Walt Disney World Resort is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Known for its theme parks, water parks, hotels, and entertainment facilities, the resort welcomes millions of visitors every year. Its family-oriented rides and attractions make it an appealing destination for those with children—and the young at heart, of course.
Over Walt Disney World’s more than 50 years, the resort has created magical experiences for children and adults alike, and one of the most talked-about attractions in the park’s history is ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter. Alien Encounter is considered to be one of Disney’s most thrilling attractions despite not being a ride. However, the attraction had a rather short lifespan, lasting just eight years. Why? We’ll dive into that and more in this installment of Retro Rewind.
During the tenure of then-CEO Michael Eisner at the Walt Disney Company, one of his foremost objectives was to introduce a wider array of attractions aimed specifically at the teenage and young adult demographic within the Disney theme parks. Recognizing the need to cater to this age group, a groundbreaking new concept was formulated in the early 1990s.
The initial plan was to create an all-new attraction for Tomorrowland at Disneyland in California as part of the visionary project called “Tomorrowland 2055,” which was conceived as a significant endeavor during the “Disney Decade.” However, as the development plans for Disneyland underwent revisions and modifications, including noticeable scale-backs, the ultimate destination for this new experience was changed to the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World.
At first, Eisner had a vision for a full-fledged ride based on the Alien franchise. Seasoned Imagineers, on the other hand, felt that the R-rating of the Alien films didn’t align with the family-friendly atmosphere of the theme park and clashed with Walt Disney’s optimistic vision of the future. To find a solution, Imagineers sought the assistance of acclaimed George Lucas, who was also consulting on an Indiana Jones ride at the time. With Lucas’s guidance, Eisner agreed to pursue a modified, toned-down experience that would no longer be tied to the Alien franchise. This collaboration led to the development of an updated concept known as ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter.
The underlying concept driving the Alien Encounter attraction was to deliver a truly exhilarating and captivating experience tailored explicitly for older audiences. With a focus on evoking a sense of awe and excitement, the attraction was intended to immerse visitors in a thrilling narrative that would keep them on the edge of their seats from start to finish.
In 1995, visitors to the Magic Kingdom were finally able to embark on this new adventure and witness the culmination of years of imaginative planning.
Even with a modified experience, ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter retained intense elements. Clear warnings were prominently displayed outside, explicitly stating, “The ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter is a frightening theatrical experience in a confined setting with loud noises and moments of darkness.” Signage reinforced this message, stating, “This attraction may be too intense for children and some adults,” making it evident that this was not a typical family-friendly Disney experience.
The journey commenced with an introductory presentation showcasing the fictional company X-S Tech’s remarkable teleportation system. As part of the demonstration, a charming extraterrestrial named Skippy was employed to showcase the mechanics of the device by transporting Skippy from one containment tube to another. While the experiment succeeds, Skippy ends up getting burned. This incident served as an unsettling foreshadowing of the forthcoming attraction’s nature.
After the preshow, guests made their way into the main room, which utilized a “theater-in-the-round” format, and were harnessed into their seats. Extraterrestrial X-S Tech representatives address the entire assembly live from across the galaxy through room-wide monitors. With eager enthusiasm, they announce their intent to showcase the capabilities of their teleportation device on a grander scale by piloting a journey through interstellar space. The plan requires a human volunteer to test the invention by undergoing transportation to their location, but in a turn of events, chairman L.C. Clench decides to revise the course of action and personally teleport to Earth instead, eagerly anticipating the opportunity to connect with each and every one of us.
Impatient with the delay, Clench becomes increasingly agitated and begins pressuring the X-S employees. Their plan takes a disastrous turn when a transmission from an unexpected planet intercepts the teleportation signal. As a result, instead of Clench, a furious, carnivorous alien materializes in the tube in front of guests, eager to wreak havoc.
Suddenly, the alien shatters the glass, breaking free from its confinement, and the room plunges into total darkness, leaving guests startled and vulnerable in the presence of the furious creature. A maintenance worker arrives to assess the situation, tasked with locating the power switch to restore light. Tragically, before he can fulfill his duty, the alien launches an attack. As panic spreads through the crowd, the seats tremble, signaling the alien’s pursuit of its next prey. Then, an eerie sensation permeates as the shoulder harnesses press down, accompanied by the unsettling feeling of warm breath and dribble trickling down our backs, suggesting the creature is right above us.
After the ordeal, X-S Tech successfully regains power and manages to guide the alien back into the confines of the teleportation tube. Despite its relentless attempts to break free once more, swift action is taken, and it is promptly removed. In the aftermath of the catastrophic experiment, the team at X-S Tech extends their sincere apologies for any inconvenience caused and thanks guests for their participation.
Teleportation Experiments Conclude
ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter may appear deceptively simple and mild, but in reality, it offered a rather hair-raising experience, especially for children. No amount of descriptions or videos can fully capture its true nature. This attraction wasn’t even a ride, yet it brilliantly combined different elements to create a chilling and exhilarating experience. Through dynamic movements, thunderous noises, engulfing darkness, misting spray effects, fog, and more, every aspect was meticulously employed to heighten the overall sense of fear. You could literally feel the escaped alien touching and breathing on you, leading to genuine scares from guests. One must actually experience the attraction firsthand to get a grip on how intense yet amazing it was. Nevertheless, it was precisely these harsh features that led to its downfall. Despite clear warnings regarding its intensity, many families disregarded the disclosures and allowed their young children to partake in the attraction, subsequently generating complaints regarding the distressing nature of the experience for kids.
Although ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter garnered praise for the immersive and captivating experience it brought to the Magic Kingdom, the accumulation of complaints ultimately resulted in its closure in 2003. The attraction underwent a transformation and resurfaced as Stitch’s Great Escape in 2004, aimed at catering to a younger audience. However, this revamped version finally concluded its operations as well in 2018. To this day, no replacement has been introduced to fill the void left behind by a fully-fledged attraction.
ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter may no longer be open, but its impact on the theme park industry and the boundaries it pushed in terms of theme park attractions continue to be cherished and fondly remembered by many.
Be sure to check out our other Retro Rewind articles.