Zero to Fifty-Seven: The Importance of Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster
Disney Parks have never truly been spaces for thrill seekers. Neither Disneyland, Magic Kingdom, or Epcot opened with a thrill ride in their respective years, leaving parks such as the Six Flags to capitalize on such missed opportunities. Even as Hollywood Studios opened in 1989, thrill rides on the level of other parks (i.e. above the thrill level of Crazy Mouse attractions such as Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, etc.)
Yet in the mid 1990’s something must’ve struck a nerve of the Disney, as they decided to move in a direction that attempted to attract the thrill market that was growing ever more popular during said time period. In 1989, Splash Mountain made its debut, garnering immense wait times and leading to a chain of events that would further push Disney into the theme park “top spot”
It was becoming more and more obvious that MGM was lacking in attractions however. The only attractions drawing crowds at the time were Star Tours (1989) and The Tower of Terror (1994). Both however did not encapsulate the high speed adrenaline rushes that modern roller coasters did. Star Tours was easily treated as a “baby’s attraction” by counterculture teenagers, a group of guests that were becoming increasingly more prevalent given the youth culture of the 1990’s. Still, to this day, the Tower of Terror stands as one of the cornerstone attractions at Hollywood Studios, but remains inseparable to its sister attraction.
Yes, “sister attraction” is totally an odd and borderline absurd way of connecting Rock n’ Roller Coaster to Tower of Terror, but in the minds of many they’re nearly inseparable.
In 1994, MGM studios welcomed the Sunset Boulevard expansion, further expanding the already small park and developing opportunities for new attractions that would define the park in the near future. On the same day, Tower of Terror opened, towering over the park and offering a new experience that both maintained the dark-ride history of the park and then-necessary theme park standards of adrenaline junkies.
Five years later, Disney decided to take on this challenge once again, attempting to blend their expertise in theming with new advances in steel coasters. In 1999, Rock n’ Roller Coaster opened to the public
Sponsored by Hanes, Rock n’ Rollercoaster featuring Aerosmith offered guests the opportunity to accelerate to absurd speeds while “jamming out” to classic songs that define the music industry. No other band would be as iconic as Aerosmith, especially for the teenage/adult American public, further reinforcing the thought put into the success of this attraction.
Following Aerosmith’s travels to one of their concerts, guests on the attraction are directed through a recording studio where they can see assorted posters and recording booths, nothing too fancy. The queue of this attraction is truly nothing to talk about, not until after the pre-show.
Guests are then funneled into a two tier pre-show area, in which they peer through the glass of a recording booth and watch the band congregate before their next show. Steven Tyler debriefs the band on the location and such, up until their manager enters the scene directing the band into their limo, as they are to be late unless they take the expressway. Tyler then proceeds to invite everyone in the recording booth to the show and requests each of them get the “star treatment” in their very own convoy of sorts.
In the final room before the attraction begins, the only thing separating riders from safety and 5g’s of steel based adrenaline is a chain link fence. Exiting the recording booth, guests can see other limos take of from 0 to 57 mph in a matter of seconds, building necessary suspense and internal anxiety as new guests witness their future and veterans get ready for another rush.
In rows of two with 24 riders per limo, guests who have entered the car are locked in by a chest harness, preventing them from escaping the thrill that follows. The limo approaches a brick wall, foliage surrounding the cityscape, as Steven Tyler counts down, unleashing the guests into a fury of speed and insanity.
Albeit short, Rock n’ Roller Coaster manages to encapsulate the campy-ness of Hollywood Studios in the late 90’s as well as the thrill that park guests were seeking. Loops, corkscrews, flashing lights, adrenaline pumping music. This attraction was born to be a hit, and still is to this day.
The classic white and red guitar that styles the front of the attraction building is only one of the multiple intricacies that make this attraction unique. The limo driving on a limitless line of guitar strings that extends from the front of the attraction to the doorway gives a unique character to the area. In fact, the unique character of Hollywood Studios as a whole is extremely important to the theming of Walt Disney World.
A look into popular culture through the eyes of someone part of it represents a core mindset that propels normal people into such fantasies. Attractions such as Rock n’ Roller Coaster stand as a key part of Hollywood Studios, garnering immense wait times even 18 years after opening. It exists as one of the most important attractions in Walt Disney World, representing an important need for roller coasters and similar attractions in the Disney Parks. It is likely that we can thank the introduction of this attraction for other similar rides such as California Screamin’ and Expedition Everest.
Rock n’ Roller Coaster represented a step in a new direction for the Disney Company, one that would reshape the playing field and harbor a new era of attractions and experiences. Hollywood Studios served as a testing ground for the future of Disney Parks in many different and unique ways, and Rock n’ Roller Coaster is no different in both the impact and importance it holds on Disney History.
Ryan Dorman is a Columnist for the Boardwalk Times.