Dewayne Bevil on Attractions
Theme Park Ranger
12:08 PM EST, December 8, 2011
After Universal Orlando revealed that it would be closing its iconic Jaws ride at Universal Studios forever as of Jan. 2, there was social-media outcry last week. Among my favorite outbursts on Twitter: "You've ruined Orlando."
OK, that's a bit extreme, but you can feel that tweeter's pain, right? Although Jaws has its detractors ("Boring!" "Dated!" "Hokey!" "When are they going to close that thing?!"), no one wants their favorite attraction to be put out to pasture.
I made a list of my most-missed attractions, and I was surprised that it is skewed toward Magic Kingdom, a park I don't think of as changing a lot.
My gone-but-not-forgotten rides have roots in childhood, headed by Mr. Toad's Wild Ride in Fantasyland. I remember going on it with my mother and being freaked out by its climactic train-tunnel ending. It seemed a bit edgy for Disney — there was a scene from hell, for heaven's sake.
Mr. Toad opened with Magic Kingdom in 1971, and it closed in 1998 to be replaced by the less dark, hunny-coated Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. Mr. Toad lives on at Disneyland in California.
I also have fond memories of a Tomorrowland attraction that had various names but in my heart will remain known as If You Had Wings. Decades later, we still sing the echoing catchphrase "had wings, had wings, had wings, had wings." Why hasn't Buffalo Wild Wings picked up the rights for that?
If You Had Wings, back in the day, had great things going for it. It kept the air conditioning cranked up, and it required no ticket. Remember, boys and girls, there was a time when Disney attractions required a specific ticket, and the best rides wanted your rare "E tickets."
Wings was "free," but it deserved "E" status, especially the final scenes that featured exhilarating first-person action sequences — trains, skiing, motorcycling. Think Go Pro but on big screens. And this was before big screens were huge and everywhere.
If You Had Wings was sponsored by Eastern Airlines, which pulled out of the project in 1987. The space continued the theme for a while — under the sponsorship of Delta Air Lines for a bit — before closing in 1998. That space is now home to Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin.
My most modern most-missed attraction is "Tiana's Showboat Jubilee," which had a limited run in late 2009, closing on Jan. 3, 2010. The show, based on Disney's "The Princess and the Frog" animated movie had an unusual stage — a riverboat viewed from Frontierland.
It featured catchy songs from the movie, fun choreography, eye-catching staging and a bit of magic. The boat still looks a little sad to me without a bit of New Orleans on board.
Other park goners I miss: the Clydesdales at SeaWorld Orlando; "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" show at Disney-MGM (now Hollywood) Studios; Body Wars and the Tapestry of Nations parade at Epcot. (My inner band geek wouldn't mind sitting through a performance of Future Corps at Epcot either).
Universal has not said what attraction will replace Jaws. Although I'm not emotionally attached to the ride, I board it occasionally for its throwback appeal, and to laugh at the skippers wearing jorts.
But I think I'll be a little sad to see another original attraction sink. It has a tie to Orlando history, about as famous for not working on opening day (or for many days that followed) as it was for its thrills and effects.
Not everyone feels the same way. "I thought it was gone years and years ago," wrote a commenter to our Theme Park Rangers blog. "When the park first opened, the ride was broken every time we went. After that, I honestly never saw it, I thought they took it out. I saw the hanging shark, but no ride."
As Momma and that dandruff commercial always said, "You never get a second chance to make a first impression."
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