Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith closed for a multi-month refurbishment beginning in Winter 2023 at Walt Disney World, but since had a surprisingly early soft reopening. This post covers dates & details about what to expect from the project, what will likely NOT change and why this probably isn’t a reimagining. (Updated May 27, 2023.)
Historically, the winter months have been the top time for ride closures and maintenance, as lower crowds make that easier to accomplish. The 2023 Walt Disney World Refurbishment Calendar bears this out. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Kali River Rapids had closures this winter, and Splash Mountain permanently closed for conversion into Tiana’s Bayou Adventure in Winter 2023.
Those planning Walt Disney World vacations are always disappointed when their favorite attractions are down, but on a positive note, this list is not that bad. That’s especially true now that the start of summer season has arrived, and there are almost no major closures–and that now includes Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith!
May 27, 2023 Update: Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith unofficially reopened yesterday afternoon following its multi-month refurbishment. At present, this is still only a soft opening, as the Walt Disney World still lists the attraction as closed, it has no hours on the calendar, and no wait time in the My Disney Experience app.
In fact, the refurbishment banner is still up on the official Walt Disney World website: “Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith will be temporarily closed for refurbishment. This rocktastic attraction will resume its super-stretch limo rides in summer 2023.”
Previously, the company had signaled that the aim was to reopen Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster by the Independence Day holiday, but the work to update the attraction’s ride system (see below) was finished early. Following that, brief Cast Member previews were held to bring the operations team up to speed, and the attraction quietly reopened to guests.
We won’t be on the ground to check out the fruits of the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster refurbishment until next week, but social media reports indicate that almost nothing has changed. It’s still Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith, and although a couple of props and photos of the band have been removed, Steven Tyler and co. are still front and center.
Other reports have indicated that it’s been a rocky reopening, with Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith experiencing downtime on at least a couple of occasions since it soft opened. This is not necessarily indicative of the underlying issues the plagued the ride persisting–downtime is common as operations teams find their footing with new or returning attractions.
In any case, if you’re visiting Disney’s Hollywood Studios over the Memorial Day holiday weekend, be sure to head back and see if Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith is (soft) open! Again, it’s not currently listed in the My Disney Experience app, but that’s the nature of a soft opening. We’ll update further once the refurbishment of Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith officially ends.
Prior to this, Walt Disney World filed two construction permits for Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith’s lengthy closure over the winter before work actually started. One is for work being done by Adena Corporation and expires on September 7, 2023. Adena is a regular collaborator with Walt Disney World.
Adena Corporation’s core team has former Imagineers who have decades of experience on global projects. They’ve worked on everything from TRON Lightcycle Run in Magic Kingdom to TRON Lightcycle Power Run in Shanghai Disneyland, and just about everything in between and beyond that.
Adena’s work on Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster is described as general construction, which could mean any number of things. Their involvement does suggest a more comprehensive and complex project. There’s also a permit for Maddox Electrical Company to do…you guessed it…electrical work! This one expires on September 14, 2023.
Both permits are significant in that they specify end dates. If no date is listed, the default duration for these permits is a year, meaning they would expire in February 2024. Going with actual end dates–and both in September–suggests this project is going to be done around then, or at least that the work of these two contractors will finish around then.
This would mean that Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster will not reopen in June or July during the heart of summer season, when it’s most needed. Reopening in September doesn’t make a ton of sense, as that’s the off-season at Walt Disney World. However, it wouldn’t be unprecedented.
Just last year, Walt Disney World did a stealth refurbishment of Tower of Terror during the peak of spring and summer, and that wrapped up “in time” for the early fall off-season. It’s also possible that the reopening date for Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster isn’t until closer to (or in) October 2023, and that’s just when those contractors will be finished.
As for the scope of the work, it’s hard to believe that this will be a complete track replacement. Quite simply, ~8 months is not enough time to remove and rebuild a roller coaster inside an existing gravity building. Anyone who watched the construction of TRON Lightcycle Run would understandably be skeptical of Disney’s ability to do anything with that amount of speed.
What’s more likely is that portions of the track are replaced, or the launch system is upgraded. This is yet another Vekoma coaster, the same manufacturer of Cosmic Rewind and TRON Lightcycle Run. The redone Avengers Assemble: Flight Force at Walt Disney Studios Park, which was previously Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster before the reimagining, is also a Vekoma. It’s possible Imagineering and Vekoma have partnered to refresh components of the coaster and extend its life, having learned lessons from those projects or others around the world.
Honestly, I don’t know what such an update would entail, but it would presumably be achievable in an 8-9 month timeline. By contrast, there’s no conceivable way that Walt Disney World could essentially rebuild the roller coaster in that time. I don’t think there’s a way they could do that in anything less than 18 months.
As discussed below, Walt Disney World previously denied that changes were coming to the guest experience of Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster as a result of this “routine refurbishment,” but that was a few months ago. If the scope of the project has grown since then, it’s entirely possible some guest-facing changes are also made.
The longer the project and the more it costs the company, the more pressure/desire there will be for this to be a full-scale reimagining that gives the ride new life and marketability. Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster is already a popular ride, but it could certainly have even more drawing power!
Operationally, this is a big blow for Disney’s Hollywood Studios, which already is lacking in enough attractions to absorb the heavy crowds the park sees. This will only make that worse, especially if there’s overlap with any other closure. Here’s hoping that Walt Disney World brings back Jedi Training Academy or some other entertainment soon.
It also will put even more strain on the already imbalanced Lightning Lane lineup. Already, return times are often pushed out into the late afternoon and early evening, and this will only worsen that. Expect to only score 2-3 good Lightning Lanes via Genie+ if you don’t have a strong refresh game. (Here’s hoping that Fantasmic is added to the Genie+ lineup sooner rather than later to help offset this.)
Now let’s turn to speculation about what’ll occur during this lengthy closure–or rather, what will not happen. According to Walt Disney World, the ride is going down for regular maintenance, and “there will be no changes to the Guest experience as a result of this routine refurbishment.”
Some of you might recall that back in November 2018, the New York Times did a puff piece about how much Disney was spending on expansion that included a tidbit about Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster being rethemed. The company quickly issued a denial–that there were “no current plans” to retheme Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster “at this time.” (Famous wiggle words!)
My belief then and now was that the story as originally published was accurate, and Disney unintentionally let the cat out of the bag early. The company clearly participated in the piece and its author is a seasoned Disney fan, not just some random journalist who would’ve confused the Paris and Florida versions of the ride. Regardless, it didn’t come to fruition pre-closure, and pretty much all plans since have been derailed.
Nevertheless, there undoubtedly will be “rumors” of a Marvel re-theme or a different band replacing Aerosmith. If we’re going to throw around bands that would be perfect, my vote is for Led Zeppelin. It’ll never happen for a number of reasons, but it should. Kids these days need to learn history–and good taste in music!
Another band replacing Aerosmith or another theme entirely would be plausible speculation in the absence of official word from Walt Disney World. However, the company has released an unambiguous statement that no changes are planned to the ride experience. This one doesn’t even have wiggle words! That should put those rumors to rest, at least for now.
Instead, the refurbishment will revolve around roller coaster’s launch system and entail other general preventative maintenance. While that’s the official word, this is arguably more than just preventative. Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster has been experiencing extended downtimes in recent years, and that’s only gotten worse this year.
There have been a few multi-day stretches when the attraction has been closed, and it has become one of the most unreliable rides at Walt Disney World. (It was down for most of the morning today, in fact!)
I’m not a roller coaster expert, so I can’t speak to the likely causes of the downtime (dispatch, unload, or other backups?). It’s also possible that the ride manufacturer recommends certain maintenance after X years of operation, and the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster will soon hit that. Regardless of the reason, it is desperately needed.
This also likely explains Walt Disney World’s seemingly perplexing choice to take one of the elevator shafts at Twilight Zone Tower of Terror out of service (again) during the holiday season. Previously, it was unclear whether that was planned or unplanned downtime. Now I’m leaning towards planned, with the goal of finishing that before starting this–or at least prior to the end of the winter off-season.
Earlier this year, the other side of Tower of Terror was refurbished and that project took a few months. That wrapped up midway through the summer season, and Walt Disney World didn’t take the other side down for refurbishment immediately thereafter. That’s now a perplexing decision, as the other half could’ve been done in August through October when crowds were lower. (Suggesting that this Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster closure was not added to the internal schedule until more recently.)
Down the road, a substantive overhaul is still likely. I personally love Aerosmith, but I’m nevertheless surprised that Walt Disney World is taking the attraction offline for so long and not giving it a retheme. Popular thrill rides can always become even more popular with the integration of more popular intellectual property. Just look at Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout at DCA.
Iconic as they may be, it’s probably fair to say that Aerosmith doesn’t have the same cachet or name recognition with younger guests. I can’t think of another contemporary band that is popular, crowd-pleasing, non-controversial, and fits the ride profile. Then again, the Guardians of the Galaxy have demonstrated that classic rock can transcend its era. (So here’s hoping Led Zeppelin is in the next movie!)
Another thing the Guardians of the Galaxy attractions have taught us is that fun and upbeat music can go a long way in elevating thrill rides. This is also true with Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, although I’d say to a lesser extent. The roller coaster doesn’t really have the same energy as Cosmic Rewind, which is part due to the ride profile and part due to song selection.
Whatever ends up happening down the road with Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, I hope Imagineering incorporates fitting and fun songs. They also need to take the time to test a ton of different options. The end result on Cosmic Rewind is awesome–even with the songs I don’t personally love. By contrast, Cosmic Rewind: Holiday Remix falls flat even though it’s the exact same underlying attraction. (Still very good, but does not measure up to the regular ride!)
One thing that might explain why Walt Disney World is not reimagining Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster in 2023 is because that’s a card they want to play later. With TRON Lightcycle Run opening in Spring 2023, they’re already going to have a new roller coaster to market in the coming year.
By contrast, the only thing maybe in 2024 is Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, which is going to struggle to debut by that Christmas and very well might slip into 2025. (I would bet on it.)
With little in the way of physical props or sets outside of the pre-show, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster could be meaningfully transformed in the span of a few months (the company could actually remove Aerosmith overnight in the event of a scandal!).
Perhaps Walt Disney World is ‘saving’ the reimagining for next year, and a “new” Marvel roller coaster will be the marketable draw for Walt Disney World in 2024? There are plenty of characters that are off-limits due to the Universal contract, but that still leaves plenty of options–including ones that are popular in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Phase Four.
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What do you think about the multi-month closure of Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith at Walt Disney World? Disappointed that it’ll be down during your trip? Think Disney is being coy, and it’ll actually get a retheme in 2023? What about in 2024 or 2025? Thoughts on potential bands, brands, or super heroes to replace Aerosmith? Any questions about the current refurbishments at Walt Disney World? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!