So, what do you do when you have the track of a former beloved attraction, an empty Circle-Vision theater, and a freshly redesigned land? Uh, throw some rockets in there. People love rockets, right?
Welcome back to 1313 Disneyland Drive! Last time you visited we trekked through the jungle to discover the Temple of the Forbidden Eye with Indiana Jones. Today, let’s go to the land of tomorrow—well, the tomorrow of yesterday. What I mean is, today we’re going to look back at Rocket Rods, a former Tomorrowland attraction.
Rocket Rods Entrance 1998 Disneyland | © Ellen Levy Finch, Wikimedia Commons
Before we blast off, let’s look at the events that led up to Rocket Rods’ first launch.
Disneyland’s Tomorrowland has gone through several overhauls in its 63-year life. 1998 introduced the New Tomorrowland redesign (not that it was the first ‘New Tomorrowland’). The vision promised was inspired by Disneyland Paris’s Discoveryland and had a very European, Jules Verne, bronze feel to it. Renovations began in 1995, but the road to New Tomorrowland was anything but smooth.
The problem was actually Disneyland Paris itself, which was then called Euro Disney Resort. Opened in 1993, the park initially performed far below expectations regarding attendance and profit. Eventually, the resort did find its footing, but this initial overseas crisis impacted the New Tomorrowland project in Anaheim. What opened in 1998 was a scaled-down version of what was originally promised. Not everyone was a fan.
Despite financially-impacted design decisions, New Tomorrowland did promise a shining crown jewel: brand-new, high-speed thrill ride, Rocket Rods! The PeopleMover closed in 1995, but the elevated tracks remained. Yes, placed on the unbanked tracks of slow buckets that went 7 mph were giant rockets that zipped around at a max speed of 35 mph. If that seems like a bad idea to you… well, just wait. Spoiler alert: your suspicions may just prove to be accurate.
Screenshot from Wayback Machine of Disneyland’s October 1999 webpage for Rocket Rods
The idea of the Rocket Rods was that it was a super futuristic, high-tech mode of transportation. The sign at the ride entrance enticed guests to “Ride the Road to Tomorrow.” The queue, housed in the old Circle-Vision theater, also reflected this theme of futuristic transportation. Speaking of which, the queue music was a synthesizer version of “Born to be Wild” by Steppenwolf, arranged by Steve Bartek, the lead guitarist of Oingo Boingo. It sounds so painfully late 90s/early 2000s that it almost makes me laugh. Give it a listen:
Actually, after listening to that four times in a row, I think I love it. 0:50 in? Now that’s a space jam. Steve Bartek also arranged and performed the attraction’s exit music. Adapted from the Sherman Brothers song “Detroit” from the movie The Happiest Millionaire, here’s “World of Creativity (Magic Highways of Tomorrow):”
(I only listened to this song once. Is it just me or is it a little creepy?)
2. Opening Day
Amid much fanfare, Rocket Rods officially opened on May 22, 1998. This trip report from the attraction’s opening day remarks on two-hour wait times. This was a trend that persisted for the attraction’s short life, with lines constantly over an hour. At least the majority of the queue was indoors.
Waiting in line for Rocket Rods, you walked through a room with blueprints and plans for various attractions, as well as some actual vehicles. You also entered the old Circle-Vision theater, playing a loop of various films. Here’s a two-part look at everything the queue had to offer:
As you can see, the queue is really selling you on the idea that Rocket Rods truly exemplify the future of efficient transportation. Wow! They’ve really set the bar high.
Alright, enough standing and waiting around. You want to see how fast these things can go. Time to board. A stop light changes to green, and you speed down the track! Well, until you get to that first turn. Then you squeakily slow down, only to pick up speed on the next straightaway.
On your journey around Tomorrowland, you get to briefly peer down into the queue for Star Tours, the Star Trader gift shop, Space Mountain, Innoventions, and the Rocket Rods queue itself. You also get some outdoor views of guests below, the lagoon that housed Submarine Voyage, as well as Autopia. After around three minutes, you safely return to the loading area.
Want to take a ride?
What happened? To be honest, Rocket Rods was plagued with issues from day one. For starters, as the previously-linked trip reports indicate, most guests just didn’t love the attraction, because the tracks weren’t banked and the rockets couldn’t make high-speed turns. This meant the attraction had to constantly to slow down to make turns. Instead of a smooth thrill ride, the rockets were constantly starting and stopping. It also broke down frequently. When you take an “okay” attraction that was often closed for maintenance combined with lines that would get to be one, two, even three hours… it just didn’t seem worth the wait.
The attraction went down for maintenance on Sept. 25, 2000. This wasn’t too unusual, as attractions often close for routine maintenance, and Rocket Rods was down all the time anyway. A sign out front promised a re-opening in spring 2001. Except… it never reopened. No workers were ever seen working on the ride, and in April 2001, it was announced and reported by LA Times that Rocket Rods had blasted off for good.
4. What’s Left/Mythbusting
After Rocket Rods’ unfortunate demise, what came next?
In an abstract sense, both fans and Disney themselves seem to have more or less erased Rocket Rods from their minds. When was the last time you heard someone call the tracks “the old Rocket Rods tracks” instead of “the old PeopleMover tracks?” There is not much nostalgia for this attraction, probably due to its short lifespan and lukewarm reception. It lives on only in our hearts and in this button badge–the only piece of Rocket Rods merch in my house:
Rocket Rods Button Badge | © Tabitha Anctil
In regards to the rocket vehicles themselves, one was placed outside a restaurant in Disney California Adventure for a little while. Nothing says “California” like a massive rocket. Eventually it was removed and its whereabouts are unknown. Another vehicle was acquired by Disneyland collector Richard Kraft. In August 2018, the rocket was displayed in his “That’s From Disneyland” exhibit before it was sold for $22,500... Several Disney plushies were strapped in, waiting for a ride that would never come.
Rocket Rod at That’s From Disneyland | © Tabitha Anctil
As for the tracks: nothing happened. Due to the structural damage, no new attraction has taken up the space. Plus, modern safety regulations would simply not allow a new ride to be thrown on the tracks. To meet safety standards, the tracks would have to be completely torn down and rebuilt. And so, the tracks remain all over Tomorrowland, gathering dirt and tree matter. Here are several looks at various parts of the track:
Rocket Rods/Peoplemover Track 2018 | © Tabitha Anctil
Rocket Rods/Peoplemover Track Overlooking Space Mountain Queue, 2018 | © Tabitha Anctil
Rocket Rods/Peoplemover Track Entering Star Tours, 2018 | © Tabitha Anctil
Rocket Rods/Peoplemover Track Entering Queue Building (now Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters), 2018 | © Tabitha Anctil
The loading area is also empty:
Rocket Rods Loading Area 2018, Viewed from Space Mountain Queue | © Tabitha Anctil
The former queue building, however, now houses Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, an interactive dark ride where guests shoot at targets to help Buzz foil the evil Emperor Zurg. The Disneyland version of this attraction, which has several iterations across the worldwide parks, opened in 2005. It has done what Rocket Rods could not: stay open and operate for more than two years.
Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters Sign | © Tabitha Anctil
Let’s rocket through some quick myths:
Q: Rocket Rods were those rockets you flew up and down like Dumbo, right? They’re totally still there. A: Nope and nope, that’s Rocket Jets, which have since been moved and renamed Astro Orbiter. The loading area for Rocket Rods was where Rocket Jets used to be, however. Confusing, I know.
Q: The Rocket Rods/PeopleMover/some new ride is opening soon on the old tracks, this is a fact. A: No, this is an oft-repeated rumor. The infrastructure is currently too damaged to place a new attraction on them. Plus, they don’t meet modern OSHA rules. Go to Walt Disney World if you want to ride the PeopleMover, sorry!
There you have it, the rise and fall of Rocket Rods. Did you get a chance to ride them before they left Disneyland’s orbit forever? Unfortunately, I never did. Were you a die-hard fan, or were you not too impressed? Share your opinions in the comments!
(Besides the linked trip reports, videos, and news articles, my biggest source for info was Yesterland. Check them out for more pictures!)
See you on your next visit to 1313 Disneyland Drive!