Disney Parks Tournament Bubble Watch Report

Hey everyone, it’s March, and that means time to get your brackets and pencils ready, because it’s tournament time again! I’ve been a college basketball fan for years, and this time every year, we get to hear the punditry talk about which teams have done enough to ensure that they’re in “the big dance” and which teams are still “on the bubble.” Sooooooo, that made me wonder:  what would happen if Disney Parks had a similar tournament for attractions? Which attractions would be locks, which attractions would be presumed in, and which would be featured on the dreaded bubble watch? So, with a tip of the cap to John Gasaway at ESPN, head on to find out more in this first installment of the Disney Parks Tournament Bubble Watch!

You’ll immediately notice some familiar faces pop up in the field, and perennial powerhouses like Space Mountain, Tower of Terror, and Soarin’ will of course be dancing. Similarly, cellar dwellers like Stitch’s Great Escape, which narrowly avoided leaving the league entirely, are once again on the outside looking in after disappointing guests for yet another season (or part of a season, anyway, now that it’s only open when it’s really busy). You know things have gone off the rails when reports that you’re being closed turn out to be incorrect, and people are unhappy about it. I digress.

There’s still a lot of attractions on the bubble, though — those attractions that aren’t must-dos, nor are they automatic FastPasses, but are likewise not automatic skips, either. Before we begin, a quick word about methodology:

  • Locks are attractions that are assured to make the big dance. These are the stalwarts that command a spot on even frequent guests’ FastPass wishlist, have broad appeal, and fare well in games of “would you rather” against other high-caliber attractions. Unless they have to unexpectedly go down for a lengthy refurbishment, they’ll be dancing.
  • Should be In refers to attractions with a solid resume that are on a path to the tournament barring any major collapses. They are popular mid-tier attractions that are worthy additions to any Disney park visit, even if they might not be the first thing on guests’ wishlists.
  • Work to Do refers to attractions that are on the bubble: they typically have a some good qualities, but one or two shortcomings that prevent them from making everyone’s short list. They are positioned to make the field, but could use a little help to solidify their positions.

Finally, where an attraction makes an appearance at more than one park, the better version of the attraction (in my view, anyway) is used for seeding purposes. If you’re wondering why you’re not seeing Space Mountain as a lock from the Magic Kingdom, that’s why — the superior Disneyland version is the one that will be representing in the tournament.

With all of that said and without further ado, let’s see which attractions are in for sure, and take a look at the tournament resumes of those that will be waiting with bated breath on Selection Sunday!

Magic Kingdom

Locks

Happily Ever AfterSplash MountainThe Haunted MansionSeven Dwarfs’ Mine Train

Should Be In

Meet Mickey Mouse at Town Square Theater — OK, it’s a meet and greet, but it’s not just a meet and greet. Mickey actually talks, and that’s mind-blowing enough to some visitors to ensure a spot in the field. Among character greetings, he has no equal, and under the right circumstances can give much more advanced attractions a good challenge.  

Jungle Cruise — The only reason this isn’t a lock is that it can be a little inconsistent, because your experience is largely going to depend upon the skipper shepherding you through the jungle. Even if you were to silently pass through the attraction without a narrator, however, it drips charm and nostalgia and has enough entertaining scenes along the banks of the river to warrant experiencing it. The jokes add to the experience, and make it easily worthy of inclusion in the field. It’ll need to have consistency with its skippers if it wants to make a deep run, however.

Festival of Fantasy Parade — A worthy successor to the Magic Kingdom’s previous afternoon parades, Festival of Fantasy has some truly incredible floats and performers, including a fire-breathing steampunk dragon. Not bad. The only real fault I have with it is that it takes place in the afternoon, when I’d prefer to be in the pool than the sun.  Depending upon match-ups, however, it could be poised for a great performance in this year’s tournament.

Work to Do

Enchanted Tales With Belle — It’s essentially an elaborate character meet and greet, and as meet and greets go, it’s next level. With that said, after entering the league with a bang and commanding mammoth lines, it’s lost some momentum, and its appeal is limited to a pretty specific set of guests — children (and adults) who want to meet Belle, and the people who like watching that happen. If you don’t personally have a kid in the mix, it’s probably not going to have a lot of appeal for you. It does get a boost from the amazing painting effect in Maurice’s workshop..  

Once Upon a Time  — There was a time when the Magic Kingdom’s projection show, in any of its many iterations, would have been a slam dunk to make it to the dance. It’s still an amazing show, but the technology is familiar enough now that it’s become more of a diversion than the must-see it once was. This is compounded by the fact that Happily Ever After makes ample use of projections in addition to fireworks and other effects.  It’s still probably a good enough show to merit inclusion in the field, but even though it’s a high-quality show, it’s no longer the sort of show that guests stake out the perfect spot to watch.

Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor — Like a lot of attractions on the bubble watch, this is a show that can run hot and cold. When it’s on, it can be very, very funny, and if you happen to be a part of one of the really good shows, it can be the sort of thing you’ll always remember. If the crowd isn’t into it, though, it can be just OK. Lack of consistency puts this one on the bubble.

Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid — Is it a fun, pleasant attraction with great animatronics?  Yes.  Does it get you out of the heat for a bit?  Of course. Is it ever going to be crowned Best Disney Parks Attraction and win this tournament?  Highly unlikely. Its appeal to the younger set might be enough to get it a seat at the table, though.

Others on the Bubble

Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki RoomTomorrowland Transit Authority Peoplemover; Dumbo; Mickey’s Philharmagic

Epcot

Locks

Soarin’Test TrackSpaceship Earth

Should Be In

Illuminations — It seems odd that you would even need to wonder whether the nighttime spectacular at Epcot should get a shot at the title, but that’s where things are with Illuminations these days. With that said, yes, it is a little slow in the middle, and it could probably use a refresh, but people still camp out well in advance of the show to find a spot to watch, and it’s plenty good to warrant inclusion.  Especially for someone that has never seen it, it has the potential to drop jaws and inspire “ooohs,” especially around the holidays.   

Work to Do

Mission Space — Despite the scale of the attraction and its ostensible position as a “headliner,” neither flavor of Mission Space has ever really made the “must” list for most visitors. It’s enjoyable, but no one is showing up at rope drop and sprinting over to Mission Space these days. It’s worth doing and should make the field, but it will depend upon how the other attractions fare…  

Frozen After Ever — Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Considering the insane lines this attraction commanded in the not-too-distant past, you would be forgiven for assuming this was a shoe-in to make the field, but between Frozen Fatigue and the the reality of what it is, the luster has worn off a bit. It does have some really high-quality audio-animatronics going for it and is well-positioned to make the big dance, but it’s not in as strong a position as it was a couple of seasons ago.

Epcot Festivals — This only makes the bubble watch because with Epcot in near-perpetual festival mode at this point, many guests don’t really think of these events as attractions. What they do, however, is give Disney an opportunity to inject new content regularly, and they do a lot to add to the atmosphere of the park. While some guests are put off that Epcot loses some of its family-friendliness especially during the waning hours of the Food & Wine festival on the weekends, the popularity of these events can’t be denied.

Others on the Bubble

Turtle Talk with Crush; Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure; Voices of Liberty

Animal Kingdom

Locks

Kilamanjaro SafarisFlight of PassageExpedition Everest

Should Be In

Festival of the Lion King — It’s a high-quality show that is a favorite of many, and which gets extra props for involving your children. We might not do it on every single trip, but we do it on enough of them to know that it belongs in the tournament. 

Na’vi River Journey — Flight of Passage tends to get all the press and glory, but for a slow-moving boat ride, “the other Avatar ride” delivers some dazzling visuals and a jaw dropping audio-animatronic. It may not get the love that Flight of Passage commands, but it’s a next-gen attraction that deserves a spot in the tournament.

Work to Do

Kali River Rapids — Everyone loves a good white water river attraction that has the potential to get you drenched, but Kali really struggles when it comes to stamina — which is to say that it’s too short. It’s an enjoyable enough experience for what it is, but the attraction is short enough to be unsatisfying. With that said, its fate will frankly most likely depend on the weather — if it’s hot enough at tournament time, even a few minutes of bouncing around a river and getting wet can be well worth it.

Others on the Bubble

Rivers of Light; DINOSAUR; Either of the walking paths

Hollywood Studios

Locks

Twilight Zone Tower of Terror; Toy Story Midway ManiaRock ‘n’ Roller CoasterStar Tours

Should Be In

Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular  — Let me say this: as a Star Wars fan, I love this show. The only reason it’s not a slam dunk lock has to do with viewing angles. A lot of the action is in the form of projections and lasers, and the number of spots where you can really see things the way they were intended to be seen is a bit limited. When you see it as intended, though, it’s an incredible show, and I know of several people for whom it is their favorite show. Now, those people are Star Wars geeks like me, so that can be discounted some, but still, it’s worthy of inclusion.

Work to Do

Disney Junior: Live on Stage! — It’s not that Disney Junior is a bad show — for its intended audience, it’s a crowd favorite, in fact. The trouble is that its appeal is limited almost entirely to that intended audience, and there’s very little content for the adults that have to sit through it (largely on the floor)

Others on the Bubble

Muppet Vision 3D; Beauty & the Beast: Live on Stage

Disneyland Park

Locks

Fantasmic!Big Thunder Mountain RailroadSpace MountainPirates of the CaribeanBuzz LightyearIndiana Jones AdventurePeter Pan

Should Be In

Mickey & the Magical Map — Disneyland Park’s stage show is a high-quality production with a handful of really neat effects that you won’t see in any other shows.  In part because it relies upon these surprising elements, it does lack a bit of repeat-ability, but it’s still certainly good enough to get a shot at the title.

it’s a small world — This celebration of Mary Blair’s artistic style is a Disney classic, and the Disneyland version in particular, with its outdoor loading zone and magnificent facade, deserves a spot in the big dance. Its long-term chances are hampered by the fact that several guests, including this author, find the music maddening, but it’s objectively worthy of inclusion.

Matterhorn – Yes, it’s a pretty rough ride, but it’s also a classic attraction (the very first steel roller coaster!), a Disney Park icon, and it can be a lot of fun if you get past the jostling. Also, the updated Yeti audio-animatronics are really well-done, and the attraction is worth experiencing at least once just for those. All considered, it’s very deserving of a spot in the tournament.

Work to Do

Alice in Wonderland — It’s tough to imagine an attraction like Alice winning this whole tournament.  On the other hand, it’s probably the most technically advanced of the Fantasyland dark rides, has some really cool effects, and is a surprisingly fun little ride. It probably deserves a spot in the dance for this reason, but it’s probably going to have a tough matchup in the first round.

Others on the Bubble

Mr. Toad’s Wild RideRoger Rabbitt’s Car Toon Spin

Disney’s California Adventure

Locks

Radiator Springs RacersGuardians of the Galaxy

Should Be In

Grizzly River Run — Grizzly River Run is what Kali River Rapids tries to be: a high-quality white water rafting ride with great thrills, great scenery, and the potential to get you absolutely drenched. Only its seasonal nature keeps this high-quality attraction from being a lock.

World of Color — The first time I saw World of Color, I was absolutely mesmerized — it’s a fantastic show. The only reason I don’t show it as a lock is that for some reason, it doesn’t have a lot of replay value. I know not everyone shares this view, however, and everyone should see it and be dazzled at least once regardless, so it should have no trouble making the field this year.  

Monster’s Inc.: Mike & Sulley to the Rescue — This sort of goes in the same category as Alice for me — unlikely to be anyone’s favorite, but it’s a fun, worthwhile attraction that is very up to date and has some great effects.  So, will it win? No, but it deserves a chance to make a run.

Work to Do

Mickey’s Fun Wheel — Yes, it’s an iconic part of the skyline, but when all the dust settles, it’s still basically a Ferris wheel. Plenty of opportunity to be overtaken on the ladder by, well, just about anything. It does provide some great views of the parks, however, and even some mild stomach twisting if you do the swinging cars.

Others on the Bubble

Frozen – Live at the Hyperion; All of a bug’s land

OK, so these are my predictions, but I am 100% sure that you have some different views. What should make the dance that I’ve forgotten? What is ranked too high or too low? Who are your #1 seeds? Let’s hear about it in the comments! 

James Rosemergy

When not planning for or traveling to Walt Disney World with his beautiful wife and impossibly adorable daughter, James practices law in St. Louis. He also really likes cheese -- and loathes kale. He can be found on twitter at @jrtoastyman.

14 thoughts on “Disney Parks Tournament Bubble Watch Report

  • March 9, 2018 at 10:57 am
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    “What would happen if Disney Parks had a similar tournament for attractions”? They’ve done this for the past 2 years, it was called March Magic.

    • March 9, 2018 at 11:24 am
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      This is a fun article based on a more broad look at a day in the parks. The March Magic is a popularity contest basically between most of the locks. and yes I consider the People Mover a lock

  • March 10, 2018 at 7:39 am
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    Just one note: Matterhorn was not the first steel roller coaster, but rather the first steel coaster with a tubular track shape. There were other steel coasters before, but they all had flat track, as opposed to the round track that we know today.

  • March 10, 2018 at 11:34 am
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    If Magical Map is on here, Storytelling at Royal Theatre should be. Smaller show but it has wide appeal and I definitely find it more entertaining. Tons of jokes and two different versions give more repeatability. And no love for the Dapper Dans? High variability and nostalgia. No love for any small shoes actually. You’re probably an ACC/SEC fan. Jeweled Dragon and Jedi Training deserve to be mentioned at least.

    • March 11, 2018 at 10:57 am
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      You are right about the SEC (Mizzou, tough weekend for me), and I grew up an ACC fan living in Raleigh in the 80s. Fair points, though especially at Disneyland, there are so many high quality attractions, you’ve got to make some tough cuts somewhere. Royal Theatre got dinged for having appeal primarily to the younger set — it’s not on my radar at all unless I’m there with my daughter. Dapper Dans I really struggled with. They are iconic, and the nostalgia value is high. Thinking about it, though, there’s never been a time when I made a point to see them — I always stumble upon them and watch. For me, that made them more of a diversion and it was tough to put them in. Intelligent minds can differ on this, though, obviously.

      • March 11, 2018 at 11:31 am
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        Fair point on Dapper Dans. We can disagree on that.

        I think you’re missing some of the appeal on Royal Theatre though. There are a lot of jokes there that fly right over the youngins, directed at an audience that can process a bit more information. It’s like a Disney Renaissance Faire show. What’s not to love? My 60+ year old parents saw it on their first trip to DL last month and loved it. I definitely make a point to seek it out whenever I’m there for at least one if not both shows.

        Besides, you put Disney Jr. on there, which has even less general appeal. And at least Royal Theatre has benches!

        From a guy who follows the A-10 and CAA, you’re clearly showing some big-program bias here. (And of course, you’re just writing a fun article, and you’re free to be as biased as you like. I’m just having some fun back at you. 🙂 )

  • March 10, 2018 at 12:16 pm
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    Other west coast snubs: Disneyland Railroad and Animation Academy. And I really don’t understand the love for Monsters Inc. @DCA. I’m pretty underwhelmed by the effects there. Seems like some pretty basic animatronics. I very much don’t understand how that “Should Be In” on the basis of its effects while the Frozen show is merely “On the Bubble”.

    • March 11, 2018 at 11:02 am
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      Re Monsters, I kinda feel like any dark ride with current tech ought to at least get a spot in the dance, though I can’t see any winning the whole thing. I’m sure Frozen makes the cut, but I put it on the bubble because I think Frozen fatigue is a real thing. My daughter used to be obsessed with all things Elsa, and not only can we not get her on that ride, she asked that we help her purge all things Frozen from her room earlier this year.

      • March 11, 2018 at 12:01 pm
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        I could disagree with your principle that any current dark ride should get in (pretty clear big-ride bias again!), but that’s a value question so we can disagree on that. But is the tech on Monsters Inc. current at all? It has 3D animatronics, but no projections. And all the faces are static: nothing moves as the characters talk. The voices are very clearly pumped through a disembodied speaker, and they didn’t seem to make any effort to connect the audio and visual. It very much feels like what it is: a hasty overlay on the insufferable Superstar Limo with newer and more appealing IP. Little Mermaid, Frozen Ever After, and Alice are all dark rides with better and more current tech than Monsters, yet you say all of those still have work to do. The bump for Monsters seems inconsistent.

        I’m sure Frozen fatigue is a real thing from a Lagrangian perspective. Your little girl is growing up. But from a Eulerian point of view, there’s a constant supply of new little girls (and boys!) that are obsessed with the stuff. I will grant you that anything Frozen isn’t garnering the demand it used to, but that’s to be expected with any new attraction, no?

        • March 12, 2018 at 12:44 pm
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          I think of Monsters as being more current when compared to many of the “classic” dark rides that exist at Disneyland in particular. When I ride something like Pinocchio, and then I walk across the esplanade and ride Monsters, it definitely elevates the latter for me.

          Ultimately, though, I guess part of it with Monsters (and Disney Jr you noted above) has to do with scarcity of high quality attractions at their respective parks, and I figured the selection committee would want to see a handful of attractions from each of the parks. When you eliminate Soarin’, TSMM, and Mermaid, where other parks’ versions are the ones that will be dancing, and California Screamin’-Incredicoaster is in a point of transition and can’t compete, there isn’t a ton at DCA that isn’t just a basic midway-style ride. Probably not entirely fair, but hey, this is more art than science at times. 🙂

          • March 12, 2018 at 2:23 pm
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            OK. I see where you’re coming from. But what’s wrong with midway-style rides? Everybody loves the Golden Ze

          • March 12, 2018 at 2:23 pm
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            Sorry, I think the ride broke in the middle of my sentence.

          • March 12, 2018 at 3:32 pm
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            lol, well, the short answer is that nothing is wrong with midway-style rides in the abstract, it’s just that there’s definitely a ceiling to the amount of fun you can have on such an attraction. To follow the basketball analogy, the quintessential Cinderella team is a decent team that catches fire at the right time. Also, while I have no stats to back this up, it feels like they tend to be teams with good outside shooters that can hang with “better” teams by having them get on a hot streak and nail a bunch of threes. There is no three point line at Paradise Pier, however, and it’s hard for me to imagine a situation where someone had their trip made because of a REALLY good ride on the Zephyr. It’s fun, as are most of those midway-style rides, but there’s nothing that would really give it an opportunity to play above its usual ability. Maybe if I was riding while eating a Dole Whip with Mickey himself and the weather was perfect? I dunno.

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