“Disneyland will never be completed, as long as there is imagination left in the world.” – Walt Disney

Walt’s philosophy was to always improve those things which were already great. This philosophy has made the Disney parks the most progressive, engaging, and welcoming vacation destinations in the world. But in order to keep things fresh and relevant, there are inevitable changes to be made, many of which can be painful to long-time Disney fans. Attractions beloved by many occasionally get retired in order to update for the future.

Image: Disney

Though some attractions have been replaced, they still reside in the hearts of many Disney fans. 

We began our Dearly Departed Disney series with a history of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. Join us here as we continue our journey through some of WDW’s most missed attractions. We’ll fly to the Moon, journey to Mars, and meet a couple of very unpredictable aliens along the way. Strap yourself in, this could be a bumpy ride!

Flight to the Moon (1971-1994)

More than any other land in Magic Kingdom, Tomorrowland never feels quite finished. The future will always be unwritten. When Magic Kingdom opened on October 1, 1971, portions of Tomorrowland were not yet complete. Flight to the Moon – the first attraction in today’s group – did not open on October 1st with the rest of the park. Guests anxious for their simulated trip to the moon had to wait until Christmas Eve, 1971 to head into space.

Mission Control

Flight to the Moon began with an introduction in a holding area space. Guests would enter Mission Control, which was the preshow for the experience. Mr. Tom Morrow (as in, “Paging Mr. Morrow”) was the operations director. He welcomed guests and prepared them for their upcoming flight. Mission preparations included an introduction to the flight vehicle and a briefing on the mission’s purpose.

Image: Disney

Lift Off

After the briefing, guests then headed to the flight vehicle, which was essentially a “theater in the round.” A recessed center space was surrounded by several rows of seats, inclining from the center. Screens at the top and bottom of the theater allowed guests to see their flight path, both ahead and behind them. 

After the flight captain’s welcome, the craft launched into space, accompanied by thunderous shaking and pounding. This turbulence lasted until the shuttle was beyond Earth’s atmosphere, at which point a lack of atmosphere provided a peaceful calm. The shuttle took guests on a brief tour of the moon’s surface, which could be viewed by looking out the bottom of the shuttle. Looking out the top window gave guests a view of the sun. Unfortunately, while enjoying this lunar tour, a meteor shower set in, jeopardizing the mission. In a frenzy of near misses, the shuttle narrowly escaped with minimal damage, landing guests back on Earth a few moments later.

Flight to the Moon ended its operation in the spring of 1975, after less than four years of space travel. Interest in travelling to the moon waned after it had been done with regularity by NASA. The Disneyland version of this attraction, which was originally called Rocket to the Moon before being renamed to Flight to the Moon, enjoyed a longer 20-year run (1955-1975).

The moon may have felt like “old hat”, and guests were interested in going farther…

Mission to Mars (1975-1993)

With simple trips to the Moon losing their luster, Magic Kingdom began offering guests simulated trips to Mars on June 7, 1975.

“Paging Mr. Morrow, Mr. Tom Morrow, please contact Mr. Johnson in the control tower to confirm your flight to the moon.”

Image: Disney

Mr. Tom Morrow must have moved on in his interstellar career, so a changing of the guard saw “Mr. Johnson” as the new flight director.  After a quick welcome, Mr. Johnson explained the new mission and introduced the flight vehicle that would be making the anticipated trip to the red planet.

Meandering Around Mars

The spacecraft itself was operated by a tour guide, Third Officer Collins, who discussed the mission as guests were experiencing it. Startup and takeoff for the flight were very similar to the experience from Flight to the Moon. After a loud and shaky start, followed by a wee bit of smooth travel through space, guests flew over the surface of Mars, as seen through the bottom window screen. While touring the Martian surface, the spacecraft took a hit of some sort, thought to be a fragment from a volcanic eruption. With an urgency similar to the retreat from the surface of the moon, the spacecraft made a quick haste to leave the red planet and head back to Earth.

Mission to Mars made its final flight on October 4, 1993, after over eighteen years of operation. The thrill of interplanetary space travel entertained countless guests, but that paled in comparison to the fright that would present visitors in its next reimagining…

ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter

If flying to the moon or traveling to Mars wasn’t exciting enough, how about tempting fate by testing the limits of space travel via teleportation? That was the mission on the table for ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter. This joint venture of Walt Disney Imagineering and Lucasfilm (before Lucasfilm was owned by Disney) initially opened in December 1994. Very mixed reviews (and more than a few guest complaints) led to a closing of the attraction less than a month later. Guests complained that the experience offered a disjointed combination of dark humor and true horror, and was too scary for many kids. The experience was retooled to provide a better experience (and according to then-CEO Michael Eisner, to make the attraction even more thrilling), and opened for good on June 20, 1995.

ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter prepared guests to the experience by ushering them through two consecutive preshow attractions.

Introducing X-S Tech

Initially, excited guests entered the Tomorrowland Interplanetary Convention Center (you may have heard reference to this while casually riding the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover). Here, an alien corporation known as X-S Tech demonstrated a host of new technologies, including teleportation. X-S Tech’s corporate slogan was “If something can’t be done with X-S then it shouldn’t be done at all.” With confidence and a catchy catch-phrase like this, what could possibly go wrong?

Poor Skippy

Is it time to teleport yet? Not so fast. A second preshow area primed guests for the specific experience they were about to endure. An X-S robot named S.I.R (Simulated Intelligence Robotics, voiced by Tim Curry) demonstrated X-S Tech’s “practically painless” teleportation technology on an animatronic alien named Skippy. But when S.I.R teleported Skippy across the room, the cute little alien emerged a little worse for the wear, being confused and a little bit crispy. This was not a good indication of things to come.

Trivia tidbit – Prior to S.I.R., a different X-S Tech robot named T.O.M. 2000 (short for Technobotic Oratorical Mechanism, series 2000) was voiced by Phil Hartman. Hartman’s cheerful and goofy portrayal of the robot did not provide the scare that then-Disney CEO Michael Eisner wanted to give guests, so Hartman’s T.O.M. 2000 was replaced with Tim Curry’s more sinister S.I.R.

Time to Teleport

Guests who were still brave enough to try out teleportation on their own then proceeded to the chamber. This was the same circular theater, but instead of a small display screen in the center of the room’s floor, guests stared at a large, empty teleportation tube ready for a subject. Teleportation is risky business, so guests needed to be strapped into their seats for safety.  Once the lights dimmed, the process began. But instead of teleporting one of the guests, the brilliant minds at X-S Tech decided instead to teleport an X-S Tech employee to Earth.

Well, things went predictably wrong with the teleportation device, and instead of a mellow employee, a giant leathery winged creature appeared in the tube.   The menacing creature broke free of the containment and shattered the tube.  In the process, the chamber lost power, leaving guests seated and restrained… in the dark!  

Through Disney’s strategically placed speakers and 4D devices, guests heard a disgusting combination of crunching and  slurping.  Sprays of warm water resembled blood, and a tightening of the harness felt like the weight of your worst nightmare. A chorus of screams rang out from the chamber (though it was never clear if the screams were happy thrills or outright terror). Just when you thought you were meeting your doom, those dependable X-S Tech technicians were able to restore power, lure the creature back into containment, and prevent further disaster.

Yikes, this attraction was not for the faint of heart! Despite the divisive public opinions on this experience, it managed to hang around Tomorrowland for eight years. Disney finally came to the realization that the legitimate horror of this attraction was not consistent with Walt Disney’s optimistic vision of the future. That, and the fact that attendance at the attraction was dwindling, prompted permanent closure of this TERRORific experience on October 3, 2003.

Disney decided to lighten things up with…

Stitch’s Great Escape!

Exit alien. Enter cuter, more friendly alien. That is basically the difference between ExtraTERRORestrial Alien encounter and Stitch’s Great Escape. Sounds simple, right? Well, making that change took over a year, and it wasn’t until November 16, 2004 that Stitch began unleashing his unique brand of mischief on pleasantly anticipating guests. Stitch arrived in Tomorrowland with great fanfare, even adding his own artful touch of toilet paper and graffiti to the iconic Cinderella Castle.

Image: AllEars.net

Once Stitch settled down in Tomorrowland, guests were treated to an experience very similar to its preceding attraction. Though instead of visiting the Tomorrowland Interplanetary Convention Center, guests entered the Galactic Federation Prisoner Teleport Center.

Guard Duty

In the initial waiting area, visitors were recruited by the Grand Councilwoman to be guards for the United Galactic Federation. After a quick briefing on the responsibilities of guard duty, guests then entered a second pre-show, where they were introduced to a robot known as Sergeant 90210. The sergeant demonstrated the concept of teleportation using poor old Skippy, who spent the previous eight years being burned to a crisp by S.I.R. (poor Skippy can’t seem to catch a break!).  After the demonstration, Captain Gantu alerted guests of a Level 3 prisoner being beamed to the high security prisoner teleportation chamber.

The Prisoner’s Chamber

Captain Gantu’s alert was everyone’s queue to move into the main chamber – the same round theater with much the same teleportation tube in the center. Once everyone was buckled into their seats, Stitch was transported into the tube for all to see. While he may have looked cute, Stitch’s toxic spit was destroying the containment system, ultimately cutting power to the chamber and allowing him to escape.

Anyone who knows Stitch, knows that he never means to harm anyone. Stitch’s antics in the chamber following his escape amounted to nothing more than stealing a snack and hopping around teasing guests in the dark. One major belch following a bite of his chili dog had Stitch’s captive audience feeling borderline nauseous. After a few minutes spent tickling and terrorizing his visitors, Stitch returned to the teleportation tube and beamed over to Magic Kingdom’s Cinderella Castle to play a prank on Disney’s famous princess.

Fall From Grace

Stitch is firmly entrenched as one of the most popular Disney characters, but his attraction was never universally applauded. The demise of Stitch’s Great Escape was long and painful. Starting on October 1, 2016, the attraction entered seasonal operation, which is generally considered code for “not as popular and only worth opening when the park is super busy.” Stitch would only occasionally belch his chili dogs en route to a storied prison escape. Further decline of the attraction was evident in October 2017 when Disney started using the first pre-show area as a meet and greet location for Stitch (minus the attraction, of course).

January 6, 2018 is the last documented day of the attraction’s operation, as it ceased to operate even seasonally. Disney maintained that the closure was temporary, but once the Stitch animatronic was removed in October 2018, all thoughts of the attraction reopening were put to rest. Disney confirmed the attraction’s permanent closure on July 16, 2020.

Breaking Into the Future

What does the future hold for this ever-evolving Tomorrowland location? Rumors have swirled that an interactive Wreck-It-Ralph attraction could move into the space. While Wreck-It-Ralph may not scream “Tomorrowland” to most, the video game/cyberspace feel does lend a bit to the theme. Only Disney knows the plan for sure, so until then we’ll just have to keep our ears to the ground.

How many of this location’s attractions have you experienced over the years? I’d love to know which iteration of this experience you enjoyed most. Please reach out with a comment here.

Stay tuned for additional articles in this Dearly Departed series. We’ll continue to explore many other former attractions from Walt Disney World, including Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom.

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