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The Beloved Disney World Experiences Ended For ‘Good Reasons’

There is an old saying that all good things must come to an end. While we’d like to believe that the magical experiences to be had at Walt Disney World are all exempt from this concept, we all know better. We’ve seen it firsthand when one of our favorite attractions closes or a highly enjoyable non-attraction offering becomes defunct. That’s just the way it is, despite popular misgivings. And truth be told, there are many instances where the decision to end something beloved doesn’t fly with most Disney fans.

But there are also times when Disney makes the unpopular decision to halt certain experiences for what they deem are imperative reasons. From public health concerns to more pressing developmental needs, here is a look at some beloved, now-gone experiences at Disney World that were ended for verifiable “good reasons” according to the Walt Disney Company.

Related: A Fond Flashback to Past Disney World Attractions

Free Day Promos

Unfortunately, Disney promos are only ever temporary and do not last. This really is a shame because there have been some pretty awesome ones over the years, mainly regarding the ones where you were allowed free Park admission. The most notable package for such came about in the form of Disney’s “What Will You Celebrate” promotion back in 2009. A year-long celebration that invited Guests to celebrate all of life’s special moments (big and small) the icing on the cake was that you could get free admission to one of the Walt Disney World or Disneyland Parks just by showing a valid ID and proof of your birthdate!

Past Promo

A year later, the Walt Disney Company presented the “Give A Day, Get A Day” promotion. By partnering with American charitable and nonprofit organizations, it was a way to both increase theme park attendance as well as promote volunteerism across the United States. The way it worked was that individuals who volunteered with associated charities and nonprofits would receive a free admission voucher to a Disney Park of their choosing (options included either Disney World Parks or Disneyland Resort Parks).  This promo was so popular that it actually ended early, due to the fact that the full allotment of one million free days filled up pretty fast.

Disney Volunteering

Credit: Disney

Related: Disney Dining Promo Deal Now Available!

Riding Up Front

Many have ridden aboard the ever-impressive Walt Disney World Monorail System. Not only is it a Disney World rite of passage, but it’s a free and convenient way for navigating between Magic Kingdom Park and its surrounding area hotels, like the Contemporary Resort, the Polynesian Village Resort, and the Grand Floridian Resort. You can also take it to the Transportation & Ticket Center or jump on the separate track taking you into EPCOT.

While you’ve likely enjoyed sitting back and taking in the sweeping surrounding views upon your commute, did you know that there was at one time a unique way to ride, offered to any Guest that only need ask? It used to be that Guests were allowed to request a ride up front in the Monorail right along with the piloting Cast Member. You didn’t need to be anyone special, and it wasn’t some highly paid-for VIP extra. It was just a unique first-come, first-served free experience.  But sadly, such offerings were halted following a fatal 2009 Monorail crash in which a Disney Cast Member died.

Monorail

Credit: Disney at Work

Related: What is Disney’s Monorail System? Here Are the Facts!

Richard Petty Driving Experience

Do you remember how prior to 2015 there used to be a race track within the parking lot area adjacent to Magic Kingdom Park, nearby Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort? Formerly used by NASCAR for training, it more popularly became known as the home to the Richard Petty Driving Experience—an additional attraction of sorts available to race car-enthused fans. It was an experience that allowed everyday folk to ride along in an actual race car or even take the wheel themselves, reaching speeds up to 165 mph. That all ended, though, when Disney announced that they would be closing the racetrack and leveling it. The Company cited reasons as being a need to make improvements to transportation for Disney Resorts and that area in particular. But coincidentally, earlier that year, one of the driving instructors at the Richard Petty Driving Experience had been killed in a fatal crash on the tracks while a Guest was at the driver’s wheel. That tragedy undoubtedly also had some bearing on why the experience closed.

Richard Petty Driving Experience

Credit: Inside The Magic

Related: Fatal Crash At Richard Petty Driving Experience – Walt Disney World

Swimming in Lakes

A lot of first-time visitors staying onsite at Disney Resorts are surprised to learn that despite there being sandy beaches at their designated accommodation locations, swimming in the water off the shore is prohibited. Yet, that wasn’t always the case, as prior to the late 1990s you actually were allowed to swim and waddle around in your Resort’s corresponding bodies of water. But as the 1990s progressed, people started to get wiser about the dangers of doing so, including the threats of bacteria, the overall uncleanliness of it all, and even the deadly implications of uncirculated standing water. Then there’s also that ever-present threat of alligators to contend with. All this eventually led to an all-out ban on swimming in ponds and lakes on Disney property.

No Swimming

Related: Tips for Having a Beachy Keen Time at Disney World

Shark Reef

Not too long ago, Disney offered a very unique experience that allowed Guests the opportunity to swim and snorkel alongside sharks. It was at Shark Reef at Typhoon Lagoon—an experience where Guests would gear up and take to an unheated saltwater reef on location at the water park. The area was inhabited by stingrays, leopard sharks, bonnethead sharks, and multiple tropical fish varieties in addition. It was one of those one-of-a-kind experiences, to say the least, and a standout feature of Typhoon Lagoon since it opened in 1989. But sadly, Shark Reef closed back in 2016. It was not due to any safety issues or tragedies, though. The simple reason for its closure goes back to the costliness behind the exhibit’s ongoing maintenance and upkeep.

Shark Reef Experience

Credit: D23

Related: Shark Reef Attraction at Walt Disney World Set to Close

DisneyQuest

Remember that awesome five-story complex of virtual indoor Disney attractions that used to be such a popular hotspot over in Disney Springs (and formerly Downtown Disney)? It opened back in 1998 and was still going strong all the way up to its 2017 closure. It really was a great way to enjoy Disney in a new way—indoors, with a host of callout attractions. I personally liked being able to construct my own roller coaster best! But alas, Disney made the decision to close DisneyQuest in favor of ongoing redevelopments of the Disney Springs area. The space eventually became home to the NBA Experience which has also since closed.

DisneyQuest

Credit: Disney

Waking Tinker Bell

Do you remember back when Tinker Bell used to live at Magic Kingdom Park, over at Tinker Bell’s Fairy Treasures gift shop (now Castle Couture)? It used to be that every day at opening time, a Disney Cast Member would approach a lucky Guest at random to take on the fun task of “waking” Tinker Bell up. The Guest was instructed to ring a bell, at which time Tinker Bell would awaken, fly above the shelves, and land behind the registers, and then get to work.

This experience ended in 2010 when the store was transformed into its present Castle Couture. And now, with Tinker Bell being deemed a “problematic character” as it is, we’re seeing other signs of her presence disappearing more and more each day—most notably the indefinite discontinued character Meet and Greet experiences with her.

Tinker Bell

‘Spirit of Aloha’

Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort used to present a highly popular, raved-about dinner show luau featuring an impressive all-you-can-eat spread of novelty Island bounties of great acclaim. It was a beloved experience for so many, and the open-air Luau Cove theater was an amazing place to be, especially as you watched such daring, impressive acrobatic feats, including fire acts.

This experience was closed to the public along with all other Disney operations during the pandemic back in 2020. But once things started reopening, Guests quickly took note that this experience wasn’t returning anytime soon. As it eventually was revealed, the show was permanently canceled and the Luau Cove theater was to be leveled in favor of a Disney Vacation Club expansion to the resort in the form of new buildings that would soon dominate the preexisting site. Many were rightfully outraged.

Spirit-of-Aloha

Credit: Disney

Related: “Spirit of Aloha” Is Permanently Closed

Disney’s FastPass System

Nobody can deny that this is currently one of the biggest grievances among longtime visitors. When Disney first introduced the FastPass system back in 1999 it offered a most ingenious, revolutionary new way to do theme park attractions—a reservation time, if you may. While there were some redevelopments and back-and-forth hiccups along the way, no one can deny that what initially emerged was something truly great. And then with FastPass+ came more highlighted greatness, including getting the chance to reserve times many months prior to your vacation even! Therefore, when Disney officially announced that it had retired FastPass+ in favor of Disney Genie services and their whole lackluster Lightning Lane bit by 2021, many folks saw it as an ultimate downgrade across the board. Many contested fans retain the ardent belief that Disney Genie needs to go and FastPass+ must be restored.

FastPass Pack Entrance

Credit: Yesterland

Related: The Biggest Complaints at Disney World Right Now

There are so many other discontinued Disney experiences that still leave fans aching with a proverbial sore spot. Even worse, some of the most highly missed, now-ceased offerings, ended without any viable reason. Some of the most argued contenders in this category include the ending of parasailing and waterskiing over at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, closing down Mickey’s Backyard BBQ over at Fort Wilderness Resort, and the deeply controversial revamping of what was once Pleasure Island at Disney Springs (then Downtown Disney). There are of course many others in addition, but that’s to be expected with a company like Disney and their need to always evolve, grow, and shed certain magical experiences along the way, in hopes of creating newer ones. While expected, it doesn’t mean that they always make wise decisions where Guest demands are concerned. But for better or worse, Disney always has only the best intentions in all that it creates.

About Laura

Laura Catherine aka “LC” is a writer who resides in Maryland with her family and several pets. She visits Walt Disney World whenever she can. Additionally, she is a published author of three novels, a children’s book, and has a passion for gardening.