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. I worked Tomorrowland restaurants when “new” Tomorrowland and RR opened. The most often question I received was “where do we get on Rocket Rods?” Its a shame that a whole attraction had to be removed, but it sure needed the queue. Like everyone is saying, it was a great ride when it worked. The problem was the budget for the entire land. The tried to make the cheapest version of Discoveryland from Disneyland Paris that they could, and failed miserably. If they had done things right, RR and Tomorrowland would have had a chance. My favorite part of RR was the take-off, when it did wheelies!

  2. I loved Rocket Rods, blasting through Tomorrowland with the wind blowing in your face. I liked the queue too and thought it was a good re-imaging of an existing space, except for the corridor that was obviously an old service hallway.

    I do think sitting in the front versus the back of the car made a big difference though. In the front, you had a great view and a real sense of speed. I really loved that feeling of flying over Tomorrowland in a rocket of the future. Finally flying cars!

    But I also think I lucked out. The first time I rode it, the queue was short and I only saw the Circle-Vision movies once. I think this gave me an opportunity to enjoy the potential of the ride instead of focusing on the negatives. Another ride months later had me watching the Circle-Vision movies 3 times and sitting near the back. I could see why people would see it as a slow, bumpy, un-themed let down in that case.

  3. My husband and I always enjoyed Rocket Rods and had previously hoped they would fix and reopen it. I actually enjoyed the speed up/slow down aspect of the ride which so many other people disliked.

  4. I worked at Disneyland in 1998-2000, and I had a friend who worked attractions. When I worked Tomorrowland, I’d see him once in a while, and Rocket Rods was for him a cursed attraction. In the first place, it broke down every 15 minutes, and then after most people realized that it was less than exhilarating, they’d yell at him. I rode it quite a few times, and felt it was underwhelming. I can see how people would see it as a really good ride, but cast members hated it with a passion…

  5. I loved Rocket Rods – when it worked. The only bad part was waiting in the queue and nervously waiting to see if the ride would be working when you got to the boarding area.