Who Liked Disneyland’s Rocket Rods?

Written by Keith Gluck. Posted in Disney, Disney History, Disney Parks, Disneyland Resort, Keith Gluck

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Published on November 13, 2012 at 5:03 am with 43 Comments

The Rocket Rods attraction launched its last XPR (experimental prototype rocket) through the skies of Tomorrowland in September of 2000, just 28 months after it opened as part of the land’s “re-imagining” in 1998. The sky was the limit for the ride that spawned the short-lived “Tomorrowland Rapid Transit system,” but unfortunately it was never able to achieve complete blast-off, since too little money was spent preparing the converted Peoplemover track for such wear and tear. Instead of banked turns, allowing the speeding vehicles to traverse the skyline unfettered, each rocket had to slow way down to maneuver every curve. In the ride’s short and tumultuous history, it experienced frequent breakdowns and produced exorbitant wait times. Many Disney fans know why it failed, but I want to talk about why I wish it had succeeded.

The Queue: While it’s true that the queue itself took up an entire attractions’ worth of space (and some converted backstage area as well), I always enjoyed it. Blueprints of Tomorrowland ride vehicles old and new adorned the walls, all denoting their membership to the Tomorrowland Rapid Transit system. Many full-size vehicles were also on display, each painted to glow under black light. The vehicles exhibited included a Space Mountain rocket, a row of Peoplemover cars, and even the front of a Mark III Monorail.

Beyond the vehicles there were multiple screens that featured fun, retro-future cartoons from Disney depicting how people would be living and traveling in the future. That room gave way to the Circle-Vision Theater, which also projected film clips to distract us from the wait. While I didn’t care for many of the clips shown in there (some of which were slapstick depictions of people riding “futuristic” concept vehicles), they did manage to do something that no other ride queue had ever done, and hasn’t done since. Show Walt himself on the big screen. That was the highlight of the queue for me.

The Music: One of the feelings most Disney fans share is adoration of an optimistic future. It’s why so many of us love the old Tomorrowland, or clamor for the return of the Epcot attraction Horizons. The music featured in the Rocket Rods queue captured that feeling nicely, in my opinion. Because of that, it should come to no surprise that the ride’s main tune was actually a re-working of a Sherman Brothers song. Steve Bartek of Oingo Boingo took the song “Detroit” from the film The Happiest Millionaire, and turned it into “World of Creativity (Magic Highways of Tomorrow).” Some people felt the song’s lyrics were a bit odd, and the melody a bit wacky. I can’t say I entirely disagree, but I liked “World of Creativity” nonetheless. “Magic Highways of tomorrow, are more than what they seem. Ride your mind’s designs; ride a dream.” There was also a weird re-working of the Steppenwolf song “Born to Be Wild” featured in the queue, but I didn’t really care for it.

What do you think? “World of Creativity” and its lyrics can be found here.

The ride: Okay sure, the ride broke down a lot. But when it was working, it was fun. Imagine growing up riding a vehicle on a track that took 16 minutes to travel, then one day climbing into a new vehicle that made the same journey in a quarter of the time. That was pretty cool. Also, contrary to popular belief, there actually were a few decent stretches where your XPR hit the gas and didn’t immediately slow down (flying over the Autopia was particularly exhilarating). The rockets zoomed over, through, and by shops and attractions in exciting fashion. Basically, it was just fun “zipping” over Tomorrowland.

For the record, I grew up going to Disneyland. I mean since before I was a full year old. I adored the Peoplemover. I miss it just as much as anybody, and even more so now thanks to Jeff Heimbuch’s recent article. However, that doesn’t prevent me from missing the Rocket Rods as well. The ability to “Ride the Road to Tomorrow” may have been short-lived, but for me, it was fun while it lasted!

So, who liked the Rocket Rods? I did. What about you?

About Keith Gluck

Keith Gluck writes for and volunteers at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco. He also runs a Disney blog called thedisneyproject.com, and travels to Disney Parks as often as he can. A fan of many facets of The Disney Company, Keith's main interest is the life and legacy of Walt Disney. For questions/comments, or to request a certain topic be covered, please send an email to: [email protected] Twitter: @DisneyProject Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Disney-Project/194569877288847

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43 Comments

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  1. LOVED Rocket Rods. The queue was painfully long, but the ride was exhilarating! I particularly loved how you could see the cars whiz by through that top window of circle vision theatre.

  2. It is such a shame that the current management does not understand the important role that the Peoplemover/RR took in TLand. TLand was known as “the land on the move” and it truly was – starting “underwater” with the Submarines, then moving onto Land with the Autopia and Trains. Then moving up to the Peoplemover and the Monorail, then up again to the Rocket Jets, then finally up one more time to the Skyway.

    As many of these are no longer running (or have been moved off of their platforms), this adage no longer makes as much sense as it used to. It would be nice to have some of this motion back again as it truly added to the kinetics of the area – things were just moving constantly – and it was fun!

    You cannot tell me that the 2012 Walt Disney Company could not afford some new and improved Tomorrowland Infrastructure for a new (and improved) People Mover type of experience. There are so many possible movie and franchise tie-ins at this point, that it really makes a lot of sense to bring back the excitement that was once Tomorrowland.

  3. Rocket Rods displaced my much needed daily “chill experience” at Disneyland. Riding the flat, dull, short unscenic WDW version made me appreciate our gem even more. I laughed on Rockit Rods at how bad it was with the constant acceleration and deceleration. I felt sad walking through the defaced circle-vision theater turned into a tacky pre-show.

    Bottom line, if they are going to get rid of a favorite Disneyland attraction, get rid of it. Seeing the remnants of the abandoned peoplemover/Rockit Rods just makes me want to get out of Tomorrowland ASAP. Bring on the bulldozers and bust out the Star Wars and Intergalactic Marvel characters.

  4. I would love the People Mover to return to it’s track that was designed for it in Tomorrowland. I told George McGinnis I would love to take a Rocket Rod on the CARS track at DCA. Maybe then Rocket Rods would appear in CARS 3.

  5. The worst part about Rocket Rods was not the ride, but the management who green lit it. The concept for a high speed transport is very futuristic. The idea behind it was very well thought out. The problem was it was never given a big enough budget. I don’t know about you, but I would love if they revitalized rocket rods with a concept similar to what it was originally designed to be.

  6. I never got to ride the Rocket RODS. The good and the bad part of this article is I now know what I missed out on. Great job! SeenunseenD

  7. I loved it too.
    I remember the people mover as a kid, but by the time i was a teen i was definitely over it. So I also remember the rockets being a cool replacement! I went on it twice, both times with “skip the line” passes, so never had to wait 2 hours. I didn’t have any expectations, and thought it was a great experience zipping over tomorrowland (that was the best part, and the speed, especially compared to what it replaced, was cool). I remember thinking it felt very innovative to me at the time (hadn’t been on anything like it).

  8. The PeopleMover was my favorite ride and was sad and upset that it was replaced.For Rocket Rods,I stood in line twice for over 45 minutes each but only rode it once because it broke down the first time. It was disappointing because it was the complete opposite of what made the PM great, imo. I hated RR even more when it closed and left the tracks empty. But with the rumors of nothing ever going to replace PM/RR, I wished RR would have succeeded.

  9. Way back when I worked at Disneyland I was on the opening crew of Rocket Rods. I actually liked the ride itself although it didn’t have the capacity or show elements to anchor the land as an e-ticket attraction. I think they always thought someday down the road they would plus it with more show elements. The first room of the pre-show was a smart way to create show cheaply (although I’m not saying that is necessarily a good thing to be cheap.) The designers were able to re-use existing ride vehicles and just paint them navy blue and cover them with orange pin-stripe tape. Pretty low budget but an OK effect, for what it was. The circle-vision room was a disaster which barely put the technology to use except when it recycled some film from another Disney ride/show. To top it off the in/out spiral took so long to navigate due to the low capacity of the ride that we never allowed it to fill completely after the first couple months. People couldn’t stand being trapped in that room and seeing the same 3 show sequences over and over.

    I hope that someday the track can be re-used for a new attraction as the fact that it winds through all the other infrastructure of tomorrowland is what made it great. Attractions that do this are what separate Disney from other theme parks. It makes the environment that much more immersive. You’ll notice that the exit for Buzz lightyear has a hallway that bypasses the shop. I think that this is so that one day the store could used as the queue to whatever attraction might go back up there. this would be a rather short queue but it may just not need to be an e-ticket. Hopefully it’s not only used someday for the rockets, which should also be replaced to their former glory above the people mover station.

  10. Bring back the Peoplemover!

  11. I LOVED Rocket Rods! It was only about 8 when the attraction opened, but it was by far my favorite at the time. Sure, it didn’t have a strong storyline or theming, but it was still a lot of fun. I loved how it was (to me, at least) a fast attraction that went through all of Tomorrowland, and the cars from it are still one of my favorite Disney attraction vehicles ever! I’m glad DCA now has Radiator Springs Racers- it’s like having an updated version of Rocket Rods in a way.

    Sad to know that it (or any other attraction, for that matter) won’t be returning since the track seems to be a lost cause. But at least I was fortunate enough to ride Rocket Rods multiple times while it was open and I have good memories of it.

    I’ve also been trying to collect what little memorabilia there exists for it- I have a laminated Single Rider pass, a plastic Rocket Rods car (from a McDonald’s Happy Meal), a pin, t-shirt, and card. If I remember correctly, Disney auctioned off at least one of the vehicles after the attraction closed- if I can ever afford something like that, I’d like to track it down and buy it from whoever currently owns it!

  12. *I was only about 8 (years old) when the attraction opened…

    Forgot to fix that before I posted. Sorry for any confusion!

  13. I loved the concept for the Rocket Rods, but the queue was really a problem. The other problem was that they were not willing to do track modifications. It really needed more capacity. All of this should have been considered before any modifications were done. Now, if someone were to do the extra planning to increase the ride capacity and modify the track to really give a move enjoyable ride, it could be revived. I would like SOMETHING on that track above Tomorrowland.

  14. I too liked the concept of PRT (Personal Rapid Transit) in Rocket Rods before PRT caught on later. I wish more money was spent on RR so as to better improve the experience. If anything is going on the old PM track, I expect something either from Marvel or more recently, Lucasarts.

    Timekeeper

  15. I feel exactly the same way Keith! I’m one of the few people I know who really did enjoy it, and I realize that I was very lucky in that when I was there, I rarely saw it broken down. I would LOVE, LOVE, LOVE to have the PeopleMover back, but any movement above Tomorrowland is better than none, and the ride did get to go through the Star Trader and over Autopia, and it picked up speed pretty well in some straight-aways! I’m still hoping they come to their senses and realize that people really want some movement on those tracks (or rebuilt tracks) again!