Guardians ride for Disney theme park

LOS ANGELES • Guests at Walt Disney's California Adventure theme park took their last perilous ride on the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror in January.

Last Saturday, the attraction reopened with Star-Lord, Groot and other characters from the company's Guardians Of The Galaxy films.

Thrill-seekers in the revamped ride follow Rocket, the machine gun-toting raccoon from the movies, on a mission that includes sudden drops synchronised to six classic pop songs, including Pat Benatar's Hit Me With Your Best Shot (1980).

Guardians of the Galaxy Mission: Breakout! cost about US$100 million (S$138 million) to build, according to UBS estimates. 

Disney is in the midst of a major expansion of its resorts, with spending near all-time highs.

But even as the world's largest theme-park company unveils new destinations, such as the US$5.5- billion Disney Shanghai Resort that opened last year in China and Pandora The World Of Avatar, an estimated US$850-million project that debuted recently at Animal Kingdom in Florida, it is also doing less expensive remodels of existing attractions.

"The ride does the same thing, the visuals they've added from the movie make it more contemporary," said Mr Dennis Speigel, a consultant with International Theme Park Services in Cincinnati.

"It's a great way to add a big new attraction without spending a lot of dollars from the ground up."

The 13-year-old Tower of Terror was one of the most popular attractions at the Anaheim, California, park. Based on Twilight Zone, the classic TV show in the late 1950s, it took guests into a mysterious old hotel and a lift that rose and fell more than 13 storeys. 

Three other versions continue to operate at other Disney parks.

With the makeover, Disney is focusing on characters from its own Marvel library - ones that are likely to show up in future movies and TV shows, and on merchandise.

Chief executive Bob Iger is investing in parks at a time when the future of Disney's largest business, television, looks less favourable.

With consumers watching more video online, ratings for traditional TV shows are falling, muddying the outlook for advertising sales and pay-TV fees, the industry's two key revenue sources.

Disney vacations cannot be replicated easily. New projects underway at Disney include two cruise ships costing an estimated US$1.25 billion a piece, according to UBS, and Star Wars-themed lands in Orlando and Anaheim at US$1 billion each. They are scheduled to open in 2019.

New attractions can boost attendance. California Adventure had a 23 per cent jump in visitors after a US$1.1-billion remodelling in 2012 that included the addition of a themed land based on Pixar's Cars movie.

At the same time, many regional operators have backed away from adding expensive new rides every year, in favour of lower-cost events such as food festivals that bring guests back more frequently.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 29, 2017, with the headline 'Guardians ride for Disney theme park'. Print Edition | Subscribe