Rocket Rods, the shortest lived modern Disneyland attraction: Part nine of our Disney Groundbreakers Series.

Let’s take a ride on Rocket Rods at Disneyland

 While the ride station of Rocket Rods is at the Peoplemover/Astro Jets tower, the ride marquee was at the corner of the Circlevision 360° building, an element mirrored from the proposal at Tokyo Disneyland.  At Tokyo Disneyland, it is on the right side of the main Tomorrowland pathway while at Disneyland, it is on the left.  The theater became the main queue for Rocket Rods, with old Disneyland ride vehicles lighted in blacklight, concept arts, and a movie describing the history and future of transportation on a portion of the old circle vision screens.  The attraction represents the Disneyland Rapid Transit, which we visit on its 50th anniversary. 

The video was interesting at first, with historical footage of Disneyland’s Tomorrowland, original ways of travel, and other things.  Rocket Rods was Disneyland Rapid Transit’s new form of hover vehicles, which we are in line to try.  Unfortunately, the film loop was not long enough for the amount of time spent in the theater, with one online video mentioning they saw it three times at that point.

Rocket Bikes was to have loading for the ride vehicles in the same building. Still, at Disneyland, due to the track configuration, WDI changed it.  Exiting the theater, guests head downstairs and into a tunnel under Tomorrowland. An elevator was present to take guests unable to climb stairs up to the upper level. They eventually climbed back up under the old Astro Jet tower, reaching the upper level, where they boarded the Rocket Rods cars. 

Unlike the Peoplemover, which continually moved cars in the circular station, Rocket Rods stopped two vehicles at a fixed loading position. Guests boarded and took their seats.  The seating configuration was very unusual, with five guests sitting in four rows, in-line: 1-1-1-2.  Three-point seatbelts restrained riders in the very open seating, except for the last row with two riders in a wider space.

The rods had visible motors with two large dragster-style wheels in the back.  Other wheels were hidden under the car and secured to a single large rail added to the Peoplemover trackbed.  Two large bus bars ran on the sides to provide power to the multiple vehicles running on the track.  When the ride accelerated at the start and other places, it did a visible wheelie where the front lifted off the track, giving riders an additional thrill. 

The rods were staged at a “Christmas tree” futuristic dragster start light by exiting the station.  Counting down to green, Rocket Rods began strong, with acceleration to 30+ mph, doing a wheelie in the process.  Unfortunately, things died down fast as the unbanked track and sharp curve at the end forced the car to decelerate and brake sharply.  It turned to the left, entering the Star Tours/Star Traders complex.  Passing by Sector 1 of Star Tours, the car regained some speed as we heard some sounds from R2-D2 before passing above Star Traders.  The ride’s first gag was present in this set of tunnels: a mirror giving the impression that another Rocket Rod was driving straight toward us. 

The car then turned to the right, going around the circumference of Space Mountain.  It allowed a quick glimpse of the ride’s dark interior space.  It then went above the entrance of Space Mountain, Redd Rocket’s Pizza Port (pizza restaurant that replaced Mission to Mars) before going outside.

The ride path takes it behind the Carrousel Theater (transformed into Innoventions in 1998). We could see through large windows the activities inside.  This was also where the storage track and maintenance space for Peoplemover/Rocket Rods was located, with the track switch hidden.

The ride then spent some time in the dips and curves section, intertwining with the Submarines, Monorail, and Autopia attractions.  The wider curves allowed for more speed, and surrounding structures and tracks allowed great visuals. After passing next to the Monorail station, Rocket Rods went back inside for its final section, Circlevision, and Tomorrowland Landing complex.  It passed by its indoor queue, with the attraction second gag: air cannon shot at riders right before exiting.  The attraction exited and went next to its start track, lining up with the station.

A doomed attraction

To say the ride experienced challenges is minimizing its issues.  At its core, the ride was doomed due to two factors:

  1. The loss of funding from Oriental Land not able to build the attraction, sharing development costs.
  2. Due to the delays in Florida at Test Track, General Motors opted not to sponsor the attraction.

As a result, Rocket Rods would have to reuse as much of the old Peoplemover infrastructure as possible to meet its small budget.  Technically, Rocket Rods was not viable long term.  The forces on the cars and their motors, wheels from the constant speed changes lead to colossal downtime and ongoing repairs.  Add that the Peoplemover trackbed and supports were not meant to take heavier cars at higher speeds without the added reinforcing and calculations cut when budgets were slashed.

Additionally, a longer preshow in the Circlevision theater was cut down to its minimum, adding to guest insatisfaction due to being forced to watch it multiple times.  Then, the low ride capacity and long reset time when it broke down led to excessive queues that could never be adequately estimated.  Advertising a 45 minutes queue would often turn into a 2-3 hours wait that only angered guests before they even boarded the attraction.

The ride opened in June 1998 and limped along for a month.  Then, Disneyland was forced to take the ride offline for over 3 months for adjustments and repairs in the middle of its crowded summer season.  The ride then ran on and off to very low guest satisfaction scores until September 2000.  It closed for refurbishment, but it soon was apparent the ride had been mothballed quietly.  The LA Times, the largest newspaper in California, had to reach out to Disney in early 2001 to clarify the Rocket Rods situation.  It was then revealed that the ride was closed and would never reopen.

Legacy

As for Rocket Rods at Tokyo Disneyland, it was never built as when the issues in California became apparent, OLC thanked Eddie Sotto for sparing them that nightmare and moved on to other projects. The Circlevision queue area became the Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters interactive dark ride. It is now 2021, and the tracks sit quietly. 

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