Even the MOST classic Disney attractions aren’t immune from receiving changes!
There are several quotes from Walt Disney himself that illustrate the value the company places on progress and innovation. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that many attractions throughout the Disney theme parks — even some of the most iconic ones — have undergone some pretty significant changes over time.
Some of these changes have been better received than others (stay tuned!), but regardless of how “successful” the updates may have been, it’s still fun to look back at just how different some of our favorite rides used to be. Let’s take a journey into the past to explore some of the biggest changes made to classic Disney attractions!
Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room
Speaking of changes that weren’t so well received, we’re diving in headfirst with The Enchanted Tiki Room (Under New Management). In 1998, Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room in Magic Kingdom received an updated storyline that added Zazu from The Lion King and Iago from Aladdin into the mix as hosts.
While the show started out pretty much the same as the classic, in the new version, the performance of “The Tiki, Tiki, Tiki Room,” was interrupted by Iago with a loose rendition of “Friend Like Me.” He was quickly joined by Zazu, and the two became the central focus of the remainder of the show.
The updated version of the attraction was pretty universally panned by long-time fans of the original and first-time visitors alike. It lacked the charm of the classic and many guests found the new storyline grating. They took two animated characters often regarded as in their films to be annoying comic relief to the main characters…and made them the new stars of an already beloved attraction. No bueno.
Those silly birds must have angered the tiki gods because in January 2011, a small fire broke out in the attraction building, causing a months-long closure. The attraction reopened as Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room once again, with an abridged version of the original show.
While many of the changes on this list have stuck around for good, we’re certainly not upset to see this attraction revert back to a more classic version!
The Great Movie Ride
One of the opening day attractions at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (or Disney-MGM Studios, as it was known at the time), The Great Movie Ride took guests INSIDE the movies. For just over 28 years guests could enter the replica of Grauman’s Chinese Theater and take a slow-moving ride through classic scenes in movies.
But The Great Movie Ride ended its run in August 2017, when it was closed to make way for Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, which is now housed inside The Chinese Theatre.
The exterior of the attraction building remains pretty much the same (except for the updated signage, of course), so unsuspecting guests visiting for the first time in a few years might not even realize the change at first glance. But the moment guests enter the building, the changes become pretty clear.
This was one of the more polarizing changes to a classic attraction. While guests have raved about the technology and entertainment value of Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, there’s still a dedicated fandom for The Great Movie Ride as well. In fact, we even have DFB team members that fall on both sides of the fence!
The argument could be made that the essence of the original attraction remains — guests are being pulled into the “movies,” they’re just joining a Mickey short film now. But Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway definitely has a much different vibe than The Great Movie Ride, the OG inhabitant of The Chinese Theatre.
Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride
This classic Fantasyland ride was an opening day attraction at both Disneyland Park and Magic Kingdom. Luckily for Mr. Toad fans, the Disneyland version still remains…
…but the Magic Kingdom attraction was closed in September 1998 to make way for The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.
The storyline and characters within the attraction underwent a complete overhaul when Mr. Toad was swapped out for Winnie the Pooh. The most noticeable change? Mr. Toad was a two-track ride, offering guests the option to experience two slightly different tracks. Pook has only one track. The space the second track occupied…turned mostly into the Pook-themed gift shop at the end of the ride. 😳 But, there are still several nods to Mr. Toad in Magic Kingdom, including one in the attraction itself.
When guests first enter Owl’s house on the ride, on the left they can spot a portrait on the wall that shows Mr. Toad handing the deed to the attraction over to Owl.
Guests can also find Mr. Toad on their way out of a VERY different attraction — the Haunted Mansion. Near the exit of the attraction, there is a pet cemetery up on the hill. If you look closely, you can spot a statue of Mr. Toad in the center near the top of the hill! His tombstone moves around from time to time but if you look closely, you’ll spot Toad’s final…resting place? 😂
If you need to get your Mr. Toad fix in Magic Kingdom now that the attraction has been changed, at least there are still a few small nods to him around the park!
Maelstrom is another classic attraction that was closed and completely rethemed but the RIDE itself — meaning the track and vehicles — remain the same. This boat ride was located in EPCOT’s Norway Pavilion in the space now occupied by Frozen Ever After.
Maelstrom took guests on a boat ride on a Viking-themed ship past scenes of Norwegian villages, seafarers, and animatronic trolls.
Maelstrom gave its final ride in 2014 when it was closed to make way for Frozen Ever After. The new attraction still uses the same ride system and track, including the memorable sequence where the boat travels backward. (Only this time, it’s not because you angered trolls!)
And we have some good news — guests can still spot a troll in the Norway Pavilion! In fact, it’s a BIG one. Conveniently enough, The Fjording, which is the gift shop guests pass as they exit Frozen Ever After, is now your go-to place for a troll sighting. The massive Norway Troll is there (you can’t miss him!) and has been a popular spot to snap pictures for decades!
Pirates of the Caribbean
Pirates of the Caribbean has undergone a number of tweaks and changes throughout the years. But perhaps the most notable is the addition of Jack Sparrow in several scenes throughout the attraction.
Jack Sparrow was a character created for the 2003 Pirates of the Caribbean film and he was nowhere to be found in the original version of the attraction. But following the popularity of the movie, Captain Jack Sparrow was added to several of the ride scenes in 2006.
This change might be surprising for guests unaware that, in the case of Jack Sparrow, the movie inspired the attraction rather than the other way around!
Journey Into Imagination
Ohh this is a sore spot for many longtime fans of EPCOT. Journey Into Imagination first opened in EPCOT in 1983. It has gone through several different iterations throughout the course of its history, becoming Journey Into Your Imagination in 1999 and Journey Into Imagination with Figment in 2002. Spoiler: most fans of Figment do NOT approve of these newer versions.
The original Journey Into Imagination attraction featured Figment and the Dreamfinder as the central characters. The Dreamfinder was on a mission to collect dreams and ideas to create all sorts of new things. In fact, he created Figment (he is a FIGMENT of your Imagination, after all!). It was a classic ride with an inspiring storyline to create and use your imagination to its fullest potential. This version is considered by many to be the best of all the ride iterations.
A new version of the attraction, Journey Into Your Imagination, made its debut in 1999 and many fans didn’t care for the changes. The Dreamfinder was completed removed from the ride and Figment’s role in the story was drastically reduced.
Given the unpopular reception, Journey Into Your Imagination was closed in October 2001 and reopened as Journey Into Imagination With Figment in June 2002. It was…a big change from the original storyline. Now instead of searching for things that spark creativity and imagination, guests visit the “Imagination Institute” and learn about the 5 senses all while Figment causes mischief.
Figment was given a much larger role with the updates, although the Dreamfinder still didn’t make his return. Figment is less of a loveable childlike dragon and more of a pest in the current version. Plus, skunk smells. Yuck. Here’s hoping we meet the real Figment again sometime in the future!
This attraction opened as Soarin’ Over California in Disney California Adventure in 2001, and as Soarin’ in EPCOT in 2005. The original version of the ride took guests on a trip above scenes throughout the state of California, including Yosemite National Park, Napa Valley, Lake Tahoe, Palm Springs, and more.
In 2016, the attraction was changed to Soarin’ Around the World in both Disney California Adventure and EPCOT. As the name suggests, the updated version of the ride took guests to locations all over the world, with visits to the Great Wall of China, Sydney Harbour, Mount Kilimanjaro, and more.
Reviews were mixed on the update, with some guests pointing out the warping evident during certain scenes with prominent vertical images, such as the Eiffel Tower. Even Spaceship Earth at the end is a little wonky. The original ride featured mostly shots of nature, making the warping less noticeable.
While the attraction in EPCOT has remained the same since the initial change, the original Soarin’ Over California version did briefly return to Disney California Adventure for the summer of 2019 and again in early 2020.
The big changes, aside from the visuals, were an updated (but similar) score and NEW SMELLS. The OG Soarin’ featured smells like a beach, pine, and the incredible smell of an orange grove (we got Horizons flashbacks for sure!). The new ride has updated smells to go with the new scenes like grass, flowers, and more. We think both iterations of the attraction have some strong points, so we’d love to see a dedicated theater for each version. How ’bout it, Disney??
Let’s round out our list with one of the most iconic Disney attractions! Haunted Mansion is another ride that has undergone a number of tweaks and changes throughout the years, but a 2006 refurbishment brought the biggest changes to the storyline.
The 2006 refurbishment introduced Constance Hatchaway, the ghostly bride in the attic. We meet Constance as we pass by portraits of her and her former husbands, who each met a violent and untimely demise.
Constance obtained her wealth by marrying rich men and then murdering them following their wedding day. That’s why each time we see her in the attic following another marriage portrait, she’s wearing an additional strand of pearls around her neck.
It’s hard to imagine Constance is a relatively recent addition to the Haunted Mansion — she’s so iconic, we’ve even seen Constance-themed snacks! There WAS an attic bride before her, but she was nameless and played a much smaller role.
And that’s not the only change the 2006 refurbishment brought to the Magic Kingdom attraction. The endless staircase scene at the beginning of the ride was also a new addition. Prior to the refurbishment, this was just a dark room filled with spiders and cobwebs. The other notable change (there have been many smaller ones over the years) was in 2011 when the interactive graveyard, featuring tombstones that play music, squirt water, and more, opened to guests in the stand-by queue!
You can walk past Master Gracey’s grave, play an interactive organ, and even get a divination from the other world!
All these examples just go to show that even the most iconic rides and attractions aren’t exempt from major changes! Whether it’s an updated storyline or a complete overhaul, Disney isn’t afraid to shake things up. And that’s part of what makes visiting the parks so exciting, even on our first, fifth, tenth, or hundredth visit!
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What are your thoughts on these attraction changes? Let us know in the comments!