Disney World looks pretty different than it did back when it opened in 1971.
Over the years, Disney has added three more parks, two water parks, and a TON of new attractions. Still, the World as a whole doesn’t just look different — a few iconic attractions look pretty different too! We’re taking a look at some of the BIGGEST attraction renovations in Disney history! Do you remember the VERY different OG versions of these rides? Let’s find out!
1. Spaceship Earth
Spaceship Earth is Epcot’s flagship attraction and structure, and it’s seen some serious changes over the years. Honestly, this is to be expected with the content of this attraction. Spaceship Earth is a journey through communication throughout history and into the future. As time has gone by and the future became the past, that journey has seen some changes.
Spaceship Earth opened with Epcot in 1982 with a focus on “communication through the ages” and has seen three renovations, with one forthcoming. The first in 1986 won’t count on this list since it made for more minor changes — the addition of two future scenes showing computers used in everyday life and, most notably, replacing the original narrator, Vic Perrin, with famed TV anchor Walter Cronkite. All of the others, including the one that hasn’t happened yet, are pretty significant!
From August to November 1994, Spaceship Earth closed for the first BIG renovation since it opened. Most of the changes occurred toward the end of the ride to get rid of some out-of-date scenes. By the 1990s, the computer in a bedroom scene didn’t seem all that futuristic. Instead, the ride received a scene showing two children communicating via video call.
An entirely new orchestration was implemented for this renovation and, perhaps the most iconic of all, Jeremy Irons provided the new narration. You might recognize his voice from a particularly dastardly lion in The Lion King 😉. The final scenes were redone as well with the removal of a space station scene, and the addition of new architectural dioramas to show electronic communication pathways.
Fun fact! The astronauts who were originally featured in the space station scene were featured in the post-show at Space Mountain until 2009!
Some might remember that Spaceship Earth featured a big Mickey wand next to the building from 2000 to 2007 as a celebration of the new Millennium. Well, the removal of the wand actually accompanied another major renovation for the ride experience of this attraction.
New scenes were added such as the Greek classroom, the mainframe computers, and the garage computer scene. Existing scenes saw some changes to costumes, lighting, and props. This also marked another new score and an updated narration by Dame Judi Dench. Of course, if you’ve ridden Spaceship Earth recently, you know this is still the version of the attraction we can ride today.
It does seem we have another major Spaceship Earth renovation on the horizon as a part of the Epcot Transformation. The ride is set to receive a new narrative and a new focus on storytelling and the human experience. The new version of the attraction is called Spaceship Earth: Our Shared Story.
When the renovation is complete, we should be accompanied through the ride by a mystical story light. Whatever that is!
2. Dumbo the Flying Elephant
Dumbo the Flying Elephant is one of the most iconic Disney attractions. It’s been around since the opening day of Magic Kingdom and a version of it is featured in every single Disney park around the world. That’s some pretty crazy reach! In Magic Kingdom, this ride has received ONE major overhaul, and it’s a pretty big one!
In the early 2010s, Disney World embarked on a massive renovation of Fantasyland in Magic Kingdom. New Fantasyland opened in 2012 with a slew of new rides and areas of the land, including a new area of Fantasyland where Mickey’s Toontown Fair used to be — now called Storybook Circus.
Storybook Circus was the perfect theme to encompass Dumbo the Flying Elephant, and the attraction got a major makeover to help solidify its status as the centerpiece of the area. One of the biggest aspects of this renovation was that the ride was completely RELOCATED! The original Dumbo was located just past Prince Charming’s Regal Carrousel in Fantasyland, but the entire ride was transported down the “road” to its new and current home.
This renovation also added water features, a new soundtrack, and an entire SECOND copy of the original ride, doubling the rider capacity to help lighten the wait times on the high-demand ride.
You might remember the iconic Timothy Mouse on the central hub of the ride, but you won’t spot that little guy in the center of either current iteration of the ride. Instead, you’ll see a new central hub with artwork panels from Dumbo. You CAN however spot Timothy over at the attraction’s sign.
Another MAJOR aspect of this renovation was the introduction of an indoor queue. Instead of a grueling wait in the heat, guests are now given a pager and sent into an air-conditioned play area themed after the circus act in the film. A playground for kids and an AC for the rest of us?! Sign us up!
3. Haunted Mansion
What’s the spookiest ride in Disney World? There are some good contenders, but none are as iconically spooky as Haunted Mansion. Haunted Mansion in Disney World has been around since 1971, but it hasn’t always had all of the scenes that we see nowadays.
Haunted Mansion in Magic Kingdom has had a handful of little updates, but only two major renovations. The first was in 2007 and it was a biggie.
The attraction received an update that featured a more elaborate transformation to the portrait in the entrance foyer, new audio and visual effects in the Stretching Room preshow, and an endless staircase scene right before the endless hallway scene. Hm…how M.C. Escher!
This refurb was also when the original (and TBH WAY spookier!) faceless bride in the attic was replaced with the more animated Constance Hatchaway, who still resides there to this day. Madame Leota‘s ball began to levitate after this refurbishment as well — previously it was stationary on the table.
The most recent major renovation to the Haunted Mansion came in 2011 with the addition of a new interactive queue through the outdoor graveyard of the manor. This is an addition that many love about the new ride. Sometimes, we’d even rather wait in line than get a FastPass (well…almost!).
The interactive elements in the queue include the following: a murder-mystery puzzle made of stone busts, an interactive tomb with musical instruments (and a cat!) that play music when touched, an over-flowing grave of an old Mariner, and a game with Prudence Pock the poetess where you can help Prudence’s spirit to complete her poems.
This renovation also introduced the interactive hitchhiking ghosts to the finale of the ride. Previously, the effect was what we can still see today in Disneyland — animatronics of the hitchhiking ghosts following along with your doom buggy through two-way mirrors! Now, the ghosts are digital and can interact with guests by swapping their heads and more!
4. Peter Pan’s Flight
Technically, the actual ride part of Peter Pan’s Flight has remained largely unchanged since it opened. However, the queue got a pretty major overhaul — major enough to become a mini-attraction on its own and garner a spot on our list.
Similar to Haunted Mansion, Peter Pan’s Flight also got a pretty awesome interactive queue. The space was VERY much needed as this attraction regularly boasts wait times of over an hour and the previously TINY switchback queue couldn’t keep up. Now guests get to wait in an indoor, air-conditioned queue with fun, interactive elements.
The new queue opened in late 2014, but it wasn’t until early 2015 that guests were able to experience the interactive elements of the new line. The new queue starts by entering into a hallway filled with paintings of Neverland before routing guests into the Darling residence — past Nana’s doghouse, down the hallway, and into the nursery. In the nursery, there are more interactive elements such as a really high-tech shadow effect that allows guests to bat at butterflies and ring imaginary bells, and a tiny Tinker Bell flitting around the room causing mischief.
5. Pirates of the Caribbean
Perhaps some of Disney Wold’s most high-profile renovations have happened to Pirates of the Caribbean in Magic Kingdom’s Adventureland. There are many versions of Pirates of the Caribbean around the world, and all of them have had their fair share of modifications. For Magic Kingdom’s Pirates, there have been two big (and two small!) rounds of renovations.
The Pirates of the Caribbean ride was certainly a relic of a different time, and that time came with some, shall we say, dated depictions. You probably know about the recent change to the auction scene (more on that in a minute!), but that wasn’t the first update to the attraction that helped to cast women in a better light.
A minor change was made to one of the pillaging scenes back in 1997 that reframed an aspect of the story. Initially, the scene depicted several rounds of women being chased by pirates in and out of the homes. Ultimately, the scene was switched around so that the women are now chasing the pirates with rolling pins in hand. We have to say… the current version definitely gives us a laugh!
Sure, the Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise is massively successful, but we’d be remiss to forget that the ride actually came first. Now when you’re floating along the ride, you’ll notice characters from the film, but that wasn’t always the case!
In 2006, the ride closed for a pretty big renovation to tie it into the then-newish 2003 hit Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. When the ride reopened, it featured three scenes with new Jack Sparrow animatronics, a Captain Barbossa animatronic on the battling pirate ship, and more. The modifications also resulted in updates to the ride’s lighting, audio, dialogue, and effects, like the waterfall of mist guests traveled through until 2018.
In 2012, the cave portion of the attraction received an overhaul as a tie-in to Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. A cool underwater illuminated mermaid effect was added on the sides of the boats and a tied-up mermaid skeleton was added to the shore. This was SO COOL — while it lasted. The underwater effect proved troublesome to maintain and was so rarely operational that many didn’t notice when it was removed in 2018 along with the projected mist waterfall.
Though this renovation wasn’t that big of a project, we have to mention the 2017 modifications to the ride because of how high-profile they were. We’re talking about the change of the iconic auction scene. Originally, the ride featured a scene where the pirates were auctioning off the town’s women, including a buxom young lass affectionately just known as “The Redhead.”
Now, the featured starlet of the “We wants the Redhead!” chant fame has been reborn as Redd the Pirate. Redd is now seen toting a gun and sporting some flashy pirate garb as she helps the auctioneer to sell off loot that was plundered from the townspeople.
6. Test Track
The last of our major renos is back over in EPCOT at Test Track. If you’ve been to Disney World pre-2012 AND post-2012, you know what we’re talking about. This just might be the most major renovation on the whole list!
Initially, Test Track was sponsored by General Motors. The story was that guests were acting as the first human testers of new cars — supported by the various crash test videos and dummies in the queue. On the ride, you cruised through several vehicular tests including a bumpy ground test, extreme heat, extreme cold, and more before launching out to the outdoor section of the ride. But in 2012, that all changed.
The shift came partially as a result of a switch in sponsorship from General Motors as a whole to just Chevrolet. Now, the queue takes guests through a series of futuristic Chevy models before they arrive in an interactive preshow where guests get to design their very own new SIM car for testing!
After that, guests board the same ride vehicles from the old version (with an updated paint job) and go through a series of tests. The story and track of the ride are similar, but much of the theming is different and the sponsorship feels more apparent (hello, it’s OnStar!). Now, the “tests” on the ride are centered on capability, efficiency, responsiveness, and power. No shock here, but power is that super speedy final bit. 😉
The interactive part comes into play in that your design is scored in each of the four categories and ultimately summed up in a leaderboard in the post-show. At least, that’s what it’s supposed to do but sometimes the interactive portion has some technical difficulties and your car may never show up!
Now we DO have a few honorable mentions! These don’t make the list because their renovations TECHNICALLY turned them into whole new attractions. Still, we wanted to give a shoutout to the major changes going on with these ride stories.
Journey Into Imagination with Figment
You really thought we were going to do a whole article on major renovations without mentioning the history of the Imagination Pavilion in Epcot?! The original iteration of the ride in this Pavilion featured the lovable imaginary dragon, Figment — much as it does today — but it also featured the iconic Dreamfinder.
The ride told the story of how the Dreamfinder created Figment with his imagination, and the duo’s job of dreaming up ideas to take to the Dreamport in their blimp. You used to be able to spot portions of that “Dream Mobile” in EPCOT’s Mouse Gear before it closed for a massive refurbishment of its own! Hopefully this relic of EPCOT’s past makes an appearance again one day! This original iteration of this ride still has many fans in the present (including some of us here at DFB!).
In 1999, the attraction was renovated to become Journey Into YOUR Imagination that paired with Honey, I Shrunk the Audience 4D show nearby in the Pavilion (which took over for Captain EO…but that’s a different post!). We won’t lie…people were not huge fans of this version. The ride path was shortened, there was no Dreamfinder, and there wasn’t nearly enough Figment.
Now, the attraction remains as it was remodeled in 2002. Journey into Imagination with Figment still doesn’t feature the Dreamfinder (we get Dr. Nigel Channing in his place), but it does feature Figment throughout the ride (although the originally whimsical Figment is now more of a nuisance than he is childlike!) as well as a TINY bit of the classic and super catchy “One Little Spark” song from the original ride.
Star Tours — The Adventures Continue
Another attraction that was technically changed to a whole new ride is Star Tours. In 2010, this Star Wars ride was renamed and renovated to become Star Tours — The Adventures Continue. Initially, the ride featured a danger-riddled trip through the galaxy, guided by an R3X droid to one of the moons of Endor. Now, you can see your former pilot pumping out the tunes in Oga’s Cantina instead!
The new ride, Star Tours — The Adventures Continue, is essentially an updated version of the ride. There are many different scenes that you can encounter on your voyage through space — now guided by C-3PO instead of R3X. It added a higher-definition video, an updated ride system, a new screen, new effects, and new audio-animatronics. As sequels to the original Star Wars films were released, updated tie-in scenes were added to the ride as well!
See!? Some Disney World attractions have undergone some SERIOUS renovations! We certainly wonder what the future holds for these attractions and all the others. What sort of renovations will we be talking about 20 years from now?? Guess, we’ll just have to wait and see!
Join the DFB Newsletter to get all the breaking news right in your inbox! Click here to Subscribe!
What renovations do YOU think are the biggest? Tell us in the comments!