Disneyland promises visitors through its gates four separate worlds that are supposed to thrill and delight you: Fantasyland, Adventureland, Frontierland, and Tomorrowland. While the other lands deliver on that promise, Tomorrowland seems like it got stuck in Yesterdayland. Once a portal to the future, the amusement park has now been surpassed in coolness by several new museums. What went wrong?
Walt Disney once said, "Tomorrow can be a wonderful age. Our scientists today are opening the doors of the Space Age to achievements that will benefit our children and generations to come. The Tomorrowland attractions have been designed to give you an opportunity to participate in adventures that are a living blueprint of our future." However, it looks like that blueprint is sponsored churros and Coca Cola, and has no clue what it's doing. Which might not be too far off from the actual future we're heading towards as a society.
Tomorrowland has been reworked and relaunched three times by Disney since the park opening in 1955, with the most recent facelift happening in 1998. But 10 years haven't even passed since then and the park feels incongruous and meandering, plus the "Rocket Rods" attraction that replaced the boring "People Mover" hasn't worked since 2000, yet it still sits there, looking like a heap of junk. Visitors to Tom Morrow's (an animatronic goof-bot voiced by Nathan Lane) "Innoventions" seek the exits within moments of entering what used to be the kitschy but cool "Carousel of Progress." Mostly because they take everything that is cool about science and make it as much fun as getting a root canal. Plus, "Star Tours" feels like it's about 20 years too old, which it is.
Over the past few years they've attempted to zap some life back into Tomorrowland by adding Buzz Lightyear's Astro-Blasters, which is basically a video game turned into a ride (riders get a gun and "blast" aliens with it throughout the ride, which keeps track of your score), and the Jedi Training Academy, which is a stage show aimed at turning tots into lightsaber-wielding badasses. They get to face off with Darth Vader, who could quickly turn them into padawan-cutlets if not for the cutesy power of the Force. it just doesn't work for a place that's supposed to be showing us what the future is like. You mean, we get to see more Star Wars in the future? George Lucas will be so pleased.
What's really sad is that it's been 20 years since Space Mountain opened, and that's still the coolest attraction in Tomorrowland. With all of the gee-whiz special effects and design innovations we've had along the way, Disney chose to upgrade Space Mountain for a limited time last summer with music from The Red Hot Chili Peppers. Give us a break. It's high time that Tomorrowland started living up to its name and wowing us with the possibilities of unknown worlds and the wonders of science.
Here are a few places that manage to get it right:
The Science Fiction Museum: Located in Seattle, this museum dedicated to all things science fiction is massive, fun, and has a roof made out of glass so you can see the stars at night. It's couple with Paul Allen's Experience Music project, and will keep you entertained all day.
The Hall of the Universe at the Rose Center for Earth and Space: This giant explorable hall feature a circular staircase that tells you how the universe formed as you climb up. It's housed inside the giant glass and steel cubic Rose Center, and shouldn't be missed if you visit New York City.
The Exploratorium: San Francisco's huge science museum near the Golden Gate Bridge recently got a makeover, and it puts an strong emphasis onto hands-on exciting experiences about science. It might look like ancient Roman history outside, but inside it's a whole different world.