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Cinderella's Castle in the Magic Kingdom Credit: Disney/Clip Art (Disney Fanatic)

The Most Controversial Changes at Disney World

Even in the most magical place on Earth, you’re bound to encounter controversy. That’s because there are so many different thoughts, feelings, ideas, and views out there, and it is virtually impossible to make every single person happy.  But that doesn’t mean that the Walt Disney Company hasn’t worked hard in their commitment to keeping with mutually befitting experiences for all fans to enjoy.

To meet the demands of a forever-shifting world, Disney has had to shift gears a time or two as well. Change is inevitable as it is, but it’s also a constant occurrence at Disney Parks. But that doesn’t mean all fans are always onboard with the changes they end up implementing. In fact, Disney has come to some pretty debatable decisions over the years, many of which have even garnered backlash from their most adamant supporters. We’re sharing with you 15 such examples of the most controversial changes that have ever come to Walt Disney World.

Related: 10 Biggest Disney World Controversies Over the Years

15. Main Street Bakery Goes Starbucks

When Main Street Bakery over on Main Street, U.S.A., in Disney’s Magic Kingdom Park, decided to start serving up the Starbucks brand a decade ago, it created a bit of a buzz that was in no way caffeine-related. To say the least, diehard fans were in an absolute uproar by the coffee conglomerate’s takeover of the beloved nostalgic nook, which up until that point, suited so well with this old-timey, quaint section of the Park.

While this was not the first time an outside big-name “hip” chain had been added to the Disney World lineup, it was still one of Disney’s more controversial moves. But thankfully, Main Street Bakery has retained its charming motif. What’s more, all other Starbucks locations that have been established on Disney Property have also kept preexisting themes intact.

Disney-Starbucks

Credit: Disney’s Cheapskate Princess

Related: EPCOT Closes Starbucks, but Don’t Panic Just Yet!

14. Reimagining Imagination

 Those who are longtime Park-goers of EPCOT know well that the Journey into Imagination with Figment attraction of today is actually the third version of the “imaginative” journey. Having originally premiered back in 1983, the first experience was simply known as “Journey into Imagination” and featured that beloved purple dragon Figment along with his zany creator, a likable redheaded fellow called the Dreamfinder. This version remained as it was up until 1998, when some very unwelcome updates were made.

Figment and Dream Finder

Credit: D23

In 1999, the redo premiered under the title “Journey into YOUR Imagination,” in which both Figment and the Dreamfinder were replaced by Dr. Nigel Channing (portrayed by actor Eric Idle). The modified experience now took Guests on a tour of the Imagination Institute in which they would serve as test subjects for a new invention known as the Imagination Scanner.

Figment and Dreamfinder

Credit: Disney

Due to an overwhelming number of disappointed Guests longing for Figment’s return, the attraction closed again in 2001. The 2002 reprisal reinstated Figment’s presence, even giving him a prevalent role in just about every scene. The Dreamfinder, however, has yet to make a comeback, which many loyal fans still lament.

Dreamfinder

Credit: Disney

 13. Paradise Lost

Once upon a time, back when Disney Springs was still Downtown Disney, there was that desirable little district many knew and loved as Pleasure Island. Having first opened to the public in 1989, it was a pretty happening place and the ultimate nightlife scene, comprising of shops, dining, and entertainment. So naturally, when a redo overtook the scene in 2008, resulting in the shuttering of all the existing clubs, fans weren’t too happy.

The diminishment of the Adventurers Club in particular really sparked outrage. Set around a fun 1937 theme that was completely in par with Disney standards, vocal fans made no secret about their opposition to its removal and even started petitions in an attempt to save it. Despite securing more than 2,500 signatures in just three days, all efforts were in vain.

Adventurers Club

Credit: Extinct Disney

Related: Miss Pleasure Island? For $15,000 You Can Add This Original Funmeister Sign to Your Collection!

12. Turning “Redd”

 Pirates of the Caribbean has long been one of Disney’s most popular dark rides, even before the inspired blockbuster film franchise of the same name ever came into being. While some classic anchoring scenes have remained comfortingly familiar throughout the ages, there have also been several adaptations directly connected to the emerging movies. One change, however, that many fans argue the relevance for was Disney’s revision of the wench auction portrayal. This also resulted in their famous “redhead” getting a complete makeover, upgrading her to the role of “Redd,” the female pirate.

This change has garnered mixed reviews on both sides. Some laud Disney’s decision to get away from what could have formerly been perceived as sexist, while others think it was a meaningless demolition of a classic part of the ride.

Pirates of the Caribbean Wench Auction

Credit: Today

Related: ‘We Wants the Redhead’? Johnny Depp Spotted With Red-Haired Woman

11. Alcohol at the Magic Kingdom

To maintain its classic family-friendly nature, all Disney Parks were originally dry designations, free from both offering and serving alcoholic beverages. Over the years, though, things started to change. While there were always those who disapproved of allowing spirits of any form, the fact that Magic Kingdom Park in Disney World remained committed to not doing so was enough to keep even the most ardent opposers mollified. But by 2012, the Magic Kingdom too began offering alcohol at select locations in what many avid Disney fans deemed a most unfortunate decision.

Alcohol at Disney

Credit: Theme Park Center

Similarly, the decision to make Disney Parks smoke-free without even allowing for designated smoking areas has also been viewed as controversial. However, many more folks view this change as a positive one. Still, the move did receive mixed reviews, particularly from those who smoke.

No Smoking

Credit: Good Housekeeping/Getty

Related: Top Three Drinks In Each Walt Disney World Park

10. Dropping the Curtain on the Great Movie Ride

You didn’t have to be a movie buff to enjoy the Great Movie Ride attraction over at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, but if you were, then you can fully appreciate the upset that its removal caused. A dark ride of epic proportions, which took Guests on a drive through numerous iconic movie screens and even included interaction via the fourth wall coming down, countless fans were outraged by the decision to replace it with Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway. Understandably, Disney World would want to have a Mickey and Minnie-themed ride, but many feel that a more expendable attraction would have worked just fine via a retheming. A vast majority of fans stand firm in the belief that getting rid of the Great Movie Ride was just wrong.

Great Movie Ride

Credit: D23

 9. Unplugging a Holiday Tradition

For more than two decades, The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights served as a mainstay holiday tradition that countless people have flocked to. Showcased over at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, strung along the Streets of America, this was the place to come to see myriad dazzling lights set to cheerful Christmas music. So, when Disney ended the seasonal attraction in light of a massive Park revitalization, fans were understandably irate. Many even took to Disney Parks Blog to voice their opinions on the matter.

Osborne Lights

Credit: Yesterdayland

 8. Freezing Maelstrom

On a similar controversial note to switching out The Great Movie Ride with Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway was the decision to redo EPCOT’s Maelstrom dark ride attraction with a Frozen theme. While the track and even the boats remain exactly the same, the scenery has changed, animatronics replaced, and the thematic focus has moved away from Norwegian history to encompass a storyline that initially follows where the first Frozen film left off.

Maelstrom

Credit: Disney

The decision to go the Frozen-themed route sparked mixed reviews. While many families thoroughly enjoy the new fun theming, several EPCOT traditionalists felt that moving away from a national focus highlighting the country of Norway in favor of the fictional Kingdom of Arendelle was both inappropriate and insulting.

Frozen Ever After

Credit Disney

 7. Castle Paint Job

Not very long ago, the Magic Kingdom’s most iconic landmark, Cinderella Castle, received a paint job that not everybody was thrilled with. For its first five decades, the Castle stood regally with a beautiful blue hue everyone was fine with. But when the coloring was redone to include a pink color scheme with golden trim in honor of Walt Disney World Resort’s 50th Anniversary Celebration, many faithful fans felt the new look was done in poor taste. Others were indifferent to the change but still agreed that it was unnecessary. Then some folks were much more vocal in expressing their opposition, even going so far as to claim the Castle had lost its beauty and charm.

Castle repainted

Credit: Polk Dots and Pixie Dust

 6. Prideful Pursuits

There’s really nothing new about those seasonal times in June, most often referred to as “Gay Days” at Disney Parks. In fact, such events have been unofficially going on since the early 1990s. Still, while Walt Disney World Resort has never held any official events specifically celebrating pride the way other Disney Resorts have, the growth in recognizing pride at Disney World in more recent years doesn’t fly with some Disney fans. From the launching of the Disney Pride Collection in merchandise to themed PhotoPass backdrops and props, and let’s not forget about all those specialty rainbow treats offered at various Disney venues, some feel that Disney’s participation in such controversial showcases goes a little too far. They feel that not only is Disney looking for a way to capitalize on such promotions, but they’re also getting away from their commitment to remain neutral across the board. To take a truly neutral stance that makes everyone feel welcome, Disney needs neither shun or nor celebrate via methods of singling out anyone by orientation.

Pride Eats

Credit: Disney

5. Gender Inclusivity

In more recent, ongoing controversies, many believe that Disney Parks are getting overly technical with its gender inclusivity initiative. While the change from “Fairy Godmothers in Training” to Fairy Godmother’s Apprentices” at Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique locations has been commended by several, some folks feel that the removal of the phrase “Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls” from the Magic Kingdom’s greeting before the fireworks show was absolute overkill. Another hot topic is the whole bit about not referring to children as princesses or princes. A valid argument that’s come up in opposition to this change is the fact that some little girls wait their whole lives to be called a “princess” finally, and now Disney is stripping them of their magical moment.

Princess makeover

Credit: Disney Springs

Related: Disney Makes ‘Gender-Inclusive’ Change to Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique

4. The Poly Problems

Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort has been the subject of many controversial changes throughout the years. From name changes to renovations, the latter of which is an issue that continues on to this day. In fact, a very recent two-fold situation has been infuriating loyal Polynesian fans a lot lately. First, there was that whole matter of deciding to do away with the longtime Spirit of Aloha dinner show. Needless to say, the overall demolition of the Luau Cove dinner theater was absolutely heartbreaking to many.

Spirit of Aloha

Credit: Disney

Then there’s that whole proposed plan to build the new Vacation Club Tower right onsite—the so-called reason behind the demolition. What’s more, many are of the same mind that the design in the conceptual art models released for the new tower does not work with the Resort’s existing integrity.

Polynesian Club Tower

Credit: Disney

Related: Experience Hawaii in Florida at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort

3. Park Reservation System

Ever since reopening following the pandemic, Walt Disney World Resort has been implementing its new controversial Park Reservation System as a way to monitor Park attendance and capacity. Fast-forward more than two years later, and the system is still in place, much to the frustration of many who look back fondly to the glory days when arriving at the Parks spur of the moment was actually a thing. Annual Passholders, in particular, have expressed feeling the burden of such inconveniences.

Park Reservation System

Credit: Disney

Related: Disney World Park Reservations Now Required Through 2024

2. Scrapping FastPass+

Another unwelcome change that’s since emerged at Disney World was the decision to scrap the favored FastPass+ option that allowed people to reserve ride times well in advance, all inclusively and for free. Taking the place of FastPass+ is the far less convenient Genie+ and Lightning Lanes systems. Many agree that the new way creates a lot of confusion while detracting from efficiency, resulting in a much bigger mess.

FastPass+ Logo

Credit: Disney

Related: OpEd: Paying for Disney Genie+ is Completely Unnecessary

1. Splash Mountain Re-Theme

We’ve covered quite a few rides retheming controversies that have emerged over the years, but perhaps one of the most debatable decisions is the pending redo of the classic water ride Splash Mountain. Taking the place of the woodland animal theme that was integral to the original attraction will be Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, with a new plot focusing on Disney’s The Princess and the Frog.

Some feel that the original ride’s theme song is insensitive, as it has long been associated with the now banned Disney movie Song of the South. Others feel that the real controversy is Disney’s decision to cancel out a classic Park staple ride. Therefore, we can safely conclude that the argument saddles both sides of the debate antithetically.

Splash Mountain

Credit: Disney

Related: Last Days of Splash Mountain: What to Expect from Disney Adults

Throughout its history Disney Parks, and by extension, the Walt Disney Company on a whole, have been subject to innumerable controversies. Despite all of that, Disney diligently works toward defusing all viable debates to the best of its abilities, making experiences mutually magical for all of its Guests in the best ways possible. And they’re always willing to listen with open ears and an open mind to keep the magic and make dreams come true.

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.