Tuesday, September 26, 2017

How much will I really miss recently closed attractions

One popular pastime among many Disney aficionados seems to be generating outrage whenever changes are announced. In recent years, some attraction closures have drawn the ire of many of those fans. While it certainly would be more socially acceptable, at least among the average Disney devotee, to join the crowd and pile on the criticism I chose to look at just how often I actually visited some of these supposedly beloved attractions. I realize my personal tastes are different than other guests, but suspect quite a few people would find similar results if they were inclined to keep the sort of (arguably pedantic) records that I do.

The numbers I will cite here reflect 24 different trips to Walt Disney World since 2010, during which time I spent 114 nights on or near Disney property. I've ridden 854 Disney World attractions over the course of those visits. Given that information, let's take a look at how often I actually chose to ride three of the most recently closed attractions that seemed to cause the most vocal angst in the Disney fan community.

Ellen's Energy Adventure (3)

It was tough to make the case that this attraction was not in need and and overhaul, so when considering whether or not you want to devote 45 minutes to an attraction that is well past its prime, the answer tends to be, "no." Clearly, that sort of thinking affected my choices, as I rode the attraction three times in the last seven years. By comparison, over the same time period I rode Soarin (35) and Spaceship Earth (32) ten times more often and even sat through the Circle of Life film as many times (3) as I traveled back in time with Ellen. If that isn't already striking enough, then perhaps this is. I haven't ridden Ellen's Energy Adventure at all since September, 2012, when I was traveling with a friend's family and one of his son's really enjoyed seeing dinosaurs (which meant that we also had to endure a meal at T-Rex Cafe during the same trip).

While I share some fans concern about the spirit of EPCOT Center being lost, I think that ship sailed long ago. Universe of Energy was a technically impressive pavilion that rarely made anyone's list of favorite original EPCOT Center attractions. Ellen's Energy Adventure didn't substantially improve on the original. Given it's length and our shortening attention spans it's no surprise that more folks chose to skip this pavilion. Whether or not you believe Guardians of the Galaxy will teach us about energy and inspire us to learn more about the topic (I think it's possible, but that's a separate topic), there's no doubt that most Epcot visitors weren't learning anything about the topic, because they weren't riding. I was no exception here.

Great Movie Ride (10)

I go through phases when I take an active interest in movie history. I was in high school when Disney-MGM Studios opened and by the end of my high school tenure I took in a year long film production/film history class, so as far as impressionable kids go, I was certainly in the target market for Disney World's third theme park.Years before we all carried around cameras in our pockets and iMovie made video editing accessible to nearly anyone, a peak behind the scenes of how movies were made was fascinating. The Great Movie Ride was a marvelous celebration of cinema, with tie-ins from classic films of the distant and relatively recent past.

After college I didn't visit any Disney theme parks again until 2010. When I returned to what was now Disney's Hollywood Studios the world had changed and the park was a shell of its former self. Movie and television production had long ceased in the park, the Backlot Tour had been gutted, there wasn't any animation production to tour (and even if there were, watching someone animate on their computer wasn't going to be nearly as compelling as seeing the process of hand-drawn animation), and the Great Movie Ride had lost its luster. I rode Great Movie Ride pretty regularly during my first few forays into the second generation of the Studios theme park, totally ten times in recent years. I rode the attraction on my last trip, in May of this year, but prior to that it had been more than two years since I last made time to see the attraction, skipping the ride nine consecutive trips. To be fair, I've found myself spending a lot less time in the Studios while most of the park's attractions have closed while the park metamorphosizes into Disney's attempt to recycle Universal's old "Ride the Movies" slogan. However, during the same time I've made a point to see Muppet*Vision 3D nearly twice as often  (19 times) as my ten Great Movie Rides, while riding Star Tours more than three times as often (36).

I loved what the Great Movie Ride once was, but over time the attraction lost much of its relevance and some scenes stopped being maintained. There were still considerable lines, sometimes stretching outside the Chinese Theater, but I think that was in part because there were so few other things to do in the Studios in recent years. I understand those who lament it's closing, as the attraction represented the last nail in the coffin of the original vision for the Disney-MGM Studios, but the truth is that original concept was long gone, and unlike EPCOT Center's original vision (which, I believe can be reinvigorated), a working studio in central Florida wasn't coming back. Given that I chose to abandon this attraction a couple years ago, I can't fault Disney for doing the same.

Maelstrom (8)

This is going back a couple years, but few attraction closure announcements generated quite the fury as did the closing on Maelstrom in Epcot's Norway pavilion. To be fair, a lot of the criticism was directed at the decision to theme its replacement to another popular target of Disney fans, the film Frozen. The name of that film seems to have a polarizing effect on many people, either eliciting joy or a reflexive need to express anger at something that became more popular than it may have deserved, with the latter being the expected response in most cases. I can make the argument that the characters from Frozen actually fit quite well with Epcot's intended purpose (I'm working on a more in-depth article addressing that topic), but for now let's focus on how popular the attraction Frozen Ever After actually replaced really was.

I actually rode Maelstrom pretty regularly up through September, 2014, my last visit to Epcot before the attraction sailed off forever, taking eight boat rides past bears, trolls, and oil rigs to learn what life is like in Norway. [NOTE: From 2010 through September, 2014 I rode 451 attractions across all four Disney World theme parks]. This lagged behind the number of times I visited Spaceship Earth (18), Test Track (14), Soarin (13), but was more often than I went on Living with the Land (7) or sat down to watch the American Adventure (3), so I didn't dislike Maelstrom, but I didn't really love it either.

Most of my visits were motivated by convenience and the lack of other moving attractions in World Showcase. The attraction itself was short, less than five minutes long, and there was just about never a line for Maelstrom in its final years. It was rare that I couldn't spare a few minutes to sit down in air conditioning and think back to when the Norway pavilion was new. I somehow managed to wait 11 minutes in line for the boat ride in March, 2012, getting in line at 12:45 PM and not finishing the ride until just after 1:00 PM, but after that I never again waited more than seven minutes for Maelstrom. Did any of those visits inspire me to consider visiting Norway or studying its history? No, it was a choice I made to pass the time in between snacks and drinks while touring World Showcase. In the short time since Frozen Ever After has been open I've already ridden that attraction nearly as many times (7) as I rode it's predecessor in recent years and have stepped off the boat with a smile on my face far more frequently than when I was walking away from Maelstrom.

Summing it Up

As I noted above, these numbers only reflect one person's choices (mine) about how often I chose to experience these attractions, but as I also noted I believe my choices were far more common than some of the loudest critics of these attraction closures would have you believe. There are reasons that I will miss having the chance to trigger memories of the era when these attractions were relevant and vibrant additions to Walt Disney World, but frankly, I won't miss that very much. Seeing as how I already drifted away from riding these attractions very often, it's hard to look back after the fact and argue the spaces they occupy couldn't be put to better use. In the case of Frozen Ever After, we can see that's already happened, so let's hope the same will be true for the new versions of the Energy pavilion and the centerpiece attraction of whatever Disney's Hollywood Studios will be named in the future.