Today in Disney history, DisneyQuest closed its doors for good. We’re sharing the history behind the one-time Downtown Disney staple.
A Downtown Disney landmark since its opening in 1998, DisneyQuest shut its doors for good on this date in 2017. The five-story interactive experience filled with video and virtual games couldn’t keep pace with modern smartphones and virtual reality advances. The NBA Experience ultimately took over the former DisneyQuest space.
How DisneyQuest Fit In With Downtown Disney
Before we get into DisneyQuest, we need to take a look back at Downtown Disney and the time that this totally unique attraction was opening up at Walt Disney World. The year was 1998, and Downtown Disney (now Disney Springs) was in the midst of a major expansion that added more stores and restaurants to the West Side. Among the new offerings was DisneyQuest, and indoor, interactive “theme park” with multiple floors of high-tech (for the time) games, attractions, and more.
Downtown Disney in 1998 looked much different than how Disney Springs has evolved to the present. While some of the businesses around Disney Springs today were open back then, an entire area of the shopping, dining, and entertainment district was devoted to Pleasure Island. With plenty of experiences for the whole family, and little ones in particular, across Walt Disney World, Pleasure Island filled the void of late-night 18 or 21+ entertainment that the Resort desperately needed at the time. Pleasure Island quickly became a staple of Downtown Disney when opened in 1989, but by 1998 was nearing the end of its peak, prompting the company to reevaluate its entertainment outside of the Parks for guests of all ages.
It might seem early given that major changes did not occur until Downtown Disney began its transformation into Disney Springs (and when considering Pleasure Island did not “officially” close until 2008) but the late 90s was really the beginning of a major shift to include more unique experiences not only for adults but for the whole family outside of Disney theme parks.
And when we say “outside of Disney theme parks,” we mean just that as DisneyQuest was intended to expand beyond Walt Disney World (but more on that later.)
The History of DisneyQuest
DisneyQuest included five floors of interactive experiences, plus a quick-service dining area and gift shop. When the attraction opened in 1998, Disney Quest largely received positive reviews by guests who might have been familiar with traditional video game systems of the time, but who had not experienced anything so interactive.
Among original DisneyQuest attractions were things like the Virtual Jungle Cruise, a “ride” very loosely based on the Jungle Cruise theme park attraction that had guests physically paddling down a river as the motion was played up through a screen, and CyberSpace Mountain, which was similar to the Sum of All Thrills that once ran in EPCOT’s now-closed Innoventions allowing guests to design and ride their own roller coaster.
With five floors of activities, DisneyQuest also featured then modern and technologically interesting takes on classic arcade games, with consoles like the Mighty Ducks Pinball Slam, as well as full-fledged rides (albeit with less immersive theming than rides in Disney Parks) like Buzz Lightyear’s AstroBlaster, and Invasion! An ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter (inspired by the former Magic Kingdom attraction.)
Plans for DisneyQuest Expansion
After a fairly positive initial reception, Disney pushed forward with its original goal of turning DisneyQuest into a national chain that would ideally eventually open up 19 additional locations. Only one DisneyQuest outside of Orlando ever opened, and it was a very short-lived experience in Chicago that only lasted from 1999-2001. At the time, Disney had announced that the next DisneyQuest would be located in Philadelphia, however, no other locations ever came to be.
Back at Disney World, the combination of admission prices high enough to sustain the attraction and the fast rate at which video games of any kind will become dated made DisneyQuest a challenge for most of its operation. While guests in the early days of DisneyQuest did largely have fun during their time inside, as time went on the wear and tear of the experiences plus the fact that most of them had become dated, began to make it a rather hard sell for guests.
DisneyQuest Closes for Good
Disney continued to operate DisneyQuest into the 2000s, with many families opting to visit based on the type of theme park tickets they had purchased (as DisneyQuest was included in one of the add-ons) rather than planning to purchase full-priced tickets at the door.
By the end of DisneyQuest’s run in 2017, visitation had dropped substantially, and it seemed that the only way the business could be sustained would be to effectively refurbish, or rather replace, nearly all of the existing attractions with something current (that would likely only result in the same issue of technology becoming obsolete quickly.)
NBA Experience Takes Over
DisneyQuest remained closed (or rather began its demolition) while no replacement for the attraction had been announced at the time. Then, in 2018, Disney shared the news that an entirely new concept, the NBA Experience, would be opening at the location the following year.
The NBA Experience was to be an immersive attraction highlighting the excitement of professional basketball through new interactive activities. Inside, guests could do everything from throw a ball around a court to test their knowledge of NBA and WNBA trivia and see 180-degree films all about the sport.
Unlike DisneyQuest, the NBA Experience had few chances to become outdated. While technology was still at play for several of the included activities, the NBA itself certainly wasn’t going anywhere. Still, the NBA Experience did not have an easy time enticing guests to pay the admission fee to come inside when it opened in the summer of 2019. And the closure of Walt Disney World at the onset of the pandemic in 2020 only hastened the end of the experience.
What’s Next for the Space?
In 2022, a Star Wars virtual reality experience opened in place of the NBA Experience. However, Disney has not yet confirmed what a more permanent replacement would be. Disney Springs is always evolving, though, and so we are excited to learn what could be in the works for the space when Disney is ready to share what’s coming next.