As large as the theme parks are in Orlando, they only have so much space and there’s only so much time a ride can be considered relevant or exciting. With visitors returning to Orlando year after year, the parks are always bringing something new to enjoy, with technological advancements and amazing ideas. Unfortunately, this sometimes means one of the older rides needs to step aside and make way. Here are some of our favourites that we remember fondly…
Where: Norway Pavilion, World Showcase, Epcot
When: 1988 - 2014
What’s There Now: Full details are yet to be revealed, but it’s confirmed that a Frozen-themed attraction is on the way, due for a 2016 opening.
You might be forgiven for not even knowing that there were rides in the World Showcase area of Epcot, given how the park is divided, with most rides being in the Future World area. However, Maelstrom was a neat little gem, tucked away in the Norway Pavilion (and it provided a welcome retreat if caught out during one of Florida’s sudden tropical downpours).
Visitors would ride in Viking-style boats on a traditional log-flume style ride. You would pass through various Norwegian-themed scenes involving animatronics, transported into Norway’s history on the seas, along with Norwegian mythology, including encountering trolls in a forest. Then, the ride switches and you begin travelling backwards (serving as a precursor to Expedition Everest in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, no doubt) until you almost topple over a waterfall. The boat soon rights itself and once again you’d be travelling forwards, to then plunge down a drop into stormy seas.
The ride was perhaps not going to be anyone’s ultimate favourite, but it served well as a quaint little presentation of Norway’s history, mythology, intrigue and adventure. Many Disney fans are sad to see it go, but undoubtedly, many more are going to equally love the future Frozen attraction that will be taking its place.
Where: New York, Universal Studios Orlando
When: 1990 - 2002
What’s There Now: Revenge of the Mummy: The Ride
This ride hasn’t been in Orlando for over ten years, but it is still sorely missed by those who remember it. This could explain why Kong is rumoured to be returning in a new Skull Island area, apparently in development now at Universal’s Island of Adventure.
First, there was the King Kong Encounter section of The Backlot Tour at Universal Studios Hollywood, which was developed into a full ride experience, Kongfrontation in Orlando. Unfortunately, The Backlot Tour suffered a fire in 2008 and the original scene was destroyed.
In this very submersive and elaborate ride, guests ride on board aerial trams through the skies and tall buildings of Manhattan. Not really the safest place to be when a giant gorilla is on the rampage. You see the destruction left in Kong’s wake and hear him before you end up face-to-face with the beast, who clearly has a problem with trams. There was a genuine sense of (fun) peril on this ride involving plenty of opportunities to scream, despite your antagonist being an animatronic gorilla from a movie made in 1979. If the rumours are true, we can’t wait to see what the new Kong incarnation brings in 2016.
3. EXTRATERRORESTRIAL ALIEN ENCOUNTER
Where: Tomorrowland, Magic Kingdom
When: 1995 - 2003
What’s There Now: Stitch’s Great Escape
Guests enter under the premise that they are going to be witnessing a demonstration of new technology from an alien corporation called ‘X-S Tech’, chaired by an alien figure called L.C. Clench. On the way, you witness a demonstration of the company’s (clearly flawed) transportation technology. Remember this. It’s flawed. This is important.
Finally, in the main section of the attraction, guests are seated in a circular chamber with the seats all facing a huge glass tube in the centre of the room. Due to a bungle made by Clench and his scientists, that flawed teleportation technology we witness earlier accidentally brings a rather hostile and horrible-looking alien creature into room. Luckily, it’s safely inside the glass tube… but not for long. The creature breaks out and the room is plunged into darkness as the power is lost. Using a mixture of live actors and very clever technology in the seats, you sit helplessly harnessed into your seats, as an alien creature not only kills one of the ‘X-S Tech’ team, but climbs over the back of your seat, touches you and breathes down your neck. Eventually, the alien is transported back to wherever it came from and you are released back into the park, albeit a little shaken from your traumatic ordeal.
Looking back, it’s hard to even believe that this attraction existed. One of the most intense and scariest experiences to be had in Orlando (there was even a warning at the entrance to this thing) and it was at Magic Kingdom?! But we know it was there and we know it was great.
Where: Amity, Universal Studios Orlando
When: 1990 - 2012
What’s There Now: Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts (The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley)
Like Kongfrontation, the Jaws ride in Orlando was based on a scene in The Backlot Tour at Universal Studios Hollywood. Unlike in Hollywood, where guests would be safe in the comfort of a tour bus, riders rode in boats where a killer shark poses much more of a threat.
Your boat is operated by one of Captain Jake’s skippers (a live actor), who intends to take you on a tour of areas made famous in the summer of 1974, when Amity was laid siege to a huge killer shark (as portrayed in the film, Jaws, based on these ‘true’ historical events). You pass the ‘real’ chief Brody’s house and are soon diverted by a distress call on the radio, followed by discovering the sinking remains of another tour boat (uh oh!). Unsurprisingly, there’s a new Great White Shark in town and he likes the taste of boats (and the people inside them, particularly). Your skipper tries to steer you to safety and even attempts to haphazardly use a grenade-launcher to save you (cue lots of explosions and special effects). In a final showdown, the shark electrocutes itself on a power cable and you are safe at last. Hurrah!
To put it simply, this ride was awesome. As such, fans may be understandably sad to see the fin of their favourite killer shark disappear off into the distance, but the incredible marvel that is Diagon Alley is a marvelous substitute to magic away those wistful nostalgic pangs. One epic surely hands the torch to a fully-deserving other, to continue carrying the Universal flame onwards and upwards.
5. BACK TO THE FUTURE: THE RIDE
Where: San Francisco, Universal Studios Orlando
When: 1991 - 2007
What’s There Now: The Simpsons Ride
For theme park fans, this ride was one of the most emotional to say goodbye to, as the Back to the Future series is so beloved by so many of a certain generation. In its final moments, there were rumours in circulation that it was going to be replaced with a ride based on the Fast and the Furious franchise. Instead, The Simpsons won the honour.
This immense simulator ride had guests ‘testing’ new 8-passenger DeLorean time machines for Doc Brown (Great Scott!) and ‘The Institute of Technology’. Simultaneously, Biff Tannen (Hello? Anybody home?) is joyriding in another DeLorean, which he stole from the Institute. So it’s down to you to help Doc Brown (who is talking to you via a monitor) and track down and stop Biff before he creates a time paradox, which, to quote Doc Brown himself, ‘The results of which could cause a chain reaction that would unravel the very fabric of the space-time continuum and destroy the entire universe’. So you chase Biff through various time periods including the ice age and Cretaceous Period, and various engine failures and near-misses with dinosaurs. Eventually, you catch up to Biff and return with him to present day, where time is fortunately unaffected by his antics.
Maybe it was the right time for the ride to retire. Other great simulator rides in Orlando were either being updated with HD visuals (The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man) or built anew (Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey) and the Back to the Future Ride probably needed updating, especially when the future year of 2015, a key element of the franchise, is soon to become a bygone year in reality. Fans of the movies can still see the DeLorean time machine and the train from the third movie around Universal Studios. Also, if you’re lucky enough to catch him, you can have your photo taken with Doc Brown himself.
HONORARY MENTION: TWISTER… RIDE IT OUT (RUMOURED)
Where: New York, Universal Studios Orlando
When: 1998 – it’s not closed just yet!
What’s There Now: Who knows what future plans are afoot?
The latest on the rumour-mill is that Twister… Ride it Out is in line for retirement. There are mixed opinions on this attraction. Visitors either tend to really like it or they really don’t. It could be that the film is nearly twenty years old and (returning) guests now after their attractions to be a little more ‘edgy’ and current. So Twister could be going the way of the rest of this list and taking its final spin, soon.
It’s worth checking this out before it goes, just in case, because the simulated twister in the final ‘scene’ of this experience is a technical triumph and must be seen (even just for the flying cow). It might just be a rumour, but still, once it’s gone, it’s gone!