The Curse of Time Travel Theme Park Rides

Time Travel is a popular concept throughout all different mediums of science fiction. Shows like Doctor Who and films like the Back to the Future Trilogy make up a large part of pop culture. Even the highest-grossing film of all time, Avengers Endgame, features a major time travel component. Yet for some reason, this genre has not transferred well into theme parks.

Disney and Universal have both attempted to make time travel attractions in the past, yet as of right now very few stand in a park owned by either of them. So what happened to them all?

Well for most of them, the problem was the future actually came, either literally or figuratively.

First, let us look at the much-beloved Horizons from Epcot at Walt Disney World. This attraction was about traveling back in time to the 21st century. Well, the 21st century actually came, meaning this ride would need major updates to remain relevant. We can debate other reasons for its closure, like sinkholes, but what we do know is if this ride was going to stay updates at least to the ride's audio would need a major update, if not the entire ride. These updates were proposed, but the problem likely would have just happened again in the future.

Disney also had another time travel attraction, The Timekeeper/ Visionarium in their Tomorrowland  (Discoveryland in Paris) section of three of their parks. This attraction, instead of facing problems with the future, faced problems with the present, even requiring a change in the actual attraction. The US version's present-day section of the attraction showcased a flyover of New York City with the Twin Towers. This obviously became a problem, following the attacks on 9/11 when this present-day scene was relabeled 2000. It didn't lead directly to a closure, but the decline in tourism following the attacks did lead to the ride going seasonal, the kiss of death for any attraction (well, except Carousel of Progress).

Universe of Energy also utilized time travel, but only to the past. The only time-related problem that arose with this ride was the scientific facts becoming outdated as new information was discovered which led indirectly to its closure because of the updates needed to correct this.

The Meet the World attraction proposed for Epcot, and built-in Tokyo Disneyland also utilized time travel, but it mainly served as a travelogue and historical guide to the country of Japan, so it really had no major issues related to its usage of time travel.

The Carousel of Progress attraction mainly features the past, meaning it doesn't need updating that often. Only the modern-day/ near future scene has needed updates over the years, causing updates of the whole ride. The current version of the ride is facing this problem with a present-day scene featuring outdated technology.

Universal also had its own problem with the future catching up with the ride. Their Back to the Future The Ride traveled specifically to October 25th, 2015. Two versions of the ride closed with time to spare before this date, but one, the Universal Japan Version, actually remained open past October 25th, 2015. It did close shortly afterward, but still, this was a major thematic problem the ride had in its final days, traveling quite literally, back to the future.

So now Disney and Universal are left with few time travel rides each. So what is it about these rides that stood the test of time.

First, let's talk Disney, and their last time travel rides still in operation, Spaceship Earth and Carousel of Progress.

Spaceship Earth 2020 Concept Art Egypt Epcot

Spaceship Earth has stood the test of time for two main reasons, one its focus mainly on events in the past, and two its continual updates throughout the years. This ride actually received updates over the years, unlike previous entries on this list, meaning it was kept up to date with its theme, the history of communication. Even now, with the lack of inclusion of the internet and modern computers, it is still mostly up to date, and another update is officially on the way.

Carousel of Progress remains, but it hasn't exactly been kept up to date. Its "future" scene is horribly outdated with references to car phones and a look at VR that actually ended up coming true and becoming outdated with a span of about a year. It is in desperate need of an update (which it has received several of over the years), but none is on the way that we know of.

Now let us move on to Universal's last time travel attraction, once again bringing us to an attraction already gone from Orlando and Hollywood, but still present in Japan. I am talking about T2: 3D.

This attraction takes you to the dystopian future from the Terminator films, combined with live actors and special effects. Because of the alternate future nature of the franchise it still generally fits, despite us having run into the time period you travel to. Some preshow changes have happened over the years to correct future technologies that were actually invented, but it really still holds up shockingly well, having only been removed from the other parks because of lack of faith in the franchise it is based on.

So time travel can be achieved in a theme park setting, but it's tricky. Traveling to the future limits your lifespan, and mentioning the present can cause problems if the present changes significantly. There is a balance that can happen, though to make these rides successful. Back to the Future: The Ride would not have had the same continuity issues if it had been set in 1985, the present of the original film, or any other specific year. The problem was setting it in the present generally. Horizons might have lasted longer if it traveled to the 22nd century instead of the 21st. Or it may have just run into similar problems as Spaceship Earth. It is a difficult genre that can cause problems with a ride's longevity.

Time travel might not be the easiest concept to translate into theme parks, but it definitely can be done. Horizons and Back to the Future are beloved rides that are missed by fans even though they became outdated towards the end of their existence. We have to enjoy these rides while we can, as time travel based rides often have a shorter shelf life than other attractions.

What is your favorite time travel themed ride? Let us know in the comments below!