Since its opening over half a century ago, Disney World has seen many different attractions come and go. Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom have all gone through several phases, which unfortunately means closing some attractions to make room for updated ones.
Keep reading for the most memorable Disney World attractions that have been replaced and will never again be experienced at the parks.
In this article:
The Great Movie Ride
Another fan favorite, The Great Movie Ride was an opening day attraction at Disney-MGM Studios Park (now known as Disney’s Hollywood Studios) in May 1989. The idea for this ride originally came about when Disney was considering creating a show business pavilion at EPCOT and ultimately ended up inspiring the creation of an entirely new third theme park at Disney World.
The Great Movie Ride was an attraction unlike any other at the Disney parks. It combined audio-animatronics, live actors, detailed sets and props, special effects, and projection lighting to highlight 12 classic films from different genres throughout motion picture history. The level of production and coordination the performances took was unbelievable, especially considering the ride ran nonstop every single day.
After a few different refurbishments and changes to the attraction, The Great Movie Ride was officially closed in August 2017. The focus of Disney’s Hollywood Studios had shifted from filmmaking to actual movies and characters created by Disney, and The Great Movie Ride no longer fit that theming.
When it closed to make room for Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, it was the final opening day attraction to shut down permanently. In Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, you can spot several tributes to The Great Movie Ride that show just how iconic it was for so many years.
One of the most beloved attractions in Disney World history, Horizons opened on October 1, 1983, exactly one year after EPCOT’s opening, as part of the park’s Phase II project. When it was initially conceptualized, the ride was going to be called Century 3. It was then changed to Futureprobe before Imagineers finally decided to name it Horizons.
The dark ride was sponsored by General Electric and was built to be a sequel to Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress in Magic Kingdom, which General Electric had originally sponsored at the 1964-1965 World’s Fair. While Carousel of Progress told the story of a family living through different eras of the 20th century, Horizons continued the family’s story into the 21st century.
In June 1993, General Electric ended their sponsorship of Horizons, and the attraction began to experience technical issues. The audio-animatronic figures in the ride were falling apart, and it would break down consistently. The attraction closed for the first time in December 1994, but was reopened in December 1995 when two of EPCOT’s other main attractions had to close for refurbishment.
Horizons closed permanently in January 1999, and its building was torn down starting in July 2000. The demolition of this attraction was historic, as it was the first time that a Disney theme park ride building was completely destroyed to build a new attraction. In 2003, Mission: SPACE opened in the area where Horizons previously stood.
The Timekeeper first opened at Disneyland Park Paris in 1992 with the name Le Visionarium, and then at Tokyo Disneyland the following year as Visionarium. In November 1994, the Disney World version premiered in Tomorrowland at Magic Kingdom.
The original name of the attraction was From Time to Time, and it was located in the Magic Kingdom Circle-Vision Theater. The theater’s name was changed to Transportarium in 1994, and then Imagineers finally settled on the film being called The Timekeeper and the theater The Tomorrowland Metropolis Science Center.
The film, which brought guests on a trip through history in the first Time Travel machine, was unique in its creation. It was Disney’s first Circle-Vision 360 film that featured a fully-fledged storyline (instead of just various videos of landscapes) and utilized audio-animatronics.
Disney World's The Timekeeper was the last version of the attraction to close in November 2006, as Tokyo Disneyland’s Visionarium stopped its showings in 2002, while Disneyland Park Paris’ Le Visionarium ended in 2004. Magic Kingdom’s theater was replaced by Monster’s Inc. Laugh Floor in April 2007.
Delta Dreamflight was the third version of an attraction originally known as If You Had Wings, which opened in June 1972 at Tomorrowland at Magic Kingdom. The name was changed to If You Could Fly in June 1987, and then it officially became Delta Dreamflight in June 1989 when Delta Airlines took over sponsorship of the ride.
The attraction took guests through a variety of sets that featured audio-animatronics and special effects and explored the history of airplanes and human flight. Delta Dreamflight remained in good condition until 1996 when Delta Airlines dropped its sponsorship in favor of the Olympics.
The attraction was renamed Disney’s Take Flight and continued to operate with references to Delta removed, but it was closed in January 1998 to be replaced by Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin.
Discovery River Boats
One of the lesser-known Disney World attractions that will never be experienced again is the Discovery River Boats in Disney’s Animal Kingdom. These boats opened in April 1998 as a means of transportation across the park via the Discovery River. The non-stop ride from one end to the other took guests past the different lands of the park and brought guests close to the Tree of Life area.
Throughout the ride, guests were shown small animals that had been brought on board, and the captain would point out different features of the lands. Unfortunately, many people didn’t realize that the primary use of these boats was for transportation rather than as a standalone attraction, and they ended up being disappointed when they learned that most of the animals shown on the ride could also be viewed elsewhere in the park.
The attraction was renamed to Discovery River Taxi in November 1998, and then to the Radio Disney River Cruise in March 1999, where commentary from Radio Disney DJs was featured during the ride. During the final retheming of the attraction, the boats were refurbished to a new look, and there were no animals on board.
Less than two years after it opened, the Discover River Boats attraction was closed in August 1999. While most of the boats are no longer in use, two of them were renamed to “Calm Seas” and “Fair Winds,” repainted and repurposed for a special pirate-themed fireworks cruise around Bay Lake and Seven Seas Lagoon.
Maelstrom was located in the World Showcase at EPCOT, and it was originally supposed to be named “SeaVenture.” Imagineers even created signage showcasing that name, but sometime between March and July 1988 when it opened, the name was changed to Maelstrom.
The ride was a dark log chute-style attraction that featured several audio-animatronic figures, movement both backwards and forwards, and a drop hill near the end of the ride. While it was a fun attraction when it first opened, it slowly became less popular as newer attractions continued to open at EPCOT.
There had already been plans to refurbish Maelstrom into a Frozen-themed ride before Frozen ever premiered. However, once the movie came out and was wildly successful, the timeline for those plans was sped up, and Maelstrom closed for good in October 2014. Frozen Ever After, which opened in July 2016, utilizes the same log chutes and boat track as its predecessor.
The Studio Backlot Tour
One of the major attractions that opened with Disney-MGM Studios in May 1989 was The Studio Backlot Tour that combined a tram tour through various sets with walkthrough exhibits focused on the magic of moviemaking.
As Disney-MGM Studios was reimagined into Disney’s Hollywood Studios and other attractions became much more popular, The Studio Backlot Tour was downsized several different times. It was refurbished in 2003, 2008, 2009, and 2010 before it closed. One of the biggest changes the attraction experienced was going from a large production involving live performers, special effects, and major scenery and props to a fully automated and self-guided tour through the small areas that remained.
What was left of The Studio Backlot Tour was permanently closed in September 2014, and the demolition process started in 2016 to clear out space for Toy Story Land and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Besides The Great Movie Ride, The Studio Backlot Tour was one of the few remaining attractions that really focused on film production. When it closed, it highlighted the major shift that was occurring in the theming of Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
In an attempt to bring more excitement and intensity to Disney’s Animal Kingdom a few years after it opened, Imagineers created a steel Wild Mouse-style rollercoaster for the new DinoLand U.S.A. area they were planning. Primeval Whirl opened in March 2002 and was the first rollercoaster that opened at Disney's Animal Kingdom.
Primeval Whirl was built with two side-by-side tracks facing in opposite directions and really played into the carnival look of DinoLand U.S.A. Some guests liked the new style of attraction being added to the park, but most didn’t feel that it was up to par with Disney’s standards. Despite being in an area that was meant to feel like a pop-up fair, guests thought the ride seemed too cheesy and cheap for a Disney park, and because of that, ride attendance dwindled. Primeval Whirl was reduced to seasonal operation only in June 2019 and then officially closed in July 2020. The ride track was taken apart in September 2021, never to be experienced again.
The rollercoasters at Walt Disney World today are widely loved by guests, but a few in particular take the cake for the thrill factor and overall ride experience. Check out our 2023 ranking of Disney World rollercoasters!
ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter
Not all Walt Disney World attractions can be fan favorites, and some can even turn out to be hated by most guests. A perfect example of the latter is the ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter that opened in Tomorrowland in Magic Kingdom in June 1995. This attraction took over the space that was previously home to Mission to Mars and began to receive criticism shortly after it started operating.
The premise of the ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter was that guests were being shown the latest teleportation technology when the equipment malfunctioned and transferred a terrifying alien creature into the room. The alien escaped and the lights were cut out, leaving the theater completely dark. From that point on, the attraction included sound effects like heavy breathing and 4D effects like spraying fluids and shaking seats as the alien moved throughout the room.
While some guests appreciated the fact that Disney was offering a more intense attraction with a darker feel, the majority felt that it was too scary for young children and did not approve. The ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter closed for good in October 2003 and was eventually replaced by Stitch’s Great Escape! which used a lot of the same technology and special effects equipment but had a much lighter, sillier feel. Stitch's Great Escape! closed in January 2018, and the building currently remains empty.
Even though the ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter no longer exists, there are still some Disney World attractions that are quite scary. Be sure to check out our list of the scariest Disney rides you might need to skip!
Wonders of Life Pavilion
There are many Disney World attractions that you will never get to experience again, but there are not many full-scale park areas that have closed permanently. Out of the few pavilions to be shut down completely, the Wonders of Life Pavilion is perhaps the most notable, as it was very popular during its prime.
The Wonders of Life Pavilion at EPCOT opened in October 1989 and was devoted to teaching guests about health and fitness. It was originally planned to be part of EPCOT's opening in 1982, but at the time there was not a corporate sponsor available to cover the costs, so the project was placed on hold until MetLife took up the sponsorship.
Within the pavilion there were three main attractions, a restaurant, and several interactive play-and-learn areas. Body Wars was a motion simulator ride that shrunk guests down and sent them into a human’s bloodstream to observe how the body fights off bacteria and infections. Cranium Command was a show where an audio-animatronic soldier named Buzzy had to successfully pilot a 12-year-old boy throughout his day with help from his internal organs. The Making of Me was a short film starring Martin Short that explained where babies come from in a simple and educational way.
All three attractions were well-loved by guests, but when MetLife ended their sponsorship in 2001, the pavilion and its inner parts began to decline. In January 2004, it switched to seasonal operation only, and then on January 1, 2007, all sections of the pavilion closed permanently. The Wonders of Life Pavilion was used for several years as a private event venue and as the Festival Center for the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival and the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival.
It was announced in 2019 that a new interactive pavilion would be built in the area that was previously home to The Wonders of Life Pavilion. It was to be completed in time for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary Celebration in 2021, but the project ended up being delayed indefinitely.
There are always attractions coming and going at the Disney parks. To stay up to date, check out our 2023 list of everything new at Disneyland and Disney World!
What former Walt Disney World attractions do you miss the most? Are there any that you were happy to see go?
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