see this tech in use today! Pirates of the Caribbean, Frozen Ever After, and even Na’vi River Journey all are the rides they are today due to the success and innovation of “it’s a small world.”
4. Adventure Thru Inner Space
Now for the only attraction on our list that doesn’t exist anymore! Adventure Thru Inner Space was a popular attraction that debuted in Disneyland’s Tomorrowland in 1967. What was so special about this ride you ask? It introduced the Disney Omnimover!
If you’ve been on a number of Disney rides, you’re already very familiar with the Omnimover. It’s used in attractions like Spaceship Earth, Haunted Mansion, Under the Sea — Journey of the Little Mermaid, Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, and The Seas with Nemo and Friends.
According to The Disneyland Encylopedia by Chris Strodder, an Omnimover had been created before this point, but Disney’s version (developed by Roger E. Broggie and Bert Brundage) allowed the ride vehicles to rotate. This meant that the ride experience could have a more cinematic feel as the vehicle controlled the line of sight.
5. Pooh’s Hunny Hunt
Jump forward in time! The next BIG tech revolution from Disney came in the form of Pooh’s Hunny Hunt in 2000. This ride was introduced in Tokyo Disneyland as the first example of trackless dark ride technology. YES. The tech we’re JUST NOW getting in Disney World on Rise of the Resistance and Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway has been around for twenty years! It didn’t arrive in the domestic parks at all until the debut of Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters in Disney California Adventure’s Cars Land in 2016.
Previously, trackless rides used a dedicated wire embedded in the floor or, like Great Movie Ride or Ellen’s Energy Adventure (formerly Universe of Energy), relied on slow-moving, preprogrammed directions. Each ride was the exact same, each time. The difference in Pooh’s Hunny Hunt is that it’s controlled by an array of sensors (you can see the patent for the tech here!). That’s how the different pots can interact and maneuver around one another in a little dance! These new trackless systems move swiftly and can dart around in a seemingly random manner. Since there aren’t any limits on the ride vehicles, each ride on the attraction can be totally different!
Without the tech developed for Pooh’s Hunny Hunt, we wouldn’t have the tech for Rise of the Resistance, Runaway Railway, Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters, or the upcoming Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure. Pretty crazy to think about!
There you have it! These Disney attractions SERIOUSLY changed the world of theme park technology. And this just scratches the surface of the ways Disney has revolutionized the world of theme park attractions. Disney, and other theme parks around the world, wouldn’t be the way it is today without these OG innovations.
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Which of these tech feats do YOU think is the most impressive? Tell us in the comments!