Disneyland 2055: What the future may hold for the original Disney park
It’s been almost a decade since Disneyland opened a truly new attraction and nearly two decades since the Anaheim theme park introduced a groundbreaking new ride.
You have to go back to 2005’s Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters for the last truly new attraction at Disneyland — and that was a knockoff of a Walt Disney World ride.
The last groundbreaking ride at the park was Indiana Jones Adventure in 1995. Rocket Rods opened during the 1998 Tomorrowland makeover, but that star-crossed ride has long since retired to Yesterland.
Since then, there have been extensive rehabs (Star Tours in 2011), elaborate refreshes (It’s a Small World in 2009) and substantial rethemes (Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage in 2007), but few major changes that significantly altered the complexion of the 59-year-old theme park.
As Disneyland approaches its 60th anniversary, I thought it would be a good time to take a wildly speculative look at what the original Disney theme park might look like over the coming decades with an eye toward the 100th anniversary in 2055.
What will still be around when Disneyland hits the century mark? What will be long gone by then? And what new rides and attractions will be added?
While there’s little room for Disneyland to grow beyond its existing footprint, there’s still plenty of opportunity for change at the tradition-bound park over the next 40 years.
So what’s untouchable, what’s vulnerable and what’s possible? Join me as I pull out my crystal ball and play armchair Imagineer with a few educated guesses at what the future holds for Disneyland.
I’ve looked at a number of factors in crafting my predictions. Have similar rides been removed or added at other Disney parks? Which classic rides didn’t make the cut when new Magic Kingdom-style parks were built? What Disney or Pixar characters still don’t have a ride? And are there any abandoned or proposed concepts that might finally come to realization?
I’ve identified a baker’s dozen of beloved rides that I believe can never be removed from Disneyland. That leaves big chunks of Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, Adventureland, Frontierland and Toontown for Walt Disney Imagineering to work their magic while sparing most of Main Street USA, New Orleans Square and Critter Country.
Some of the ideas will be obvious, others surprising, a few blasphemous. In all cases, your feedback is encouraged in the comments field.
Let’s take a land-by-land look at what Disneyland might look like at its centennial celebration.
Main Street USA
Untouchable: Disneyland Railroad
Vulnerable: Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln
Possible: Walt Disney Story
Walt Disney’s love of trains helped inspire his original theme park, making the Disneyland Railroad the first of the untouchable rides in my baker’s dozen.
It doesn’t hurt that railroads operate at all five of the Magic Kingdom-style parks — the castle-centric copies of Disneyland built in Florida (Magic Kingdom), France (Disneyland Paris), Japan (Tokyo Disneyland) and China (Hong Kong Disneyland).
Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln debuted at the 1964 New York World’s Fair and can feel that dated to younger audiences. A 2009 refresh of the attraction, one of Disney’s first attempts at audio-animatronics, did little to improve attendance at the often-overlooked classic.
One possibility for the opera house on Main Street USA: A movie planned for the Carthay Circle Theater at Disney California Adventure called “The Walt Disney Story,” focusing on the early years of the animator’s career.
Untouchable: Dumbo’s Flying Elephants, Mad Tea Party, King Arthur Carousel, It’s a Small World and Matterhorn Bobsleds
Vulnerable: Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Peter Pan’s Flight, Pinocchio’s Daring Journey, Snow White’s Scary Adventures, Alice in Wonderland, Storybook Land Canal Boats and Casey Jr. Circus Train
Possible: Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Dueling Dumbos, Barnstormer coaster, Mickey’s Philharmagic, the Golden Mickeys, Aquatopia, Lair of the Dragon, Rock Candy Mountain and Rainbow Road of Oz
It says a lot about the importance of Fantasyland in the lore of Disneyland that nearly half the untouchable rides can be found in the park’s central land.
All but one of the untouchable rides in Fantasyland can be found at each of the existing Magic Kingdom-style parks. The exception: Matterhorn Bobsleds, a one-of-a-kind ride found only at Disneyland.
While it pains me to say it, all of the classic dark rides in Fantasyland could be gone by 2055. History hasn’t been kind to the beloved attractions that would look like ancient relics if it weren’t for the nostalgic attachment felt by generations of riders.
Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and Alice in Wonderland seem the most in danger of an early demise. Both rides can only be found at Disneyland, with Disney World removing its version of Mr. Toad in 1998.
Disney World removed its Snow White dark ride in 2012 to make way for a Seven Dwarfs-themed coaster. As a rule, Disney parks tend to have only one attraction per movie property or character, to preserve the illusion for young visitors that the film’s protagonist “lives” inside the attraction. While I’d love to see a Seven Dwarfs coaster in Anaheim, I’m not sure I’d be willing to sacrifice Snow White’s Scary Adventures to make it happen.
The paired attractions of Casey Jr. Circus Train and Storybook Land Canal Boats have been re-created only at Disneyland Paris, making the Anaheim parcel a prime location for a new attraction.
Pinocchio’s Daring Journey was never built at Disney World or Hong Kong Disneyland and isn’t planned for Shanghai Disneyland, which can’t boost the boy puppet’s confidence. It’s not hard to imagine Disneyland combining the adjacent Pinocchio and Snow White attractions — two of the least popular and shortest rides in Fantasyland — into a new home for a recent movie like “Frozen” or “Tangled.”
The safest of the Disneyland dark rides (much to my daughter’s delight): Peter Pan’s Flight. Consistently long lines should help preserve this ride for the immediate future.
One upside: Disneyland possesses the only complete collection of the classic dark rides. Hopefully that remains the case in 2055.
The recent expansion of Orlando’s Fantasyland introduced the Seven Dwarfs mine train, a rethemed Goofy’s Barnstormer coaster, a dueling Dumbo ride and a “Beauty and the Beast” restaurant. Disneyland completely revamped Fantasyland in 1983. Is the marquee land due for another makeover?
The most logical addition to Anaheim’s Fantasyland would be Mickey’s Philharmagic, a 3-D concert film found in Orlando, Tokyo and Hong Kong.
But there are plenty of other possibilities. Tokyo has an Aquatopia water ride. Hong Kong has a Golden Mickeys awards show. Shanghai is getting an updated version of Peter Pan’s Flight.
While literally dozens of as-yet-unrealized Fantasyland projects have been proposed over the years, my two favorite remain Rock Candy Mountain and Rainbow Road to Oz. Either would be a colorful delight.
Among the Disney characters who might someday get a ride in Fantasyland: Bambi, Cinderella and “Frozen” sisters Elsa and Anna. One idea: Convert the Snow White dark ride to a Cinderella theme and add the Seven Dwarfs coaster.
And my biggest wish: A dragon’s lair underneath Sleeping Beauty castle, just like at Disneyland Paris.
Untouchable: Star Tours
Vulnerable: Astro Orbiter, Innoventions, Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, Captain EO, Space Mountain, Disneyland Monorail, Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage and Autopia
Possible: Stitch Encounter, Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Test Track, Tron Lightcycles Power Run, Stark Expo, Incredibles PeopleMover, Wall-E dark ride and Star Wars overlay
There have been so many “new” Tomorrowlands it’s hard to keep count. Time and again, keeping up with the future has proved difficult for Disneyland.
Beyond Star Tours, pretty much everything in Tomorrowland is in play. Which can be both terrifying and exhilarating, depending on your point of view.
While nobody would be surprised (or saddened) to see Innoventions or Captain EO fade into history, Disneyland would seem incomplete without Space Mountain or the monorail.
But the aging coaster hidden inside the pitch black Space Mountain will be a steel dinosaur by 2055. It’s not hard to imagine the Disney brass pitching a Tron overlay for every Space Mountain if the Lightcycle Power Run moto-coaster proves a tremendous hit in Shanghai.
And you have to question the long-term longevity of the monorail after the powers-that-be opted against a stop at the Grand Californian hotel or DCA when the second gate was built in 2001. How useful would the expensive-to-maintain elevated train system be if Disney built a third gate in the old strawberry field at Katella and Harbor boulevards but decided not to expand the monorail route? At what point does a transportation necessity become a costly novelty?
Consuming an astounding seven acres, the two least futuristic attractions in Tomorrowland — Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage and Autopia — have long been rumored to be on the chopping block. Combined with the footprint of a demolished Innoventions, a major new land or significant expansion could be carved out of that space. Among the possibilities: Stark Expo based on Marvel’s Iron Man franchise.
Versions of Astro Orbiter and Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters can be found at all five Magic Kingdom-style parks. But neither ride is safe from the wrecking ball.
Astro Orbiter has bounced around over the years and would almost certainly not remain in its current location during any future Tomorrowland makeover (if it survived at all). And Astro Blasters is already looking like the Frontierland shooting gallery compared to the technically advanced Toy Story Midway Mania across the esplanade in Disney California Adventure.
The most obvious piece missing from Anaheim’s Tomorrowland is some version of a Stitch attraction found in Orlando, Paris or Hong Kong. Hopefully the existence of the similar Turtle Talk attraction at DCA rules out the need for any of those woeful imports. Same goes for the abysmal Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor at Disney World. I’d much rather have DCA’s underloved Mike & Sulley to the Rescue dark ride.
It’s the same story for the far-superior Test Track at Epcot and Journey to the Center of the Earth at Tokyo Disney Sea. With a similar ride system in Cars Land’s Radiator Springs Racers, we’re unlikely to see clones of those rides in Anaheim anytime soon.
So what is possible? I have always been partial to Incredibles-style pod vehicles on the old PeopleMover track. And a cutting-edge Wall-E dark ride would be a perfect fit for Tomorrowland.
Untouchable: Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Mark Twain Riverboat and Sailing Ship Columbia
Vulnerable: Tom Sawyer Island, Davy Crockett’s Explorer Canoes and Fantasmic
Possible: Geyser Mountain, Discovery Bay
Keeping the Disneyland mountain range intact, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad joins the list of 13 untouchable rides. And if you’re keeping count, I consider the Mark Twain Riverboat and the one-of-a-kind Sailing Ship Columbia a single attraction, since they run along the same course.
It’s pretty hard to imagine Disneyland ever draining the Rivers of America in favor of a new land, but it’s much easier to envision Tom Sawyer Island receding into memory. Just think how amazing a Treasure Cove based on the Shanghai Disneyland renderings would look across the river from Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean ride.
Not everything is out of harm’s way on the Rivers of America, though. Davy Crockett’s Explorer Canoes only ply the waters of Anaheim and Tokyo after being run aground in Orlando and Paris. And Fantasmic is looking pretty puny and outdated alongside the skyscraping fountainworks of DCA’s World of Color.
The biggest untapped space in Disneyland is a nine-acre expanse in Frontierland that includes Big Thunder Ranch and the Circle D horse ranch in a backstage area of the park.
The best idea ever pitched for this location: a freefall ride called Geyser Mountain themed to an erupting hot spring that would utilize Tower of Terror technology to rocket riders skyward on a plume of steam.
Another possibility that advanced to the scale model stage is Discovery Bay, a Jules Verne-inspired land with a retro-futuristic steampunk theme. Various plans envisioned a blimp flight simulator, an electromagnetic coaster, a balloon ride and an underwater submarine restaurant.
Untouchable: Jungle Cruise
Vulnerable: Indiana Jones Adventure, Tarzan’s Treehouse and Enchanted Tiki Room
Possible: Festival of the Lion King, Magic Carpets of Aladdin, Sinbad’s Storybook Voyage and Tarzan’s Rainforest coaster
At five acres, Jungle Cruise has one of the largest footprints of any attraction at Disneyland. And while the classic boat ride with the humorous spiel isn’t going anywhere, the wooded fringes of the massive ride could prove attractive for future park expansions.
Indiana Jones Adventure was revolutionary when it debuted in 1995, but the motion simulator-based dark ride has been showing it’s age of late. Regular breakdowns and extensive down times mean the ride can’t last forever in it’s current state.
While Disneyland still operates an original version of the Enchanted Tiki Room, other Disney parks have not treated the audio-animatronic bird attraction with as much reverence.
For a decade or so in Florida, the Tiki Room at Disney World’s Magic Kingdom was put under the new management of Iago and Zazu, the wisecracking birds from “Aladdin” and “The Lion King.” Tokyo Disneyland has treated the beloved singing bird show even worse, adding a Las Vegas nightclub theme to the Tiki Room in 1999 and a Hawaiian “Lilo and Stitch” overlay in 2008.
It’s stunning that Disneyland still doesn’t have a Lion King attraction. While Epcot has a “Circle of Life” movie, the spectacular “Festival of the Lion King” found at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Hong Kong Disneyland would be a much better fit at Disneyland. But with the cramped confines of Adventureland, the show building would have to be located someplace backstage like the Indy ride.
Aladdin is one of the few characters that has a home at both Disneyland and California Adventure, although thematically he fits better in Adventureland. That said, Disneyland has never really figured out what to do with the Aladdin’s Oasis space. It’s been a themed restaurant, a dinner theater, a meet-and-greet area and a storytelling venue.
The Florida, Paris and Tokyo parks have Aladdin-themed flying carpet rides that are basically Dumbo knockoffs, but the limited space in Disneyland’s Adventureland might prevent the addition of the spinning attraction.
Another option might be to import Sinbad’s Storybook Voyage from Tokyo Disney Sea, an Arabian-themed indoor boat ride that’s a cross between Pirates of the Caribbean and It’s a Small World. Once again, space would be an issue, but the Indy building might be vacant by then.
One idea that would be ideal for Adventureland but never made it off the drawing board is Tarzan’s Rainforest roller coaster, originally envisioned for Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
Imagine a partially hidden Tarzan coaster swinging through the Jungle Cruise treetops and swooping across the meandering river at multiple locations. The apeman coaster would be a far better representation of the Disney film than Adventureland’s existing walk-through Tarzan Treehouse, a retheming of the original Swiss Family Treehouse.
New Orleans Square
Untouchable: Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean
Possible: Ratatouille dark ride
New Orleans Square is probably the most bulletproof land in the park, in part because it’s home to only two rides, both untouchable: Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean.
It’s certainly possible POTC might someday get the Battle for Sunken Treasure update coming to Shanghai Disneyland and the Haunted Mansion’s Doom Buggies could receive a ride vehicle upgrade similar to Hong Kong’s Mystic Manor.
One attraction that would thematically fit nicely in the French Quarter-inspired land is the new Ratatouille dark ride at the Walt Disney Studios park in Paris.
Untouchable: Splash Mountain
Vulnerable: Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
Possible: Grizzly Gulch
Easily the least-defined area of the park, Critter Country is a dead-end bottleneck that cries out for a complete reimagineering.
While Splash Mountain will still be here in 2055, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the attraction get a new story line and improved ride system by then. The current Song of the South theme reuses leftover animatronics from the defunct America Sings attraction and the log flume rafts have been problematic for years.
Why not transplant the animatronics from the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh into Splash Mountain and retire that mediocre, halfhearted, budget-slashed attempt at a dark ride? Or at least improve the Pooh ride experience by bringing in the trackless vehicles from the Hunny Hunt attraction in Tokyo Disneyland.
It would be great if Disneyland dumped the Pooh ride, rethemed Splash and re-created Critter Country as Grizzly Gulch, the new land built at Hong Kong Disneyland in 2012.
Envisioned as a cross between Frontierland and Critter Country (two lands not found in Hong Kong), Grizzly Gulch features a backward-and-forward-launched coaster traversing a mountain with a hot springs-themed water play area set amid a gold mining town.
While it might seem a bit counterintuitive to plant a second mountaintop ride right next to Splash, the twin peaks would serve as both an enticement to an often overlooked corner of the park and a natural backstop to the cul-de-sac dead end.
Vulnerable: Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin and Gadget’s Go Coaster
Possible: Toy Story Land, Star Wars Land
Like a bad tattoo from a booze-filled evening you’d like to forget, Toontown is a painful reminder of an ill-conceived idea from the 1990s when the stewardship of Disney parks faltered.
Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin combines an innovative ride system with a 1988 film that hasn’t stood the test of time as well as other Disney properties.
And no one would ever miss Gadget’s Go Coaster, an off-the-shelf Vekoma ride that can be found at Six Flags Magic Mountain and many small amusement parks. It’s a perfect example of the on-the-cheap ride dreamed up by bean counters that doesn’t belong at any Disney park.
The problem, of course, is how to fix an entire land that’s not working. Personally, I’d like to see Disneyland scrape Toontown off the map and start over.
A Star Wars Land has been the topic of much speculation now that Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Darth Vader have been brought into the Disney fold. Would a Star Wars Land fit better in Toontown, Big Thunder Ranch, Tomorrowland or Anaheim’s third gate? It depends on the scale and scope of the blue sky dreams under consideration at Walt Disney Imagineering.
A Toy Story Land similar to the multiride themed lands recently added in Hong Kong and Paris would work great in place of Anaheim’s Toontown. Any storytelling issues involving the disconnect of Toy Story Midway Mania residing in DCA and Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters living in Tomorrowland could be resolved with a little Disney pixie dust.
And Mickey and Minnie could easily relocate from Toontown to a location on Main Street USA as they’ve done at other Disney parks.
Of course, lots can change over the next four decades. In time, the most popular rides of today could eventually become candidates for replacement. Waning popularity and shrinking wait times will dictate what goes away while ride capacity and operating costs will determine the attractions selected as replacements.
The next generation of visitors and Imagineers will almost certainly have less connection to the past and greater interest in the now, which could lead to the demise of some classic attractions and less reverence for what Walt would do. Only time will tell what Disneyland 2055 looks like.
So, there you have it. Forty years of Disneyland crystal ball gazing all in one forward-looking seance. What did we get right? Where were we way off base? What do you think the future holds for Disneyland? Let us know in the comments section.
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